Jaker's Bandara Grill 

click to enlarge JENNA BIGGS

Jaker's is a stalwart-kinda chain. There are five in Idaho and Montana, and all of the menus vary just slightly. Except for the Jaker's in Boise, which unlike the other four, has a Caribbean/tropics theme and has added Bandara Grill to its title.

"People come here expecting the same menu (as the other joints)," says the waitress, who we'll call Amy. "Usually they are very disappointed." Ha ha, what a funny thing to say to someone who hasn't yet taken off her coat.

Eventually I relieve myself of the down winter protection and take in the unique décor. Seriously, by the looks of this place I could be on vacation--but I'm on lunch break, so it sucks that I can't have some frozen, fruity booze. There are thatched fans waving from the ceiling, a mural of a hula girl reclining on the beach and lots of faux palm trees.

The menu is sophisticatedly diverse, with a distinct connection to the theme; it is full of sandwiches, meat-topped salads, pastas and filet-centered entrees all seared and spiked and crusted with creativity.

I order the open-faced crab and avocado sandwich (it's about eight bucks) with fries and a $2.99-with-a-meal trip to the soup and salad bar that overlooks lovely ParkCenter Lake. My lunch date Louie Dog gets a Jamaican chicken pasta (about $12) that comes with soup or salad, or for only $1.99 extra he can take a trip to the bar. He goes for the bar.

We zip to the salad bar and load up on standard salad bar stuff. Distinguishing item: super big and zesty croutons. There's also a choice of six soups. Both Louie and I head for the vat of cream of mushroom.

Back at the table we chow while Amy brings over little scones on individual plates. Scones seem oddly out of theme, but later I find out that they used to give out a whole plate of scones to the table. I guess scones are a Jaker's standard that they can't ditch, and more scones would just be more weird for this tropical joint.

I ferociously scarf the most delicious mushroom soup I've ever had, and it's a good thing I do because Amy arrives bearing even more plates.

I make a move toward my crab sandwich, which--despite being covered in cheese sauce--is surprisingly bland and messy with loose crab and huge avocado chunks.

Louie's pasta comes in a pepper-flecked, red cream sauce. He mistakenly thought his Jamaican chicken would naturally be Jamaican jerked. Alas, it's just cubed and herbed white meat. He isn't disappointed though, because it's fabulously robust and filling.

We leave Jaker's stuffed and with most of our meals boxed for later. As I'm moving to the car, I look out at the lake and see firemen rescue divers jumping into a hole in the ice for practice recovery. They are wearing red and yellow Jacque Cousteau-esque thermal suits. Brrrr. While inside, I forgot about the cold.

So here's the rundown: It's a little pricey, but you get a ton of food; the taste of the food is hit or miss; it's an upscale kitsch atmosphere, but if you want, you can get lost in the tropical magic.

--Jennifer Gelband plans to name her firstborn Cuttlefish

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