Focaccia's 

404 E. Parkcenter Blvd., 208-322-2838, focaccias.com, Mon., 6:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Tues.-Sat., 6:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun., 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

A weekday morning visit to Focaccia's on Parkcenter Boulevard began a bit in the surreal. The IT Guy and I were the only two people in the restaurant, a state that continued unchanged throughout our visit, making me wonder for a moment if they were actually closed but too polite to say anything. The in-house baker seated us, brought us coffee ($1.50 each) and menus and served us while someone who looked to be a waitperson but strangely ignored our presence moved back and forth through the restaurant.

A plate of breakfast nachos ($7.95) and the daily breakfast special of two eggs, ham and hashbrowns (crazy cheap at $4.50) for the IT Guy arrived quickly. The IT Guy had ordered his eggs over easy and decided he wanted some toast to soak up the yolks. I thought, "The place is named Focaccia's, so I'll order him some of its namesake toasted." My request was met with confusion from the waitperson who explained that focaccia toast was not a menu option. Rather than belabor what was becoming an awkward situation, we ordered sourdough ($1.95). I started to feel as though this visit was doomed, but it was soon redeemed by the food.

The breakfast special came with the largest, thickest slice of ham I may have ever seen served in a restaurant, perfectly cooked eggs and bright, peppery hasbrowns.

The breakfast nachos were outstanding. Pale Mexican pot beans, cheddar cheese, piquant pico de gallo, and scrambled eggs were layered between large, crispy won-ton skins and drizzled with a tart but not-overpowering sour cream sauce. I am now a believer in the wonton skin as a replacement for the tortilla in nachos and hope more restaurants may choose to follow suit.

The 25-minute wait between when we asked for our check and finally decided to walk up to the counter and pay, with nary a glance from the waitperson, put a pall on our visit, but I was willing to go back for the food.

A return for lunch to go found the restaurant packed, a sign I took as a good one. Only having tried catfish once before, I was intrigued by Focaccia's lime-citrus crusted catfish on an artisan roll covered in a cheese-mustard sauce with a side of lime coleslaw, sweet potato chips and blueberry ketchup ($9.95). I ordered it with a chocolate and peanut-buttery bar ($1.50). My co-worker ordered the Cable Car, a sandwich of roast beef, turkey, grilled green chiles, onions, swiss cheese and Russian dressing on sourdough bread covered in parmesan cheese and grilled with a side of salad ($9.25).

Back at the office, I found a huge catfish fillet on a golden-brown bun, but the soft texture of the fish combined with the flour-heavy sauce would have been well-served by crispier breading on the fish. The Cable Car was a flavor explosion, the green chiles an incredible complement to the heavy meat and cheese. The tiny portion of coleslaw was vinegary and crunchy (I would have loved more), and the potato chips were one of the best things I've eaten in a while. Long, thin sweet strips dusted with salt and lemon pepper dipped in the blueberry ketchup were a hit with my office mates and me. They alone will be reason enough for me to return to Focaccia's.

—Amy Atkins is going to buy the Frito-Lay company if she ever wins the lottery.


••••••

While most restaurants fall into one of several easily discernible niches, a few aim to be the equivalent of a soda fountain suicide. Tuesday through Saturday, Focaccia's flips its sign to "open" at 6:30 a.m. and doesn't dim the lights and bolt the door until 9 p.m. Shooting to be the neighborhood breakfast joint, the upscale salad and sandwich stop, and the wine and prime rib nightcap, Focaccia's—like the Everclear tune—tries to be everything to everyone. Determined to get a handle on what the place does best, I gave up my body up to Focaccia's for one full day.

With a mug of coffee clutched in one hand, I motored out into a dark and densely foggy morning. Pulling into Focaccia's parking lot, the restaurant's large open windows cascading fluorescent light into the surrounding darkness, I was struck by how comically Hopper-esque it all was. But instead of slumped-shouldered coffee swillers, there were rows of empty tables. I sat at a corner window nook and let the Pita Pit meets Pottery Barn decor banish any further thoughts of early-20th century realism.

Focaccia's bright yellow and green walls frame a floor space that, like the menu, suffers an identity crisis. Alternating cherry and bleached wood Ikea-style cafe tables convey a certain clean minimalism that is thrown off by a very contrived attempt at cluttered bohemianism. Dimpled tin shelves overflow with meticulously placed cookbooks, toasters and wine bottles, while "my first college apartment" prints bearing fat chefs and French liqueurs cling to the walls.

At first glance, the breakfast menu seems like pretty standard barnyard fare, but on closer examination, some interesting fusion elements emerge—like wontons instead of tortilla chips in the breakfast nachos or a mustard cheddar cream sauce in place of hollandaise. Unfortunately, the latter quirky flourish turned out to be a clumpy, grits-consistency sauce that hovered over the eggs and asparagus on my "A Touch of England" sans hog ($ 7.95). It was at once both odd and bland, seeping into the dish's untoasted English muffins to create a couple of mushy heaps. Luckily, the accompanying side of Focaccia potatoes saved my breakfast experience. The nest of crispy, not too greasy, shredded potatoes cradled tiny cubes of bright red and green peppers.

Before I left, I purchased a few thin slices of the joint's signature baked bread to complement my homemade lunch. Though the focaccia had a crunchy, buttery exterior and chewy underbelly, I later learned that it hid a very strange secret: Focaccia's does not, in fact, bake its own focaccia.

With a dimming, bleary sunset behind us and carpet of fog once again unfurling down Parkcenter Boulevard, my dinner date and I set out for round two. In stark contrast to my earlier experience, the place was packed. Tables had been pushed together to accommodate a few boisterous large parties and two frazzled servers navigated the maze, hoisting steaming chicken potpies and sloshing wine glasses high above their heads.

We spotted an open table—the same nook I had occupied hours earlier—and settled in. After ordering a bottle of the house red wine ($11.99), we waited patiently for it to arrive. Then kept waiting. Though the place was swamped, and our server overly apologetic, waiting turned into an unfortunate theme that night. There was a mishap with our appetizer, the green chili pesto tiger prawns ($8.95), and they eventually arrived undercooked and only a minute or so before our shared main dish, the polenta lasagna ($10.95). We pushed aside the prawns and burrowed into the artichoke-, pesto cream- and mozzarella-laden polenta casserole, a dish that grew more flavorfully nuanced with each fluffy bite.

Suddenly aware of the time, we shunned dessert and found that our server had removed the prawns from our bill. Focaccia's was once again empty as we shuffled out its doors and back into the moist, suspended night. As I ruminated on the day, and its various hits and misses, the weather seemed a fitting metaphor for my overall impression of the food, service and space: foggy.

—Tara Morgan is the yellow fog that rubs its back against the window.

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