Back in the days when Boise didn't have many after-the-bars-closed dining options, Denny's was destination No. 1 for soaking up a night of bloody Marys and tequila shots. The problem was that one of the best and cheapest menu items was impossible for me to order. I couldn't bring myself to say the words Moons Over My Hammy out loud.
Ditto for the best parts of the Big City menu. At 7:30 a.m. on a recent weekday morning, the IT Guy and I didn't wait in line or hover over some languishing family for a spot. We chose a couple of mismatched chairs at a distressed-wood table in the goldenrod-colored, boho-chic meets country-kitchen Linen District cornerstone cafe and picked from a cornucopia of quiche, steamed eggs, potatoes, waffles and pastries. The IT guy had been patiently craving bacon and eggs since 5 a.m.—he thought we were having breakfast at 6 a.m.; I had said Big City opened at 6 a.m.—and opted for a bagel breakfast sandwich with, damn it, a silly name.
Hungry for something sweet, I espied a waffle with chocolate sauce, bananas and whipped cream with, double damn it, a really silly name. I considered ordering by pointing at the menu, but instead sucked it up and asked for what we wanted by their Big City designations. I ordered a normally named blueberry scone ($2.50), the slightly silly BBC—Bagel, Bacon, Cheese—($5.99) for the IT Guy and, for me: The Monkey Love ($7.99). Sigh.
Handed a giant, size 48DD green ceramic cup, I stood at the self-serve coffee station, filling it halfway with fresh hot French roast, then topping it off with, oh lord, the shop's Big Titty blend, a not-too-hearty roast from which most of the proceeds go toward the fight against breast cancer. I'm happy the money goes to a good cause but even happier that I didn't have to ask for it by name.
The BBC arrived at the table cold, and a quick warm up in the kitchen sent it to the other temperature extreme. The IT Guy spent the first few minutes taking a bite and then doing the "Hot, hot, hot" open-mouth-sucking-in-air thing people who can't wait for their food to cool do (he had been waiting since well before dawn to eat, so I cut him a little slack). A slice of tangy melted Colby cheese wrapped itself around a large pile of fluffy, seasoned steamed eggs (the eggs at Big City are cooked via an espresso steamer), and several strips of bacon all squished between a moist, chewy bagel.
The two long, thick crisp rectangles of waffle drizzled in a thin layer of chocolate sauce and several slices of fresh banana reminded me of Ben and Jerry's Chunky concoction, and I languished in the indulgence of eating chocolate sauce and whipped cream for breakfast.
At Arby's, I love the signature creamy horseradish on a roast beef sandwich, but I'll do without if no one is with me to ask for extra Horsey sauce on my behalf. And at Red Robin, I bet it's delicious and the name cracks me up, but I've never ordered the Justin Quesadilla. Be that as it may, on any given weekday morning at Big City—I may even brave the weekend rush—I'm willing to fill a big cup with Big Titty and ask for the waffle dish with the simian sobriquet. I've even been practicing: "Monkey love. Monkey love. Monkey love."
—Amy Atkins is trying on a new catch phrase: "Monkey love banana waffle."
A lot of days, I miss Ed at Java Supreme. The overweight, balding Jordanian man on the corner of 19th and Guerrero in San Francisco's Mission District knew his coffee and his bagels. And his customers.
But other days—I'm just gonna say it, honey—I'm quite happy to get my coffee from the gals at Big City. C'mon guys, back me up here: The baristas at Big City (I have never seen a dude working there) are hands down the hottest server crew in Boise, Idaho.
And they are S.F. types, too. Body art, saturnine wardrobes, biker calf muscles. The works. Who runs that place anyway?
But don't get carried away. It is, in fact, the pair of day-old baskets slightly hidden at the butt end of the counter that Nathaniel stalketh.
At some other places in town, the emphasis is really on "old" when it comes to the day-old bin. But the Big City day-old offerings are so fresh and so $1 and so stuffed with almond paste or real pumpkin flavor or chocolate that the "old" part sloughs off into irrelevance. I always get one.
Coffee is hot and bottomless and is actually blended under the label Big Titty. The pastries are piled high at the counter in a formation that at once recalls a Gourmet magazine breakfast photo shoot and the thick, oily renderings of a Renaissance-era reflection of pure decadence.
I'm not being over the top. Though the sandwiches are large and well-stuffed, it is the croissant in which they are wrapped that makes their case. All of this baked stuff is conjured in the large kitchen in the back, which customers may glimpse, but not quite see. Not to belabor the point here, but this teasing glimpse of the pastry workshop is enhanced by inklings of the same fair maidens riding their cruisers down in the dark to knead and knead and knead for hours before opening time.
On the plate, the Turkey Pesto sandwich ($7.99), requires a bit of kneading itself in order to get a bite. The thing is thick, almost too thick, masking the creamy and mayonnaisey pesto flavor.
Breakfasts at Big City, an obvious meal for the environs, are big. The steamed eggs can almost be forgiven for the potatoes are perfect—large and soft and crisped on the outside—and there is always more than one piece of fruit, more than just a garnish. And the day-olds are $1.
Also on offer, quiche a la carte ($4.59) brimming with meats and greens, and a wide selection of waffles. I made a strange, panicked choice of waffle recently. The 13 waffle choices can be overwhelming when there is a line, so I went for the Farmer Ted, topped with yogurt, yellow raisins, pecans, cinnamon and sugar ($7.99). The raisins threw off the flavor, but I did eat almost all of it anyway. The waffle itself was firm, golden and had a unique palate, somewhere between shortbread and sourdough.
And there's still more on the menu: soup. Oh, the soup. (I eat at Big City a lot, but sometimes I just order a lot; on my penultimate visit, the waitress brought my order expecting to find a party of two.)
My notes on the tortilla soup ($2.99, cup) include the following: dollop of sour cream, bits of chicken, perfectly melted cheddar cheese that hits my chin hairs—and sticks—bits of translucent onion and melt-in-your-mouth soft green chiles.
In the end, Big City is about the food and the Wi-Fi and usually, the family. And maybe an occasional peek into the kitchen. Just a peek.
—Nathaniel Hoffman likes cheese on his chinny-chin-chin.