Restaurant Reviews

Cooky's Famous Potato House

It's easy to sound like Bubba in "Forrest Gump" when talking about all the potato dishes served at Cooky's Famous Potato House in the Sunny Slope area of Caldwell.

Stuffed taters. Baked taters. Mashed taters. Cheesy taters. Oven-roasted taters. Tater salad. French fries. Tater soup. Tater tots. And so on...

Located in the epicenter of southwestern Idaho's wine country, Cooky's dishes up homespun comfort food, with the almighty spud taking center stage.

Cooky's compliments its spud selection at night with large steaks, some cut from cows raised at Bear Mountain Angus Ranch in Melba, operated by the same family that owns the restaurant. Cooky's recently won the Idaho Beef Council's 2005 Idaho Beef Backer "Independent Operator" Award for its use of locally raised beef and promotion of beef products.

The decor speaks to a kitschy, Americana sensibility. Cooky's is one part restaurant, one part bakery and one part gift shop. It's a homey place, to say the least.

Out back sits the Garden of Eatin', the restaurant's comfy patio.

One night, we started with stuffed eggs ($2.99) and some house-made potato chips ($2.99), hot and crispy from the deep fryer, served with ranch dressing.

I envisioned the stuffed eggs I once had in North Dakota — hollowed out eggs piped with creamy goodness. Instead we received six rather pedestrian deviled eggs (halves) that lacked the expected mustard residual.

For entrees, we committed to an order of Mabel's fried chicken ($9.99/Sundays only) and a moist slab of meatloaf ($9.99), ground from pure Black Angus, smothered with sautéed mushrooms and beef gravy.

More of the same dark gravy came pooled in a mound of delicious mashed red spuds, which were slightly sweet with their skins on. The meatloaf was served with overly dry corn bread and cinnamon-drunk applesauce — pureed apples wiped out by spice.

Mabel's fried chicken was reminiscent of a Sunday evening at grandma's house. A breast, thigh and leg were flour dredged — with specks of black pepper — and fried in a heavy pan. The chicken was juicy under its golden brown crust and came next to a mound of mashed red spuds, drizzled with country-style gravy, corn bread and applesauce. And, yes, a lady named Mabel actually fried the chicken.

Both entrees were prefaced with a large salad of iceberg lettuce, red cabbage, black olives, tomato, sunflower seeds and another deviled egg.

We finished the night with a warm wedge of bread pudding ($2.49), softened by gooey caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.

Cooky's is all about sandwiches and burgers at lunchtime and, let's not forget, potatoes.

One day, we ordered a hot roast beef sandwich ($6.99) — somewhat tender slices of beef brisket atop toasted white bread covered with beef gravy — and a cheeseburger with bacon ($7.29) that tasted like it was pulled from a backyard barbecue. A hand-formed patty came smothered with melted cheddar and crispy bacon, built on a sesame seed bun. We ordered potato salad with the burger but received tater tots. No big deal. We soon started dipping the tots in the adjacent fry sauce — Idaho's other contribution to the culinary world.

We also tagged on a Cooky's Idaho melt ($6.99), which turned out to be one heck of a grilled sourdough sandwich packed with turkey, bacon, avocado, melted Swiss, lettuce and tomato, accompanied by a side of slightly smoky baked beans.

Cooky's is the kind of place that every small town should have: Scratch-cooking served with a smile, including breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays. Bring your appetite, though, because the plates are big enough to feed hungry ranch hands.

James Patrick Kelly is The Idaho Statesman's restaurant critic. E-mail him at jpkfood@earthlink.net. Listen to him at 7 a.m. Saturdays on "Weekend Idaho" on KBOI AM-670.

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