A familiar refrain echoes around Boise Weekly's editorial department whenever we receive a menu from a new restaurant: "Enough already with the f@#$ing pulled pork sandwiches."
Restaurant after restaurant opens with nearly identical menus stocked with nary a hint of culinary adventure, and as critics, we're about porked out.
But The High Note Cafe, which took over the old Willi B's space at 225 N. Fifth St. in July, is another story. Though its menu reads like so many others around town, the devil is in the details. And the High Note Cafe--open until 3 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays--has its deets in a deliciously different order.
For example: the Pork Torta ($8.95) is a pulled pork sandwich. But instead of the standard issue heap of greasy pig piled on a round bun with some sort of slaw, the pork is layered lengthwise in a hoagie, with a black bean spread, jack cheese, cabbage, tomato, cilantro and green salsa. It has a fresh, bright flavor with a rare punch.
The other sandwiches and salads on the menu follow suit, using small details and fresh ingredients to rise above their simple billing. The house-made soups are some of the best examples, especially High Note's creamy tomato ($3.50 cup, $4.50 bowl), a rich, coconutty concoction that may ruin other tomato soups for anyone who has a bowl.
Another stand-out item is the brunch burrito, available anytime and filled with eggs, chopped roast beef, black bean puree, grilled onions, covered with a lime creme fraiche and served with two house-made salsas. The price for that bad boy is $6.50, and the wait time when the bars close is a helluva lot shorter than the line at any of the downtown pizza joints.
In fact, nothing at the High Note Cafe takes long or costs much. Lunch can be grabbed in a flash, and there isn't anything on the menu more than $10.
The spot's one detraction is that its atmosphere can be a bit awkward, not just because the High Note is more empty than an urban cafe ought to be, but because it feels emptier than it actually is. Though the space has been brightened up from its Willi B's days with local art and a good jukebox, the room feels strangely exposed and somewhat boxy.
But even with its mildly off atmosphere, High Note Cafe is still a slightly different take on a market-proven menu and is easily one of the best low-cost chowhouses downtown.