Downtown Caldwell has tons of potential. In terms of cuisine, though, the dining scene is mostly known for its real-deal Mexican food and a venerable steakhouse that dishes up local beef.
Finding contemporary fare around these parts, on the other hand, is like seeing an ice cube hanging out on the hood of a car in August.
But all that changed about three months ago when Horsewood’s Kitchen debuted in an early 20th century building near the banks of Indian Creek. Just look for the verdant rows of vinifera grapes that were planted next to the building a few years back, reminding folks about the bucolic wine country in the nearby Sunny Slope area.
There’s a palpable excitement about Horsewood’s in the historic downtown district. You can almost feel it in the air. Caldwell finally has its own Brick 29 Bistro, so to speak.
Chef and co-owner Aaron Horsewood, who comes from a long line of cooks, and his wife, Jessie, saw the need for an inventive restaurant and bar concept in Caldwell, a friendly place with a classic vibe that’s accessible to everyone — not just the snooty foodie types.
The décor is straight out of the early 20th century — thanks to the scuffed-up wood floors and partially exposed original brick walls — set off by some accents from this century. Adding to this rustic appeal are the metal-banded wood tables from a 1911 ship that the Horsewoods picked up on the West Coast.
A colorful mural of Grandmother Horsewood presides over the bar, her eyes fixed on the dining room and its happy and grateful patrons.
The menu is an amalgam of quirky yet recognizable dishes that sound more at home in Portland or Seattle than they do in this stretch of Canyon County. Pork belly doughnuts? Thai tacos? Beijing laundry ramen? Bring it on, man.
Aaron Horsewood goes out of the way to source locally produced foodstuffs in the making of his seasonal comfort food, which at times takes Idaho inroads. His cuisine possesses just the right amount of nuance and whimsy, without scaring off the non-adventurous diners.
Appetizers include decadently delicious pork belly doughnuts ($10.95), a metal sizzler loaded with braised pork belly nuggets (ale-battered and deep-fried until crunchy on the outside) coated in bourbon-spiked maple syrup and finished with crisp morsels of candied bacon and a dusting of huckleberry powdered sugar.
While the Basque-influenced blue neck clams ($15.95) — lightly steamed in tomato consommé with white wine, roasted garlic, fennel, leek and shaved Lonzino ham — are surely well-intentioned, a profusion of salt one night wiped out all the other flavors in the fluted bowl. Adjust the salt level in this dish, and it’s a winner.
The Thai tacos ($3 each) draw inspiration from the flavor profiles of Southeast Asia. A grilled white corn tortilla gets draped with tender cubes of pan-seared chicken, citrus-marinated onion, sweet and spicy cabbage slaw and a tenuous drizzle of chili-garlic aioli. These tacos are so good it’s hard to just eat one.
Horsewood’s also dishes up deck-oven tarts, which are akin to flatbread pizzas with a crust that’s not quite as chewy and yeasty as pizza dough. The mushroom tart ($7.95) is a good choice, with its crispy-around-the-edges dough topped with molten Reggiano Parmigiano, dabs of tangy goat cheese and crimini and oyster mushrooms poached in stinky-good truffle butter with a hint of garlic.
In the sandwich department, vegetarians would be remiss not to try the cauliflower sandwich ($7.95), served in a shallow wooden box with hand-cut fries. The veggie sandwich — a crunchy cauliflower fritter drenched in vinegary cayenne pepper sauce and layered with blue cheese-tinged carrot slaw on a crusty roll — culls influence from buffalo hot wings.
The kitchen also puts out a good cheeseburger ($10.95). A grilled, half-pound angus beef patty (juicy as the day is long) gets plopped on a puffy bun with gooey aged cheddar, shaved red onion, tomato, lettuce and a skiff of pinkish fry sauce that surely speaks to Idaho sensibilities.
In addition to the all-day menu offerings mentioned above, the restaurant serves a chef’s table menu (after 5 p.m. nightly) that spotlights hearty entrées designed to bust the gut.
Horsewood’s goes retro with Salisbury steak ($15.95), but it’s not your grandma’s version of the American classic. Instead, the kitchen grinds local sirloin with duck fat and beef bone marrow. The result is an ultra-tender and juicy beef patty draped with sautéed oyster mushrooms and leeks and dark demi-glace gravy, which pools around the creamy mashed potatoes and adjacent al dente side veggies. The dish has potential, but once again an excess of salt (this time it’s the gravy) overpowered everything else on the plate.
You may want to have your cholesterol checked after eating the brew house-inspired fried chicken ($15.95). A metal sizzler comes piled high with two big pieces of ale-battered, crispy chicken breast atop a mound of mashed spuds — the whole thing cloaked in buttery country gravy — next to a ramekin of spicy creamed corn flecked with bacon bits.
As you can see, Horsewood’s Kitchen, like downtown Caldwell itself, shows lots of promise. Now it’s just time to tone down the salt in some of the recipes.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: 212 S. Kimball Ave., Caldwell
Phone: (208) 453-8900
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.) Friday and Saturday. Happy hour runs from 4 to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Menu price range: appetizers, deck-oven tarts and salads $3-$16.95; sandwiches, burgers and entrées $7.95-$28.95.
Libation situation: six rotating tap handles of local and regional handcrafted brews, lots of Idaho labels on the wine list and a full-service bar with modern and classic cocktails.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: May 2016