This is the October cover of Spokane Valley’s Current monthly news magazine which the following story I wrote.
When I was asked to write a story on the state of breakfast affairs in the Spokane Valley, I knew I was the man for the job. It is a story I have been dining to write since I was about four years old when I decided nothing was cooler than hotcakes.
Considering that I am very Fifty-something now, that was a long time ago. There were few franchises, fast or slow, serving breakfast or any other meal. I remember only one restaurant in the Valley from those earliest-memory days. There were others but Smitty’s Pancake House was the only one I cared about. When I had the occasional good luck to be an eager participant in an after-church family meal there, it was the most sacred and blessed moment of that Sabbath day.
Not old enough to understand what our pastor was selling in the Lord’s House, I certainly understood what Smitty was selling at his Pancake House. If it had been up to me, I would have put Smitty before the Lord and gone there prior to church for breakfast and then headed back for lunch.
Maybe it was that deprivation of my early inner callings for more pancakes that has made me a lifelong breakfast believer, and now, after weeks of intense and rapturous research, something of an expert on the meal or at least on how it is offered to us here in the Spokane Valley.
If you think about it, there are two ways to buy a hot, made-to-order breakfast. One way it is wrapped in paper and handed over the counter at a fast food place and the other it is delivered on a plate by a server in a restaurant. I have always preferred both.
I was there eating breakfast at the University McDonald’s when your choice for a breakfast sandwich was an Egg McMuffin . Back then in the early 70’s, it was your only fast food choice for breakfast. Talk about a revolutionary idea. The humble, eternally popular Egg McMuffin was the match that lit America’s fast food breakfast explosion.
According to a report on MarketWatch.com, breakfast is the only growing segment in both fast-food and casual dining with a 5% increase last year. Leave it to the highly competitive players in the fast food industry to notice that.
Subway is now open for breakfast. You can get a waffle taco at Taco Bell or a breakfast burrito at Taco Time. Schlotsky’s is offering their breakfast sandwich, the Eggsky on their patented bread. Carl’s Jr. has a massive new ad campaign attempting to put their new cinnamon pull-aparts into the minds and mouths of breakfast lovers across America
Amongst the national franchises, my loyalty remains with McDonald’s. I did, however, do a sandwich switch from the Egg McMuffin to their egg, bacon and cheese biscuit as soon as they invented it. For me, eating that blissfully stuffed biscuit dipped in syrup is like having a little bite of the Kingdom here on earth . No other new concoction has lured me away, try as I have most of them.
I did come upon an undiscovered fast food gem here in the Valley. A while back I had noticed that Zip’s had entered the fast service breakfast fray and so in doing my due diligence for this story I stopped in twice and that is why I know it is undiscovered.
Zip’s is going for a hybrid between fast food and casual dining. At the counter I ordered French toast and not long after sitting down, they were delivered on a real ceramic plate that also carried a little pitcher of syrup. I appreciate that this local enterprise is boldly Zipping while everyone else is zagging.
The second breakfast-in-the-field category, casual dining, is where I spent most of my mornings for this story. I group these breakfast purveyors into three catagories: national pancake powerhouses,local weekend wonders and local full time breakfast joints, which I list in order of personal favor.
There are only three national breakfast restaurants doing business in the Valley, Denny’s, IHOP and Shari’s. I love them equally and have spent many glutinous mornings at them all. I still mourn the passing of Perkins and fondly remember Sambos, which became the second memorable restaurant of my youth when it opened in the Sixties selling breakfast 24 hours a day right there just east of Sprague and Bowdish in the heart of the Spokane Valley.
The three active national players are a far cry from the Sambo’s of my youth. Back then it was straight forward All-American breakfast meals, but now days their menus are packed with gooey and rich concoctions described in mouth-watering euphemisms and pictured in too-good-to-be-true close-up photos.
Shari’s has invented something they call Cinnama-sation french toast that is half cinnamon roll and half french toast. Alert to the same cinna-trend, IHOP recently came out with what they call cinnamon swirl brioche french toast. Denny’s came up with a new cinnamon pancake and then upped the sweet ante with a “peanut butter cup pancake” which is two pancakes filled with white chocolate chips,smothered in hot fudge and topped with peanut butter sauce.
