I'm a pushover for tradition. When something is time-honored, well tested and has a story stretching out behind it, count me in. That's why downtown Boise's Piper Pub and Grill had two things going in its favor before I even pulled up a chair on its outdoor balcony.
No. 1: Piper Pub has been a Boise institution for 20 years, and although new owners took over only one year ago, it appears they have worked to maintain its essential qualities. No. 2: Piper Pub advertises itself as an old-fashioned, English-style pub, where you can grab a pint or a Scotch with your meal in a social atmosphere. Being a big fan of English pubs (and Scottish ... and Irish), I'm always interested to see if an American eatery can live up to my expectations.
And while I wouldn't necessarily call Piper Pub a true pub, it is pub-ish with its dark wood interior with rich colors on the walls and an impressive selection of Scotch behind the long bar.
But Piper Pub is also unmistakably Western, with windows lining the exterior walls and a wrap-around balcony overlooking busy Main Street and the Boise Hole (a tradition in its own infamous way).
The menu does an admirable job of combining the same ideas of traditional with modern Western sensibilities with an array of sandwiches, burgers and steaks alongside Southwestern-inspired tacos and Idaho elk. Even among the most traditional offerings on the menu, diners find special touches that create intriguing flavor combinations like Makers Mark mixed in to a crab and artichoke dip ($10.49), Gouda on a smoked turkey sandwich ($7.99) or the salsa-braised Mexican burger served with jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, guacamole and applewood-smoked bacon.
On a recent afternoon, my favorite dining buddy and I sat on the balcony to enjoy some sun. The fan of English pubs that I am, I went with the Piper Pub Fish and Chips ($9.69 full order/$6.69 lunch).
I'm a stickler for fish and chips and too often find myself faced with over-battered pieces of unidentifiable fish swimming in grease. I was wonderfully surprised by Piper's panko-crusted Northwest pollack. The light breading provided a welcome crispness and texture to the flaky fish, and all without a hint of cooking oil. Served over a bed of fresh-cut fries, the fish was just asking to be soaked in malt vinegar.
My dining buddy was a little more adventurous than I and chose the Fresh Citrus Mahi Mahi Tacos ($10.69 full order/$7.69 lunch). The two tacos came on a plate brimming with extras: guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo and adobe rice—and that's not counting the ingredients spilling forth from the two corn tortillas that valiantly fought to keep the whole concoction together.
Piles of lime-marinated mahi mahi bulged from those brave little tortillas and the dense fish had a satisfying citrus bite, enhanced by a citrus-avocado cream sauce. Joining the mahi mahi in the bulging tacos was yet more pico de gallo, sliced avocados and shredded cabbage.
While there's no doubt the tacos were satisfying, they were a little ungainly to try to eat, leaving diners to question if they can put them down once the tacos are in hand.
The adobe rice is an intriguing combination of flavors, proving both savory and spicy while being both gooey and crispy. Topped with melted cheddar cheese and green onions, the rice is actually a nice complement to the lighter, crisper flavor of the citrus-infused tacos.
The only disappointment of the meal was the pre-made fountain iced tea rather than brewed tea. The overly sweet, slightly chemical taste of the tea brought down the hand-crafted nature of the rest of the meal. It's a small complaint, but one that leaves an aftertaste.
Still, Piper Pub is a great twist on an old tradition, and a welcome mid-city escape.
—Deanna Darr enjoys studying the finer points of British pubs.
The first thing I did was call in reinforcements.
The plan had been a simple, three-pronged approach: a solitary drink, a nibble big enough to negate the need for dinner, and a wrap up on some lingering work.
The cocktail waitress thwarted the plan with three little words. Two. For. One. It was one of those mid-April afternoons when summer had briefly blown into town and bike-bound as I was, I figured I could easily double down on the beers.
But the food was another story. I tried to bluff my way through it, coolly ordering bleu cheese chips ($9.49) and plate of Yucatan tacos ($9.99) before I suspected that an ambush might be in the making. Perched on a barstool at a marble-topped table for four in the center of the bar, I watched food make its way from the open kitchen line to the masses preening on the patio. By crudely calculating the relative size of each passing plate against nearby objects of known size and factoring in approximate distance, I was able to ascertain that the cooks were dishing up what were rightly bulging piles of foodstuffs spilling over the edges of the massive platters.
The chips and tacos were going to bury little me in a heap of gluttony if I didn't call in the cavalry for a little help.
While I waited to see which would arrive first—food or friends—I began to notice Piper Pub's new swagger, but I couldn't put my finger on just what it was that was different. Same second-story city view as I remembered (gaping hole to the west still intact, new high-rise condos to the south still going up). Same gleaming wood bar with a special tier for Piper's scotch selection—so notorious it has its own groupies. Same belted ceiling fan system spidering across the room in antique fashion. But something was definitely ... different. Good different.
When the reinforcements—two of the pickiest eaters I know—arrived, we went to work. Ancho chili citrus chicken skewers pulled apart easily for delivery into grilled flour tortillas with ripe, chunky guacamole and fresh-as-it-gets pico de gallo. Red adobe rice topped with melted cheese received six enthusiastic thumbs up (two from each of us).
The bleu cheese chips were a more perplexing dish. In fact, we polished off what must have been five pounds of potatoes, sliced paper thin and fried crisp, in our effort to come to some conclusion. Tossed in white truffle oil and bleu cheese dressing then topped with chunks of melted Gouda, bacon, tomatoes and green onions, two things were for sure: The calorie count was high, and the overall quality had suffered after too long under a heat lamp before delivery. Definitive opinions never really materialized, but maybe our silent approval was most telling; we did, after all, clean the plate short of licking it.
I returned for lunch the following day, trading halvsies with a friend on a cheeseburger stuffed with bacon ($8.95) and a turkey and Gouda sandwich ($7.99). Decent on both counts. Almost. The slippery composite bologna-like turkey slices were completely incongruous with the rest of the menu. Get a real turkey breast and slice it, or scratch it off the menu, kids.
Turkey aside, I liked what I saw. After grousing for a week that I'd drawn the short straw on a Piper Pub review—a quick succession of ownership changes has had the pub looking a little worse for wear the last few years—I've changed my tune. Now it goes something like: Two. For. One. Cha, cha, cha.
—Rachael Daigle owns a T-shirt that says "same, same, but different."