Eating out is a comical challenge for the boy and me. He cooks simply (a.k.a. with a grill and bacon grease), and I tend toward organic mungbean stews and sugary stuffs that have been rendered anti-caloric by some moonlight voodoo ritual involving headless chickens and yellow #5. Finding a balance can be difficult, but there are a few places that cater to my fat-shyness and his fear of anything sponsored by the Duchess of York.
One such place is the State Court Café, known for its hearty yet creative breakfasts and some of the best waitresses this side of the Bronx. The first time we went, it had just come under new management, and though there were kinks (like an empty plate being brought to the table), the food was really, really good. The menu has everything you would expect and plenty of things you wouldn't like Kobe beef, prime rib and old world cheeses--and that's just in the omelets.
One morning after a night of waaaaaay too much tequila, the boy and I played a rousing (in regard to the contents of my stomach) game of tennis and then crawled to the State Court for some hot food. The mismatched warmth and good smells smacked of grandma's kitchen, and the recipes are right up there with her world famous waffles. We found a seat by a sunny window and had steaming coffee in front of us before we could even blink at the Sunday morning traffic.
The boy never even cracked his menu. He knew what he wanted--the salmon, spinach and Swiss cheese omelet with Mornay sauce, rye toast and hash browns. I was more adventurous, passing up my usual veggie scramble for a Mexican omelet of eggs, sour cream, jalapenos, cheese, onions and all the trimmings. While we waited, our waitress (a dead ringer for Reba McEntire) entertained us with tales of her history in the business and her ability to carry two coffee pots and four plates all at once. She was fast, efficient and totally genuine, a nice change from the aloof minimalism of "fine" dining or the palpable impatience of teenage service.
The food was on our table almost as quickly as the coffee, and everything was right out of the frying pan. The boy tucked in and just smiled, leaning back with the kind of peacefulness that rarely happens before retirement. I built a Heimlich-worthy bite slathered in salsa and green Tabasco, daring the hangover in my gut to say good morning. It went down like a chocolate shake--thick, rich and satisfying. The more I ate, the better I felt, even though I knew the spices would come back to haunt me. The eggs were fluffy and surprisingly greaseless, and the mix-ins were sliced big and scattered plentifully. The sour cream and peppers made the dish, and I scarfed down the entire thing while looking for cheap furniture in the Thrifty Nickel.
I didn't find the washer and dryer I was looking for (but if anyone wants five kittens and an outboard motor ...), but breakfast saved me in ways I can't explain. I went into the State Court with a tequila burn in my belly and an imaginary anvil on my head, and I came out feeling comfortably stuffed and ready for a Sunday snooze. I have trouble choosing favorites in any category, but the State Court wins for breakfast in Boise.
--Erin Ryan cannot stand to find wrinkles in her Saran Wrap.
The State Court Café is the last of a dying breed: a coffee shop without pretensions of being either a family restaurant or a sobering-up point for late night stoners. When the Court ceases its four-hour breakfast run at 10 a.m., members of the latter category are just starting to wonder about the identity of their bunkmate. By the time it closes at 3 p.m., they're just reporting to work at the Weekly. But those who brave the morning light enough to wander to the Court are in for a treat. Aside from its museum-quality café features--bottomless cups of coffee, ubiquitous sprigs of parsley and orange slice garnishes and an unending stream of banter between the wait staff and The Regulars--the place actually serves really good food.
Picking out the era responsible for the colors and styles represented in the Court's décor is as difficult as choosing what to eat. The teal and taupe speckled floor tiles are straight out of the 1980s, while the towering bookshelf near the door, chock-full of books anthologizing the long-dead comic Herman, reaches back a bit further. The coffee mugs, none of which match, cover epochs ranging from Reagan-in-the-White-House to Reagan-the-hippie-whompin'-governor to Reagan-the-failed-actor. What this means is that "luck of the draw" is a factor in each visit to the café, as one could end up drinking from either "Mickey Mouse Christmas" or any number of sponge-painted and stenciled craft projects from bored housewives of the past.
In choosing dishes to represent the Court's extensive breakfast and lunch menu I chose, as I often do, to follow the menu's most self-congratulatory recommendations. Lucky for me, that led to the coronary one-two punch of eggs benedict in the morning ("with the best homemade hollandaise in Boise!") and a Rueben at midday ("the best in Boise!"). To analyze the accuracy of the Court's former claim I would need to (gladly) line up shot glasses of goo from a half-dozen or so other Boise bistros. But in lieu of such a spectacle, I'll just say that the Court's eggs benny are very good--plate-filling, heavy on both ham and hollandaise and reaching triumphantly toward four digits of caloric content. The homestyle potatoes taking up the rest of the plate were dry and not particularly flavorful, but with a little leftover hollandaise, they still managed to make it down the hatch and onto the thighs. My breakfast buddy tucked into in a short stack of plate-sized flapjacks that seemed exceptionally fluffy and tender even to our jaded palettes.
The Rueben also made a viable stab at Boise's finest--although again, a contest should be in order. Even good sandwich shops have trouble with Ruebens--usually because the corned beef isn't corny, the Rye not caraway-y and the sauerkraut neither sauer nor plentiful enough--but the Court's traditional interpretation is nearly flawless. The cashew chicken salad sandwich enjoyed by my cohort was also tasty, even if not unique enough to stand out like the Rueben. It came with a cup of excellent split pea and ham soup, thick as lava and with generous hock-chunks, and was followed by a slice of blueberry pie that wouldn't win any county fair prizes but perfectly complemented a fifth cup of coffee. We left both meals satiated, caffeinated and convinced that those Seinfeld folks may have been on to something.
--Nicholas Collias finds corned beef the most sensual of salty cured meats.