It wasn’t long after Brian Garrett debuted his bright-orange food truck in 2012 that he began having brick-and-mortar dreams.
The red-bearded Garrett likes to build things from the ground up, and this may have something to do with the fact that he’s an architect by profession. The food truck, with its quirky name and “roots” cuisine, laid the foundation for his gastropub that opened in 2014 in the former Red Headed Finn spot across from the Borah Station U.S. Post Office in Downtown Boise.
The name Saint Lawrence Gridiron fits right in with Garrett’s somewhat dark sense of humor. (Full disclosure: I did consulting for Garrett before he rolled out his food truck a few years back.) The name is culled from the ancient story of Saint Lawrence, a Catholic martyr from Rome who was slowly cooked to death on a large gridiron for his perceived transgressions.
If the cuisine at Saint Lawrence Gridiron were music, it would be labeled Americana, because of its deep roots in regional American cuisine with a deliberate Southern bent. Garrett didn’t actually spend his youth in the South. He’s from the Chesapeake Bay area, where he grew up cheering on the Washington Redskins and eating soft-shell crabs and such.
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Craig Wilson came on board as the chef earlier this year, but he will soon be moving back to his home state of Colorado. No worries, though. Garrett is confident that his remaining kitchen staff can follow the seasonal menu formula that he and his former chefs have set in place.
It’s hard to miss Saint Lawrence Gridiron as you stroll down Bannock Street, thanks to the big, black smoker out front that puffs out sweet-smelling cherrywood smoke. The smoker is a pretty good indicator of what ends up on the menu. Yet it wouldn’t be accurate to call the place a barbecue joint. The food is more nuanced than that.
On the wintertime dinner menu, diners can start things off with poutine ($7) that is like no other around town. A shallow bowl of crispy, hand-cut fries get draped in Gorgonzola cheese sauce, syrupy fermented black bean reduction and toothsome cubes of tender smoked brisket.
The style of wings ($8) is changed daily — wings du jour, so to speak. One chilly night we received three Asian-inspired wings (large drumettes attached to wing tips) with the meat barely clinging to the bones. The oven-roasted wings, garnished with long-cut scallion and crushed peanuts, were good and sticky on the outside due to a fragrant sesame-soy sauce marinade.
These appetizers paired well with an Old Fashioned ($10), mixed straight-up with Old Grand-Dad bourbon, bitters, caramel-like demerara syrup and a large shaving of orange peel. Saint Lawrence Gridiron is known for its well-curated list of bourbons, which get turned into classic and newfangled craft cocktails by the knowledgeable bartenders.
If you like salads with big, robust flavors, try the squash salad ($9), a jumble of roasted, diced winter squash, hearty greens, long ribbons of carrot and dabs of fresh goat cheese, tossed in sweet and vinegary maple syrup-apple cider vinaigrette.
Now let’s talk entrees. The Low Country-inspired shrimp and grits ($15) smack of Charleston, S.C. A mound of Carolina-style hominy grits — creamy like a Southern grandma would make them — was encircled by zesty tomato-smoked sausage gravy. The grilled shrimp were gratifyingly tender.
The pork belly ($15) is another entrée with no shortage of pronounced flavors. Two slabs of braised and seared pork belly — showing a stratum of marbled fat and meat — came ornately arranged with a smear of silky smoked apple puree, pickled fennel, bright blackberry sauce and greens slow-cooked with chunky bacon jam.
During another visit, I stopped by to check out the recently retooled lunch menu that features versions of some dinnertime items, but at a reduced price.
Saint Lawrence Gridiron now offers the brisket platter ($15) at lunch. The meaty sampler, served on a wood cutting board, displayed two large slices of long-smoked brisket on a bed of bacon-fat braised chard greens alongside ramekins of aromatic fennel chutney, scratch whole-seed mustard and herby compound butter. I had some issues with the platter, though, mostly because the cutting board only had one slice of grilled baguette on it — there were two of us dining — and the promised house-made pickles were nowhere in sight.
A cornbread panzanella salad ($7) sounded more interesting on the menu than it was in reality. The salad, even with its good intentions, hardly had the complexity of flavors like the other dishes I tried here. Mixed greens were tossed in an overly sweet buttermilk dressing with shredded sharp cheddar, red bell pepper and sliced apple, adorned with three blocks of crumbly cornbread. Smoking the cheese and turning the cornbread into crunchy croutons would definitely make the salad better.
The name Redneck Burrito ($9) kind of sells this lunchtime item short. A true redneck burrito probably would be made with Spam and Velveeta. Instead, this mission-style burrito (rolled tightly with a large flour tortilla) boasts a swirl of smoky and sweet pulled pork, pickled green tomatoes, succotash, bourbon-spiked rice, shredded pimento cheese and nose-clearing, smoked Fresno chili pepper sauce. The hybrid burrito came with a bowl of buttery corn bisque.
In an effort to make the food better with each passing year, Saint Lawrence Gridiron seems to continue making the right adjustments and valuing customer feedback. This continued passion over complacency has definitely earned the gastropub a loyal following.
Idaho Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: email@example.com.
Saint Lawrence Gridiron
Address: 705 W. Bannock St., Boise
Phone: (208) 433-5598
Hours: Lunch — 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner — 5 to 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; brunch — 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Happy hour is 4 to 6 p.m. daily.
Menu price range: appetizers, salads and soups $7-$10; sandwiches and entrées $9-$29.
Libation situation: A rotating array of eight handcrafted brews on tap, bottled and canned beers (check out the 16-ouncers of PBR and Rainier), wines from around the world, classic and craft cocktails and a select bourbon lineup with around 20 labels.
Kid friendly? Yes. The menu does have macaroni and cheese and burgers with hand-cut fries.
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: April 2014