We all love our TCBY, but a cup of yogurt usually doesn't warrant a trip to one of Boise's ghost malls. The Towne Square swaggered in like a gunslinger in the early '90s, and all that remains of the competition are soon-to-be renovated relics like the 8th Street Marketplace and tenacious hangers-on like Parkcenter. Only a handful of Parkcenter's spaces are occupied by retail business these days, but one in particular keeps the causeway humming with life-Aubergine.
On a lazy Wednesday, the boy and I hopped in the roller-skate car and headed to Aubergine. We stood in line in the casual deli setting and pored over menu choices like the East Ender (herb roasted turkey, creamy havarti, green leaf lettuce and tomato), Aunt Pat's (black pepper chicken, gorgonzola cream cheese, mango chutney and fresh pear) and the house specialty, L'Aubergine (grilled eggplant, baby spinach, julienne carrots, Roma tomatoes, pesto chevre and crisp greens). He raised an approving eyebrow and ordered the Cobb Baguette (black pepper chicken, applewood smoked bacon, avocado, gorgonzola spread, blue cheese, tomato and lettuce) to complement my L'Aubergine and a cup of Tuscan white bean soup to share.
Staring down the starchy barrels of our matching baguettes, the boy and I weren't sure we could handle so much bread, but the buttery flavor of the French bread and balance of fluffy and crisp textures made for love at first bite. The combination of grilled and raw vegetables on my sandwich was lovely, the pesto chevre adding richness and texture to each bite.
The boy's Cobb proved even tastier, though I would have added mango chutney for just 35 cents extra to make the flavor even more outrageous. The white bean soup went unnoticed as we chomped and chewed, but after one sip, I was raving like a lunatic and stalking the kitchen staff for some clue as to its beguiling flavor. I was referred to the resident "soup guy," head chef and owner Gill Helmund. Unlike other great chefs I've met, Helmund was friendly, genuine and not at all squeamish about sharing his secrets. I asked only for a clue about the spices, but he offered to give me the recipe and shared a quick lesson on the "philosophy of G.O.R.P.," or the essential balance of sweet and salty, the yin and yang of cooking (for 35 people). This gift of generosity was so sweet we didn't even need a slice of the killer bread pudding to make our meal complete. Kudos, soup guy.
-Erin Ryan makes white bean soup in the bathtub.