No restaurant meal quite matches the tenor of spring and summer like al fresco brunch. Usually a little fancier and more expensive than breakfast, it also should be lazier and with less agenda. Dining outdoors just feels less formal. And theres implicit permission to imbibe, no matter how early.
Inspired by the season, I sought out regular restaurants that serve brunch every weekend which meant not just the ones that hit the big holidays. Daily breakfast places werent in the mix, either. A patio was a requirement, and was often the star. Here are four of my Boise patio brunch favorites:
DOWNTOWN AT THE MARKET
RED FEATHER LOUNGE 246 N. 8th St., Boise, 429-6340 Brunch: 8:30 a.m. - 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Brunch is not just breakfast with booze here. Red Feather serves the harder-to-find Saturday brunch as well as Sunday, the cocktails are of high design, and the menu is no obligatory punch list of morning standards. This is the place to go with friends to start your birthday or the morning after a great rock concert.
On Saturdays, the petite, umbrellaed patio is flush with the noisy pulse of the Capital City Public Market. Our dining group drank down sweet heirloom tomato Bloody Marys ($4 small/$9 large) and a carafe of mimosas ($6.50). A few feet away, a busker played Oasis Wonderwall twice in a row. Moments later, a man in a Superman costume strutted through the crowd on stilts.
Like the rest of the Red Feather menu, brunch is aimed locally and will satisfy the foodie with items like duck eggs with spicy braised kale and goat cheese ($8). But the food is not too proud to please broader palates. The pancetta-duck egg pizza ($11) is outstanding to share the yolks become a sauce, and the crust itself is only a breath or two away from the best pizza in town at Casanova or Tonys. Like a western incarnation of fried chicken and waffles, the crackling chicken on a biscuit ($9) is matched with incredibly rich cream gravy and a hidden layer of sweetness. One item in particular is a revelation. The oatmeal soufflé ($5) is part buttery oatmeal cookie, part pillowy custard, and will change the way you think of sweet breakfast food.
Small details are attended well. For a dish like the grapefruit brulee ($2), with a torched pane of sugar, the challenge is to keep the fruit cold and it was. And out on the patio, in the cool building shadow at high noon, our server overheard two guests at the next table say they were a bit chilly. Without a word, he returned with fleece blankets.
MURPHYS SEAFOOD & STEAKHOUSE 1555 Broadway Ave., Boise, 344-3691 Brunch: 10 a.m. 2 p.m. Sunday
For some, a true brunch requires a buffet, and Murphys on Broadway lays out an impressive display every Sunday as it has for 25 years.
The buffet ($15.99 including a mimosa, glass of champagne or orange juice) is set up catering-style on long linened tables in the cool, darkish bar. Youre likely to be tempted to stay inside and watch a little Sunday baseball. But the road-side patio, just out the bars side door, is surprisingly pleasant and quiet. Its in full sun from the morning on, with only occasional traffic. (The waitstaff seemed a bit surprised by someone asking to dine outside, but they were accommodating.) Murphys is a popular destination for families on Easter, Mothers Day and Fathers Day, but it can best be appreciated when the pace is slower and you can scout the whole buffet before making your choices.
Recently there was a huge array of traditional dishes: Belgian waffles, French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, country fried steak, eggs benedict, hash browns, and biscuits and gravy led to a manned omelet station and a carver board. Behind the banquet chef, on the bar top, was an equally broad spread of desserts and breakfast pastries.
There was also smoked salmon with bagels, peel-and-eat shrimp cocktail, and unusual rotating weekly selections like blueberry-lavender bread, roast beef sliders on rye toast with gorgonzola aioli, and fish cakes with tomato jam. Everything I tried on the well-maintained buffet was fresh and rotated often, and worth the price for variety alone.
BY THE WATER
COTTONWOOD GRILLE 913 W. River St., 333-9800 Brunch: 11 a.m.3 p.m. Sunday
The Cottonwood has aged well, a rare survivor among Boises fine-dining restaurants that opened around the turn of the century. It has done so by changing only a little at a time, reliably moving forward and staying true to its vision of food and service. And while the ski-lodge-like dining room glows in winter with its confidential bar booths and stone fireplace, the summer patio is one of the loveliest places to be in Boise. Its right on the Greenbelt, filled with the senses of the season. Shaded by umbrellas and trees, the patio feels cooled even by the river itself.
Many of the items on the brunch menu have been here since the beginning. Its a testament to the standards of preparation that visiting the Cottonwood Grille today still has a very consistent feel. The snow crab omelet ($10, served with fruit or potatoes) and seafood quiche ($9) seem hardly changed over the years, if at all. The Cottonwood Benedict ($10), with its thin-sliced pork loin, absolutely perfectly poached eggs and peerless béarnaise sauce, is the standard by which traditional high-end breakfast should be judged. The spicy, horseradish-flecked Bloody Mary mix is distinctly part of the Cottonwood.
Another nice feature is that the brunch menu always has been split fairly evenly between breakfast and lunch items, with salads and full entrees all the way up to the filet mignon Oscar ($23), which showcases the restaurants signature prime-grade house-aged beef.
A cool day recently did send us inside to those bar booths. There we discovered a new cocktail menu, croquetas on the appetizer menu, and suddenly brunch had become the daily happy hour (3-6 p.m. daily).
IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
13TH STREET PUB AND GRILL 1520 N. 13th St., Boise, 639-8888Brunch: 8 a.m.2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
This Hyde Park restaurant has several things going for its weekend brunch service. Like Red Feather, brunch is also served on Saturday and also early, starting at 8 a.m. Many of the items are available as half portions, with potatoes and other side dishes served a la carte. On a recent visit, my group was able to share a wide swath of the menu. And the food was better than any other meal Id had there previously.
Over the years, as the restaurant has changed owners, names and themes, at every step, the patio has continued to morph into what it is today a full, contemporary outdoor room with French windows to fully enclose the space from the weather, heated tile underfoot, and a gas rock firepit at the patios center. It is fully covered, as it has been for a decade, but now there are ceiling fans and flat-screen televisions. And to accommodate everyone, there is still plenty of streetside seating.
We were impressed with thick-cut challah French toast ($5 for a half order/$10 full), rich with vanilla and served with drawn butter. The sausage gravy on the biscuits ($3.50/$7) was herbaceous, and the tenderloin on a benedict ($9/$18) was perfectly medium and flavorful. We liked the flavors of the special gouda and red pepper quiche ($5), though we werent wild about the consistency of the custard pie itself.
Service is still a work in progress. The busing was so aggressive, that we actually had to ask for a plate back and ended our meal literally holding down anything we didnt want stripped away.
But this is one case where everything else truly fades into the background. Location guarantees that a restaurant here always will have customers. Now, though, more than ever, 13th Street Pub is all about the patio.
Email Alex Kiesig: firstname.lastname@example.org