The Stagecoach Inn is smoke free. For most restaurants such a revelation would hardly be worthy of a food review introduction, but for 45 years secondhand smoke has been the defining visual characteristic of the Stagecoach. Walking in this nearly unlit Boise institution was like entering a movie theater on fire; walking out was like taking a shot of pure oxygen. It forced countless diners to take their waitress's word that what they ordered was, in fact, what was on their dish. But now the smoke has cleared, and what is underneath is both ageless and appetizing.
Walking into the Inn, a patron has two choices: left to the bar or right to the dining room. Go left and you will see a drawing at the end of the bar showing the bar's historical regulars who put their lives and livers in the hands of founder Willie Schrier and his twin daughters Mary and Marian. Go right and you are immersed in cattle memorabilia and dark vinyl booths that haven't seen natural light since the Eisenhower administration. In either case, sit down, order something stiff, and forget that the liberal hootenanny known as "the last half-century" ever existed.
The menu at the Stagecoach hasn't changed in 45 years, and is full of the kind of comfort foods that ensure the restaurant will outlive all who frequent it. For lunch, the French dip is spectacular--tender, salty and with as much horseradish as one chooses to inflict upon oneself. First-timers, however, are commanded to select the hallowed bar prawns, which are shelled, deveined, and breaded fresh each day. Slathered in lemon and cocktail sauce, these immense crustaceans are an institution unto themselves.
While lunch prices are quite reasonable, the Stagecoach's dinners are a little steep--especially considering that the same forgettable iceberg lettuce salad and baked potato come with every entree. That said, when the entrees arrive it is clear that the kitchen staff prepares meat with a proficiency that borders on worship. My "pride of The Inn" prime rib was cooked to such a perfectly even medium rare, I looked for evidence of airbrushing. No such luck--in fact, I enjoyed the cut so much that I commented to my vegetarian companion, "You have no idea what you're missing." A heated argument ensued, but I suspect it arose from the Shining-esque influence of the restaurant itself. Any non-flesh eaters unfortunate enough to enter the Stagecoach should simply consider themselves lucky not to be on the menu.
The portions were such that I considered myself lucky to survive to dessert. Once the d-word had been uttered though, it was too late to go back. Freshly made banana cream, chocolate cream and (my favorite) coconut cream pies are all worthy choices--just watch that the buttons flying off of your pants don't assassinate your fellow diners.
Food aside, the museum-quality atmosphere of the Stagecoach will always be the main draw. There is no better place in the state to gather one's friends and engage in a rousing bout of "Fat-Cat Make-Believe." To play: put on your best linen suit and cowboy hat, sit in the darkest corner available, eat a true fat cat's dinner (martini, oyster shooter, another martini and several pounds of mega-rare beef) and pretend to give tax breaks to corporate interests and benefits deductions to the poor. Then, when one of the waitresses wanders by in her timeless short black dress with white tassles, smack her on the tush, get tossed in the alley and look for your name in BW's True Crime section. You'll be in some good historical company.
--Nicholas Collias airbrushes his steaks at home.