A former biker pit stop on the outer limits of Boise's metro-sagebrush is not the place you'd expect to find a succulent mushroom cap on toast. But the recently reinvented Kodiak Grill on Highway 21, 16 miles from downtown Boise, serves up a surprising portobello pesto burger ($9.95) brimming with juicy, woody flavor and garlic zing on crispy-on-the-outside, soft-in-the-middle Texas toast.
Not that I would order such a thing. But one of the Californians who joined us for dinner at the Kodiak on a recent Saturday night let me have a bite of hers, and I kind of wanted to trade.
Kodiak is a bit of a drive, but not one that you'll resent. Head out Warm Springs, through Harris Ranch, past the Harris Ranchy eateries, drive by Ben's Crow Inn and remember that you are still in Idaho. Turn left at Highway 21 and climb up over Lucky Peak past the Forest Service propaganda painted on its rolled earthen and gravel wall, past the lower reservoir to the first hilltop in the road and you have arrived, nestled in the sagebrush hills.
The decor and the menu are hard to place. We sat at a comfortable booth under a deer antler chandelier. The building appears rustic, if recently renovated, but sitting at a table inside feels almost like a downtown restaurant on Eighth Street. Almost.
The menu, too, is a combination of rural Idaho with some city style.
Our side salad started as a bag of iceberg lettuce but was mixed with a decent fistful of gourmet greens, bacon bits and cheese and came with a choice of several house-made dressings.
I ordered the pot roast beef sandwich ($10.95) on a Kaiser cornmeal bun that came courtesy of Zeppole Baking Company in Boise. The beef was good and not too moist and the sandwich was well thought out and nicely engineered, with generous slices of avocado that didn't slip out.
The plate was a little bare for dinner--just a big sandwich and no veggies or side dishes. In fairness, I had my salad first, and in double fairness, I took half the sandwich home.
My wife ordered a half-rack of pork loin back ribs ($14.95) that came smothered but not drenched in habanero barbecue sauce. We had to peek back at the menu to identify the flavor in the sauce; it was tasty enough that even one of the vegetarians had a try.
With Moose Drool on tap ($4.95), expertly baked potatoes ($2.95, side order) and lots of choices for kids and vegetarians, we sat and ate and talked much later than planned. While it worked out in the end, slow service was one factor in our extended dining period and brief kid-hunger panic.
The Kodiak Grill also has a small patio for outdoor dining and a country store attached for road-trip necessities, including a dessert case, of which we were too full to partake.
The meal brought back memories of an epic drive last summer in which I nearly stranded and starved my young family on a closed Forest Service road attempting to climb out of Lucky Peak to Idaho City.
Instead of turning back, I built a series of rock bridges attempting to keep the VW Golf from bottoming out on the washed out road. We eventually had to turn back anyway and reverse engineer my bridges. Anyway, I thought it was exciting, but the feeling was not shared. The first place we saw after that harrowing (or exciting) drive was the Kodiak. We hardly remembered its name, but we did remember the ribs upon our recent return.
But no three-hour tour is necessary for hilltop dining. It's close enough for an occasional dinner outing from Boise, and definitely worth keeping in mind when heading out of town or on the way back to an empty fridge after a weekend of camping or boating.
--Nathaniel Hoffman thinks off-roading in a sedan might be better on mushrooms.
Zeppole banana bread French toast.
There you have it. That first sentence should be enough to get you to the top of the hill for breakfast at Kodiak Grill. Formalities, however, require that I wax on for another several hundred words about the joint, and so I will. If based on those first five words you've already put down BW and started sussing out whether the old Schwinn has enough chutzpah to make the trip, at least allow me to advise you to use motorized transportation. Vaya con Zeppole, friends.
For those of you still hanging on my every word, allow me a moment of truth: I did not actually order the aforementioned French toast, which will henceforth be referred to as the almighty ZBBFT. True story. Though the almighty ZBBFT is what motivated me to make a Sunday morning drive up Highway 21 (on recommendation of my coworker who regretted not ordering it), I couldn't bring myself to order more banana bread. Not that I ordered banana bread in the first place.
We arrived. We sat. Two menus, two cups of hot black Dawson Taylor, one plate of sliced Zeppole banana bread sided with whipped maple butter. Only the coffees came per our request. Empty stomach, long drive, no willpower ... it wasn't long before I'd had more than my fill of banana bread and couldn't even consider ordering the almighty ZBBFT.
The backup plan proved far less interesting: a steak and potato breakfast burrito ($8.95) so big that I managed to eat only a very birdlike half of a half portion. Loaded all cockamamie with the steak on one end and the potatoes and cheese way at the other end, it wasn't the most inspiring first meal of the day, but in all fairness, I've yet to meet the breakfast burrito that is. My paltry half-of-a-half effort, however, had nothing to do with the burrito itself. Rather, I have to blame not only the banana bread, but also my completely incongruent and completely indulgent starter of Kodiak soup ($3.95). The creamy baked potato soup topped with sour cream, green onions, shredded cheese and bacon affirmed two things about Kodiak: The chef has a knack for comfort grub, and a skip through the dinner menu will be required in my near future. A grilled prime rib sandwich ($11.95) with a heap of battered fries reaffirmed those two conclusions. If the dinner portion of prime is as lean and succulent as the cut between two slices, it'll be a trip worth the drive.
What you won't find at the top of the hill is enlightenment, culinary or otherwise. The menu is varied, the food well executed and the service attentive--though I will say the management would do well to bark orders at the waitstaff in the back of the house, where customers won't be forced to overhear.
Boise diners who do slip the surly bonds of the city will find only whispers of what once was an iconic cafe stretched across the top of the hill. The fire-gutted structure that was there is now gleaming in lacquered blond wood and gray stone. Lights are either hanging mod glass or antler chandeliers. Tables are either draped in camouflage or bare in buffed faux marble. It's a juxtaposition that seems to exemplify the cafe's place in time and geography, as a place bridging the metropolitan with the mountain, the time-honored with the future.
--Rachael Daigle will soon convert to the church of the almighty ZBBFT.