"Dining Dancing Entertainment" proclaims the neon lights at the Ranch Club. Above that, the golden horse statue that's made the restaurant and bar a Chinden Boulevard icon, rears up onto its hind legs suggesting that the Ranch Club ain't no place for yuppies, hipsters, hippies, yippies or anyone without a Stetson and a good pair of boots, partner. It's one of those mysterious, windowless Garden City holdovers reminding Boise that its newest up-and-coming arts district has a much different past. It's the kind of joint that all of your friends know but few have ventured into. I'd always imagined it as the last remaining gathering point for an aging crowd that smokes cigarettes over a prime rib dinner and then two-steps the night away snuggled up against a date in a fringed, suede jacket.
Lunch was never a part of that vision. Neither was decent, homemade food.
The only club you have to belong to in order to visit the Ranch Club is the "of legal drinking age" club. Dining, dancing and entertainment may be the evening's promise at the Ranch Club, but lunchtime's motto is more along the lines of "dining, drinking and smoking." A nonsmoker myself, I cringed at the thought of eating next to some chain smoker. Over lunch, a friend and I sought out isolated seats at the bar, but in the time it took our food to arrive, a smoker sidled up next to me and started puffing away. Upwind from him, however, I hardly noticed. I enjoyed a simple taco salad, happily emptying the contents of the requisite fried flour tortilla shell. Between us, I was easily more satisfied with my lunch than my friend was with his. He's a connoisseur of old-school restaurant prime rib dips, and although he cleaned his plate at the Ranch Club, their version ($7.50) paled next to his favorite, which boasts more meat and thicker, richer au jus.
Two days later we returned with a horde of hungry co-workers. We were a large, unannounced group with separate checks, special dietary needs and a birthday. In short, we were a server's worst lunchtime nightmare. The Ranch Club handled us with grace. Food was prompt, delivered with all the special requests intact, and the bloody marys were so delicious, we upped our order from two to eight. One diner declared them the best she'd had in many moons. The clam chowder was lauded for its crunchy celery, though each of its fans would have preferred more clams, and despite its gelatinous, out-of-a-can appearance, the homemade soup had great flavor.
I opted for the most unusual finding on the menu: the tornados ($6). Chicken, cheese and spinach wrapped in a flour tortilla and fried, the two sticks that arrived looked like overgrown deep-fried mozzarella sticks. They were decent—not the sort of thing I'd go back specifically for, but food that got the job done without any fuss. The others each offered up a brief summation of their lunches, among them small complaints ranging from "the tuna melt was a little greasy" to "I wish the dressing had come on the side of my salad." Generally, a collective sense of relief and pleasant surprise outweighed any small complaints. As for me, the mac salad was the overall winner. Small, firm elbow noodles, easy on the mayo, heavy on the spices. A second helping of mac salad and a plate of The Ranch Club's crispy tots, and I'd be a happy calorie camper.
For a quick, easy, unpretentious lunch, I'd go back to the Ranch Club without complaint. Committing to dinner would take some prodding, if only because the smoke can only get thicker as the day gets longer. As for its perceived exclusivity, file in all you yuppies, hipsters, hippies and yippies. If the BW crowd of misfits can get welcoming service, you can, too.
—Rachael Daigle melted her golden horse to fashion a pair of gilded horns.