Steaky Fingers 

We roll up our sleeves to sample some of Boise's famous finger steaks

Finger steaks are a point of Idaho pride. Like some of the world's most delicious foods, it's a scrappy way to make the most of what you've got. Steak strips, generally from a versatile cut like the sirloin, are battered then deep fried. What emerges is a tender, crunchy, juicy handheld snack primed for dunking in sauce—generally cocktail with enough horseradish to singe your nose hairs. Perhaps even more than its Southern cousin, the chicken-fried steak, the finger steak has shrugged off all pretense associated with the word "steak" in order to make its home in plastic baskets at some of the state's dingiest dives.

Widely credited as the father of the finger steak, Milo Bybee is purported to have invented the delicacy at his Torch Lounge in the mid-1950s. But ever since the joint stripped down to a boobie bar, finger steak enthusiasts across the Treasure Valley have been seeking someone to carry on the torch, so to speak. Cook-offs have even been held, in which locals competed to make the most authentically Torch-y finger steaks.

So it's no surprise that when Boise Weekly published a Facebook post asking where to find the best finger steaks in town, we received an outpouring of enthusiastic comments (215 of them)—more than a few of mentioning The Torch. We compiled a graphic of those responses on Page 46, then went out and did some hard-hitting snacking. Here are some vital stats and subjective rankings on this highly varied, quintessentially Idaho fried food.

JENNELLE BRUNNER
  • Jennelle Brunner

Restaurant: Lindy's Steak House, 12249 W. Chinden Blvd., 208-375-1310

Steak Type: Culotte, top cap of the sirloin

Batter: Flour batter mixed with garlic and pepper; double breaded

Fry method: Deep-fried under pressure

Sauce: Cocktail with medium horseradish heat and chili

Background: For the past 18 years, Lindy's owner Tom Criner has gotten to work at 4 a.m. to hand cut the beef for his Chinden Boulevard steakhouse. Criner's son, Lance, said one of the secrets to Lindy's perfectly crunchy, awesomely tender, still-pink-on-the-inside finger steaks is a method called deep-frying under pressure, or broasting.

"It's a fryer, sort of, and they add pressure to it by closing a lid and screwing it down tight," Lance said. "Not only does it help with the crispiness, but it also helps with the non-absorption of oil into the product. So they're not as greasy as fries."

Lindy's serves its finger steaks with a classic cocktail sauce, which has a nice horseradish bite but isn't overwhelming.

"I've even seen people put honey mustard or A1 on it, but normally they're served with cocktail sauce," said Lance.

According to Lance, his father "basically patterned" his finger steaks after The Torch's famous recipe.

"That's what we're famous for is our finger steaks, it's the No. 1 selling item on the menu," he said. "When we hand cut them, we put them through a tenderizing process so they're real tender—you can almost cut them with a fork."

Tasting notes: The crisp, fried chicken-esque batter has a nicely seasoned garlic kick to it. The steak is perfectly tender and cooked to a still-bloody, pinkish medium. These are, by far, the best finger steaks we sampled.

Reader Ranking: 1

BW Ranking: 1

Restaurant: Crescent "No Lawyers" Bar and Grill, 5500 W. Franklin Road, 208-322-9856

Steak Type: Shoulder tender, or mock tender

Batter: Wet tempura batter

Fry Method: Deep fryer

Sauce: Spicy, housemade cocktail sauce

Background: With a life-sized courtroom mural and legal-themed dishes—like "Lawyer fries," a.k.a. Rocky Mountain oysters—this eclectic sports bar attracts regulars and happy hour hounds in equal measure. Though Crescent's finger steaks have a number of finger buddies—pork fingers, calamari fingers, portobello fingers, chicken fingers, zucchini fingers—the juicy, still-pink-inside steak is where it's at.

"We hand cut them to about an ounce-or-so-size pieces and then we've got a wet tempura batter that we batter 'em in and fry 'em up," said cook Nick Romans. "There's seasons and stuff in there, but that's a secret."

Though the Crescent serves its finger steaks with the classic horseradish-and-ketchup cocktail sauce, they also stand up nicely to a plunge in fry sauce.

"They're real popular. In a typical night, [we sell] 20 or so [orders] on average. They are fresh and cooked to order and we hand cut them, so not frozen or anything like that," added Romans.

Tasting Notes: Fried to a deep, golden brown, these fish-and-chippy finger steaks have a great crunch and retain a lovely pinkness on the inside. The tempura batter could use a bit more seasoning to make it sing.

Reader Ranking: 4

BW Ranking: 2




Restaurant: Burger 'n' Brew, 4295 W. State St., 208-345-7700

Steak Type: Hand-cut tri-tip

Batter: Seasoned flour batter

Fry Method: Deep fried

Sauce: Tangy barbecue and fry sauce

Background: Burger 'n' Brew lures in soccer dads and grown-up softball teams from the nearby Willow Lane Athletic Complex with its two namesake offerings. Brews pour from multiple taps as burgers and baskets of fried morsels flow from the kitchen.

