Bridge Cafe 

123 N. 6th St., 208-345-5526. Open Mon.-Fri., 7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

A little bit of nice goes a long, long way. So do fresh tomatoes. A little bit of banter, a great big smile and tomatoes that don't taste like they were cut a week prior to my arrival can propel an innocuous little place like the Bridge Cafe to the top of my lunchtime destination list, which is where it now sits.

For no reason at all, I've been passing right on by the cafe on Sixth Street since its opening in the summer of 2006, dismissing it as a cafeteria for City Hall, to which it is adjacent. Silly me. From the outset, Bridge Cafe does have a bit of cafeteria demeanor to it. The self-serve breakfast counter and soda fountain offer convenience, badge-wearing city employees linger with novels over their sack lunches, a cluster of downtown day-timers scarf a hot dog over an informal meeting. The hosts, however, certainly warm up the place, greeting by name the steady traffic of familiar faces who stop in to refill sodas and pick up a bag of chips.

On our first lunch outing, we were identified as BW representatives and, for the sake of preserving journalistic impartiality, were forced to deny polite charges of being a reviewer. After accepting the disappointment that followed from hearing the day's hot special and soup had been gobbled up before our late afternoon arrival, we ended up with a trio of made-to-order deli concoctions.

On a cold, rainy day, cold cuts weren't at all what we had in mind for a midday meal, but rarely does disappointment taste so good. Rather than slippery thin cuts of deli meat you're likely to find at a big-box deli, we were treated to turkey cut thick and straight from the breast ($5.75 for a sandwich combo that includes chips, a soda and a pickle spear). No processing required. Same with chicken—no additives, no pressing and no funny preservatives. And while fresh is an often overused adjective in today's ready-made, chain-restaurant world, Bridge Cafe gets it right on the money. Made-to-order is one thing, but doing it with quality ingredients for a small deli trying to minimize cost and loss on a budget is a feat of another kind. We found no limp or browning lettuce. The onions were crisp and potent. And the tomatoes ... no wrinkled skin, no "two-day-old" flavor.

It was the baked potato bar that brought us back the very next day, only this time, we took an early lunch to ensure a hot meal. Baked potatoes aren't hard to cook, but they can be difficult for restaurateurs to keep cooked well. A hot potato waiting for a taker just keeps cooking in its tinfoil wrapping until its fluffy white inside turns into a waxy, browner version. Our visit was apparently well timed. Forgoing a stroganoff sauce option, we went with chili and cheese topped by sour cream and onions. Gourmet it was not, and although I personally prefer a meatier chili brimming with beans, I would be telling a baldfaced lie to say that I didn't enjoy my meal immensely.

Bridge Cafe's food is simple and reminiscent of what I would do at home if I were so inclined. Hot specials rotate daily, sandwiches and wraps are always available, and with a selection of chips, candy bars and drinks, Bridge Cafe suffices as an affordable convenience stop for everything from coffee and a bagel to your afternoon pick-me-up.

—Rachael Daigle wants to build a bridge to a tropical island home.

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