The best thing about dining alone at the Pantry—particularly for breakfast—was the newspaper. It's rare that I get to have breakfast alone. It's also rare that I actually read the Statesman from cover to cover. So it was a special treat to take a booth at the Pantry (by the Greenbelt, as they like to say) and read a decent investigative police story, a pretty tight hamburger survey and some lame comic strips in the daily paper.
That's not saying much about the food.
The Pantry fits into a category of restaurant that I really want to like. It is spacious, clean and bright with an authentic diner decor. It is almost all booths. There are little amber glass decorative features at each table and iron menu racks mounted to the wall. There are phones at every table that go directly to the kitchen for lunch orders.
Let me say that again: The tables have phones on them to make lunch orders.
And the menu gives the appearance of ingenuity. The dishes have original names: Hobo Eggs (with chorizo), the Idaho Omelette (with hash browns and sausage inside), etc.
I ordered the Bacon Supreme Omelette ($6.95) because it had everything I ever wanted for breakfast in it: eggs, bacon, cheese, potatoes, toast.
There is a subtle price point on omelettes at a place like this. For $6.95, a cook needs to do something a little different than every other breakfast joint in America might do with eggs and bacon.
If it was a $4.95 omelette, I would be fine with a flat, greasy half-moon of bargain basement ovum flopped on a bed of processed, flavorless hashbrowns. But for almost $7, at a Greenbelt-facing establishment, I would like a little fluff to my eggs, some guacamole that is still fresh (my eggs came with a turd of dark, dark green avocado-like substance on top), and for god's and my sake, shred your own potatoes. You guys have knives back there, and this is Idaho.
There were some positives. Every single bite of that omelette had a crunch of bacon and a squeeze of cheese in it. The Tabasco--green and red--came in a beautiful and functional tin carrier that summoned the cell phone camera. Everything was clean and neat, including the hot sauce set.
Breakfast was very relaxing and only $10, including tip and bottomless, watery coffee. I keep wanting to write about how I appreciate an old-fashioned trucker's breakfast. But there's no excuse for that anymore. The definition of old-fashioned breakfast no longer hearkens to the 1950s and the heyday of processed and fast food. That type of cuisine made us fat and lazy for 50 years.
The new old-fashioned hearkens to the 1930s when eggs were farm fresh, when ma still cut up her own potatoes, when bacon came from a pig down the street. And when no one had heard of avocados yet.
To some readers, this may seem elitist. To me, thinking about where food comes from is essential for the survival of our culture.
I went back to the Pantry for lunch a few days later, and the place was packed. The innovative Italian burger ($7.55), which appeared to be pattied up in the kitchen, came with seasoned tomatoes, pancetta and mozzarella, a decent helping of fries and pale, under-seasoned onion rings. There was also live guitar music.
I might go back to the Pantry. It is a great restaurant for a long, lazy Sunday morning conversation. It's also a quiet, convenient backwater in which to conduct an interview or meet an off-duty cop, or a fine place to take your grandmother.
But with just a little effort and not much added cost on the part of the food buyer, it could be a decent place for breakfast as well.
--Nathaniel Hoffman wants to eat like it's 1939, plus avocado.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about the Pantry Restaurant here.