Idaho’s vibrant capital of culture
Advanced paddlers can play on the waves at the Boise River Recreation Park; opened in June 2012, the park was 14 years in the making and started as a dream of local river runners. McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group, who designed the 1996 Olympic white-water course in Atlanta, Georgia, developed the quarter mile stretch of river between Main Street and Veterans Memorial Park where surfers and kayakers can “park and play” on the two waves controlled by nine underwater gates that regulate water flow. This is phase one of an ongoing project; the next is developing the nearby Esther Simplot Community Park to include pathways, picnic shelters and a stream, expanding the white-water features downstream, and building a “lazy river” – a slow flow channel connecting three ponds for tubing and rafting.
Community is a major theme of the Boise 150 celebration, and the Basque community from north-central Spain and southwestern France plays an integral part in local history. Basque immigrants congregated in the area in two waves, first in the 1890s and then in the 1930s and 1940s, and today almost 10% of Boise’s approximately 211,000 residents have Basque heritage.
Basque festivals are held throughout the year, and in downtown’s Basque Block (on Grove Street between 6th Street and Capitol Boulevard) the pavement is coloured red and green to match the Basque flag. The Basque Market sells specialty food and gifts, like Vindaro Añejo vinegar and handmade ceramics, and a Basque Museum and Cultural Center has exhibitions on Basque history and holds language classes. For Boise 150, the museum will renovate its most-prized artefact: the Cyrus Jackobs/Uberauaga House, which noted Boise pioneer Cyrus Jacobs built in 1864.
Boise and Basque history combine at Bar Gernika on the Basque Block, where the menu places classic American dishes like burgers and fries next to traditional foods like lamb kabobs and croquetas (deep fried balls of chicken and onion). Along with local beers, the bar also serves red tempranillo wines from the Basque region and kalimotxo, the Basque cocktail of red wine and Coca Cola served over ice.
Ask just about anyone to name an Idaho food, and the answer is likely potatoes. And for good reason -- the soil and climate make it perfect for growing this tuber, and the Idaho potato is world famous, led by the Boise-based JR Simplot Company who patented the frozen french-fry and provides McDonald’s with more than 50% of its potatoes.
The award-winning restaurant Boise Fry Company puts the spud centre stage and serves its burgers (vegan or free-range local beef or bison) on the side. There are thousands of options to choose from, with six potato options (russet, purple, okinawa, sweet, Yukon old and yam), five preparation styles (from homestyle fries to fried balls of mashed potato), a selection of flavoured salts (vanilla, jalapeno, cinnamon or ginger) and several dipping sauces (blueberry ketchup or sour thai). The most decadent is the “bourgeois” fries, fried in duck fat and sprinkled with truffle salt.
But local food is more than just the potato. Cameron Lumsden, owner of the restaurant Fork, which opened in early 2011, has pledged to create a seasonally changing menu sourced from suppliers from across the northwestern United States, serving dishes such as sea scallops with acorn squash and smoke mushroom risotto. Many drinks are locally sourced too, such as the American Lavender cocktail made of American Harvest organic vodka from the Snake River Valley, local lavender and mint and house-infused lavender honey syrup.
The local food movement is supported by downtown side-by-side sister restaurants Bittercreek Alehouse and Red Feather Lounge. The former sources food from 30 nearby ranches and farmers and has a rotating selection of 39 craft beers on tap. The latter, a cocktail lounge with 61 different cocktails, uses metal straws (no plastic to toss) and reduces their carbon footprint by dimming the lights for two hours each day.
And it is not just restaurants that are eco-friendly. Hundreds of buildings in the Warm Springs district and more than 65 businesses downtown, including the Capitol Building, are heated by geothermal energy thanks to Boise’s location on natural geothermal reservoirs.