06/23/2006 — I've always said there isn't enough northern European food in this town.
The kinds of establishments that carry long links of smoked sausage, fresh pastries and Polish cheese are few and far between, unless you are driving down Overland Road and happen upon Tres Bonne Cuisine.
This European restaurant/specialty food store is easy to miss, tucked away in a generic strip mall kitty-corner from McKinley Elementary School.
You may remember owners Tom and Barbara Haines from the basement restaurant in the downtown Bon Marche (now called Macy's).
There they served up classic dishes such as club sandwiches and Caesar salads for more than 10 years.
Since Barbara hails from Poland, and Tom is an American who ran a resort restaurant in Neah Bay, Wash., a European concept seemed in order, after their lease expired in 2004 at the downtown department store.
Tres Bonne Cuisine, a take on the restaurant's former name (Tres Bon Cafe) that won't yield a lawsuit, opened in November and serves traditional European/American comfort food — morning, noon and night.
OK, the place is only open for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, when weekly themed dinners are served. Expect a rotating menu of Bohemian, Polish, German and Hungarian prix fixe offerings.
One blustery night, we chose a table in the corner, next to a wall of European chocolate and coffee (not a bad place to be).
Bohemian cuisine was this week's culinary topic.
While we perused the limited Czech menu, out came cold bottles of slightly skunky Slovakian lager ($2.95/ Zloty Bazant Golden Pheasant).
We also tried a lighter Polish pilsner by the name of Perla Chmielowa ($2.95).
Tonight's culinary selection included a four-course dinner ($18.95) that featured a delicious bacon- and garlic-stuffed pork chop (probably the best chop I've ever had in a Boise restaurant). This super-tender chop came with plump potato dumplings, in a pool of light brown gravy kicked with dill pickle brine.
The meal also consisted of a dark onion soup (made with beef stock, beer and egg) reminiscent of French onion soup and a crisp green salad tossed with cauliflower, radish and tomato, tossed in a sweet coleslaw-like dressing.
In addition, we were served gratis slabs of dense and dark pumpernickel.
This prix fixe meal concluded with a generous slice of not-so-traditional lemon cheesecake (no bake, no less), crowned with whipped cream and lemon jellybeans (Jelly Bellies, no less).
We also indulged in a trio of Idaho sausage ($12.95) made by Big Lost River Meats in Mackay.
Three grilled sausages — potato, bratwurst and black currant — were striped with pungent sauerkraut, adjacent to a mound of mustardy potato salad, with no shortage of dill pickle and onion.
The black currant sausage was a little sweet (and crumbly) for my taste. The others were deliciously savory and held together much better.
The following week, we stopped in and grabbed some sandwiches.
Mixed in with the hamburgers and entrée salads on the lunch menu, diners can find hearty build-your-own European-style sandwiches and daily soup specials.
We especially liked our custom-made sandwich ($5.50) built on a house-baked baguetine (think sub roll) with grilled Polish sausage, smoked Polish cheese, spicy brown mustard and sautéed onions.
The German pot roast sandwich ($5.75) also was delicious, with its generous amounts of tender beef brisket and sauerkraut on grilled light rye.
Both sandwiches came with a scoop of potato salad.
Tres Bonne Cuisine definitely is a hidden gem. The northern European specialties, paired with extremely friendly service, make a trip down Overland Road a worthwhile venture.
James Patrick Kelly is the Idaho Statesman's restaurant critic. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.