The conversation at the Dutch Goose in Boise begins and ends with batter.
At this divey, dark, yet friendly State Street bar and grill, the fryers get a workout. Without prompting, a few friends discussed at length the virtues of the Gooses beer batter, and made a case that these were the best finger steaks in town. We sat around a table of half-full beer glasses and baskets of fried things. I have my own favorite finger steaks probably everyone in Boise does. But these ($7.75 a la carte) are up there hand-carved tri-tip, in a light, crispy batter. They come to the table still whistling from the fryer, cooked to a perfect medium in the center.
But as good as they are, where is the requisite cocktail sauce? No, no, here its all about the fry sauce, a friend said, pointing out the touch of horseradish in it. I asked: If its all about the fry sauce, why arent the fries hand-cut? No way in that tiny kitchen, said another friend.
You can imagine a few arguments have begun this way over the last 20 or so years at the Dutch Goose.
Although families are welcome, the dining space feels like a bar, with pool tables up front, foosball, Golden Tee, and darts in the back. Long tables with benches fill up during football season and on weekend nights. Corners of torn-down posters are still stapled to the walls, like fragments of college memories. In the center of the room on a hot day, a tunnel of air conditioning blasted down so hard it flipped the napkins from the table. Mostly in summer, the restaurant empties out onto the misted back patio and to the horseshoe pits.
The short-order kitchen is out in the open, behind the bar, with one cook working hard. The sizzle of the grill and eruption of the fryer fill the space with sound and smell.
That fish smells good, said a guy at the bar, and he was right there is something almost primal about frying fish. I suddenly needed to eat it. Or maybe its just the grease, he added.
For sure, laughed the cook. Here, the cook fills your order, calls out your name over a speaker, pours beers and might close out your tab at the end of the night. On Tuesday nights, when there is a popular two-for-one burger special, hell tell you hes too busy to talk. But on the weekends, hell tell you about the killer prime-rib dinner deal ($15.50 with a salad and baked potato) or fresh salmon specials.
I was impressed with the execution of the straightforward menu, with familiar items like wings and reubens. The halibut and chips ($11.95) are a regular Friday-night special, with sweet, fresh fish in a batter so light I had to ask if it was there. This is served with caper-tartar sauce and, instead of french fries, a pile of cooked-to-order potato chips, delicious with malt vinegar and salt. A hot steak sandwich ($8.50) is griddled tri-tip and cheese (best with oozy American), straight from the flat-top, in a warm hoagie with lettuce, tomato and mayo). One option is a rich, meaty bowl of from-scratch chili with cheese and onions.
Just-spicy deviled eggs (75 cents an egg) are another gimmick-free classic. Its crowd-winning bar food cuisine thats too heavy and too much of a messy hassle to cook at home when a place like this does it well and inexpensively.
On the higher end, the Goose is also well-known for its steamed clams ($13 for a small order, $19.50 for a large). These are just as approachable, cooked and served in a simple wine broth with shaved onions. The clams are minimally seasoned, pretty good in the accompanying drawn butter, but they wont make you forget clams on a coast. The crispy, buttered bread served alongside might be the best part of the dish.
There are several better beers on tap than I had remembered from my own college days with drafts from Crooked Fence and Payette breweries. I tried a booming Firestone Double Barrel Ale and another called Honkers, with a goosehead tap handle, which seemed appropriate.
A few beers in, and you look for a fried snack. Noticing the pickle chips on the condiment bar, and in the context of all the talk of batter, another friend approached the bar and asked the cook if he ever made fried pickles. In less than a minute, we had a basket of hot, salty, battered pickle chips, as good as any Ive ever had, and we felt like wed discovered a secret.
But the bartender laughed and told us she orders those herself all the time, and that one cook always makes them for his girlfriend when she comes in.
Like the Goose itself, this was a secret it seemed like everyone already knew.
Email Alex Kiesig: firstname.lastname@example.org