Words & Deeds

Experts named each state’s iconic food. Idaho gave ’em the finger ...

Boise’s iconic Westside Drive-In celebrates 60 years

Chef Lou Aaron and his staff have been cooking up smiles for their Westside Drive In patrons for decades. The Boise icon celebrated the restaurant's 60th anniversary in June of 2017.
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Chef Lou Aaron and his staff have been cooking up smiles for their Westside Drive In patrons for decades. The Boise icon celebrated the restaurant's 60th anniversary in June of 2017.

... steaks. Idaho gave ’em the finger steaks.

Still, if potatoes had been picked as Idaho’s iconic food for the zillionth time, we might have gotten *@#!ing testy, right?

When Flavored Nation, “a new national food experience,” combed the United States for food to be served at a three-day festival this fall in St. Louis, what regional delicacy would they possibly declare as the Gem State grub?

A steaming pile of battered, deep-fried strips of steak. Of course!

Chef Lou Aaron of Westside Drive In will travel from Boise to St. Louis to represent Idaho.

Here’s more from Flavored Nation: “Through extensive research conducted by a team of culinary experts and food entertainment veterans, Flavored Nation has identified the most iconic food from each of the 50 states. Those 50 dishes — as well as the restaurateurs or chefs who prepare them best — will travel to The (St. Louis) Dome at America’s Center, Oct. 27-29, giving up to 12,000 attendees (as well as soon-to-be-announced celebrity guests) the chance to feast from sea to shining sea. A taste of every state.”

Hey, I know what you foodies are thinking. When it comes to winning respect from outsiders, the Gem State is the Rodney Dangerfield of the culinary world. Despite a lively restaurant scene, Idaho has never had a chef nominated as a James Beard Awards finalist.

Like, finger steaks? Couldn’t the so-called experts have chosen a Hagerman trout dish? Or pan-seared elk backstrap tenderloin with smashed Idaho russets?

Back off, food snobs. Aaron’s finger steaks are the real deal — past winners of the Best Fingersteaks category in the Idaho Statesman’s Best of Treasure Valley readers’ poll. Remember in 2009 when Chef Lou and his finger steaks were featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”?

Six years ago, the Statesman shared his secrets: “Aaron rolls the beef strips in 17 spices, garlic and flour, dips them in a tempura and fries them, briefly, in canola oil. ‘The trick is you don't cook it very long; they only take about 45 seconds,’ he said. Then, rather than a mayonnaise or ketchup for dipping, Aaron serves with a cocktail sauce he learned to make at the Gamekeeper in the 1970s. “It just goes very well,” he said. Finger steaks remain an Idaho icon, despite Aaron's proselytizing when he cooked in Colorado, Georgia and Texas. ‘It got rejected. People didn't have a clue what it was.’ ”

Hey, wait — cocktail sauce? Isn’t fry sauce the official iconic Idaho condiment?

I’m not arguing with Aaron’s proven recipe, but I’m betting the Flavored Nation crowd would dig fry sauce. The event’s website showcases comfort foods like Coney dogs in Michigan. And as a Nebraska native, I can tell you there’s nothing I crave more than runzas, Flavored Nation’s choice there.

Then again, I’m lying. I crave grassfed Angus rib-eye steak from my parents’ pasture more. That’s why I drive 2,000 miles roundtrip each year to raid my Dad’s deep freeze and fill a couple coolers to haul back to Boise.

I wonder if we could talk Chef Lou into getting crazy and whipping up a batch of Idaho finger steaks with Nebraska beef ...

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