Boises growing food-truck scene has gotten a lot of attention recently, and rightfully so, because these trucks have attracted a number of edgy and innovative chefs who may not otherwise have had the backing (or the desire) to spend the kind of personal and financial capital you need to take the plunge on a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
But there is another way to avoid some overhead such as wait staff, dishwashers and more and thats to focus on takeout.
A few weeks ago, I swung by the recently opened Pacific Rim Wine Stop, 2870 W. State St., to grab an easy dinner after work.
I moved to Boise after this joints previous incarnation in Hyde Park closed, so I was coming in fresh to the new spot in the former Amigos space. But I knew I wanted something more than a burger or a sandwich, something I could bring home to share with my wife for a real dinner.
I was met with an eclectic and exotic menu, and cobbled together a pretty unusual meal: zesty Bangkok crabcakes, wrapped in lettuce leaves and served with a bright, spicy cucumber salsa ($10); smooth and savory shrimp and crab pate, which tasted great on crisped slices of baguette and capped with more cucumber ($10); plus, a cup of New Orleans creamy seafood chowder ($6) and a side of Killer baked beans ($4 small, $6 large), just to give them a try. (Think thats a varied palate? I passed on a couple of BBQ wrap options, salmon teriyaki and a Canadian cheddar soup.)
The chef made them all as I waited, but remember this is a wine stop, so I was happy to get a glass and relax. (You also can call ahead.)
The pate was my favorite, and then the chowder. The beans were a little sweet and didnt quite fit in with the mix (and that was more my fault than theirs). The crab cakes were pretty darn good and they stayed hot and crisp on the outside as I drove the 20 or so blocks home.
Pacific Rim isnt alone in its dedication to takeout. A few blocks closer to Downtown at 1939 W. State St., Westside Drive-In has been dishing out great food in paper and Styrofoam for decades. And while most of the menu leans toward burgers, chicken sandwiches, shakes and other traditional drive-in fare, chef Lou Aaron, who bought the place in 1994, does delve into a few serious meals each week. (The newer ParkCenter location, which is not owned by Aaron, does not have this same menu.)
On Mondays, the State Street restaurant slow-cooks BBQ beef ribs and serves them up with slaw and potato salad for $9.99 a serving. Every weekend, $15.99 gets you a more-than-generous prime rib dinner, with homemade soup and one of the Westsides spectacular baked potatoes (a great lunch on their own, for less than $5). A couple of years ago, when we were living in a freezing cold, half-renovated house, and my wife wasnt feeling well, we splurged on a Boise hotel room and Chef Lous prime rib. It made the whole experience a little more homey, with minimal effort and thats exactly the point of great takeout.
A few places split the difference. The locally famous lasagnas and chicken pot pies from Cucina di Paolo, 1504 Vista Ave., come fully assembled but uncooked. You work the final magic in your home oven and if youre really sneaky (or just set a meticulous table), you can even bring in your own casserole dish, and theyll prep it.
I recently picked up a $7 individual-sized Italian sausage and mushroom lasagna and a $5 individual pot pit. Over the course of an hour, they filled the house with baking crusts and browning cheeses, and it smelled like Id been slaving over dinner all afternoon. I would get either of these again in a heartbeat (they would be awesome, say, for a getaway weekend at a friends cabin in the mountains), and Im intrigued by the array of chicken, lamb and sausage meals I saw in the display case.
Chef Lou, too, offers frozen meals you can cool, and so does aTavola Gourmet Marketplace & Cafe, 1515 W. Grove St. (ATavola also offers refrigerated meals and if you havent been there yet, youre missing out on a great high-end deli.)
Ive also noticed that My Fit Foods has hit Boise (Boise Towne Square and Ram Plaza), Eagle (600 S. Rivershore Lane) and Meridian (3323 East Louise Drive), and I picked up a couple of low-calorie, gluten-free meals to give this new chain a shot. The meals are fresh, not frozen, and reheat quickly in the microwave with impressive results in terms of texture and taste. The BBQ and country chicken I tried didnt dry out at all, and the incorporated sides (green beans and red potatoes in one and spinach and cauliflower in the other) tasted like sides, and not parts of the same mush pile, as I feared.
Each meal is clearly labeled for calories (I had 340 for lunch and 380 for dinner on the day I wrote this, and I feel totally sated), but they come more expensive than store-bought frozen meal options (mine were each more than $8). As for flavor, they arent in the same realm as Paolo or Pacific Rim, but I was surprised by the crispness of the beans and the moist chicken breast. If youre struggling to keep calories down or find quick and easy gluten-free meals, theyre worth a shot and theyre full of good ideas, like fresh-cut zucchini pasta and low-carb mashed cauliflower, for health-conscious cooks at home.
Gregory Hahn: firstname.lastname@example.org