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East Idaho Eats: Cafe Tuscano on the verge of doubling access to its classic Italian

East Idaho Eats

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POCATELLO — What began as a Blimpie sandwich shop in the back of a Chevron gas station is now the home of delicious Italian cuisine, soon to be doubling in size.

Cafe Tuscano comes from humble beginnings, serving its first fine Italian meals out of what had been a sandwich shop kitchen nearly 10 years ago. Now, several expansions later, the gas pumps and canopy are gone, interior construction is underway, and hearty pizza, pastas and other delectable Italian offerings are the only fuel options you will find.

For almost a decade, staff at Cafe Tuscano has survived without advertising, chef Jason Spence explained to EastIdahoNews.com, relying on word-of-mouth and the guarantee that “You’re never going to come into a gas station and eat like this.”

“Now,” Spence continued, “going forward without having the gas station, it’s: ‘you’re never going to eat like this in Pocatello.’ And that’s our goal.”

Cafe Tuscano entry
Cafe Tuscano entryway. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

Spence got his start as a chef in southeast Idaho, starting out as a dishwasher before working his way through numerous local kitchens and attending the Idaho State University Culinary Arts program.

The goal of the restaurant and its chef is to provide all who enter with an authentic Italian meal. And, at least by some measure, Spence can take solace in the highest of compliments in that regards — having had his food compared to the traditional cooking of customers’ grandmothers on at least a few occasions.

“We just want to be one of them that, when you come to Pocatello and you have (our food) — there’s nowhere else you’re going to get (this food),” he said.

One of the ways Spence and the staff at Cafe Tuscano have created their menu is through annual menu updates. Once a year, Spence removes the less-popular items and finds new ways to bolster what remains. He does so by releasing specials, then tweaking them and re-releasing them months later.

Upon re-release, he visits with customers who tried the item and asks how they would make it better. Asking what a customer likes, he said, sets up praise, while requesting criticism allows for honesty.

“We’re always aiming to get better,” he said. “We always want to provide what people have become accustomed to, and we want to exceed that in the future.”

The future is near for Cafe Tuscano.

As Spence explained, the interior remodel will be completed and the restaurant will be ready for a grand re-opening on Aug. 1, 2022. The remodel will include an expansion of the kitchen and serving areas, but also in the dining area, which will go from holding 99 seats to about 160, Spence said.

Cafe Tuscano remodel
Interior construction underway to expand Cafe Tuscano. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

That target date is well beyond what normal circumstances would suggest but, Spence joked, nothing is normal in 2021. Setting their date so far in the future allows for the restaurant to adapt to any delays, and handle said delays in the most effective way possible.

“We just want to make sure we give ourselves adequate time to complete everything we want to complete,” he said. “It could be sooner, if everything goes perfectly, but in today’s world very few things ever go perfectly.”

And as for celebrating the re-opening, Spence said that discussions are open among the restaurant leadership, but there is time before a decision will be made”

“We are definitely looking to do something special,” he said. “It’s penciled in on a notepad, we just haven’t gotten to the details yet.”

Cafe Tuscano: Pork Saltimbocca
Pork Saltimbocca from Cafe Tuscano | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

“We’re looking to feature more things, and just bring more attention to Pocatello,” he added.

Cafe Tuscano is located at 2231 East Center Street, near Portneuf Medical Center. It is open Monday to Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m to 9 p.m.

Orders can be placed for pick up, but delivery is not available at this time. The menu can be viewed on the restaurant’s website or Facebook page.

If you want to make a recommendation for the next destination to be included on East Idaho Eats, email Kalama@EastIdahoNews.com and include “EATS” in the subject line.

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