A Tale of Two Restaurants

After merging and then separating, Camel’s Crossing and State & Lemp forge their own paths

Lex Nelson

The fine dining restaurant State & Lemp has been a center point of Idaho’s culinary scene since it first opened its doors in the fall of 2013, and by the time then-Executive Chef Kris Komori raked in his third James Beard nomination for Best Chef: Northwest in early 2018, all eyes were on its tiny corner dining room.

So it’s no surprise that when the team running the successful Hyde Park wine bar Camel’s Crossing—Co-owners Scott and Caitlin McCoy, and then-Executive Chef Christian Phernetton—unexpectedly purchased the restaurant just months later, the news made headlines across the city.

At first, Caitlin said, they had just planned to purchase the space, which the State & Lemp team were looking to vacate in pursuit of something new.

“Scott and Christian had always kind of been talking about, ‘Okay, are we going to do something else besides Camel’s Crossing? What other projects might be of interest?’ and at about that same time, Jay [Henry, State & Lemp’s then-chef/owner] reached out to Scott and asked him if we were interested in their space,” she said.

But then, Henry came back to the McCoys offering the whole hog. And since Phernetton had long coveted a tasting menu-driven restaurant, the deal was irresistible. It was also a big managerial leap,leaving the Camel’s Crossing staff—and particularly its chef—stretched thin.

“We initially had the idea that [Phernetton]would still sort of be the executive chef in title over here and driving some of those more big picture decisions, but State & Lemp really required all of his focus and energy,” Caitlin said.

It was also a time suck for the McCoys, who have a three-year-old son at home.

“There was one night when Scott had to be [atCamel’s Crossing] and I had to be [at State & Lemp] sort of unexpectedly and were scrambling to find childcare for the evening. And I was like, ‘You know what, we can’t keep doing it,’’’ Caitlin said.

Phernetton doubled down on that story.

“It was their decision,” he said, adding, “Two restaurants was too much work for them.”

In the end, the McCoys ceded ownership of State& Lemp entirely to Phernetton, who left Camel’s Crossing to work their fulltime. Now, a few months after the split, all three restaurateurs are excited about what lies ahead.

By mid-December 2018, Phernetton had already put this stamp on State & Lemp, remodeling the dining room to include more natural elements, ditching the single long table in favor of individual dining and creating bar space in a back room.

“We’ve turned it into kind of like a lounge area, so people in the neighborhood or whoever, anyone, can come for happy hour or anytime, just come to our restaurant for wine by the glass or small bites,”he said.

State & Lemp offers three fine dining menus:a five-course “Hunt & Gather” option for $70 per person, which provides a choice of meat-focused or plant-based dining, and a $130, nine-course “Chef’s Tasting,” which Phernetton described as a “three-hour experience.” Wine pairings are optional, and the menus are always in flux, focusing on produce Phernetton grows on his own farm. He recently purchased a new, roomier property on Dry Creek, and said that next season, he aims to serve only what he grows;which isn’t a stretch for a chef already serving homemade peach vinegar and miso, and polenta made from local heirloom corn.

While Phernetton continues State & Lemp in high style, Brian Ferris, the newly installed Executive Chef at Camel’s Crossing, is bringing a homier feel to his own seasonal menu.

“I’m trying to make things a little more user-friendly and approachable, not just in the dishes themselves but also in price points,” Ferris said, “And I grew up in an Italian household, so that’s a pretty heavy influence on a lot of what I do.”

Camel’s Crossing does offer a $49-per-person four-course dinner, but each course is diner’s-choice, and served with a helping of roasted garlic sourdough bread. Dishes like spaghetti bolognese with house-made noodles and king salmon with squid ink couscous are standouts on the menu.

Scott called Ferris’s dishes “hearty comfort food,” a style that brings Camel’s Crossing more in line with the personalities of its owners.

“We’re not fancy people, at all,” he said with a laugh. “It was never the goal we set out with to be a super high-end or even really high-end restaurant.”

There’s no doubt that for both Phernetton and the McCoys, walking into their very different restaurant dining rooms now feel a little more like coming home.

Photo Credit Lex Nelson