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Will Travel for Food

Food and Drink Trails

Natalie Hollingshead | Photos by Kevin Kiernan May 1, 2019

For some people, eating on vacation is an afterthought. They want meals that are inexpensive and efficient in order to maximize their time and budget.

For others, sampling the area’s best cuisine is a major part of the adventure. These folks plan their itinerary around restaurants featured on shows like Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and google the “best things to eat in ...” before every trip.

If you’re one of “those” people for whom tracking down fried balls of creamy béchamel is an essential part of your travel experience, read on.

Millcreek Cacao Roasters
Mural near Basque Market
Morel Mushrooms

Basque in Boise

Idaho may be best known for potatoes, but its capital has another culinary claim to fame: Basque food. The city is said to have the highest concentration of Basque people in the U.S. — an ethnic group originating near the Bay of Biscay, which borders Spain and France.

If you can’t make it there, Boise’s Basque Block is the next best thing. The area is filled with history, restaurants, entertainment and culture.

Try The Basque Market, a unique eatery that sells Basque and Spanish food, cheese and wine. Depending on the day of the week and time of day, you can order from the newly revamped menu, enjoy the pintxos (tapas) bar or dine on paella made with seafood, chicken and chorizo. Employees say the croquetas — fried balls of creamy béchamel — are a must-try. In traditional Basque style, seating is communal, and food is served family-style. 

If you’re in the mood for a fancier experience, try the Zagat-recommended Epi’s Basque Restaurant in nearby Meridian. Reservations are a must at this five-star destination, serving dinner only, Tuesday to Saturday. Reviewers rave about old-country favorites like the lamb stew, tongue, baby squid in ink sauce and for dessert, gateau basque (a citrus-flavored pudding cake with raspberry sauce) and green apple bread pudding. 

Basque Market tapas sampler
Basque Museum and Cultural Center

Morels in McCall

Morel mushrooms are the unofficial official food of McCall, Idaho, and among the most desirable wild mushrooms in the world. Purchased at a market, they are incredibly expensive and hard to come by. But they grow plentifully in the Boise National Forest near McCall, and you can forage and pick this delicacy yourself.

The best time to pick morels is late May to June. Your adventure may require a permit, depending on how plentiful the mushrooms are, your resale plans and the location you choose to pilfer. Check with the U.S. Forest Service for details before you head out.

Huckleberry Heaven

Idahoans love to add their state fruit into pretty much anything imaginable from milkshakes, pancakes, jam, syrup and salads to licorice, salt water taffy and gourmet hot dishes. Entire sections of gift shops are devoted to the huckleberry.

This delectable purple gold fruit grows wild in Idaho’s mountains in the late summer, on shrubs 2- to 6-feet tall. You can hunt for the berries yourself without a permit — but watch for bears, they are big fans, too. Or look for roadside stands and signs outside restaurants advertising their huckleberry-flavored fare.

Huckleberry hot spots throughout the state include areas near Priest Lake and Ponderosa State Park, and by the Sawtooth and Teton Mountain ranges.

A variety of products made with huckleberries
Sample trays at Taste
Solstice and Amano chocolate at Caputo's

Bean-to-Bar

If high-end chocolate is your thing, Utah is the place. Reputed to be the craft chocolate capital of the world, there are at least nine small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolatiers in Salt Lake City, Park City and Provo. Among them are Ritual, Amano, Durci, Solstice, Millcreek Cacao Roasters, Chocolate Conspiracy and the Cacao Bean Project.

Not all have retail storefronts, so the easiest way to sample them is probably through a chocolate tasting class. Caputo’s Market and Deli hosts classes like Craft Chocolate 101 and Chocolate Wars at its downtown Salt Lake City and Holladay locations. Learn the difference between “fine” and “standard” chocolate and other tasty bits of info. The deli also hosts an annual Chocolate Festival in late fall. 

Taste in Provo has a variety of weekly chocolate tastings, such as fondue for two, made with in-house Taste Artisan Chocolate; a “lite” tasting on Thursday nights; and a Friday night full tasting with chocolate, vinegars and olive oils. Reservations are required for most tastings, but Taste also offers mini tastings for walk-ins.

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