Treasure

Boise food tour means good eats and stories with ‘The Ambassador of Idaho.’

A grin stretches across Angela Taylor’s face as her Indulge Boise tour-takers gather just outside the Wild Root Cafe on Downtown Boise’s 8th Street.

As we enter a mini bruschetta is already plated and waiting.

The grilled ciabatta has a soft crunch, which is complemented by the seasonal greens, avocado, roasted sweet corn, chopped tomatoes, grilled chicken and farm cheese.

Chef and cafe owner Michael Trebbi enters from the kitchen to welcome us before heading back to where the artisanal magic happens.

“They try to curate their menu in a way that no matter what your dietary needs are or your preferences, you can tweak it just slightly, and there’s still a lot of flavor,” Taylor says.

Indulge Boise’s Historic Downtown Boise Food & Cultural Tour is taking us to eight venues, walking a distance of roughly one and a half miles. Our tour includes everything from fresh local flavors to savory Asian fusion, with tidbits about Boise history and public art on the side.

How it started

Taylor, a Mountain Home native, traveled the world, played basketball for Stanford and spent 20 years working as a consultant in the sports industry. Her impressive résumé includes a stint as president and general manager of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream.

Back home, Taylor started Indulge to dispel preconceived notions about Idaho, most of which involve potatoes. Taylor’s long been an advocate for her home state, and this passion has earned her a nickname — “The Ambassador of Idaho” — from friends and business colleagues.

“The most profound experiences I’ve had have revolved around music, food, history. (That) really gives you a good idea of the character of that neighborhood,” Taylor says. “I thought that if I could incorporate culture, art, history and food into an experience here in Boise that it would be the same profound experience whether you were a visitor in Boise or a local.”

Taylor curated the tours with Victor Scargle, who served as a guest chef for some of the top restaurants in New York when Taylor lived there. Scargle sparked Taylor’s interest in the culinary world when he took her to restaurants where he taste-tested and reviewed food for chefs seeking feedback.

Since starting her business in 2016, Taylor has conducted more than 200.

Time to taste

At Olivin, an olive oil and specialty vinegar taproom on 9th Street, Taylor helps pass out tin trays with oils and infused vinegars and uses tongs to divvy out pieces of the Brutti roll from Boise’s Zeppole Baking Co.

Satisfied murmurs fill the room as our wandering band of taste-testers samples the various pairings. A dark chocolate balsamic paired with a green chili fused olive oil — an uncanny combination — proves delightful.

At the next stop, Bacon, a bloody mary awaits each of those who chose the tour’s alcohol pairing option. With its bacon-infused tomato juice and a slab of thick, house-cured bacon amid a glass rimmed with bacon salt, this drink tastes as delicious as it looks.

A bowl of Bacon’s award-winning mac and cheese sits in between the drink and a tube-like glass, which contains a sampler of Bacon’s current five specialty Berryhill Bacon flavors: spicy hot bacon, maple rosemary bacon, candied bacon and Kurobuta bacon.

“This is unbelievable,” says Cheryl Burrell, a tour-taker from Florida. “This is sinful.”

We head out the door carrying boxes of leftover Bacon mac and cheese, already feeling full.

The group makes its way toward Guru Donuts, which is in the lower level of the iconic Idanha Building, and Taylor pulls us aside to point out some of the building’s history. She points at the castle-like structure that opened as a hotel in 1901 and was commonly used by politicians.

“I call it ‘Disneyland style’ because it feels like you could just plant this building in any theme park, and it wouldn’t stand out,” Taylor says. “It was a place where you could spend a dollar fifty to two dollars to comfortably put your feet up for the night.”

At the time, it was the tallest building in Boise at five stories. President William Howard Taft once stayed there, and it’s rumored that Roger Miller wrote the lyrics to “King of the Road” during his stay there in 1964, Taylor says.

At Guru Donuts, a Boise bakery know for gourmet and often far out doughnut flavors, we slide into a church pew beneath a colorful mural of a guru holding the eatery’s signature doughnut — the Hipsterberry, which is made with blueberries, blackberries and organic lavender.

“We like changing flavors, but that one we have to keep,” says Angel Moran, who co-owns the shop with her husband, Kevin. Angel Moran comes out with our doughnut samples: the Hipsterberry and Guru’s old-fashioned cake doughnut.

Small cups of tart Hopbiscus Kombucha from Idaho Kombucha Company complement the sweet treats.

From there, we head to the Basque Market, where tapas and a frozen sangria are in order. We stay for almost an hour, chatting with owner Tony Eiguren, who co-owns the market with his wife, Tara McElhose-Eiguren. He regales us with stories of his childhood and of the restaurant’s origins.

Eiguren, who was a Basque dancer, pulls down a wooden carving of a boy mid-kick from the top of one of the market shelves.

“This is me,” he says, and explains how the carving was fashioned after him because of his phenomenal high kick. He then picks up a large paella pan from the back and explains how the traditional seafood, chicken and chorizo dish is made.

From there, a Buddha-bar feel is instantly appreciated as we enter Mai Thai.

“How about a toast?” Taylor says before we raise the Mai Thai Old Way cocktails we were served just minutes earlier. Taylor describes the cocktails as having rum, rum and more rum.

We experience three tastings at Mai Thai: a papaya salad with cayenne chicken, fresh papaya, lime juice, fish sauce, Thai chili, green beans, red onions and tomato on top. It is a special preparation just for the tour.

This is followed by roasted chicken with bok choy and, lastly, a final tasting of one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, the Swimming Angel, made of spinach and fried tofu in a massaman peanut-based curry sauce.

Again, take-out boxes are deployed, and the stuffed tummies make their way to the Chocolat Bar, our final destination.

Chris Preston and Kristi Echols-Preston opened the Chocolat Bar in 2004 and have been handcrafting fine chocolates and other confections since. Taylor calls Echols-Preston the “mad scientist” because she can craft new flavors from different aromas she comes across while simply driving down the street.

“You can come in here during the week and it’s like the episode of ‘I Love Lucy’ where she has the little conveyor belt of chocolate going on in the back room,” Taylor says. “It smells amazing.”

Hailey Ross was a summer intern for the Idaho Statesman.

Indulge Boise tours

▪  The Historic Downtown Boise Food and Cultural Tours costs $64 for adults, $52 ages 8-12, $42 for children. Add the alcohol pairing for $15. Tour lasts 3 hours. Tour departs at 11 a.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.

▪  The Capital City Sunday Brunch Tour costs $56 for adults, $42 for ages 8-12, $32 for 11 and younger. Alcohol pairing is $12 additional. Tour departs at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays and lasts 2.5 hours.

▪  The Boise Booze + Bites Happy Hour Tour costs $69 per person (ages 21 and older) and departs at 4:30 p.m. Nonalcoholic beverages are available. Check website for availability. Tour lasts 2.5 hours.

Registration closes two hours before a tour start. Indulge Boise recommends buying tickets 48 hours in advance. Groups of five or more receive a $2-per-ticket discount. Dress for the weather and wear walking shoes. Tours take place rain or shine. Tour can accommodate dietary restrictions with advance notice. IndulgeBoise.com.

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