Quick. Close your eyes and imagine an old-time small-town Western steakhouse. Theres a big buffalo head, right? A few other mounted racks. Elk antlers, a saloon. The smell of apple wood smoke. A few antique yokes hanging off a brick wall.
Youve pretty much nailed the Indian Creek Steakhouse in Caldwell. And if you try, you can probably picture the Old West typeface on the sign out front.
Dillon and Jennifer Wickel opened the place just a year ago, based on the idea behind Dillons uncles 1970s Coeur dAlene steakhouse, the Wolf Creek Inn. And this newer institution appears to have aged beyond its years in a good way.
But heres what you didnt see coming: That salad that comes with every entree? Its made of young mixed greens, with fresh-sliced cucumbers and homemade dressing. (Discard that vivid image you have of wilted iceberg lettuce with watery ranch it has no place here.)
Maybe you anticipate some cowboy beans, lifeless and gray, boiled with so much ketchup and brown sugar that they taste more like dessert than a steak-worthy side. Cast that thought aside, pardner! Like Annie Oakley herself, the beans at Indian Creek threaten to steal the show. They taste of bacon and tomatoes and vinegar, more acidic than sweet, as good a mess of beans as you can find. I could eat a Stetson full of them. All 10 gallons.
And there are no spongy dinner rolls here. No sirree. Heres where some local cuisine comes into play: Every meal comes with a crispy bit of dough, what many folks would call fry bread, and what southern Idahoans and Utahns call a scone. (Which in turn is nothing like what the British call a scone, but what do they know about steak, anyway?)
At Indian Creek, the scone comes with house-made honey butter, so you can satisfy your sweet tooth even without those sugary beans.
As for the steaks, well, I hope you brought your appetite. Just hearing about them could fill a weaker mans belly. Folks who make it their business to tell you things like this say a healthy portion of meat is about 3 ounces. The size of your palm.
Here, the sirloins start at 12 ounces. Thats the Lil Buckaroo ($19), by the way. If you are feeling a little mas macho, you can try the 16-ouncer ($21), but you have to order the Cowgirl.
If you are insecure enough to have to order a sirloin that doesnt insult your manhood, prepare for a 24-ounce Cowboy ($27).
You can avoid the gender and age confusion altogether and get a 14-ounce New York or ribeye ($23 and $25), or a 10-ounce filet mignon ($27).
I tried a New York, a sirloin and a ribeye, which is my favorite cut. All were cooked to perfection, including my friends rare sirloin, which was neither overly charred or spitefully uncooked both relatively common results of that order.
The steaks were flavorful and seasoned well. Whatever you do, dont dump any salt and pepper on them before you take a bite. I ate here twice in a relatively short time period, and instead of dreading the repetition, I started craving the red meat almost the next morning.
And the steaks may not even be the best thing on the menu. For market price ($12 when we were there), we got a lobster tail somehow wedged onto the overburdened plate. I like drawn butter as much as the next seafood lover, but this crustacean was plenty moist and tasty without taking the plunge.
I ordered the salmon ($19) pretty much out of obligation what if one of those fish-etarians gets dragged here by a carnivore boyfriend? But I could tell as soon as it arrived that I had stumbled onto something great. Thick, flaky, and again perfectly cooked and simply seasoned.
I have to admit that I generally shy away from both steak and salmon at restaurants, because I rarely find them priced right and, frankly, prepared better than I can do on my backyard grill. But I am man enough to admit when Ive been bested.
This will be my new suggestion when folks ask where to bring out-of-towners. Its a little bit of what they probably imagine life is like for us Western folk.
For the full experience, try the Rocky Mountain oysters. A half-order, deep-fried with cocktail dipping sauce, is $8, but thats more than enough for a night of romanticized cowpoking.
Email Gregory Hahn: firstname.lastname@example.org