Alia's Coffee House 

908 W. Main St., 208-338-1299. Open Mon., 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tue.-Fri., 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat., 7 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sun., 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

After a week of backpacking in the Hells Canyon Wilderness, I stopped in at Alia's Coffee House for lunch. Alia's is located in downtown Boise the Sonna Building in the space that was formerly River City Bagels.

After eating instant oatmeal breakfasts and freeze-dried dinners for days, I was looking forward to some "real" food. Despite the name change, Alia's still features bagels. And, coincidentally, bagels were my lunch staple the entire backpacking trip. All I'd eaten for a week were whole-wheat bagels, and still, I wasn't sure I was up for lunch at a "bagel place."

But the bagels I packed through the mountains weren't nearly as big or as fresh as Alia's. Nor did I have their variety.

With my wife and youngest daughter in tow, we were going to be a tough group to impress. I'd about had my fill of the boiled bread, and my youngest daughter was not interested in even trying one. But we were willing to give it a try, especially after we stepped in from a bright, hot, dry day into the restaurant's cool dark interior.

With ceiling fans swirling overhead and cool jazz blowing around from the sound system, not much had changed since the days of River City Bagels. We walked to the back, where the space is still dominated by a high counter for ordering.

Behind the counter, two friendly young women were waiting to take our orders. Deciding to forgo anything on a bagel, I ordered a large chicken Caesar salad ($6.05) and a 16-ounce mango tropical fruit smoothie ($3.05). My daughter followed the non-bread suit, and ordered a yogurt parfait with blueberries and raspberries ($2.99) and a bottle of Henry Weinhard's Orange Creme Soda ($1.35).

My wife ordered a tuna cheese melt on a rosemary bagel ($6.35), a spicy dark chocolate brownie ($1.95) and a small iced tea ($1.10).

Seating includes a high table with bar stools (Alia's coffee-cup logo emblazoned on the back) and plenty of comfy chairs and couches in the front of the Main Street-facing windows, where it would be easy to lose track of time watching the city speed by. We chose a table in the middle of the restaurant under an interesting art piece constructed of painted tumbleweeds with mini bagels and coffee cups hanging from them.

Like the artwork, the food caught and held our attention. My wife's bagel was perfectly toasted, a nice crunchy contrast to the melted cheddar cheese and tuna salad. Even as tired of bagels as I was, I took a few bites and was pleasantly surprised.

My pre-prepared Caesar salad featured an abundance of thinly sliced chicken over a bed of fresh romaine lettuce sprinkled with fresh parmesan cheese shavings and an extra thick Caesar dressing. And even though the croutons were made from bagels, I finished off the salad. My wife savored the bites I shared with her, too.

My daughter was pleased at how many berries were in each bite of her parfait and insisted on regaling us with a blueberry and raspberry count before taking pleasure in each bite.

We concluded our lunch with the brownie, a unique taste sensation of dense dark chocolate coupled with cayenne pepper. The chocolate flavor was intense, immediately followed by a spicy kick from the seasoning.

The brownie was an enjoyable way to end our meal. Moreover, it looked substantial enough to hold up in a backpack. While I mulled that thought, my daughter summed up our visit saying, "More people should come here."

—Curt Nichols is already planning his next backpacking trip. But he's taking brownies instead of bagels next time.

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