When I was a kid, there was nothing better than going out to a restaurant with my parents. I could choose my dinner from what seemed like an endless list of appetizing options. Though I usually chose a cheeseburger, fries and a root beer, the fact that I had a choice made me giddy.
These restaurants of yesteryear all shared some commonalities: One, crushed ice in your soda; two, servers who were always kind; and three, salad croutons that were small, crunchy and, to my grade-school-aged palate, the best food on the planet.
Walking into the Stagecoach Inn felt like walking into one of those restaurants of my childhood. Had I grown up in Boise, it very well could have been one of the restaurants from my kid years. More than that, it could have been a restaurant from my parents' childhoods; the Stagecoach has been around for nearly 50 years. No, they don't have crushed ice, but they do have the welcoming atmosphere of a restaurant that's been around longer than I have.
The Stagecoach has a few idiosyncrasies that set it apart from my nostalgia. The place is dark. The Stagecoach used to be a casino, and there are no windows. The waitresses all wear a uniform that consists of a short black skirt with white fringe.
A bit of music plays in the background, hardly loud enough to discern. Many restaurants play music so loud, it's hard to even hold a conversation. Instead of loud music, the Stagecoach has an ambience made of real conversation: old friends reminiscing, long-married couples subtly airing the words that forge their bond, and kids asking if they can order dessert.
Most or all of the booths are named after, from what I could gather, past regulars. My friend Jared and I sat at Bob and Bernie's booth. Looking up at the ceiling, tiles showed a patina of dinner, cigarette smoke and laughs of yesteryear.
Jared and I started off with a couple of beers. Jared had a bottle of Coors ($2.50)—the "Banquet Beer"—while I had a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale ($3.75). Had we been in the mood for something stronger, we were in the right place. Behind the bar sits one of the widest arrays of bottles I have laid eyes on.
For dinner, I opted for the Reuben sandwich ($8.95). It came with a house salad covered with honey mustard dressing that had a karate kick of spice. I didn't find a diversity of greens in the bowl, but there were a handful of sunflowers seeds and a good amount of small crunchy croutons, just the way I liked them as a kid. The sandwich was rich and hot. Its ample filling was made better by the fried-in-butter crunch of the bread.
Jared ordered a small filet and prawns ($22.95). For his side, he had a baked potato. His steak was cooked just as he ordered, and having tried some of it, I can attest it was savory. And, the prawns were a sight to behold, each one nearly the size of his Coors bottle. They were battered and fried to a perfect crisp. When I return to the Stagecoach, I plan to have a prawn dinner.
The Stagecoach is not the swanky new place in town, a place to see and be seen. People frequent the restaurant because they know they'll get good service and good food at a reasonable price. Our attentive and sweet waitress, Amber, said she could rattle off most of the diners by name—it's a place full of regulars.
A good friend of mine, who is a cook, said the Stagecoach is his favorite place in town. Places like the Stagecoach stick around because they work. They are places that let us share a story or two over a great meal. We remember them, and we go back.
—Ryan Peck likes a bowl of crunchy little croutons while he watches old movies.