To say the Ranch Club in Garden City has a history unlike any other restaurant and bar in the Treasure Valley would be an understatement.
I mean, how many local watering holes have been featured in a major Hollywood movie? And one that stars Clint Eastwood, no less. Of course, I’m talking about the cowboy carnival sideshow flick “Bronco Billy,” which filmed exterior shots at the Ranch Club in 1980.
Now that’s famous. It even states “Worlds Famous” on the front of the building, not far from the rearing stallion statue that’s become a mainstay on Chinden Boulevard over the years.
Jason Kovac, who owns and operates the Whiskey Bar, Tom Grainey’s, The Silly Birch and The Shed, recently purchased the Western-themed restaurant and bar and gave it a thorough scrubbing and a fun remodel before rebooting the place in early June.
Kovac had the campy wallpaper scraped off the walls, adding reclaimed barn wood and a profusion of rusty work tools and taxidermied animals placed here and there, glassy eyes transfixed on diners. Kovac also uncovered the existing windows that were once boarded up, letting in streams of natural light to the previously dark and cavernous space. He also put in rows of counter-like wood tables so people can commune while eating burgers and quaffing cold brews.
In many ways, it still looks like the old Ranch Club, with its lacquered wood bar and live music stage, but the inside of the establishment is now a smoke-free environment. It’s also family-friendly up until 9 p.m. — at which point minors must leave and it’s all about the adults till closing time.
As for the food, chef Joel Thomas, who also wrote the menu at The Shed, has come up with a menu here that’s a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. Idaho-inspired pub fare best describes it. The menu also features a few dishes that pay homage to the Onati Basque restaurant, which formerly resided in the back room behind the bar more than a decade ago.
The appetizer list runs the typical gamut of hot wings, nachos and baskets of fries, yet some obvious spins make it stand out slightly from other pub menus around town.
Start things off with a big, sharable basket of Sriracha fries ($5), a mound of hand-cut Idaho spuds tossed in Sriracha chili-garlic sauce that smacks of honey on the backbeat.
Cowboy Nachos ($10.50) have all the right elements — a base of refried beans on top of which comes tortilla chips covered with melted cheddar and jack cheeses, saucy bits of smoked brisket and slices of fresh jalapeno — yet by design they are rather hard to eat because the nachos get encircled around a tall mound of lettuce leaves with a cup of pico de gallo precariously perched on top. As I tried to pull off chunks of cheesy chips, many of them ended up on the table. In other words, you need some room on the plate to push and pull nachos. Plus, the cheese distribution was rather uneven — some chips had too much cheese, while others were completely bare.
Ham croquetas ($7.25) follow the Basque path. But these crunchy-good, breaded orbs are obviously of the pork variety (not made with chicken, like at Basque eateries in the Valley), with a molten béchamel filling pocked with noticeable chunks of smoky ham. The croquetas get served with vinegary tiger sauce for dipping.
As you would expect on a pub menu, sandwiches and burgers (served with fries, mashed potatoes, tots or spud salad) get a lot of play here.
Back on the Basque front, the kitchen puts out a spicy chorizo grinder ($9) that will seem familiar to Boise-area diners. A split and grilled Basque-style chorizo link comes on a toasted hoagie roll with grilled onion, red bell pepper and mushrooms, served with standard yellow mustard potato salad dusted with paprika.
The Bronco Billy Burger ($11) is a shout-out to the bar’s claim to fame. It’s a good, meaty burger, for sure, with a perfectly grilled third-pound patty (still some pink in the center) of cheddar-draped local beef plopped on a buttery brioche bun with toothsome bits of barbecued pork belly, a fried onion ring and a smear of horseradish mayonnaise. Who says you need lettuce and tomato on a burger?
The Rancher ($11) is a simple yet tasty chicken sandwich that’s a solid pick for kids. A crusty bun encases a buttermilk-battered fried chicken breast, slices of crispy bacon, curly green lettuce and a slice of tomato, next to a pile of standard Tater Tots.
In terms of the Idaho-themed entrées, the pan-seared trout ($13) was wrong in just about every conceivable way. First off, the butterflied ruby trout fillet was well past its freshness date and it came smothered in bright berry preserves instead of the promised berry beurre blanc (butter-wine sauce). It didn’t really matter, though, because no sauce could have masked the stench of the not-so fresh fish underneath. We did enjoy the sides of smashed, griddle-seared potatoes and grilled corn-on-the-cob sprinkled with crumbled cotija cheese.
I was much happier with the elk meatloaf ($11), tender and aromatic slices of terrine-like meatloaf (made with a seasoned blend of ground elk and pork) striped with dark mushroom gravy, next to smashed potatoes and the aforementioned corn.
It appears that the kitchen at the Ranch Club is still working out the kinks—and some new entrées will be added soon—but the menu seems to be well-suited for the ambience of the iconic watering hole.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: 3544 W. Chinden Blvd., Garden City
Phone: (208) 342-2600
Online: ranchclubgc.com (soon to be launched).
Hours: Kitchen: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; bar: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
Menu price range: appetizers, salads and soups $3.50-$11; sandwiches, burgers and entrées $9-$13.50.
Libation situation: Eight brews on tap (mostly common domestic beers and a few local brews, including Payette Brewing Rustler IPA), wines by the glass and old-school cocktails.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: June 2017