Some eateries fail miserably at meeting the expectations set forth either by precedent or as implied by their genre. Others bump the bar ever so slightly higher. Alia's Coffee House is firmly entrenched among the latter class of happy overachievers.
The bagel shop has been there in some incarnation for as many years as most can remember, but only within the last year has it been prudent for diners to pay attention. (Surely some readers will remember an ad in Boise Weekly for Alia's predecessor that raised some eyebrows with its equation of bagels to distinctly female anatomy.)
The current owners were managers of the previous shop who purchased the business, gave it a makeover and changed its name last year. Although the place hasn't undergone drastic alteration, the positive effects of a new regime haven't gone unnoticed. However, pinpointing the precise agents of change is difficult and almost unnecessary; rather, an acceptance that the bagel shop has simply blossomed will suffice.
Tall ceilings and exposed beams wrapped in thorny foliage anchor into brick walls and whimsical wall paintings. Seating areas come in several sizes and comfort levels; inside, the tables are tall and long, or short and square, or ringed by stuffed furniture. The petite patio is no match for the sprawl inside, and in the summertime, it's not hard to assume many more loungers would like to stake a claim outdoors (particularly in the early evenings when Alia's sheds its coffee shop demeanor for something more wine appropriate).
On a recent mid-morning visit, one of the owners was jovially taking orders while the other manned the register, greeting regulars by name. In response to a question about which offerings at Alia's are homemade, one owner said it would be a waste of the giant kitchen not to go from scratch with everything. Whether the fact that food at Alia's is homemade is an effect of the super-sized kitchen or whether the size of the kitchen is merely added convenience to facilitate a general culinary philosophy matters not. What matters is how well it's executed.
Patrons who wander into the Main Street cafe in search of a chewy East Coast-style bagel may find disappointment lurking in the soft, freshly made bagels at Alia's. Once you've resigned yourself to the way of the West when it comes to bagels, you'll find Alia's at the top of its game. Bagel and cream cheese varieties are both wide and typical selections (with the "everything" bagel bin often emptying out by midday).
But it's the specialty menu that puts Alia's ahead of the crowd. The menu choices aren't so much off-beat as they are unexpected syncopation. Open-face pizza bagels subdue the kid who is cranky about vegetables. An open-face tuna melt happily has twice the weight in tuna it should have. Breakfast sandwiches offer plenty of protein combinations, but some could use a dab of sauce, be it butter or a specialty mayo. A vegetarian-only menu promises sandwiches with, among many things, portobello mushrooms and roasted peppers. A made-in-house hummus is stiff and heavily herbed. Desserts are the sort one would expect to find orbiting in another solar system—a sort of exalted example to which others should strive. In an outright duel between a chocolate chip cookie dough bar and a mint and chocolate bar, it's impossible to say which would win before the melt factor kicked in. And anyway, the diner is the ultimate winner.
The cafe's motto encourages its customers to allow Alia's to wake them up and "wine" them down. It's an idea that ventures beyond all the bagel and sandwich business into early evening wine tastings and, perhaps, much more in the future.
—Rachael Daigle turns coffee into wine with a wink of an eye.