For a generation, TableRock has felt quieter and less buzzed-about than other Downtown Boise brewpubs. But sometimes that quiet is what you're looking for, and as baseball's spring training has begun, I am reminded how pleasant a place TableRock is to watch an afternoon game with a microbrew and a late lunch.
The tall room is skylit, bright and comfortable, if spare, with booths on the left, long high tables in the middle, and the bar and brewery at the back. Blues music is playing overhead, and sports are on all the flatscreens. At some restaurants with these tall communal tables, guests are hesitant to share space unless it's packed, but the relaxing vibe is so immediately felt, here people share all the time.
The beers all go down easily -whether a red, wheat, pale ale or IPA, a 22-ounce draft ($5.50, or $4.25 for a pint) disappears before you realize it. Though I tend toward lager or skunky pilsner, I like even the darkest beers at TableRock, rich without being too sweet. I particularly like the seasonal Oktoberfest, something to look forward to.
Over the years, I've eaten my way across most of the menu, which has evolved some since its debut, but has a strong pull toward crowd pleasers like fish tacos, a buffalo chicken sandwich, burgers and finger steaks. But there are some more unusual items - such as the mulligatawny soup, with curry and apples - that TableRock has been doing for so long, it felt time to give them another look.
The bistro salad ($9) is huge, with grape tomatoes, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, blue cheese crumbles and white beans. This is good with from-scratch balsamic vinaigrette or blue cheese, and better with a tasty grilled-to-temperature marinated steak ($3 to add on), sliced in thin wide ribbons.
The blend of red and yellow quinoa in the lemon quinoa salad ($9) is nicely cooked, served on greens dressed in a tart dressing. As an entree this is served with artichoke hearts and grape tomatoes, or is available as a side dish for a $1.50 upcharge - a refreshing, light choice to cut through the heaviness on much of the menu.
Not that I am complaining-with beer in hand and snow still on the mountains, the traditional menu items do what they are supposed to do. The TableRock reuben ($10.50) with house-corned beef and good sauerkraut is a faithful rendition of a classic. The serving of fish and chips ($12) is as large as the bistro salad. Though I prefer simple, hand-cut, skin-on fries instead of these -which have a light, crispy coating - the cod was good, flaky, steaming when cracked apart, with distinctive beer flavor in the batter. And I like the slaw, garnished with pecans.
One notable feature is the expansive gluten-free menu, with most of the regular sandwiches -including a BLT ($7) with sweet, smoky bacon and sun-dried tomato mayo - served on very respectable gluten-free bread. Best on this list was the state-fair-sized, hand-dipped corn dog ($6 with a choice of side, or $8.50 for a "double dog"), a good, greasy version in hot, crackling crust, served with fry sauce. TableRock is also brewing gluten-free beer, at the same prices as their other beers.
One late evening, we did not get perhaps the best order of shepherd's pie ($9). There should be distinct layers of beef stew and mashed potatoes, with a quick pass under a broiler to give the potatoes some char. What arrived was a wide bowl with beef, carrots, onions and soupy potatoes mixed together in a red wine brown gravy, with no textural relief, and served unappealingly lukewarm. Our server offered to microwave it for us, but that couldn't exactly repair what had already gone wrong with the execution.
In several visits, one common theme was that service was very casual - almost sleepwalking through the moves. It takes some time for them to get to you, takes a little longer to get your order in, and even when the dining room is sparsely occupied, it takes a while to get your food. My wife and I were served several times by the bartender, and while very friendly, making good recommendations, and ultimately getting us everything we needed, we needed to go find him to get more beers, a side of salsa, and pay our tab. Most recently, another young server sauntered slowly across the dining room toward the kitchen, his fingertips inside a cluster of four glasses, a service taboo we might not have noticed if the act itself had not been so drawn out.
One request: One of the first things I tried at TableRock when I was in college was a Scotch egg - a hardboiled egg wrapped in sausage, rolled in breadcrumbs, and fried. It's been on and off the menu over the years, but should be a permanent staple. With honey mustard, it's the perfect beer food. And I'll wait any amount of time for it.
Email Alex Kiesig: email@example.com