Roadtrip: Eating Boise

There’s more to Boise than blue turf and trees – and it starts right on a plate! My first nibbles of this delicious city were at my foray through Treefort Fest last spring (my blog here). Foodfort (Treefort’s tasty twin) allowed me the freedom of nibbling my way through the city by snuggling up with friendly locals and inventive chefs in one delicious food corral. My bites there were just tasty teases – leading me to make my way back for Downtown Boise’s 6th annual Dine Out Boise event (which began last weekend and runs through Nov. 6). With 28 local restaurants masterfully cooking up 2-course prix fixe lunches, 2- and 3-course dinners, special prix fixe small plate menus and fine dining options, I returned to dig into the bounty of what whet my appetite back in March. 

Bardenay's huckleberry lemondrop starts with their own house-infused vodka.Fresh into town, I asked my hotel’s front desk agent his suggestions for a mid-afternoon snack. His recommendation, Bardenay, was spot-on! This distillery/restaurant concept (the first in the U.S. after prohibition) was just steps away in Boise’s cultural Basque Block. A gorgeous copper still in the back produced a steady stream of vodka – the base of the Huckleberry Lemondrop my barkeep, Maximus,  skillfully concocted. Infused with fresh lemon and rind, their house-infused vodka mixed with a syrup of tart huckleberries from the state’s northern mountains and scratch-made mixers, set my afternoon off to a wonderfully boozy start.

Perfect evening to try the Owyhee Building's new tavern. Exploring further, I notice a dramatic transformation in the corner of Boise’s Owyhee Building (since my my Treefort visit), and was pleasantly surprised at finding Owyhee Tavern had settled right in. Their upscale vibe was the perfect setting for a top-shelf Old Fashioned and Snake River Farm’s gold-label American wagyu flat iron steak. The experience was highlighted by a mustache-clad, pony-tailed, mind-reading hipster server.

A later-night stop to meet up with old (and new) friends led me through the doors of Eureka! Chain reputations be damned – Eureka’s service and sweet crispy glazed, macadamia-sprinkled Brussels sprouts made me a believer! A later nightcap stop at trendy Saint Lawrence Gridiron proved that cocktails are as much an art as a libation – particularly when paired with lively conversation among friends.

Legit eggs Benny make Boise's breakfast scene.As many know, I’m a lover of eggs Benedict. Two recommendations came from the distiller at Bardenay: Goldy’s – a local staple since 1999 – and Emilio’s – hidden away in the swanky Grove Hotel just a few blocks up on Capitol Street.  Both offered house-made hollandaise, friendly service, and Benny’s that’d stand up to some of the best in Seattle.

Fall views and a perfect bowl of French onion soup. A long walk through autumn’s golden trees along the banks of the Boise River warmed me up for a 2-course lunch at Cottonwood Grille – my first official Dine Out Boise meal. For $10 (yup $10!) I enjoyed a savory bowl of gooey, mouth-watering French onion soup, and a fresh, light seafood salad – ripe with fall flavors. I’m still not sure which was better – the delectable lunch, or the breathtaking views of the cottonwoods outside in various hues from brilliant yellows to jaw-dropping crimsons.

Payette beer, City Peanuts, Freak Alley and Fall views!The perfect workout after lunch? A quick walk-through of Payette Brewing’s new digs (just across the parking from Cottonwood Grille, and then an afternoon stroll into downtown Boise’s community-based downtown core. From quaint chocolate shops, unique boutiques, and a wealth of restaurants to a tasty little peanut shop, the heart of this community clearly lies there. Proud shopkeepers warmly welcome guests, greet locals by name, and take the time to tell their stories. The cross-pollination of local goods was refreshing (and I even found City Peanuts at multiple breweries around town – that’s what I call community.

A quintessential Fall meal at Red Feather Lounge.As you’d expect, I perused menus heavily prior to arriving in Boise, and thus had a few restaurants on my radar before hitting town. With over 28 restaurants within their Dine Out program, it was not easy to choose just one for dinner during my stay (and boy was I fortunate to have had a chance to visit quite a few back in March).  But Red Feather Lounge made my decision easy: I began with a hearty Idaho-potato/corn chowder to take the early evening chill off my decision to enjoy my meal on their patio. My second course was a creative fall dish of spice-rubbed pork loin with a tangy plum sauce accompanied by perfectly-prepared polenta and piquant braised purple cabbage. The Fall air, the rustling leaves on the sidewalk beside my table and this particular offering may be Boise’s quintessential seasonal dish! Coupled with a massive slice of sweet-spiced potato pie, I could do nothing more than waddle back to my cozy hotel room.

A true hidden gem - Capitol Cellars.My last meal of the trip was a true gem: Capitol Cellars is tucked in the cellar of the historic Belgravia Building – just a few blocks from Boise’s stunning Capitol building. Various write-ups and awards highlighted their high-quality, locally-sourced cuisine, and epic wine list (although I’ll admit to enjoying a local brew with my lunch instead). Fresh local greens and zeppole croutons made for a healthy first course to my quiche entree. Perfectly-locavore, Capitol Cellar’s exquisite light crust was filled with Matthew’s Farm eggs, Snake River Farms Kurobuta ham and Ballard Farms gouda in what could only be described as extraordinary. Honestly, I have a new bar set for my personal quiche-making skills from this day forward!

One last bike ride through the city with stops for brews and views (on Boise’s easy-peasy Greenbike system) reminded me of how beautiful this community is, and how I can’t wait for my next excuse to visit. I’m not sure when or what my next Boise adventure will be, but I know I’ll look forward to it – whatever it brings!

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