Once a restaurant has slashed its way through the weeds of the first couple of years, and survival seems increasingly likely, the best chefs and owners look for ways to push their businesses forward. That conversation often leads to brunch.
Here’s how three Boise food success stories are meeting a morning audience.
New roomies: fries with doughnuts
On a recent Saturday morning, the line at Guru Donuts snaked along, often stretching out through the door and into the budding spring air on Capitol Boulevard.
One door down at Boise Fry Company, customers hovered and pounced on rarely empty seats. The crowd was young and hip, with an air about them that said that this is something they do all the time, in a place that’s always been.
In reality, this is a new, shared venture for the businesses — two doors that lead to separate counters in the same room, the former longtime residence of Le Café de Paris. The layers of the old building have been peeled back to its bones: concrete floors, iron support beams and structural brick adorned with simply painted logos. In February, Boise Fry relocated here from its original location on Broadway Avenue. This is Guru’s first retail storefront. Already, both seem right at home.
It’s only on weekends, when Boise Fry opens at 9 a.m. for a mini-brunch, that the whole place bustles, the whistle of the espresso machine set against the crackle of a burger on the grill.
The small brunch menu at Boise Fry is unique to this location. My wife and I settled in with a couple of mimosas ($4) and sampled everything. The sweet potato hash ($6.89) is dotted with chimichurri and topped with a wobbly, sunny-side-up egg. We found it a little under seasoned, but it took well to the array of self-serve fry salts and sauces available. The hash is served on one of the restaurant’s uniquely shaped burger platters, which felt a little precarious. A lipped plate would help.
We liked the “bison gravy” ($6.89), a dish described by the young man at the counter as a kind of poutine. A bowl of fresh-cut russet fries are pooled with a rosemary-flecked and meaty cream sauce, topped with a fried egg and curlicues of shaved white cheese.
The inevitable culmination of the pairing of a doughnut place and a burger place is, of course, the doughnut burger ($6.49 for beef, $1 more for bison). While I am a fan of the mash-up of sweet and savory, the ratio works best when only one or the other is in the extreme range. I will admit a certain lack of curiosity about eating a burger on a doughnut — it’s always seemed like something you try once and say you did it, but are unlikely to repeat again. In the end, this was a very good burger (juicy, charred, topped with crumbled bacon and blue cheese) on a very good doughnut (a simple Guru glazed, soaked through with sweetness). But in my head and in my mouth, I preferred the elements in separate bites.
We ate at a tall table facing the Guru Donuts counter, and the revelation was how many people had come out on a Saturday morning, not for a full brunch, but just for doughnuts. At least half the room was here for Guru doughnuts ($1.50-$4) and coffee only, friends and families in blissful indulgence. I watched adults so happy to be eating doughnuts that they could not hold back, taking their first bites before they’d even finished paying at the register.
The only time I’d seen something like this — the lines, the devotion, the joy — was at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, the renowned, edgy specialty shop that partly inspired Guru. And I think Guru does it better. The risen doughnuts at Guru are thick and resist just a little when you bite into them, a neutral canvas for an array of creative, rotating toppings and glazes. The display at the Guru counter is kaleidoscopic with color, but the decadence is rooted in local, natural ingredients, including fresh fruit and herbs.
Each doughnut feels like a full composition. We found a bright pink Hipsterberry doughnut to be floral with lavender, and I loved a Key lime pie doughnut with tart frosting and graham cracker crumb.
Though I prefer my doughnuts and fries apart, I appreciated the symbiotic relationship of these businesses sharing a home. As they grow, there is room in particular for Boise Fry to hone brunch the way it has the rest of its core vision.
Modern in the morning
On the other side of Downtown, the reliably excellent Modern Hotel and Bar has built on its audience with a refined weekend brunch menu. Notably, brunch is served not just on Saturday and Sunday, but also Friday, where one early morning I found the room buzzing like it does at cocktail hour.
My guest that day was from out of town, and he reminded me how refreshing the Modern is as so much of Boise’s restaurant growth is toward large chains. “This has a very Portland feel,” he told me, noting the revamped hotel-room kitchen and comparing that to his own home city’s penchant for culinary achievement in unlikely settings.
The Modern started its brunch service in July with a menu developed and prepared by Chef Alex Cardoza, formerly of The Red Feather Lounge and the Boise Co-op. James Beard semifinalist Chef Nate Whitley handles dinner.
The dining room is a small lounge with streamlined, compact furniture and a minimalist aesthetic. As such, it has a different feel than a calamitous, turn-and-burn breakfast joint — it has a relaxed feel even in daylight. If there’s anywhere in town to order your breakfast in multiple courses, this is it. Our astute, attentive server guided us through the menu and appropriately re-staged our petite table for each wave.
First, a brown-butter and hazelnut scone ($2) with stiff crème fraiche crumbled into warm hunks. Next, nicely poached eggs, aromatic with spices, arrived on wide toast with subtle tomato spread ($5).
While those were well-executed, the next course presented more adventure. Spanish fried eggs ($7), crisped at the edges, were served on unctuous potato confit — all fine and good, but made exhilarating by a nutty, earthen, purple beet romesco sauce. We added the recommended house-smoked lomo ($4), which more closely resembled a ham steak than the pork loin that I was expecting. It was, nevertheless, an apotheosis of smoke and sweetness and fat.
But even this paled next to the best thing we tried, also the most daring: an egg-and-wild-mushroom-filled cube of Gaston’s pullman bread ($10), just toasty, fragrant with truffle oil and Parmesan. This is served with a changing selection of soup. We had a bowl of creamed onion soup, and when all the flavors come together in one bite, you will become a believer in soup for breakfast.
If there was any issue, it was that all this pressed the limits of possible savory intake — all from our own doing. An order of simple, perfect, hot crepes ($8) with local berry preserves was like dessert on top of the excess.
Once again, the Modern proved that in a limited space, creativity can be boundless.