When we were trying to put together this road trip [I say “we” loosely because we all know it’s Andrew who did the planning, I just say yes], there was an unspoken skepticism running through both of us. It was unlike most trips we take. There was a lot of car time, a lot of nature, and a lot of really unknown. You kind of a ton of travel info on Europe or the more popular states, but Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana? Not so much.
The bulk of the planning came through our usual methods — a show of Anthony Bourdain’s [in this case No Reservations], Foursquare, Yelp, Trip Advisor, random Google searches. New this time was an app/website called Roadtrippers. The premise is simple. Tell the app where you want to go and how far you’re willing to get off your route and it’ll pull up a ton of really great places for you to stop and see along the way. Additionally, they were sending Andrew a newsletter with travel highlights. There were at least one or two things we did from those newsletters. The trip became a “yes” trip. If it was something to do, let’s do it. Don’t scoff. Don’t crinkle your nose. Don’t try to talk yourself out of it. Just go. You’ll never know what you might find.
Being the efficient employees that we are, we left work a few hours early on a Tuesday. That was enough time to pack up the car and get on the road before the bulk of rush hour traffic. The plan was drive straight to Boise and get the “long part” of the drive over with. Sure we wouldn’t get to Boise until midnight [or 1am with the time change], but we could start fresh on Wednesday. Sidenote: I really had no idea that we’d change timezones on this trip. My map naivety knows no bounds.
The drive was uneventful. We went to the wrong hotel. We were slated to stay at two different Marriott’s on the trip. We had a 50/50 shot of being wrong, and wrong we were. Boise isn’t exactly a huge city, so it really wasn’t a problem. The next morning we headed downtown to find some coffee. Boise’s downtown has metered parking, but only of the coin variety. Cue feeling spoiled by the ones that take cards. There was thankfully there was about 95 cents scattered in my car and they graciously gave you 20 minutes for free. We got a spot in front of the coffee shop so I figured I’d utilize the 20 minutes and then come back out if we didn’t think we were going to be done by then and throw some change in the machine. The District Coffee House was really lovely, and was quite possibly my favorite coffee of the trip. The coffee is micro-batch roasted in town twice a week. They had some really good stuff rotating through. The shop itself is a non-profit that supports an orphanage, which is pretty awesome especially if the execution is spot on, which this one seemed to be. You’d have no clue that it wasn’t for-profit. The space was super open and airy with mid-century modern furniture, a stage for performing of some kind, and a lot of tables to cater to the downtown crowd. There were plenty of students, laptops, and business meetings going on while there on a Wednesday morning. As we were finishing up our coffee [pourover for me, mexican mocha for him], I looked up to see the parking meter person slipping an envelope under my windshield wiper. I really could not believe it had been 20 minutes already. It felt more like 10. I started mildly freaking out because I now had a ticket in order to justify not spending an unnecessary quarter. These are the things that rule my life, people. I am just that neurotic. I grumpily finished my coffee and went outside to assess the damage before we moved on. I slipped the ticket out of the envelope and scanned it. Nothing. I saw no dollars. The fine said $0.00. Upon further inspection [which took awhile since I have gotten maybe two or three in my life], it was purely a warning ticket for staying longer than the 20 minutes. I assume pity was taken on my car’s Oregon plates. Is that normal? I’ve never heard of a warning before. In Portland, I see them all too gleefully slipping tickets on people’s cars. The vacation gods decided to spare me from remaining grumpy.
Did you know Boise has a large Basque population? I didn’t either. They have a whole block dedicated to the Basques called the Basque Block. Clever, right? As soon as I heard it existed, I knew we’d be checking it out since we were just in Spain a year prior. While we didn’t get to Basque parts of Spain then, just being in an area with ties to Spain was enough for me. There is a cultural center and a museum, both of which we really didn’t get to spend some time in. The highlight, other than successfully dodging a group of kids on a field trip, was watching the street-side paella being made at The Basque Market. That shop was heavenly. It’s part dry goods, part meat/cheese counter, part restaurant. They had tapas on hand, really generous wine samples, and prix fix dinners in the evening. We shopped [new paella pan!], drank wine, and had tapas and the paella for one very filling lunch. I was incredibly envious of all the business casual people who were very clearly coming in to get paella for lunch. I want paella for lunch! It was such a good one.
We toured the Old Idaho Penitentiary. It was a fantastic piece of history. It was a prison from the 1870s through the 1970s so you can see the transition through the years from a territorial prison to the more modern cell blocks of today. Several of the buildings are burned out shells, overgrown with nature, and there is even an old school laundry facility. The solitary confinement cells, the gallows, and death row were incredibly eerie and sad. It’s said to be haunted there, but I didn’t notice anything. You couldn’t pay me to stay the night there though. There were a lot of information posted up on walls so you could see just what absurd things people used to get jail time for.
Other than the prison and a brief trip to the closed Boise Union Pacific Depot, Boise turned into just a stop to eat…a lot. There was a stop later that afternoon for four deliciously flakey empanadas at Tango’s Empanadas and Subs. It totally looks like a hole in the wall spot, but it’s busy and smells amazing as soon as you walk through the door. There several [35?] sweet and savory options, all with an Argentinian flair. Holy crap I hadn’t ever had a empanada so good. With a gaucho [original from argentina, ground beef, eggs, olives, onions, bell peppers and spices], an el puerco [shredded pork in our homemade green salsa and potatoes], a picosa [mozzarella and jalapeños], and a caramelo [dulce de leche], I dare you to pick a favorite. Just when you thought one was your favorite, you’d have a bite of another and change your mind. I could have bought a dozen to take with us.
We went to Payette Brewing after the empanadas to try some local beer. It was super crowded, but we found a little standing area to try a taster of each of their beers. They were solid, but nothing mind blowing enough for me to remember. I always get a little giddy when a line up of beers is generally under 60 IBUs. The lower the better for me. Sorry hop fans.
For some completely unnecessary reason, I thought we needed more food after the beer. I think it was partially out of habit because we hadn’t officially had dinner, and partially because it was our last night in Boise and I wanted to eat ALL THE THINGS. So off to BBQ4Life. Yes, that was the name, and yes it was in a strip mall. I’m as sucker for all things BBQ sometimes. It was interesting because they also have a highly vegan menu, which you just don’t see all that often. I think it’s cool that they were able to have a successful meat menu as well as an equally extensive vegan one. That is hardly ever executed all that well. While I wanted the sandwich with pulled pork and mac-n-cheese (!!), I opted for the tri-tip sandwich instead. It seemed much more reasonable and isn’t something you see on all BBQ menus. The meat was really tender and light on the smoke. The only complaint was on the bread choice. It was a little overwhelming for the flavor of the BBQ. The bread should be a vehicle for consumption. Nothing more nothing less.
That was pretty much the end of Boise. We stopped at Flying M Coffeehouse the next morning for a really bold Americano, my tastebuds almost wanted half and half. That hardly ever happens. The place was packed, and it felt much more cozy and rustic. The display case was full of house baked goods, so we took a cookie for the road. Breakfast of champions! Just kidding, we went to a little divy drive-thru burger place that supposedly sold “great breakfast burritos.” Great is relative, but was a solid option. It was a basic flour tortilla lightly filled with a scrambled egg or two, a hash brown patty cut into chunks, griddled deli sliced ham [swoon!], and a slice of slightly melted American cheese. It wasn’t winning any awards, and it tasted exactly like each individual ingredient, but I liked it. It hit the spot and would fill us up as we made our drive on towards Idaho Falls.
Who knew you could write 1,600 words about about a day in Boise?
[photos compliments of Andrew’s camera, our phones, and Instagram]