Boise Weekly
Close

The GravEyard Shift: Boise Cooks Remix Biscuits and Gravy at Late-night Pop-up

Lex Nelson Sep 12, 2018 4:00 AM

As an all-purpose dish, biscuits and gravy has deep Southern roots, which is probably why you wouldn't expect to find it being hawked from a walk-up window in Boise—particularly not at one in the morning. And yet, stroll by the Zen Bento storefront at the corner of 10th and Main streets on a lucky weekend between 9:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m., and you'll see GravEyard deputy cook Derek Freitag hanging out of the window, flagging down the half-drunk revelers stumbling by after a night at Mulligans or 10th Street Station.

"I'm usually hooting and hollering out the window whenever there's a big crowd, and that tends to work because most people are drunk enough that they're very influenceable," said Freitag, smiling. "I'm just like, 'Hey we've got food, are you guys hungry? Vegan stuff! Gluten free!' And as soon as those words pop out [they're sold]."

Courtesy GravEyard
Derek Freitag, posing with his Employee of the Month sign.

Freitag just turned 21. He studies Environmental Science at Boise State, works at Zen Bento during the day, and on weekend nights is a biscuits-and-gravy apprentice under his friend and mentor Zac Clark, the Zen Bento manager and culinary experimenter who started GravEyard on Halloween weekend in 2017. Freitag has also, he pointed out, been employee of the month at GraveEyard every month since it opened—a dubious feat, considering he and Clark are the only two cooks in the kitchen.

"We were just brainstorming last summer about what Boise doesn't have at night," said Clark, explaining how GravEyard got started. "It's always hot dogs or Pie Hole or whatever. So I just thought, biscuits and gravy, and really make that the staple."

Before he got into the dish, the Cordon Blu-trained Clark was hooked on the pun built into the business's name: a combination of "graveyard" for the pop-up's late hours and "gravy" for its signature entree. In fact, Clark said, there's another private joke in the menu:

"It's funny, because he's vegan," he said, pointing at Freitag, "and I actually don't like biscuits and gravy."

He does, however, like biscuits and gravy his way: remixed into a dish entirely different from the Southern staple, which typically features hockey puck-shaped buttermilk biscuits bathed in pale sausage gravy. At GravEyard, the biscuits are giant, pillowy rectangles, crisped on the bottom with a cakelike texture in the center, and they're served swimming (but not soaking) in gravies that range in flavor from mushroom-Gouda to chipotle—there's even a vegan option made with an almond-coconut milk blend, nutritional yeast and a few other secret ingredients in a nod to Freitag, who at some point tired of working until 3 a.m. on an empty stomach. And the dishes don't end there. After the gravy, Clark piles on toppings like bacon, crumbled chorizo and microgreens. The "Something Spicy," which combines chorizo, chipotle gravy and a drizzle of cilantro-jalapeno sauce, was deeply cheesy, with a pleasant heat that lingered on after the last gut-busting bite (the portions are scaled for the desperate soak-it-up hunger of the pleasantly sloshed). If those remastered "B&Gs" still don't appeal, GravEyard also offers four-cheese macaroni and "Polenta Poutine": diner's choice of gravy over polenta tater tots, an option that can be made gluten free.

Lex Nelson
GravEyard pops up in the Zen Bento building on 10th street.

Though Freitag and Clark enjoy catering to Boise's late-night and service industry crowds for now—Freitag noted he's scored a healthy number of free drinks since his birthday, just for being one of "the gravy guys"—they dream of something bigger.

"This is my baby," said Clark. "I'm thinking about spring, getting my own spot ... I really love cooking dinners, so my idea would be do GravEyard Monday to Sunday or whatever and close at 3 a.m., but then do special dinners, wine dinners and stuff, every month."

If Clark strikes out on his own, Freitag is right behind him. In fact, without Freitag's wheedling, Clark said he may never have taken a chance on GravEyard.

"We were working the line at Zen Bento every day, and every day I was just on his ass, like, 'Dude, come on, open something up, please!'" said Freitag, grinning.

"He really did push me," Clark admitted.

And it's a good thing, too—these days GravEyard sells out each weekend it pops up. Those appearances are a bit sporadic, as they hinge on Clark and Freitag's busy schedules, but Clark regularly posts upcoming dates on Facebook (facebook.com/graveyard208), giving devotees the heads up so that they can plan a pilgrimage.

"That's our goal—feed everyone who's hungry. That's our mission statement I guess," said Freitag. "And have a good time. Be dirty gravy boys."