BOISE OR BUST
The City of Trees is a food-and-drink town on the rise.
WRITTEN BY AMANDA BURDEN
PHOTOS BY JACI GOODMAN
For years, outdoor enthusiasts have known about the excellent skiing, mountain biking, hiking, and kayaking culture in and near Boise — a pretty city that rests against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and along the Boise River — but the dining-and-imbibing scene is starting to gain attention, too. What’s better is, if you book through Alaska/Horizon Air, you won’t even have time to finish your complimentary glass of wine or beer before the end of the hour-long flight from Reno or 1.5-hour flight from Sacramento. And, with the one-hour time difference, it’s like you’ve lost no time at all.
Take a bite out of Boise
We kicked off our weekend getaway by checking into The Modern Hotel and Bar. The former Travelodge — cleverly updated in 2007 with a mid-century modern aesthetic — felt hip and fun without any hint of snootiness. The quaint restaurant also provided us with one of our best Boise dining experiences. The 2015 James Beard Award-nominated chef, Nathan Whitley, features simple cuisine that focuses on locally sourced produce and meats, and each dish is full of flavor. The seasonal dinner menu may include such dishes as pelmeni (Russian dumplings) with lamb, beef, and pork and crème fraîche and herbs; brisket with smoked tomatoes, wild mushrooms, and white beans; and smoked trout salad with roasted beets, preserved lemon, celery root, and arugula. The brunch menu may feature a mushroom scramble with Parmesan cheese and truffle oil, Gaston’s Bakery pullman bread, and a mixed green salad; a house-made doughnut with stewed local fruit and peach-plum semifreddo; and pan-fried corn bread with maple cream and seasonal fruits. A long list of local producers who supply ingredients is displayed on a board in the restaurant.
At the Modern, be sure to order a local beer or seasonal cocktail and sit outside on the patio. You might catch a guitarist or film screening. Finally, visit one of the hotel lobby/restaurant bathrooms for a musical surprise.
Two other spots to put on your list are Bittercreek Alehouse and Red Feather Lounge. They share walls and an owner who cares deeply about the local food-and-drink movement. Dave Krick, who also owns Pollo Rey (on the other side of Bittercreek), maintains strong relationships with local producers who provide him with vegetables, fruits, and grass-fed meats, and even organic, whole-wheat flower, milk, honey, eggs, and organic dark chocolate. Bittercreek, opened in 1995, serves Idaho pub grub and a fine selection of microbrews. Red Feather, opened in 2002, serves tasty dishes fashioned with local ingredients and paired with creative cocktails. It has been voted one of Boise’s best brunch spots. What the restaurants also share is a large vermiculture farm below the floorboards. About 100 pounds of leftover food waste (and shredded menus) per day are recycled into compost by red wiggler worms that live in big metal bins in the basement. I’ve never heard of another restaurant instituting this practice on site and especially not on this scale. Krick’s focus on sustainability is astounding and commendable.
“In 2004 or 2005, it hit me that this is where it’s at: local food,” Krick says. “Now, 50 to 60 percent of our food is local … Also, we employ one full-time forager who manages our incoming food. It’s complicated, since we have so many relationships with locals. The forager (Stacey Marchetti) works with them, and they tell her what’s available. She also spends a lot of time in the fields, seeing what’s available and negotiating a price for us.”
Dining choices abound, but the following are a few that we visited, including John Berryhill’s Bacon for a bloody mary and bacon sampler; Bleubird for a gourmet sandwich and house-made soda; and Mai Thai for one of the restaurant’s signature drinks served under dramatic, Dale Chihuly-esque, blown-glass light fixtures. We found many of these spots on a food walking tour, called Indulge Boise. Along the route, we also discovered Guru Donuts, the Olivin olive oil shop, and The Chocolat Bar. Walk through the Basque block as well, including Bar Gernika for a chorizo sausage sandwich and potato croquetas and The Basque Market for Basque wine and pintxos (tapas). Finally, you might make time to visit one of the farmers’ markets downtown.
Imbibe and indulge
Beer and wine are making big debuts here, too, including a collection of urban wineries and breweries in Garden City, a two-minute car ride from Boise. The owners of Cinder, which found their Garden City space about nine years ago and underwent an extensive remodel, create wines from grapes grown in the Snake River Valley. Located inside a former auto-body warehouse, Split Rail Winery’s tasting room has a funky vibe and interesting wines, including some served in kegs, growlers, and cans. Telaya Wine Co. is a beautiful winery and tasting room right on the river. Coiled Wines, which used to share a tasting room with Telaya, now has two new tasting rooms (in Garden City and Boise). The list of craft breweries is long and growing, but some favorites include Woodland Empire Ale Craft, Meriwether Cider Co., Boise Brewing, 10 Barrel Brewing Co., and Payette Brewing Co.
Besides outdoor activities, there’s a lot to do in Boise. For one, this town appreciates music, arts, and culture. And if you do as well, then you might want to schedule a trip for late March to participate in the Treefort Music Fest (March 21 – 25), a showcase of more than 400 indie-rock bands in numerous downtown venues (think SXSW in Austin).
Boise’s residents are young (average age is 32) and friendly; there’s plenty to do, eat, and drink; and the travel time is quick and easy. Even better, you can check one case of Idaho wine on Alaska Airlines flights for free. So don’t let anything hold you back from visiting this great city.
Amanda Burden is publisher and editor of edible Reno-Tahoe and publisher of edible Sacramento. She liked her first trip to Boise so much, she returned a few months later to explore more of the City of Trees.
Indulgeboise.com (food walking tour)