It's easy to miss Berryhill & Co., tucked behind Boise Tire Company in a strip mall on Broadway Avenue. And given Boise's lackluster record of supporting fine dining establishments, Chef John Berryhill could be seen as fighting an uphill battle from the worst possible base--outside of downtown. But the visionary cuisine being served at this clandestine cafe/winebar has made me a believer.
On the wet Wednesday evening that I visited Berryhill with two hungry empty nesters and my friendly local vegetarian, the cafe's small, dimly lit space was packed with middle-agers, all drinking generously from glasses embossed with the letter "B." But upon looking at the wine list--44 selections, half of which are under $20--we realized that wine at Berryhill isn't meant to be a privilege for the wealthy. With our bottle, we sampled two appetizers that were as decadent and savory as any I've had in Boise. First up was the appropriately titled "melange," a generous heap of cheeses, meats, olives and in-house pickled asparagus that was to die for. The Gorgonzola pear pizza, a refreshingly sweet, thin-crusted number swimming in pesto and with the lightest hint of pungent cheese, was nearly as good. As a meal with a bottle of wine, these two could suffice. But they didn't.
Entree-wise, those wary of the high-brow eating will be comforted to find a wealth of options on Berryhill's menu that provide fresh, flavorful and ecologically responsible approaches to familiar dishes. In the chef's take on the ubiquitous salmon filet entree, the salmon is wild-caught, cooked fresh and served under mango-red onion salsa and cilantro crème fraiche, with jasmine rice and seasonal, local organic vegetables. The Amish free-range organic chicken breast I ordered showed similar imagination, served in a complex and sweet blackberry sage-burgundy sauce with local organic veggies.
Of course, the menu isn't only dishes that sound as if the surgeon general recommended them. Mr. Empty Nester ordered a hefty flank steak, pounded and stuffed with Gorgonzola. The result was an explosive flavor that isn't for everyone, but sent this particular diner to bleu-heaven. Veg-o-matic ordered baked macaroni and cheese, which wasn't as creamy as she had hoped, having more the consistency of "macaroni au gratin." However, there could be no complaints about the flavor, a sharp mixture of provolone, cheddar, Monterey jack and Parmesan cheeses with meaty crimini mushrooms and sweet tomatoes.
When I told my foodie chums from other, larger towns about the price--two appetizers, a decent bottle of wine, four entrees and two desserts all for just over a Benjamin--they were amazed. To Boise's fans of well-made, thoughtfully produced food, Berryhill's remains an important local resource.
--Nicholas Collias is a bi-Soxual Cubs fan.