Terri Bigelow, wife of owner David, said Burger 'n' Brew has been using the same finger steak recipe for the past 35 years: hand-cut, bite-sized tri-tip hunks are tossed in well seasoned flour batter, deep fried and served with both fry sauce and barbecue sauce, which has a tangy vinegar bite. The finger steaks' smaller-than-average size lets you dunk freely.

"It's more of a finger food, rather. You dip once and then you're not worried about double-dipping," said Bigelow.

Perhaps that's why Bigelow says finger steaks are Burger and Brew's No. 1 seller.

"There's friends that have lived in Boise and moved away and as soon as they come into town, they come here first for finger steaks," said Bigelow.

Tasting Notes: Though they're bite-sized, these fluffy finger steaks pack some of the best flavor in town. Plus the barbecue sauce is an awesome pairing for those weary of the cocktail sauce song-and-dance.

Reader Ranking: 5 (Tied with Busters on Broadway and The Torch)

BW Ranking: 3

Restaurant: Westside Drive-In, 1929 W. State St., 208-342-2957

Steak Type: Teres major, part of the shoulder

Batter: Tempura seasoned with Chef Lou's seasoning salt, garlic and pepper

Fry Method: Deep fried

Sauce: Classic cocktail

Background: Chef Lou Aaron's drive-thru institution is famous for a few uniquely Idaho classics—including the cocoa-dusted ice cream potato and baskets of golden brown finger steaks. To make the latter, Westside Drive-In Line Cook Zack McCullough cuts a shoulder slab into strips, coats them in a tempura batter mixed with Chef Lou's seasoning salt, garlic and pepper, then deep fries the finger steaks.

"It's usually maybe five minutes tops—that's from putting them into the batter and into the fryer," said McCullough. "We try to shoot for well-done, not cooked all the way through but it's still juicy on the inside. And then we just want to make sure the tempura batter's cooked all the way through."

Westside's finger steaks are served in 5-ounce portions with a hunk of Texas toast and a side of classic, not-too-spicy cocktail sauce.

"A lot of people pre-cook their meat and then deep-fry them, so it makes them a little chewy," said McCullough. "Ours is definitely the melt-in-your-mouth, really good."

Tasting Notes: Westside's long, tubular finger steaks are cloaked in a corn-doggy tempura batter that's perfectly crisp, yet remains fluffy on the inside. The thin strips of steak are cooked completely through, but not chewy, and the cocktail sauce is subdued but serves its purpose. These finger steaks are like a vanilla milkshake—classic, but not that interesting.

Reader Ranking: 2 (Tied with Ben's Crow Inn)

BW Ranking: 4




Restaurant: Dutch Goose, 3515 W. State St., 208-342-8887

Steak Type: Shoulder, butchered in house into 5½-ounce portions.

Batter: Signature beer batter

Fry Method: Deep fried

Sauce: Housemade fry sauce spiked with horseradish

Background: On a quiet weekday night, Dutch Goose cook Kenny Lancaster submerged hunks of steak into a drippy beer batter then plopped them into the dive's deep fryer with a loud splatter-pop.

"You have to make sure that none of the batter is sticking or falling off your finger steaks so that you have a complete finger steak and it's not peeling off," he explained. "You have to leave it in there just long enough so that the breading is crispy but it's not a chewy piece of steak, either. You want it to be a nice juicy steak with a crispy outside."

After a short while, he scooped the puffy, deep brown steak pillows onto a bed of french fries and called the order into a microphone dangling over the wooden bar. In the year and a half that Lancaster has worked at Dutch Goose, he estimates he's made 4,000 to 5,000 finger steaks.

"A lot of people, they don't know how we do things here," said Lancaster. "They've had finger steaks elsewhere and they're frozen, it's like jerky coming out. All of our stuff's fresh, handmade."

Tasting Notes: Though the horseradish-flecked fry sauce was a nice change of pace, the greasy beer batter slid easily off the steak, which was a tad chewy.

Reader Ranking: 3

BW Ranking: 5

Restaurant: Pinnacle Sports Grill, 2902 N. Eagle Road, Meridian,

208-884-4400

Steak Type: Sirloin

Batter: Dixie fry with soda water

Fry Method: Deep fried in canola oil

Sauce: "Pinnacle Kickin'" horseradish cocktail sauce

Background: Though Pinnacle has a chain vibe, with TVs flashing sports from every wall and table, the sprawling bar and restaurant is locally owned. It also makes its finger steaks to order from scratch.

"We cut 'em into little strips and then we drop them into flour into a mixture or batter—it's called a Dixie fry," said line cook Jesse Walker. "It's just that and soda water. It's a little bit fluffier; it almost gives it that tempura batter kind of look to it. But the soda water helps it crisp up really nice, so they stay crispy pretty long."

Pinnacle's finger steaks—which are fried to a shiny, medium brown—are available in a 4½-ounce appetizer size and a 5½-ounce dinner portion served with seasoned curly fries.

Tasting Notes: Though the thin strips were greasy and had a little too much breading, they packed a nice crunch. Both the seasoning and the cocktail sauce were nothing to write home about.

