The familiar log cabin on the corner of Capitol Boulevard and University Drive near Boise State has been serving pizzas, nachos and sandwiches for 24 years. Opened in 1984 by Dominic Catalano and his son Ricky, and named for Dominic's father, Joseph, the eatery is popular with local families and college students, as well as baseball players and disc golfers who work up an appetite while competing at nearby Ann Morrison Park. In 2004, the Catalano family sold the restaurant to Mike and RaeLynn Grant. Mike had been a loyal employee at the family restaurant for 14 years, and began work at Papa Joe's as a delivery driver while he attended Boise State in the early 1990s. Although the menu remains mostly unchanged, the Grants changed the service from walk-up-and-order to sit-down-and-order. The large, hand-painted menu above the original walk-up counter is rumored to be scheduled for removal in order to reduce the amount of confusion over where orders should be placed. The Grants have also been busy updating the restaurant's interior. Two new wings have been added in recent years. One serves as a cozy banquet room, the other is the new coffee and wine bar. The menu at Papa Joe's started out simply offering pizzas, nachos and sandwiches. Over time it has expanded to include pasta dishes, soups, salads, appetizers and desserts. Most recently, what used to be Papa Joe's neglected billiard room has been transformed into the warm and welcoming Papa's Cup Of Joe coffee and wine bar. Sunday brunch (8 a.m. to noon) has also been added to the menu. I hear the rum French toast made with flambeed bananas is killer, and the breakfast pizzas, topped with eggs and a variety of traditional omelet toppings, are good, too.
My family has visited Papa Joe's for pizza many times over the years. It's not in our neighborhood, but when we feel the need to break out of our rut, we like Papa Joe's because it's a terrific non-smoking destination where we can take the kids, sip a beer and throw some darts. The front patio bustles at dinnertime in warm weather, and I imagine it would be a nice spot to land on a summery morning for an espresso or a latte and a pastry.
On our most recent visit, my husband and I were fresh off the ski slopes on the final Friday of Bogus Basin's ski season. With sun-kissed faces and our legs tired from a day of off-trail schussing with friends, we settled in and wound down with a pint of hoppy Fiegwild English-style pale ale ($3) from the local brewers at Highlands Hollow.
We devoured an order of "mild" buffalo wings ($6 per pound) that were spicy enough to make my lips tingle. We shared a small Italian salad ($2.75) made with Romaine lettuce and loaded with artichoke hearts, julienned zucchini and salami, tomato, black and green olives, shredded mozzarella cheese and a nice, fat pepperoncini. For dinner, we shared the weeknight special, a tasty chicken Parmesan ($11). Served with homemade marinara sauce, the chicken breast is pounded flat, hand breaded, pan seared and finished in the oven before being placed atop a bed of noodles.
To feed a hungry son at home, we also ordered a hot sausage sandwich to go ($6.75 large), made with mild Italian sausage and marinara sauce on a split Italian roll, that came with small bag of Lay's potato chips and a pair of pickle spears. Sometimes there is comfort in the simple and basic. For me this was one of those times. And this is what keeps us coming back to Papa Joe's: simple food that is consistently good, and even on a busy Friday night the service was attentive and efficient. Of course we'll go back.
—Jennifer Hernandez survived Bogus Basin's closing day celebration.