When I walked into the Stagecoach Inn recently, the dining room was a sea of gray hair.
At 4:45 p.m. on a Thursday, it was already packed. I wondered how many of these smiling diners had enjoyed the charbroiled steaks, big fried prawns and martinis at this venerable restaurant and lounge back when they were young adults. The Stagecoach has been a gathering place for special occasions since 1959.
It reopened under new ownership after closing its doors in 2014. People have been knocking down the door to get into this Cold War-era steakhouse and cocktail lounge.
Surprisingly, I’ve never eaten at the Stagecoach, so I was curious.
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It took a concerted effort to save the “Coach.” Longtime manager Wanda Martinat, who along with her husband, Randy, owns and operates Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro, teamed up with loyal Stagecoach customers Fred and Francie Oliver to secure financing to reopen the restaurant in all its glory.
Martinat had never intended to make many changes. I guess if the old wagon wheel isn’t busted, don’t fix it.
The windowless dining room and cocktail lounge received a serious deep cleaning. New retro-looking carpet was installed. The cushy booths (oh, if they could talk) were reupholstered. The Western art and artifacts adorning the walls got dusted off.
All the stainless steel in the exposed kitchen was shined up, and new, more modern appliances were added to the hot line.
Martinat even brought back many of the former waitresses. And she consulted with a longtime former kitchen manager who helped her tweak some of the old recipes. That said, the menu pretty much reads how it did, meaning diners can still get halibut chunks, fried chicken and slow-roasted prime rib.
Bartenders in the now nonsmoking lounge stay busy mixing martinis and Manhattans, but about 10 draft microbrews and canned beers (some of them local) were added. Keep in mind, it’s Garden City — the center of Boise’s brewing universe.
After a hostess guided us through the bustling dining room, we were seated in a back room near the kitchen.
We soon received ice-berg lettuce salads (topped with crunchy croutons and toasted sunflower seeds) in little wooden bowls, which come with all entrées and combination dinners, and a basket of warm sourdough rolls.
The kitchen staff makes the steakhouse-style salad dressings from scratch, including creamy Roquefort, zesty Italian and a buttermilk-heavy ranch.
All entrees come with a choice of a side, from a list of starches and veggie options.
I picked a bacon-wrapped filet mignon ($21.95/six ounces) with a baked potato, which had an odd, fishy aftertaste. The charbroiled beef tenderloin, simply seasoned with salt and pepper, came to me fork-tender and perfectly deep red (medium-rare) in the center, but the skirt of smoked bacon was flabby and hard to eat.
One of my dining partners ordered the Pacific oysters ($12.95), served with dill pickle tartar sauce, cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. A ceramic boat was brimming with floured and pan-fried oysters and sautéed button mushrooms. Due to the light seasoning, the briny and sweet flavors of the bivalves really stood out. A pile of super-crispy, hand-breaded onion rings rounded out the plate.
My other dining partner went for the Shrimpkin ($18.95), a plate with two pieces of deliciously crispy fried chicken (a breast and a wing) and two large bar prawns — butterflied, breaded and treated to a bubbling deep fryer. We weren’t impressed with the bland kidney beans that came on the side, but the kitchen staff goes beyond the norm by breading all the fried stuff themselves.
For dessert, we shared a slice of house-made banana cream pie ($3.95), a tall stratum of creamy banana custard, sliced bananas and fresh whipped cream.
During a lunch visit, we got to work on an order of three halibut chunks ($9.95). These toothsome pieces of alabaster halibut were moist and bursting with flavor under a flaky, golden breading, served with crisp, natural-cut fries and tartar sauce.
We also went for an old-school shrimp Louie ($10.95), a mound of chopped iceberg arranged with sliced hard-boiled egg, tomato wedges, dill pickle slices and plump, chilled prawns redolent of pickling spices. Some olives would have made this entrée-sized salad even better. It came with a side of tangy Thousand Island dressing and a sourdough roll.
The Stagecoach dishes up an excellent Reuben sandwich ($10.95), a triple-decker made on grilled black rye with red ribbons of corned beef, ham, turkey, gooey Swiss and the right amount of sauerkraut, meaning the bread didn’t get soggy. We also enjoyed a side of creamy potato salad pocked with dill pickle, celery and hard-boiled egg. Did I detect Miracle Whip?
As evidenced by a packed dining room, the older generation loves the Stagecoach. But the true test is whether a new generation will keep it alive down the road.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: email@example.com