Boise struggles a bit in the diversity department. And there is perhaps no better barometer than its culinary landscape, a place where burgers flourish and finding good curry is like sighting Bigfoot.
Soul food, while undeniably American, is also somewhat "ethnic" in this environment. And that makes a trip to a local soul food restaurant a gamble. Will it deliver rich, brassy flavors like good jazz, or will it be so bland and Kraft-like that your soul hurts to eat it?
Luckily, in the case of Shanaz Home Kitchen, it's the former--the food and hospitality are far more Southern than Southern Idaho.
The small, clean, sit-down in Meridian dishes out traditional favorites like a fried catfish sandwich ($8.95), as well as more creative takes on soul food like the chorizo and fried plantain omelet ($9.95) available on the brunch menu. On Fridays and Saturdays, Shanaz prepares its specialty house gumbo ($14.95). The restaurant also offers a small selection of Asian-influenced foods such as Korean tacos ($2 each), black tea-rubbed pork ($13.95) and a single sushi roll ($11.95).
On a recent trip, I started off with fried green tomatoes ($4.95) and the mac 'n' cheese balls ($5.95). The unripe tomatoes were caked in cornbread batter and fried until soft and sweet. They came with a spicy, housemade ranch sauce.
The mac 'n' cheese balls were fried perfectly, with a light crispy shell encasing a creamy and tender inside. They were served with a red sauce that had a thick flavor of romano cheese. The server said it was Shanaz Davis' signature sauce. And it was a sauce worth attaching one's name to.
Swollen with fried delights, I ordered jambalaya-stuffed peppers ($9.95) with a side of collard greens for the main course. The red bell pepper came overflowing with a wild rice mixture full of chicken and andouille sausage, which had a nutty flavor rife with the gritty, blackened spices that makes Cajun food sing. The collard greens were also excellent, with large chunks of pork and none of the bitterness for which poorly prepared greens are notorious. And if that wasn't enough, the dish came with a pan of freshly baked cornbread. Delivered straight from the oven to the table, the cornbread let out a puff of steam when I stuck my fork in it.
My dining companion summed up our experience that evening: "This is so good, I'm considering embracing bulimia."