Karen Akunowicz, who took home a James Beard award in 2018 after years as executive chef and partner at Myers + Chang, says her first solo restaurant Fox & the Knife (28 W. Broadway, South Boston) “has always been something inside of me.” She went from conceptualizing to opening it within a year and a month, and to it she brings the same heart and dedication guests will recognize from her time at Myers + Chang.
An Italian neighborhood joint, Fox & the Knife is a return to familiar territory for Akunowicz, who spent a year learning pasta-making in Modena, Italy, and later worked at Michael Schlow’s now-closed Via Matta, an Italian restaurant that operated in Boston’s Back Bay. Dishes at Fox & the Knife — from breads cooked in cast-iron to hand-rolled pastas — reflect not just Akunowicz’s time living in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, but also traveling across the country. The varied regional influences are tinged with Akunowicz’s thoughtful approach to food and dining.
Here, Eater dives into the specifics of several standout dishes from the current menu. Bear in mind that items may change slightly (including pasta shapes) from week to week, and look out for weekend brunch coming soon.
Aperitivo: Fox & the Knife is open for dinner daily at 5:30 p.m., but starting at 4 p.m., it offers a light menu of snacks and cocktails. The selections are available a la carte, priced between $1 and $7, so with some mixing and matching, it is more than enough to tide visitors over until dinner.
Pictured is an Aperol spritz, a classic pre-dinner cocktail made with Aperol, Prosecco, and a splash of soda, served with a twist of orange. Aperitivo options include marinated olives, prosciutto, fried chickpeas (served warm with an airy quality reminiscent of mini beignets), or house-made ricotta with grilled bread. One of the special touches is the tigelle — a disc-shaped bread typical of Modena, Italy, which Akunowicz describes as a cross between a crumpet and an English muffin. The tigelle are made on the stove, seven at a time, and served warm with butter.
“We have a tigelle iron that I brought back from Italy 10 years ago,” Akunowicz says. “It looks like a stovetop waffle iron. You can get electric ones, but that’s what we have — that’s our whole thing, we take what we have and we do our very best with it.”
The bread options don’t stop with tigelle: Akunowicz and her team also prepare a house-made focaccia drizzled in oil and stuffed with oozing melted taleggio.
Broccoli Caesar salad: Akunowicz says her staff makes fun of her because she builds everything, including this take on a Caesar salad, like nachos. This dish is a nod to Akunowicz’s roots in New Jersey, where she says you’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant without Caesar salad on the menu. The version at Fox & the Knife reflects her careful attention to detail, starting with broccoli tossed and coated with lemon juice and olive oil to give it a base seasoning. The florets are layered with croutons, fresh lemon zest, parsley, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and black pepper, and topped with a dressing made with white miso and colatura, an Italian fish sauce made from anchovies.
“So you don’t eat the top part of it and get to the bottom part of it and there’s no dressing and breadcrumbs,” Akunowicz says. “All the good stuff in every bite, that’s kind of the goal.”
Mafaldini alla anatra: All pastas at Fox & the Knife are made in-house, hand-rolled and shaped or extruded. The restaurant’s mafaldini is an extruded semolina pasta that Akunowicz says is typically served with a light sauce. At Fox & the Knife, its paired with a sauce made from duck stock with lemon, sofrito, and braised duck leg.
Also called reginette, meaning “little queens,” the mafaldini style of pasta was named for Princess Mafalda of Savoy, made with fancy little ridges on the edge.
“It’s a really fun textural pasta, and it’s probably my favorite pasta dish on the menu,” Akunowicz says. Her aim is to keep each pasta light, but satisfying.
“My goal is always that you can get up [after eating] and go dancing,” she says.
Pesto di Pistacchio: While the pasta for this dish may rotate, the pesto remains the same, with a few lesser-seen ingredients. Served here with trofie — a hand-rolled pasta typical of Italy’s Liguria region — the pesto aims to reflect that same herb-rich coastal area. Akunowicz’s pesto uses a non-traditional ingredient, mint, to give the dish a light flavor, and the pistachios add texture and richness. There’s no cheese in the actual pesto, but the dish comes topped with shaved feta and Aleppo.
“Pesto typically has a lot of olive oil in it, but we make it a little bit lighter, basically make an herb puree, and then make a pesto and mix them together so that it’s not overly oily,” Akunowicz says. “Then because it’s so rich, it gets a little bit of brineyness and a little bit of acid from the feta.”
Anatra all’uccelletto: This Tuscan dish takes three days to make, starting with white beans soaked and slow-cooked with rosemary, olive oil, and garlic. On the second day, Akunowicz and her team make up a huge batch of sofrito with anduja, a touch of bacon and fennel, red wine, and hand-crushed tomatoes, before mixing in the beans. A braised duck leg gets set atop that mixture and baked before service.
For Akunowicz, the special elements of Fox & the Knife include the lesser-seen dishes like the hand-rolled trofie and the tigelle.
“It’s all simple, but those are for me some of the things that make me really happy and kind of stand out,” she says. Soon, she and her team will add weekend brunch, for which Akunowicz has already prepared the menu.
• Karen Akunowicz Opens Fox & the Knife in South Boston [EBOS]