Sometimes you find independently owned sandwich shops in the most unexpected places, where corporate sandwich shops with big advertising budgets often push out the little guys.
It’s easy to miss Pino’s Fine Spirits and Grinders when cruising down Ustick Road — near Five Mile Road — due to a profusion of other businesses that line up on either side of this busy intersection. It all becomes a blur, at least for me, in this burgeoning stretch of Ada County.
Actually, I never even noticed the place until one day I saw a “Now Open” banner flapping in the wind on a thin strip of grass in front of the innocuous-looking strip mall.
Let’s just say, I’m glad I stopped.
Pino’s has earned a loyal following since debuting in late April. Co-owner Jason Desaro, a friendly guy and Boise native who previously worked in the fishing industry in Alaska, is pretty much a one-man show. Desaro not only preps the food and makes all the sandwiches, but also works the counter and acts as the bartender for the small eatery.
The restaurant is not much to look at in terms of décor — the walls are simply bedecked with assorted beer signs and a flat-screen TV that flashes football games — but that’s OK. It’s all about the oven-baked grinders, draft brews and cocktails.
Diners are treated to the wafting smell of made-from-scratch baked bread and house-made vinaigrette (Italian sub sauce) — a harbinger of good things to come.
Yes, Desaro bakes daily the long submarine buns that get used with all of the sandwiches, which get hit with the garlicky sub sauce and a blend of mozzarella and jack cheeses before getting placed in the scorching pizza oven.
First off, let me start by saying that Pino’s makes a damn good meatball and cheese sandwich ($6.25/half). A crusty bun (with a pronounced yeasty flavor) gets loaded up with gooey cheese and sliced beef meatballs tossed in basil-perfumed marinara sauce. I would definitely drive out there again just for this yummy sandwich.
Keep in mind, a half sandwich (8 inches) is big enough for one person; a full sandwich (16 inches) easily feeds two people. All sandwiches come with a little bag of Lay’s potato chips.
The combo and cheese ($6.75/half), the restaurant’s signature sandwich and best-seller, is a true meat lover’s creation. It’s layered with shaved ham, marbled salami, house-made Italian pork sausage, mayonnaise, tomato, grilled green bell pepper, onion and mushrooms. Need I say more?
The steak and cheese ($7/half) will remind diners of a Philly cheesesteak, with its melted cheese and tender ribbons of grilled steak topped with griddle-seared mushrooms, bell pepper and onion, finished with the right amount of mayonnaise (not too much) and sliced tomato.
Or go old-school with a classic French dip ($7/half), a long bun with melted cheese, lots of sliced roast beef and a smear of mayonnaise, served with a side of bold-tasting beef au jus for the dipping part of the equation.
Ordering a pastrami and cheese ($6.45/half) will get you a sandwich built with no shortage of briny turkey pastrami (don’t expect it to be piled high like a kosher deli, though), shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and a skiff of golden mustard.
I would probably skip the albacore tuna and cheese ($6.25/half) next time, mostly because the tuna salad that was plopped on the cheesy bun (with lettuce and tomato) became lost in a profusion of mayonnaise.
A chicken Caesar sandwich ($6.75/half) shows potential, yet the dressing-lubed chicken breast was a little on the dry side and the promised bacon was nothing more than barely discernible bacon bits. It would surely be a better sandwich if it had crispy slices of bacon instead.
Besides sandwiches, Pino’s also serves entrée-size salads, a soup du jour and cheesy garlic bread ($3.50) made on sliced house-baked buns.
The chef salad ($7.75) is definitely big enough to feed a couple of people. But I was surprised not to find any hard-boiled egg. It did have the other chef salad requisites: turkey, salami, smoky ham, tomato wedges, shredded cheddar, black olives, diced green bell pepper on a mound of chopped lettuce, served with sides of creamy blue cheese dressing.
Without a doubt, Pino’s mostly gets it right when it comes to oven-baked grinders, and some are way better than others.
Pino’s Fine Spirits and Grinders
Address: 10697 W. Ustick Road, Boise
Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday.
Menu price range: soups and salads $3-$7.75; half and full sandwiches $5.49-$13.75.
Libation situation: Classic cocktails made with top-shelf liquor, four local and regional brews on tap and wines by the glass.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: April 2017