As we stepped out of Le Baron's Honker Cafe into the high-noon sun, a woman with a few kids in tow trying to decide where to eat intercepted us. "Did you like their food?" she asked. Standing within feet of the restaurant's front door with the onset of food coma setting in, my answer came out without much thought. I shrugged. "It's diner food. It's like eating at your grandma's house." Then I popped open the shiny, black styrofoam to-go box in my hand. "But," I said, "check out the size of this turnover ($3.99)." With the length and girth of a football, the cellophane-wrapped pastry barely fit into the box. They marveled for a second--though clearly not as impressed as I had been--thanked us and kept on walking.
A few minutes earlier, we'd surveyed the damage at our table, which looked like a battlefield. Splotches of errant, pale country gravy dotted one side of the table, bright red tomato basil soup dripped from a spoon onto a white saucer, a faint trail of coffee led from one cup to the personal pot nearby. Abandoned dishes held puddles of turkey gravy or the crumbly remnants of a biscuit. Two tall glasses stood empty except for the film of orange juice clinging to the inside.
My dining companion had concluded that his chicken-fried steak ($6.69), though run-of-the-mill, had hit the spot, that his hashbrowns had been appropriately brown (thus sparing me the lecture on how to properly cook hashbrowns, which, without fail, accompanies a poorly cooked batch), and that his scrambled eggs were functional but not memorable. Two out of three wasn't bad, but his biscuits and gravy came out with a measly 50-50 score. The good side: soft yet sturdy biscuits. The drawback: country gravy that was pasty and flat rather than rich and creamy.
I'd opted for lunch and fared about the same in the success department. A starter of homemade tomato basil soup ($1.89) was a little too reminiscent of its canned base with a dose of pepper that was just a bit too healthy. Of the four ingredients in my open-faced turkey sandwich ($6.29)--whipped potatoes, thinly sliced turkey, sliced white bread and golden, carrot-speckled turkey gravy--none were outstanding and together put on a mediocre show. The whipped potatoes were buttery but the turkey was dry and the starched, untoasted white bread was a complete distraction.
As we surveyed the damage we'd inflicted, we decided Honker's was the kind of comfort-food stop we could put up with on the regular if we lived in Nampa--not because it was outstanding in any way but because it was strangely familiar. It was the kind of no-frills meat-and-potatoes food my grandma would have put on the table, along with a few mayo and chopped olive sandwiches. Unfortunately for Honker's, no one in my family ever drove to grandma's just for the food.
--Rachael Daigle knows just how hashbrowns should be cooked.