When I was a kid, my grandparents made regular trips to Boise from Pocatello to visit me. They often took me home with them early in the summer and drove me back before school started. Back then, the road between Boise and Pocatello was a two-lane highway and went right through Bliss about halfway in between. We always stopped for lunch at Bliss' Oxbow Inn, their burgers and fries are one of my favorite parts of summer. The Pantry Restaurant in Boise is a reminder of those simpler times, and from the chicken-fried steak breakfast special listed on the Pantry's front door to the framed prints of flowers on the walls to the stacks of The Senior News sitting out, it's the kind of place my grandparents would have loved.
Each booth at the Pantry is equipped with an old-fashioned Princess phone handset. Diners can't call home, but when the restaurant is busy, they can pick up the handset and call the kitchen directly with their orders. At 9 a.m. on a quiet weekday morning, a waitress took our breakfast order. My comic friend and I both went with omelets, which come with hashbrowns and toast. Mine: the Bacon Supreme ($6.95). His: the Idaho ($6.95). Mine: filled with bacon, Swiss cheese and tomato, topped with guacamole. His: sausage, green peppers, onions and cheese with the hashbrowns inside. Me: a bottomless cup of coffee ($1.45) Him: endless Coke ($1.25).
A handful of tables were filled when we arrived, and as we made our way through breakfast, they showed no signs of leaving. It's a lingery place, the service attentive but never pushy. If we hadn't had to get to work, the comic and I may have spent the better part of the day in our booth, staying long enough to get hungry again and order lunch.
As it was, we barely made it through our huge omelets. I would have liked a little more bacon, but that holds true for pretty much anything I eat, and the omelet did contain enough melted, tangy Swiss cheese to flavor every bite. The "supreme" must have come from the guacamole artfully swirled on top as if from a cake decorating pouch. I didn't expect much from the swoosh of guac, but it was good, kind of peppery and lemony.
The comic said his omelet was light on sausage, and then slathered it in A1 Steak Sauce. That must have solved his problem, because though he's not a fussy eater, he won't finish a dish he doesn't like, and his plate was scraped clean.
I did get hungry again, and a few days later went back for lunch with a colleague. This time, the restaurant was packed, only a few booths and tables still open. I picked up the handset and placed my order: a garden burger ($6.45), topped with sauteed mushrooms and Swiss cheese (I'm a big fan of the nutty-tasting dairy product) and accompanied by a pickle spear and skin-on fries. To wash it all down, I also ordered a glass of tart raspberry lemonade iced tea ($1.75).
A requested dish of dill slices arrived quickly, and I laid all 10 or 15 on top of the cheese and 'shrooms, smacked a few globs of mustard on the bun and dug into what turned out to be a flavorful garden sandwich. The din of conversation was a comfortable soundtrack, and my workmate and I added our own notes, talking about President Barack Obama's "Beer Summit," the personals section of the Senior News and how much we both liked the fries, chatting comfortably like many of the retirees dining around us.
Things change. A freeway went in between Boise and Pocatello, bypassing Bliss, the Oxbow Inn closed, my grandparents passed away. But as long as places like the Pantry exist, I have a place where I can go and hang on to the past.
--Amy Atkins thinks she'll make a good grandmother. She had incredible role models for the job.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about the Pantry Restaurant here.