New in the North End
Three days from putting the Coldest Beer issue to press, someone on staff discovered a new beer-pouring cafe, 36th Street Bistro. The good news about this "eureka" was twofold: the North End has a new restaurant and it's located where no restaurant has gone before (at the corner of Hill Road and 36th Street). The bad news was that after testing beer at hundreds of bars and restaurants, there was yet another to probe. For the sake of Food News, I volunteered for the task.
Expecting some espresso bar pinched into a back corner of the sprawling 36th Street Garden Center, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a well-sized, well-windowed cafe with a full day's menu. Although the whole thing—cafe and garden center, inside and out—still feels very much on the verge, with construction outside and a yet-to-be-fully-settled feeling inside, the space is definitely promising. With high ceilings, plenty of elbow room between tables and a large, semi-circular dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows, the bistro reminds me of a garden cafe ideal for a cup of coffee and a muffin in the morning, a bowl of soup and an iced tea at noon or a glass of wine and cheese plate in the summer evening. Prices on the dinner menu range between $8.95 and $14.95 for a modest selection that includes ravioli, salmon, pasta and a chicken, vegetable and rice dish. The breakfast and lunch choices are under $8. For breakfast, you'll find bagels and pastries, as well as frittatas and waffles; lunch is salad and sandwich heavy, with a few shared plates of hummus, cheese and meats hovering around $10. Having only been open two days when I stopped in last week, it seemed like things were coming along. I expect that once it's discovered, the cafe will quickly become a gathering point for north-Boise dwellers east and west of 36th Street who aren't interested in driving down to State Street.
36th Street Bistro, 3823 N. Garden Center Way, 208-433-5100.
King of the Hill
An icon returns to the Boise area on the Fourth of July. Hilltop Cafe, which sits at the crest of Highway 21's monster ascent just beyond Lucky Peak Dam, closed several years ago after a kitchen fire. The general store and cafe were open for close to 50 years, and the closing left what was once a hub between Boise and Idaho City nothing more than a dilapidating building and an empty parking lot. In November 2005, Boise real estate investors Donn and Danarae Clore purchased the property, intending to bring it up to code and lease it to someone interested in re-opening the store and cafe.
"It took us two years to get it to the point where it was ready to be occupied, and then I lost my husband to a sudden heart attack," says Danarae Clore. And, says Clore, her life changed on a dime. Rather than find a lessee to run the hilltop combo, Clore decided to do it herself, despite not having any experience at all in the food business. Relying on the experience of friends and family—her cousin recently moved to Boise from Hawaii to help her run what will be known as the Kodiak Grill—Clore has big plans for the unassuming little joint. But not too big, lest she lose the character of the place some Idahoans have enjoyed for generations. In addition to virtually rebuilding the building—fixing everything from the foundation to the ceiling—Clore has revamped the menu with the intention to "keep the integrity of what Hilltop has always been, which is a diner flavor," says Clore. "But I wanted to bring it up to this century."
The list of shareables is long and loaded, from potato skins to nachos, and you can, of course, get a burger—all in your bathing suit after a long day on the lake, if you like. But Clore has also taken care to find organic ingredients and local purveyors like Zeppole. Eventually, breakfast service will start, but in the weeks following the grand opening July 4, it's only lunch and dinner. And if you're a karaoke fan, keep tabs on what's happening on the hill, it just might be in Kodiak's future. The cafe will be open late, is family friendly, will serve beer and wine and will have a patio for outdoor dining.
12342 E. Highway 21, 208-338-8859.