Stateline, Idaho, is a blip on the travel radar, with fewer than 40 residents, numerous gas stations and several entertainment venues — a strip club, biker bar, country and western dance hall, and racetrack — contributing to the border town's raucous reputation. It's the last place one might expect to see a restaurant serving French-inspired crepes and authentic Bulgarian food, but that's what you'll find at The Border Stop.
"Everyone is really nice and happy there is a different cuisine in the area," says Dimitar Gerov, who opened the Border Stop this spring with wife Heather Gerova.
Bulgarian cuisine is different, yet as part of the Balkan region, it's also familiar. Bulgaria's eastern flank sits on the Black Sea, with Turkey, Greece and North Macedonia to the south, so some of the flavors on the Border Stop's menu remind of Mediterranean food. Serbia and Romania are to the west and north of Bulgaria, respectively, however, lending Slavic elements to the cuisine, too.
The princessa ($8-$12), for example, is one of several open-face baked sandwiches that might show up on a typical Bulgarian breakfast menu or a street vendor's cart. The Classic ($12) features seasoned pork, beef and onion, with sharp white cheddar cheese, while the Balkan ($11) includes salami, sharp white cheddar, Bulgarian seasoning and lutenitsa, a thick condiment of tomatoes and roasted red peppers.
"Lutenitsa will differ in different regions and in different households, each family having their own recipe they pass down to generations," Gerov says.
The red peppers he's used to are called piperka and have sweet, nutty notes similar to a Spanish piquillo, but with more heat.
Gerov regularly imports ingredients to capture the authenticity of Bulgarian cuisine he grew up with. For example, he brings in organic Bulgarian feta cheese made the "old school way," and features it on top of the garlic bread ($7), in the shopska salad ($10.50) with cucumber, kalamata olives, tomatoes and bell peppers, and in banitsa, a cheese-filled savory pie only available in the sampler plate ($13).
Banitsa, which is in Bulgarian, combines flaky phyllo pastry dough, Bulgarian yogurt, eggs and feta, Gerova explains. It's so labor-intensive, she makes it much smaller than how it would traditionally be served, pairing it in the sampler plate with garlic bread, lutenitsa and sarma, the Bulgarian answer to Greek dolmades or stuffed grape leaves.
The Border Stop is located above A1 Smoke Shop in a space the prior owners used as a cigar shop and wine bar.
Despite the unusual location, the eatery's interior is cozy and inviting. A half wall in the main dining and bar area overlooks the smoke shop below, but it's not intrusive. Black ceilings, resin-topped tables with a swirly design, dim lighting, faux plants, and jazz from an overhead speaker create a soothing ambiance. There's a television behind the bar but instead of the cacophony of sporting events, it displays magnificent mountain scenes in a continuous loop.
Look for rotating local breweries on tap, says Gerov, and the "occasionally skunky Pilsner from Europe," plus more German beers before Oktoberfest. The wine list is modest — a few from France and New Zealand — with more bottles being added slowly.
Outside, the Border Stop includes a patio and occasional live music.
The restaurant's Facebook page is a good place to check for events and the latest food specials like kebapche or grilled Bulgarian kebabs ($10.50) or terrator, a cold soup with Bulgarian yogurt, cucumber and dill ($5).
Gerova does much of the cooking at Border Stop, having learned from the source: Dimitar's mother and his grandmother, or baba. No one writes anything down, says Gerova, so she videotaped the Gerov matriarchy in their home kitchen.
"[Dimitar] said I went through Grandma's cooking school," says Heather, who met Dimitar in her native Alaska.
The couple, who relocated to Liberty Lake in 2019, tried but haven't quite mastered baba's recipe for Bulgarian yogurt, Gerov says. Although it's similar to Greek yogurt, it's tangier, he adds, and Bulgarians serve it with everything.
"Yogurt is a huge deal in Bulgarian culture as you can imagine with its history," he adds.
Fun fact: Bulgarian scientist Stamen Grigorov is credited with the discovery of lactobacillus bulgaricus, the bacterium that naturally and magically transforms milk into yogurt.
Baba might be the originator of most recipes on Border Stop's menu, but Dimitar's mother is the inspiration for the crepes.
"For the crepes we use mom's recipe," Gerov says. It's a family secret and includes "a little of this and a little of that," he says.
The Border Stop serves nearly two dozen sweet and savory crepes. Some are familiar combinations like the Cubano ($12) with Swiss cheese, ham and dill pickles, the chicken shawarma ($14) with Middle Eastern-spiced chopped chicken, or the Almost Elvis ($11) with banana, peanut butter and honey. Others reflect more unusual ingredients like the house-made cream and oreo cookie crepe ($12).
"We sell what we like to eat," Gerov says. ♦
The Border Stop • 7200 W. Seltice Way, #2 (inside A1 Smoke Shop), Post Falls • Open Wed-Fri noon-8 pm, Sat 10 am-8 pm, Sun 10 am-5 pm • theborderstop.com • 208-619-6856