Reader Ranking: 9

BW Ranking: 6




Restaurant: Crooked Flats, 3705 Idaho Hwy. 16, 208-258-6882

Steak Type: Elk tenderloin

Batter: Seasoned flour

Fry Method: Deep fried for a minute or less

Sauce: Chipotle aioli with fresh cilantro and lime.

Background: Though Crooked Fence Brewing's new beer compound wasn't a reader-suggested finger steak destination, we made the trek to the former winery to check out the kitchen's unique-sounding elk finger steaks.

"I like to go a little bit outside of the box but still keep it traditional," said Kitchen Manager Ajay Dechambeau. "It's Idaho, we're blessed with an awesome amount of wild game and things like that so I think it's fun to use it."

Dechambeau cuts elk tenderloin into strips then brines them for a day in buttermilk and seasonings. From there, the strips are dredged in seasoned flour and submerged in the fryer for a minute or less. The lightly battered elk finger steaks are served on a bed of heavenly hand-cut Idaho potato fries seasoned with garlic pepper and tossed in white truffle oil. The dish is served with a side of tangy, cilantro-flecked chipotle aioli, but Dechambeau also offers a "killer cocktail sauce."

Though the elk finger steaks have been a popular dish, Dechambeau plans on experimenting with other interesting variations, like duck finger steaks.

"We will always have finger steaks on the menu, it'll just be a different variety of unique meat," said Dechambeau.

Tasting Notes: With a thin, slightly soggy coating, Crooked Flats' elk finger steaks play second fiddle to their amazing garlic truffle fries. And while the zippy chipotle aioli goes great with the finger steaks, it's an odd pairing with the fries. We'll definitely be back to try the duck finger steaks.

Reader Ranking: N/A

BW Ranking: 7

Restaurant: Ben's Crow Inn, 6781 Warm Springs Ave., 208-342-9669

Steak Type: Frozen

Batter: Frozen

Fry Method: Deep fryer

Sauce: Outlandishly spicy cocktail sauce with persistent horseradish heat

Background: Known for its bucket of clams, Warm Springs shack Ben's Crow Inn attracts swarms of thirsty cyclists from the nearby Greenbelt. Though most folks flock to the patio tables, if you pull up a stool next to the regulars perched at the long, dark bar you'll get the real Crow experience. The service is just as no-frills as the food. Frozen finger steaks "from North Idaho" are pulled from the fridge in pre-portioned green baskets and dumped into the deep fryer.

Tasting Notes: This is how you'd imagine finger steaks tasting if you'd never had them before. Ground meat is compressed into little finger shapes that's evenly coated in a dark batter, which hardens in the fryer. The searingly hot cocktail sauce masks the blah steak. We're going to assume the high reader rating has something to do with their appetites after a grueling bike ride.

Reader Ranking: 2 (tied with Westside Drive-In)

BW Ranking: Last place.

FINGERSTEAK FACEBOOK VOTING RESULTS:

Top 10

16 Lindy's Steakhouse

14 Ben's Crow Inn

14 Westside Drive-In

13 The Dutch Goose

12 The Crescent "No Lawyers" Bar and Grill

9 Burger 'n' Brew

9 Buster's on Broadway

9 The Torch

7 Quinn's Restauraunt and Lounge

6 Trudy's Kitchen

6 Sockeye Grill and Brewery

oddball VOTES

"My House" - 6 people voted for this

"Irish Seattle" - Lucan N Amanda

"The Lucky Wishbone in Tuscon Arizona" - Hauns Olo "Saint Alphonsous Cafeteria"- Quinn Johnson

CARRYING A TORCH

"Boise folklore: The Torch of course..." Samuel Goff

"They used to be at the Torch but now all you can get there is breasts and thighs." - Corey Rider Tidwell

"Used to be the Torch until they lost their collective minds and yrashed (yes they said yrashed) the joint in the name of greed!" - Carolee Russell Hall

"The best finger steaks left Boise when The Torch stopped serving food." - Jake Totter

"According to my 93 year old awesome Granny they were served at the restaurant that used to be where the torch 1 is now" - Sarah Stovall

"Before it became a strip club....The Torch!" - Jay Parker

"Quinn's Rest. The last week, I have had two seperate customers come in and tell me how they are looking for the best Finger Steaks, and miss The Torches Finger Steaks. They ordered are FS and love our FS, and said they would be back with friends. True story"

"My house or my food truck when it opens but until then i'd say the durch goose i believe they have the torches old recipe" - Jimmy Colorisian Meyer

REaders say

"10th Grade" - Truman Bishop

"Can you please just make a list and email these to me? My finger is getting tired of hitting the like button and my mouth wants steak." - Daniel Talich

"The ones in your mouth, in your hands or on your plate." - Lindy Hiebert

"My belly." - Jose Pepe

"On my hands." - Joseph McMillin

"What's a finger steak?" - John Rexroat

"Trick question: nowhere" - Melissa Thom

"Your mom's house" - Sterling House

"Why go finger steaks when you can get fried bacon at the saladman" - Daniel Hemmert

"My house right after deer season" - Clayton Boren

"I miss finger steaks, no one has heard of them on the east coast!" - Adam Pk

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