Highlands Hollow Brewhouse 

On one plate then the other ... BW sends two critics to one restaurant.

For 16 years I have been a diehard fan of Highlands Hollow. I have seen it through name and staff changes, and it has seen me through over a decade of French fry cravings. The prefix changed a couple years ago, but the food, atmosphere and handcrafted brew have stayed as solid as the old timbers that support the roof.

After a chilly trek through the foothills with "the boys" (a.k.a. a 2-year-old chocolate lab named Moose and 5-month-old golden lab named Spoon), the boy and I settled into a corner booth at the Hollow for some nourishment. Our waiter was prompt and chatty, qualities that tend to be mutually exclusive in the service industry. The menu, which changes a bit from time to time, had all of my favorites--pan-fried oysters, the grilled eggplant sandwich and signature "mess-o'-chops"--but I decided to branch out and try the Reuben. The boy, who eats Reuben sandwiches almost as regularly as he shaves, surprised me by ordering a Philly Cheese Steak. We both went with fries on the side and cups of red pepper and garlic soup to start.

A glance at the beer menu gave us a good chuckle and no choice but to order a certain label--Spoon Tongue Ale, the lightest brew created at Highlands Hollow and a tribute to my pup, however unintentional. It was listed along with seven other beers made in-house, including Lone Pine Golden Ale, Fiegwild English Pale Ale, Doolie's Dark, Hippie Shake IPA, Full Moon Stout and two wheat beers, Berry Good and Ginger. Any of these can be purchased by the pint or in a custom Growler, which is a lot of beer for a little green with a refill option.

The soup arrived steaming, and the boy and I dug into a mild, creamy concoction that melted away the chill. Our entrees arrived just as I was scraping the cup, complete with a pile of my favorite fries in the known world. I say this, first of all, because it's true, and second because I want every potato-lover out there to experience the perfection of Highlands Hollow fries. They are fresh cut everyday, cooked to order and served piping hot. Plus, they come with a wooden caddy full of condiments like vinegar, cranberry mustard and Cholula hot sauce, and you get to salt your own.

The Reuben, made on swirl rye bread, was a nice combination of homemade sauerkraut, thin-sliced corned beef, grilled onions and Swiss cheese. I actually appreciated the lack of mayo-based "Russian" dressing as it allowed me to dress up my own sandwich. The boy's plate was heavy with a bun stuffed with red and green peppers, onions, cheese and enough strip steak to satisfy even his meatiest fantasies. Both sandwiches were very fresh, filling and tasty, but somehow we still managed to finish our fries.

One of the best parts about the meal was the pace. Not that the service was slow, but our waiter allowed us four separate stays of execution when it came to ordering, and he knew exactly when to bring things and when to take them away. We moseyed out into the cold, letting complimentary pillow mints (the kind you get at weddings) melt on our tongues and planning a return trip to try the next beer on the list.

--Erin Ryan plans to name her first-born child after a kitchen utensil

Highlands Hollow Brewhouse epitomizes one of my favorite trends in Boise: local beers whose celebrity exceeds local politicians'. Think about it: In a blind poll, whose approval rating would be higher--Tablerock's Hopzilla or Dennis Mansfield? Sockeye's Triple Pi or Gerry Sweet? The beers have never lobbied to redefine marriage or demolish historic buildings. And I've seen more people wearing T-shirts advertising Highland Hollow's Hippie Shake and Spoon Tongue brews than cars bearing bumper stickers for instate democrats (John Kerry's Sun Valley villa notwithstanding). So, with hopes of harnessing this phenomenon into a full-fledged political revolution, I made a hot date with my favorite shaking hippie for some Braveheart-esque revelry at the Highlands.

After walking past the brewery's souvenir stand, growler rack and hundreds of souvenir beer cans of varying origin, we sat down beneath one of numerous framed photographs portraying dour characters from Idaho's distant past. In this case, our sentinel was an anonymous Chinese wedding party from Idaho City circa 1906. After a brief discussion of the exploitation of migrant labor throughout our fair state's history, we both became so depressed and enraged that our arm waving attracted (finally) a nearby server.

The Band-Aid for our liberal guilt was obvious: a Fiegwild Pale Ale for me, a Hippie Shake IPA for the lady and a serving of polenta fries to share. I've long been a fan of Highland's English-style brew, a dry, tart draught that thankfully lacks the sweetness and over-fruiting of many Northwest pales. The hippie, on the other hand, is an equally big fan of the high alcohol content of brewmaster Chris Compton's IPA, and her nose was soon as red as William Wallace's broadsword. As for the polenta: these spicy little marvels may look like fries, they may taste like fries, but don't try to eat them like finger food. Precious few revolutions have been won by people with guacamole stains on the front of my, er, their pants.

As the talk turned to recruiting and funding our takeover, we moved on to the main course. The plastered peacenik selected an eggplant sandwich large enough to feed a battalion and, as the cavalry, another pint of Hippie Shake. I flip-flopped, Kerry-esque, between the excellent sage sausage sandwich and an as of yet untried portabella sandwich but settled on the latter. Joan Baez ate around the heaps of hoagie roll that surrounded the tasty eggplant, marinara and cheese, calling the bread "boring." I had no such complaints for the lightly toasted bun hugging the delicious fried portabellas, feta cheese and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. Both entrees came with a pile of spectacular skin-on fries so large, anyone capable of cleaning the entire plate should receive a medal.

For dessert, I had a small helping of oxygen--in other words, I stared blankly at the wall, too full of fungus and Fiegwild to move. Blottorina, on the other hand, plunged into the malty depths of a Full Moon Stout, confident in the micro-snob claim that "only cheap beer causes hangovers." As I dragged her smiling, prostrate remains through the parking lot, her head happened to loll in the direction of the old ski chairlifts that serve as benches along the pub's front wall. She suggested that a ride on the real lift takes the same amount of time as it does to down a pint, and that Highlands Hollow is missing a real opportunity.

"Only if they want to want to see 'Hippie Shake' turn into 'Hippie plummet,'" I replied. And so, like countless promising Democratic uprisings, ours was waylaid by a full stomach, spinning head and premature bedtime.

--Nicholas Collias owns five Chicago Cubs hats and two authentic jerseys

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