Words & Deeds

New Boise restaurant replaces beloved Downtown lunch spot. Can it soar like Bleubird?

From the test kitchen: The Yam & Cheese ($8) is roasted yams, beets, pickled onions, cream cheese and sumac vinaigrette. It will come with a choice of side: mixed-green salad served with a lemon vinaigrette, chips or savory oats. What are savory oats? “Steel oats made with vegetable stock instead of water,” co-owner Jasson Parra explains. “We will add parmesan cheese and porcini mushrooms. They eat like a risotto. It’s pretty amazing.”
From the test kitchen: The Yam & Cheese ($8) is roasted yams, beets, pickled onions, cream cheese and sumac vinaigrette. It will come with a choice of side: mixed-green salad served with a lemon vinaigrette, chips or savory oats. What are savory oats? “Steel oats made with vegetable stock instead of water,” co-owner Jasson Parra explains. “We will add parmesan cheese and porcini mushrooms. They eat like a risotto. It’s pretty amazing.” Lemon Tree Co.

Sometimes a sandwich is just a sandwich. Not at Lemon Tree Co.

When the new lunch restaurant debuts next month at 224 N. 10th St., all of Downtown Boise will be watching. The space was previously occupied by Bleubird, an artisan sandwich shop that earned a diehard following over five-plus years. On Bleubird’s final day Jan. 26, a massive funeral procession of customers inched slowly down the sidewalk outside.

Lemon Tree’s owners, married couple Jasson Parra and Mayra Ruiz, are aware of the challenge. They will convey a well-meaning message when their sandwich destination opens the week of March 19: Lemon Tree is not Bleubird.

Lemon Tree is not unlike Bleubird, either.

“We’re sandwiches with a twist,” Parra says.

Lemon Tree will break bread from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, plus other times for special events. Prices will be similar to Bleubird’s. Mainstays such as a Yam & Cheese and PB&JJB will cost $8 to $9.50. Specials such as a Thai-style pork belly or carnitas torta will run $9 to $10.50. Handmade lemonades — think spicy strawberry, blood orange or blackberry sage — will be $2.75. A few salads and soups will fill out the menu.

Service speed might differentiate Lemon Tree from its predecessor. In an attempt to get customers in and out faster, Lemon Tree will offer online ordering for takeout. Lunch also will be delivered through Uber Eats.

But will mourning Bleubird regulars automatically flock to Lemon Tree? Can the newcomer soar like the old Bleubird?

“There’s some huge, huge shoes to fill,” Parra acknowledges. “We’re not trying to copy what they do, and we’re trying to create our own story. And, hopefully, people will gravitate to our story just as they did with (Bleubird). We understand it’s a big undertaking.”

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Parra and Ruiz moved to Boise five years ago from Los Angeles. He opened the Yard House restaurant in Meridian as general manager. Since then, he worked as the Idaho area manager at Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers. He also did a brief stint as general manager of the Owyhee Tavern in Downtown Boise.

After 20 years in the restaurant industry, Parra was ready to venture off on his own, he says. After encountering an Idaho Statesman article about Bleubird closing, he was inspired to reach out to the owners.

“The cult-like following and lines down the street — I just didn’t get it,” Parra admits, chuckling. “I didn’t get it! But just based on that article, I sent them an email.”

Discussions ranged from Parra keeping Bleubird open to him buying the name and recipes, he says. Eventually, it was agreed that Parra and Ruiz would purchase the kitchen equipment, take over the space and start something new.

“In the grand scheme of things, that is probably even better,” Parra says. “... At least this way, it’s a fresh start. We get to do a fresh spin.”

Lemon Tree chef Diane Dalton has a proclivity for vegan food, Parra says, so certain sandwiches will be easily tailored to meat-averse Boiseans. “There’s a huge, huge, vegan and vegetarian population out there,” he says.

In the grand scheme, however, Lemon Tree will try to hook patrons by crafting food with wide appeal — like that PB&JJB: Peanut butter, cherry preserves (jam), roasted jalapeno and applewood-smoked bacon.

Hanging out in line, Parra picked the brains of Bleubird customers during the restaurant’s final weeks. With innovative culinary touches and people-focused service, Lemon Tree might be able to create a similarly passionate fan base — one willing to do whatever it takes for a sandwich.

On Bleubird’s final day, Parra brought a friend for lunch during the noon hour. She had a 2 p.m. business meeting.

“No joke, we were in the line for an hour and 40 minutes,” Parra says. “Finally, I looked at her, and I was like, ‘I’ve got to get you back to your car!’ We didn’t get a sandwich.”

▪ Online: Facebook.com/lemontreeboise.

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