On my table at Life's Kitchen were customer feedback forms, asking if the volunteers (everyone who works there is a volunteer) had made eye contact and whether hot food arrived hot and cold food cold. The brief list covered the basics of a dining experience--no questions on value, no "how did you hear about us." Simply put, they were report cards and a reminder that Life's Kitchen customers are only a small part of the restaurant's larger mission. By patronizing the non-profit life skills kitchen, you're implicitly agreeing to be more than a hungry customer. You're also agreeing to participate in a community service of sorts.
You order at the counter from a brief menu on which the bulk of the selections change seasonally, with a handful of rotating weekly specials. Then, you navigate across a black-and-white checkered floor in search of an empty table to call your own. Food finds you.
What found me last week was a fresh burger ($7.50), a Monte Cristo ($7.50) and a char siu pork sandwich ($7.50). Too bad I was much too late to score a slice of warm apple pie. The aptly named fresh burger is ground onsite and then kneaded with a heavy hand of onions before being grilled and served "hamburguesa completa" style with a fried egg, bacon and cheese. Shoestring fries were the common denominator between a burger plate and a Monte Cristo plate. I marked handcut, hot and crispy in the "pro" column and watched my dining companion tackle the only "con"--the tedium of eating several dozen uber-skinny fries--with his fork. If only the Monte Cristo's con could have been tackled so easily. Melted between two fluffy pieces of savory French toast were turkey, jack cheese, bacon (which I chose as a substitute for ham that had run out) and a smear of pineapple orange marmalade. Overall, I'd rate it average, though I did learn a valuable lesson: bacon does not go well on everything. To take the sandwich up a notch would be to drop the whole kit and caboodle in the fryer and serve the jam on the side. Dust with powdered sugar and voila. The Kurobota pork sandwich went home with me and several hours later, after I'd all but forgotten what I'd ordered, I dug in and was initially thrown off by the sweet kick of char siu knocking around with a vinegar-heavy slaw. That slaw, described innocuously as "marinated cabbage slaw," was heavily reminiscent of kimchee--the pickled, spicy delicious Korean cabbage. Tricky, Life's Kitchen, and well played. I proceeded by tearing the chewy egg bun into pieces and swaddling individual slices of pork, making mini manapua wannabes. Then I polished off every last potato chip, which were impressively still crunchy after a tour of duty in the fridge.
With only four and half hours of serving time each week, you have to plan well to get to Life's Kitchen and if you want a slice of pie, plan to be there early. And don't forget to fill out your comment card.
--Rachael Daigle is expecting to receive a letter from Jim Gaffigan for her anti-bacon comment.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Life's Kitchen.