Gernika Basque Pub & Eatery 

202 S. Capitol Blvd., 208-344-2175. Winter hours: Mon. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Tue.-Thur. 11 a.m.-midnight; Fri. 11 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sat. 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m.; closed Sun.

For years, the little pub and grill on the corner of Grove and Capitol has served as more than just an eatery (or drinkery). Whether we've pronounced it "Gur-NEE-kuh" or "GUR-nih-ka," Boise Weekly staffers have referred to the tiny joint as a satellite office since long before my tenure. Many stories ideas have been fleshed out, resumes reviewed and ideologies argued at a small wooden table over a pint of Guinness and a cheese plate while other members of the media hold clandestine interviews, politicians decide on the fate of our community and professionals scarf down a sandwich between meetings. What sets Gernika apart from many other downtown establishments is the all-encompassing atmosphere: seated near an elected official might be a barista on a lunch break; a lawyer may squeeze past a table of bartenders on her way to the bathroom; a construction worker might be waiting for a seat as a group of college students sort out the bill.

Three friends and I had been anticipating dinner at Gernika together for days. The air had turned biting and a cold wind pushed us through the door on a Friday evening and right into an empty table.

Besides the cozy ambiance, for many, one of the draws to Gernika is the croquetas, little balls of butter, onion, chicken, flour and milk rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried to a crispy golden brown. We ordered two plates of them to share, although we should have asked for an order each. An argument over the final hot savory treat was inevitable. We also had an albacore tuna melt ($8), a grilled cheese sandwich on cheddar scallion bread ($6.75) and two orders of chicken, chorizo and saffron rice paella ($8). With food on its way, the time flew as we discussed topics bound to come up when four people who work in the arts come together: the state of the arts in Boise and how the flagging economy is affecting us all.

And, as usually happens at Gernika, the din of conversation coupled with overhead music engendered a feeling akin to being sequestered in Maxwell Smart's cone of silence. We forgot other people were in the room and spoke in the free, comfortable way unique to an evening of delicious food and equally palatable friends.

One of my dinner mates has the metabolism of a flying arthropod and hoping for a taste of anything on his plate is a lost cause. His dinnerware was empty, his fork licked clean before a question of sharing could even be raised. The friend sitting next to me was caught up in conversation, and didn't mind that I dug into his paella. It was a little dry, but for the chunks of spicy, chewy chorizo, I gave the lack of moisture a pass. My tuna melt hit on that perfect line between crunchy and gooey melted-cheese-covered, tangy fish between crispy slices of cheddar bread. Mindful of an impending diet, I felt I had to sacrifice somewhere so ordered salad as a side (with a drizzling of Gernika's zippy garlic dressing). Please note that Gernika makes some of the best fries found in the lower 48 states and should seldom be eschewed as a meal accompaniment except in the aforementioned situation.

An order of rice pudding for the butterfly and an order of chocolate pudding for my artist friend meant that only the taste of chocolate would touch my tongue. The pudding was so rich but so firm, that it could have been sliced. One dinner mate referred to it as a "chocolate gift from god."

My dinner dates were all transplants to Boise and travel regularly. As such, they dine in a startling array of restaurants. It is the combination of food and atmosphere at Gernika—and for one pal, beef tongue Saturdays ($7.25; served from 11 a.m. until they run out)—that puts it at the top of their list when it comes to eating out in their chosen hometown. It is the combination of food, atmosphere and company that keeps it at the top of mine.

—Amy Atkins may soon be on a diet of sparkling water and air.

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