Best Food in Boise

Bar Gernika - Tongue Me

It's safe to say that Bar Gernika is a Boise institution. The historical brick building it's in serves as an anchor for the Boise Basque Block, and it's a comfortable and unique spot to hit during any hot date, pub crawl, or unfettered drinking spree. Aside from the many tasty Basque dishes that fill the menu, owner Jeff May has a taste for good beer, and there's always a few local beers on tap or in bottles or cans. Their good beer menu, along with their equally delightful croquetas (fried balls made from butter, onion, chicken, flour and milk), are how my appreciation for the place started. But my love for all things Gernika grew tenfold when I took that first bite of their beef tongue.

A little more than four years ago, the TV show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives from the Food Network channel came to town to highlight some of Bar Gernika's culinary specialties, one of which, I'm ashamed to say, I had yet to try. Yes, up until that point I was a veritable beef-tongue virgin. Seeing as I've never been one to stand by and allow a faux-cool California hipster with a bad dye job to show me up in my own town, I declared that the time to sample this "interesting" Basque dish had come. So the next Saturday I rustled up the fam-damily and we made a point to visit Bar Gernika during tongue time.

Looks tasty, eh?

I say we "made a point" because you have to really want this stuff in order to get it. You can't wander in on a Friday or Saturday night and get some. It's served on Saturdays only, but even on Saturday it's only served from 11:30am until it's gone, which usually isn't very long. What this means is that you have to visit for Saturday lunch and be punctual about it, because if you show up after 1pm you're likely to be out of luck. How do I know that? Personal experience. Despite what you might imagine, the tongue is popular enough that it's gone in a jiffy. I had asked about it a couple of times in the past only to hear, "Sorry, we just ran out." Well, that wasn't going to happen this time.

Tongue in the raw

After a nice stroll through the Saturday Market, we rolled into Bar Gernika at high noon. There were quite a few people in the place, which immediately made me fear that we'd missed our chance again. It's a very strange feeling, being disappointed that you won't be eating tongue. I wallowed in this odd sadness for a minute or two before we ordered our lunch and I discovered that -- sweet jumpin' Jehoshaphat -- there was plenty left for us. I felt a measure of satisfaction that was tempered only by the quick realization that tongues have connective tissue and taste buds. Indeed, it's the appearance of the tongue that turns most people off, in addition to the question of where that organ has been. At that point I just hoped it would be semi-palatable, like my mother-in-law's cooking.

Thankfully, it turns out that the appearance thing is nothing to be concerned about. The meat, as we'll call it, is put through the paces to tenderize it, and then it's breaded and fried, after which it's simmered with a sumptuous tomato sauce that could easily top off any fine Italian pasta. By the time the tongue gets to your table, all you can see is that fabulous tomato sauce and the generous portion of bread that accompanies it. Oh, and a pickle, because after a bit of the tongue a pickle always finishes the job off right.

Beef tongue with croquetas

So how does it taste, you're probably wondering. A typical response from folks is that it's not as bad as they imagined, and the sauce is great. A funny thing happened to me, though; the more I ate, the more I liked it. After sharing a small bite with my ugly wife, who said it was good and then went back to devouring her solomo, I proceeded to eat the entire thing, and I would've eaten more if it had been there. The bread turned out to be not a necessity but a great compliment. The meat itself was tender and tasted like the meat from a beef roast that has been in the slow cooker all day. And to tell the truth, with all that sauce, the dish as a whole reminded me of the veal parmigiana I used to get sometimes in this Italian restaurant where I grew up. Except the tongue is better. A lot better, actually. In fact, every time I've had Saturday lunch at Gernika since then (which is about 3-4 times a year), I've ordered the beef tongue. At $7.25, it's a bargain, and if I know I'm going to Gernika for lunch, I look forward to it all morning.

After that first time trying the tongue, I felt I had finally redeemed myself as a true Boise food and art critic. And that's when the thought came to me that I could easily run the Beef-Part Trifecta on that particular day: tongue for lunch, testicles at that evening's Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed, and then some nice late-night tripe in the menudo at a local Mexican restaurant. I gave it some serious thought. The Rocky Mountain oysters would not be a problem, of course, because I already know from experience that they're plum delicious. Tripe, on the other hand, ended up being the deal breaker. As novel a concept as the Trifecta was, I just couldn't stomach the thought of eating tripe, pardon the pun. No way, no how. But then again, maybe things would be different if they started serving it at Bar Gernika. I bet they could find a way to make it delectable. Someone should mention it to them.

Local Food: Beef Tongue at Bar Gernika

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Price: $7.25 on Saturdays while it lasts
Website: Bar Gernika
Fun Fact: Gene Simmons is the only human whose tongue rivals a cow's.
Our rating: 4 cowlicks out of 5

Just in case you care, the photo of the raw tongue was plucked from the Internet. I don't make a habit of photographing raw meat.