I’m sure a lot of you have had the experience of hearing about a place over and over again for years, but for whatever reason have never gotten around to actually trying it. Even though I’ve spent the majority of my life in the Boise area, there are still a lot of old restaurants I have yet to set foot in. Every once in a while, I’ll be overwhelmed with a sudden conviction that I must try one of those places, and NOW. Recently I had that feeling about The Chef’s Hut Cafe, which has been in existence just about as long as I have. And just like me, the place is something of a mixed bag…
I love a good diner. As a kid, my grandparents took me from one end of the country to the other in their van. We racked up a lot of miles over the years, quite a few of them at night while they traded driving duties back and forth in order to make better time. As a result I’ve eaten at more truck stops and greasy spoons than I could ever hope to remember, and though I don’t allow myself to frequent such establishments often these days, I still adore them. That’s why when I requested recommendations for the best French Dip in town on my Facebook page and someone brought up The Chef’s Hut, I decided it was time to finally seek them out.
From what I understand the place didn’t used to be so hard to find, but since they first opened in ’77 a business park has grown around them, and I might never have found the place but for a few helpful signs. I had called in my order in advance and it was waiting for me when I arrived, so I didn’t have the chance to get a picture of the inside of the place, which is comprised of a slightly garish but still charming dining room and an old-fashioned lunch counter. The young woman working the counter wasn’t particularly friendly, but I chalked that up as my own heightened expectations since I was kind of expecting one of the characters from Alice to pop up. It was a little chilly out and I had plenty of time on my lunch break, so I decided just to eat in my car.
|French Dip (with added cheese) and fries|
The fries…eh, I’ve pretty much given up on trying to find really good fries in this town. It seems like the fresh cut ones (like the ones here) are limp and greasy, and that if you find the golden, crispy-fluffy kind they were previously frozen. The sandwich was very decent, with a generous amount of well-cooked beef that perhaps could have been seasoned just a little more, and lots of melty cheese. My only real complaint, and one that can be written off as my own personal preference, is that the bread was a pretty standard hoagie roll that quickly turned to mush. Speaking for myself, I prefer a crustier bread that can maintain its integrity for more than a second or two when submerged in au jus.
As long as we’re on the subject, the au jus was probably my favorite part of the meal: dark, rich, glistening and packed with concentrated meaty flavor. I could have drunk a cup of the stuff, but I settled for taking my sandwich for deep, lingering swims in it.
I decided that I wanted to try something else before writing the place up, and I got my chance the other day when I overslept and had to run off to work with no breakfast. There were several things on the breakfast menu that I would have liked to try, but I didn’t have a chance to leave the office until 11 A.M. By that time I was starting to crave lunch, so what did I do? Breakfast Burger!
Of course I’ve had bacon, egg and cheese on burgers before, but I always just thought of them as really decadent burgers. Now I was being asked to think of this combination as breakfast, and while I couldn’t conceive of eating something like this when I first woke up, it sounded pretty good in that wedge of time between morning and afternoon. The same young woman answered the phone to take my order, only this time she was borderline surly. I shrugged it off and placed my order. After all, it’s not like I had any intention of eating there.
|Breakfast Burger with fries|
Once again, I couldn’t get a picture of the inside of the place. It was just too crowded. I paid for my food and decided I’d just eat in my car again since it worked so well the last time. The container had some heft, and when I opened it I was surprised by how insanely decadent it looked. A veritable blanket of melted cheese covering a fried egg laid over a couple of strips of bacon, which in turn covered a 1/3 lb Angus patty (you can add a second one for only $1.50 more, but I wasn’t feeling that crazy at the time). The other side contained dark, leafy green lettuce, a generous slab of red onion, tomato, and two criss-crosssing sandwich-cut pickle slices. All the veggies were impeccable except for the tomato, which I’ve given up on finding a good example of until Spring at this point. For some reason, I ordered the fries again. There was a lot to like about the burger, but I did have a couple of issues with it. First of all, the burger patty itself wasn’t seasoned much, and I think a little bit of salt and pepper would have complimented it enormously. Second, there was so much cheese that I couldn’t really taste the egg, which meant it was really just upping the heart attack factor with no perceptible benefit. Other than that it was a tasty but very messy affair that had me wishing I was sitting at a table.
Once the burger was finished, I began picking through the fries in hopes of finding a few choice ones. Buried amidst the fries, and oh how I wish I had had the presence of mind to take a picture of this, was a crumpled, flimsy strip of metal. I can’t really think of how to explain it so you’ll understand what I’m talking about, but here’s the best I can do: it was about the thickness of a thin rubber band, shiny like foil but without the same constitution. Unlike foil, it sprang back a bit when pinched, but it didn’t have the resiliency of a spring either. I’d never seen anything quite like it. With only minutes left before I had to return to the office, I decided to let the restaurant know about it. It wasn’t something that would poke a hole in your cheek by any means, but that doesn’t mean you’d want a kid swallowing it by accident. After all, since I didn’t know what it was or where it could possibly have come from, I had no way of knowing if there might be more of them.
I returned to the restaurant and presented my find to the surly hostess, and while she tried to discern what it was I told her I needed to get going. Now I’ve been to restaurants that have comped meals for less than this, or at least gave a coupon good for a future visit. I wouldn’t have taken either, because it’s not like it had any perceivable effect on the food, but I did at the very least expect “I’m sorry” or “thank you for bringing this to our attention”. Instead, she just assured me that she’d look into it and headed casually back into the kitchen. Sad, really. I think I would have visited the place at least a few more times. There was enough potential in the things I ordered to make me believe that there would be one or two really good things on the menu if I could only find them, but promising food doesn’t make up for foreign objects and rude service.
Food: Nothing special but still decent, if a little on the metallic side. B-
Value: Prices are pretty much what you’d expect, and there are some good deals to be found. A
Service: The main reason I won’t be returning, but I’ve had worse. D-
Atmosphere: Cute restaurant, but could use an attitude adjustment. C
Final Grade: C-