It probably comes as no surprise to those who have dined at Brick 29 Bistro over the years why the place has become one of the best restaurants in the state since it opened on the fringe of Nampa’s historic Belle District in 2007.
Granted, Nampa hasn’t been the friendliest turf for contemporary dining concepts, many of which have experienced short runs in this stretch of the Treasure Valley. Simple Sushi, Market Limone and La Belle Vie come to mind. But it’s safe to say that Brick 29 Bistro owner and chef Dustan Bristol has worked miracles in Idaho’s third-largest city — a place where the dining scene is dominated by corporate restaurant and out-of-the-ordinary cuisine typically doesn’t receive much attention.
While those aforementioned restaurants have come and gone, Bristol was busy serving reimagined comfort food that attracted foodies and non-adventurous eaters alike. He’s definitely tapped into something special by offering fare that’s nuanced yet still highly recognizable. (Sorry, no foie gras here.)
Bristol has even garnered accolades from national critics, as evidenced by his three nominations for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef: Northwest category.
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Brick 29 Bistro has done so well in recent times that Bristol decided it was time for a big, lofty change. He has spent the past few years adding a top floor on the Masonic Temple building, where the restaurant has been for more than a decade.
Last fall, Bristol made the much-anticipated move upstairs into the penthouse-like space. The new digs — industrial-meets-rustic décor, stylish booths and glass chandeliers — are bathed in natural light thanks to a row of tall windows. The dining room itself isn’t necessarily larger now, but the open room flows much better than it did in the previous subterranean locale. (It’s worth noting that the entrance to the restaurant is now on the south side of the building — facing 4th Street.)
The new kitchen, however, is almost three times larger than it was downstairs, giving the cooks more room to move around. The bar area, next to a recently installed elevator, is much more spacious as well. The former basement spot has been turned into a watering hole called the Craft Lounge. Here you can score eight craft brews on tap, wines and fun twists on classic cocktails.
In early December, Bristol introduced retooled lunch and dinner menus to give the place a fresh culinary punch. No worries, though. Diners can find plenty of Bristol classics, but new dishes were added to the lineup. Of course, the menu will change slightly according to the season, and it continues to spotlight a gamut of local and regional food products.
At night, start things off with appetizers and glasses of wine from the Idaho-heavy wine list, or go for one of the inventive specialty cocktails.
As the menu implies, the ancho chile shrimp ($13) is a spicy little number. Mexican shrimp is sautéed with fiery chili oil and lots of garlic, then it’s garnished with chopped scallion and served in a ceramic boat next to slices of house-baked baguette for soaking up the head-clearing sauce.
Crepe-fried Brie ($10) is just that. Creamy French cheese gets coated with a light crepe batter and treated to a bubbling deep fryer until it’s nearly molten in the center and good and crispy on the outside. The oozy, golden-brown triangle of cheese comes next to a spoonful of sweet blueberry compote, slices of Granny Smith apple and big pieces of rustic-looking grilled bread — made by Gaston’s Bakery.
Both appetizers get along well with a glass of ripe Cinder Tempranillo ($10), straight from the tap.
Comfort food comes to mind with the Chicken in a Biscuit ($15), a thick and fragrant stew that’s ideal on a cold winter’s night. Slow-cooked pieces of chicken thigh confit get mingled with mushrooms, fingerling potatoes, tarragon and mirepoix (carrot, onion and celery), then baked in a small crock with chive-flecked biscuits on top.
Some of the best trout dishes I’ve had around these parts have been at Brick 29 Bistro. Bristol and his staff surely know how to cook Idaho’s favorite fish. Currently the menu features Hagerman Valley ruby trout ($21) that’s marinated with cilantro and garlic before being placed on an open-flame grill. The flaky and tender whole fish — with its skin still on and showing pronounced grill marks — gets finished with chunky mission fig compote and a tenuous drizzle of balsamic caramel jus. It comes with buttery sautéed squash and a wedge of deep-fried almond-goat cheese polenta that was made with too much almond paste for my liking.
During lunch (served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), diners can enjoy many of the same nighttime offerings, but the menu gets bolstered with sandwiches, salads and such. There’s also a midday menu offered from 3-5 p.m.
New sandwiches on the lunch menu include the standout croque madame ($9.50). This Bristolized riff on a classic French breakfast sandwich is made with grilled sourdough bread (the pungent stuff from Alpicella Bakery), which does its best to contain slices of smoked ham, velvety Swiss cheese fondue and two over-easy eggs losing their yolks. Sandwiches come with a choice of fries, salad or a cup of soup. I recommend the earthy-tasting mushroom bisque topped with crumbled feta.
If you’re not in the mood for sandwiches and would rather order appetizers for the table, plenty of sharable plates are available during the daytime hours.
You won’t receive deep-fried rubber bands when ordering the spicy garlic calamari ($11). Strips of pounded-out squid steak are breaded with finely ground panko crumbs and plopped in the deep-fryer for a brief time (that’s key when cooking squid). The incredibly tender calamari ribbons are then finished with sautéed serrano peppers and red onion, tangy vinaigrette and a generous squiggle of garlicky aioli.
Vegetarians (or anyone, for that matter) should try the Asian-influenced edamame hummus ($7), a smooth puree redolent of garlic, ginger and sesame oil. The verdant soybean hummus, sprinkled with toasted black sesame seeds, is served with slices of cucumber and crunchy wonton chips for dipping.
Poutine has reached pedestrian status at restaurants and pubs in the Treasure Valley. It seems everyone these days is doing this Canadian-invented gut-bomb. But the poutine ($12) dished up here rises above the rest. A mound of crispy fries come smothered with shreds of slowly braised brisket, plump white cheddar curds (from Ballard Family Dairy) and brisket pan gravy perfumed with fresh herbs. You might need to get your cholesterol checked after this one, though.
Bristol’s continued passion for putting out good food is highly evident at his new digs, and the servers are friendly and efficient. Chefs can sometimes lose their edge and become robotic after a decade or so of running a restaurant, but that’s clearly not the case at Brick 29 Bistro.
James Patrick Kelly is the Statesman’s restaurant reviewer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brick 29 Bistro
Address: 320 11th Ave. S., Nampa
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Menu price range: appetizers, soups, salads and sandwiches $4.50-$13; entrées $13-$32.
Libation situation: The Idaho-centric wine list also boasts select labels from Washington, Oregon, California, Argentina and various European locales. Besides wine, you will also find six Idaho craft brews on tap and inventive seasonal cocktails.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: 2007 (moved into the new spot in 2017)