Finger steaks are a point of Idaho pride. Like some of the world's most delicious foods, it's a scrappy way to make the most of what you've got. Steak strips, generally from a versatile cut like the sirloin, are battered then deep fried. What emerges is a tender, crunchy, juicy handheld snack primed for dunking in sauce—generally cocktail with enough horseradish to singe your nose hairs. Perhaps even more than its Southern cousin, the chicken-fried steak, the finger steak has shrugged off all pretense associated with the word "steak" in order to make its home in plastic baskets at some of the state's dingiest dives.
Widely credited as the father of the finger steak, Milo Bybee is purported to have invented the delicacy at his Torch Lounge in the mid-1950s. But ever since the joint stripped down to a boobie bar, finger steak enthusiasts across the Treasure Valley have been seeking someone to carry on the torch, so to speak. Cook-offs have even been held, in which locals competed to make the most authentically Torch-y finger steaks.
So it's no surprise that when Boise Weekly published a Facebook post asking where to find the best finger steaks in town, we received an outpouring of enthusiastic comments (215 of them)—more than a few of mentioning The Torch. We compiled a graphic of those responses on Page 46, then went out and did some hard-hitting snacking. Here are some vital stats and subjective rankings on this highly varied, quintessentially Idaho fried food.
Restaurant: Lindy's Steak House, 12249 W. Chinden Blvd., 208-375-1310
Steak Type: Culotte, top cap of the sirloin
Batter: Flour batter mixed with garlic and pepper; double breaded
Fry method: Deep-fried under pressure
Sauce: Cocktail with medium horseradish heat and chili
Background: For the past 18 years, Lindy's owner Tom Criner has gotten to work at 4 a.m. to hand cut the beef for his Chinden Boulevard steakhouse. Criner's son, Lance, said one of the secrets to Lindy's perfectly crunchy, awesomely tender, still-pink-on-the-inside finger steaks is a method called deep-frying under pressure, or broasting.
"It's a fryer, sort of, and they add pressure to it by closing a lid and screwing it down tight," Lance said. "Not only does it help with the crispiness, but it also helps with the non-absorption of oil into the product. So they're not as greasy as fries."
Lindy's serves its finger steaks with a classic cocktail sauce, which has a nice horseradish bite but isn't overwhelming.
"I've even seen people put honey mustard or A1 on it, but normally they're served with cocktail sauce," said Lance.
According to Lance, his father "basically patterned" his finger steaks after The Torch's famous recipe.
"That's what we're famous for is our finger steaks, it's the No. 1 selling item on the menu," he said. "When we hand cut them, we put them through a tenderizing process so they're real tender—you can almost cut them with a fork."
Tasting notes: The crisp, fried chicken-esque batter has a nicely seasoned garlic kick to it. The steak is perfectly tender and cooked to a still-bloody, pinkish medium. These are, by far, the best finger steaks we sampled.
Reader Ranking: 1
BW Ranking: 1
Restaurant: Crescent "No Lawyers" Bar and Grill, 5500 W. Franklin Road, 208-322-9856
Steak Type: Shoulder tender, or mock tender
Batter: Wet tempura batter
Fry Method: Deep fryer
Sauce: Spicy, housemade cocktail sauce
Background: With a life-sized courtroom mural and legal-themed dishes—like "Lawyer fries," a.k.a. Rocky Mountain oysters—this eclectic sports bar attracts regulars and happy hour hounds in equal measure. Though Crescent's finger steaks have a number of finger buddies—pork fingers, calamari fingers, portobello fingers, chicken fingers, zucchini fingers—the juicy, still-pink-inside steak is where it's at.
"We hand cut them to about an ounce-or-so-size pieces and then we've got a wet tempura batter that we batter 'em in and fry 'em up," said cook Nick Romans. "There's seasons and stuff in there, but that's a secret."
Though the Crescent serves its finger steaks with the classic horseradish-and-ketchup cocktail sauce, they also stand up nicely to a plunge in fry sauce.
"They're real popular. In a typical night, [we sell] 20 or so [orders] on average. They are fresh and cooked to order and we hand cut them, so not frozen or anything like that," added Romans.
Tasting Notes: Fried to a deep, golden brown, these fish-and-chippy finger steaks have a great crunch and retain a lovely pinkness on the inside. The tempura batter could use a bit more seasoning to make it sing.
Reader Ranking: 4
BW Ranking: 2