Dining review: Sandbar Riverhouse still puts out homespun fare

SPECIAL TO THE IDAHO STATESMANJuly 18, 2014 

  • SANDBAR RIVERHOUSE

    Address: 18 Sandbar Ave., Marsing

    Phone: (208) 896-4124

    Online: sandbarriverhousemarsing.com

    Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; noon to 8 p.m. Sunday

    Menu price range: appetizers, soups and salads $4-$13; sandwiches and burgers (lunch only) $6-$12; entrées $15-$25

    Libation situation: The small and affordable wine list exclusively features labels from nearby Sunny Slope wineries. Expect to find bottles from Hells Canyon Winery, Ste. Chapelle, Bitner Vineyards and Hat Ranch Winery, to name a few. The place also serves bottled domestic beers and wine margaritas.

    Kid friendly? Yes. There's a reduced-portion menu that covers the bases well.

    Wheelchair accessible? Yes

    Opened: 1967

Folks in Owyhee County have enjoyed slabs of prime rib at the Sandbar Riverhouse ever since LBJ was in office. It's been the pinnacle of fine dining in the Marsing area even before Idaho's wine country blossomed across the Snake River in neighboring Sunny Slope.

So you can imagine the disappointment when the venerable restaurant closed its doors in 2011 after being open for about 45 years.

But the Sandbar wasn't always in the same place. Before it moved into a renovated, century-old house in downtown Marsing during the '80s, the restaurant was located at another spot on the Snake River - way out in Murphy.

Most people don't remember that remote location among the sagebrush and mule deer, but they surely recall eating spencer steaks and fried shrimp at this scenic spot in town.

It's impossible to miss the remarkable views of the Snake River and Lizard Butte looming in the background from just about any seat in the restaurant.

New owners Adam and Lisa Percifield realized all this history and decided to reopen the steakhouse last fall after it sat empty for two years. Adam's grandparents owned and operated the restaurant from 2001 through 2010, and he felt passionate about keeping the local dining institution alive.

The menu is mostly the same as it was before. You have to go with what works in Marsing, a town where ribeyes trump rigatoni.

The Percifields aren't interested in messing with the formula by serving drastically different food, but they have plans to make some small changes in the coming weeks, like adding fresh-sheet Basque dishes on weekends (Adam has Basque blood running through his veins).

Homespun is the best way to describe what comes out of the kitchen here. While the fare may seem outdated to some, at least the steakhouse goes out of its way to make lots of stuff from scratch, like the signature salad dressings, soups and sauces.

They even batter their own shrimp and finger steaks instead of taking the easy route and buying freezer-to-fryer products.

One night, we asked to be seated on the deck so we could enjoy the breeze blowing off the big river below.

The appetizer selection at the Sandbar appears to be an afterthought. Hummus, jalapeno poppers and coconut shrimp hardly piqued our interest.

We skipped the small plates and went for a gamut of entrées, all of which came with cups of thick and creamy clam chowder, a large bowl of green salad (served family-style with honey mustard, thousand island, blue cheese and ranch dressings) and a choice of potatoes or rice.

The slab of slow-roasted Angus prime rib (8-ounce cut of Choice-grade beef for $19) we received would surely please any rancher who's been out fixing fences all day. It's a big plate, for sure, piled high with a thick cut of tender and juicy beef roast (pink in the center), toothsome potatoes au gratin, horseradish sauce and a sourdough roll.

We had the kitchen top the beef with a mixture of green onions, peppercorns and crunchy bacon bits ($4), as if the plate wasn't heaping enough already.

The prime rib paired especially well with a bottle of Chicken Dinner Red ($25), a blended red table wine put out by Huston Vineyards, from just up the way on Chicken Dinner Road.

Also enjoyable were the four battered and fried shrimp ($15/reduced portion), tender and exploding with sweet oceanic flavor under a light golden crust. The shrimpies came with cocktail sauce, spicy mustard and a large crater of mashed potatoes brimming with country-style gravy.

The Sandbar's chicken strips ($15) pleasantly surprised us as well. These hand-breaded and deep-fried chicken breast medallions were served with thick, steak-cut fries and tangy honey mustard dipping sauce.

We felt let down by the halibut amandine ($24), mostly because the sautéed halibut steak (obviously pulled from the freezer) was incredibly dry and sprinkled with sparse amounts of sliced almonds. The wine-butter sauce on top didn't do much to help this utterly lackluster dish, served with rice pilaf and a sourdough roll.

During a lunch visit, a few weeks later, we had beef on our minds.

Do yourself a favor and try the Steak Sammy ($12), a simple yet delicious Basque-inspired sandwich made on a crusty French roll with an ultra-tender, grilled New York strip loin (nailed at a medium temperature, in our case) covered with pieces of chewy and sweet roasted garlic and pimento mayo. Our sandwich came with natural-cut fries.

Finger steaks are an Idaho original, and the Sandbar doesn't mess around when it comes to finger steaks.

These hand-battered and fried flatiron strips ($11) were crunchy and juicy with each bite, served with horseradish-spiked cocktail sauce and sweet potato fries.

The reopening of the Sandbar Riverhouse has been well received by folks in these parts. Most people are just happy to see such an important part of Marsing come back to life after a string of bad economic years.

Email James Patrick Kelly: scene@idahostatesman.com

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