Splendor Bistro 

6100 W. State St., 208-853-5094, splendorbistro.com. Open Mon. 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Tue.-Fri. 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

The bustling hub near State and Glenwood streets has become home to a smattering of new restaurants in the past few years. While some of them are franchise fast food and casual dining outlets, others are independently owned by hard-working locals who strive to provide decent food in an interesting atmosphere at fair prices. Count among the latter Frank Pieroni and David Orr, who co-own Splendor Bistro.

Located across the street from the Plantation Golf Course, Splendor is positioning itself as a grease-free drive-thru by offering coffee, quiche, and breakfast pastries for morning nosh; made-to-order sandwiches, paninis and salads at lunch time; and dinner du jour for the evening meal.

But you don't have to hit the drive-thru to sample the fare. A handful of wrought iron patio tables beckons from beneath a giant shade tree just outside the front door, and Splendor's comfortably contemporary interior is a welcome change from the busy visual clutter that bedecks a nearby casual dining franchise.

Splendor opened in January 2007 and changed ownership in April when Pieroni and Orr took over. The two friends met in Ketchum in the early 1990s, when Pieroni was the bar manager at the Sawtooth Club. It was in Ketchum that Orr acquired Apple's Mobile Catering—an offshoot of Apple's Bar and Grill at the base of Mt. Baldy. Today the catering company is the ninth largest in the nation. It specializes in serving BLM and U.S. Forest Service firefighting crews, movie and commercial production sets, and other large private functions. Orr is currently in New Orleans providing food for government workers and post-hurricane clean-up crews. "He served 800 breakfasts today," said Pieroni just two days after hurricane Gustav ripped across the Gulf Coast.

Holding down the fort at home, Pieroni is capitalizing on his Italian roots by revamping the dinner menu to include more homestyle Italian dishes. Homemade marinara sauce and manicotti, Italian baked ribs, chicken Parmesan and a few pasta dishes are likely to make their way onto the dinner menu in the next couple of weeks. A small selection of beer and wine are already available.

I popped in for two separate lunches. The first took place on a busy late-summer Friday afternoon when the patio was packed and the dining room was still nearly full at 1:30 p.m. A Cowabunga panini ($7.95) on whole wheat bread satisfied my craving for something warm and comforting with its layers of sliced roast beef, roasted red peppers, melted bleu cheese and a healthy smear of sinus-clearing horseradish spread. A chocolate chip-flecked brownie made from a Ghirardelli box mix and topped with a warm chocolate and raspberry glaze provided adequate sweet tooth satisfaction.

On my second visit for a mid-week lunch, I opted for the Mediterranean salad ($8.95) in order to pay penance for my sandwich-and-brownie sin of a few days earlier. A large bowl of chopped Romaine came topped with not quite enough artichoke hearts, sliced pepperoncinis, Kalamata olives, avocado, cucumber, feta, sundried tomatoes and garbanzo beans. The menu description read as though there would be plenty of toppings, but before I'd eaten less than half the salad, there was too much lettuce remaining and not enough "stuff" left to warrant scarfing a big bowl of leafy roughage.

As an alternative to greasy drive-thru fare, Splendor deserves praise for striving to fill a niche. The dining room and shaded patio provide an out-of-the-way spot to sip a beverage and share a meal with a friend.

—Jennifer Hernandez is treated like a trampoline every morning by her kitten.

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