I think the nationals pursue these new breakfast inventions because it separates them from the local independents who can’t waste their time in the laboratory to keep coming up with this crazy stuff. In Spokane Valley, and I would guess everywhere, breakfast is where the locals battle the nationals the hardest. There are a lot of big, national players like Applebee’s and Red Lobster serving lunch and dinner but that is not the case for breakfast.
I would not take the time to mention establishments that only serve breakfast on Saturday and Sunday except that there are a lot of them and one of them, Charlie P’s, is probably my favorite place to have breakfast in the entire Valley. I love Seafood omelettes and have tried them where ever they are attempted locally as well as when I travel. Charlie P’s is the best local seafood omellete and as good as any I have eaten even in coastal restaurants so close to the sea that the crab tasted like they had just pulled it out of the ocean.
Elaine, my best buddy for 32 years, has never one time joined me for an early morning breakfast out because of a serious conflict in interest between getting up or sleeping in. But in a wonderful twist of fate, she loves Charlie’s Eggs Benedict and they serve breakfast all day. So while she is having her benedict with a glass of milk and a happy hour beer for her breakfast, I am having a heavenly omelette for my late afternoon lunch.
Three other family-friendly bars that have built up a weekend following are The Iron Horse, O’Dohrtery’s and Bolo’s. They all do a good job but I think some of their appeal is they serve Bloody Mary’s and other drinks that many of their customers sometimes begin drinking quite early on weekends.
For the clean livers with big appetites, there is no place like the weekend breakfast buffet at Timber Creek. The crowd there is over the top and lined out the door.
But these weekenders are not the main contenders in the breakfast battle. There are actually 10 locals that serve breakfast everyday. Most just serve breakfast and lunch but some serve dinner as well. I think that during the week most of them do better at lunch or dinner but on the weekends they all do big breakfast biz. I was amazed how many people go out for breakfast on the weekends.
Having been solidly converted to breakfastism by St. Smitty long before the age of accountability, I reverently observe the day’s first supper at any place that will serve it to me, but I did come up with a Letterman’s list. And so here are my top ten reasons to go out for breakfast in the Spokane Valley.
Reason #10- Black Pearl Casino. The reason the Pearl holds the ten spot is because they are a casino first and restaurant second. They do have great decor and really good food. If you are dating and have found someone who is the opposite of Elaine and wants to go out for breakfast, this would be the Valley’s best early date spot.
Reason #9- Skyway Cafe. My only problem with Skyway Cafe is that I don’t like crowded places and this place is crowded, especially for weekend breakfast. I love a comfortable, private and well-lit booth like at Shari’s on Sullivan or the old ones at my beloved Perkins. The Skyway Cafe has no such getaways but that does not hurt them one bit. I would tell visitors to the Valley that this is a local favorite for a reason. Located at Spokane’s original international airport, this place has the best setting and unique feel on the list.
Reason #8- Dave’s Bar and Grill. The reason Dave’s is at 8 is because I think they only do breakfast because the Valley can’t get enough of Dave’s food. He does his famous specials at dinner, not breakfast. There are no great bargains for breakfast but like the other two meals he serves, the breakfast there is all great food served in porpportions built for two.
Reason #7-Conley’s. This is the last member of the Valley’s trilogy of local breakfast-serving icons. In an industry with a high mortallity rate and short life expectancy, Conlely’s has been around longer than almost anyone. Conley’s is a creative and tastey example of something that is nice to see: local independent operators that have built a hospitallity treasure that has been Opportunity’s opportunity to have been enjoying all these years.
Reason #6-Egg It On. This is the Valley’s newest restaurant located in the west half of the old Hooter’s building. I think they got off to a rocky start but I have been there 5 times since they opened and always go with a group and I can tell you that they are worth a try. Their Salmon Benedict is, as Elaine says, fricking fracking good and if you like a bloody good Bloody Mary, they have her.
Reason #5-Little Euro. Living these past 20 years near the corner of Bowdish and Alki, me and the kids were hit hard when The Old European closed many years ago just down Bowdish on Sprague in the house that Sambo’s built. The kids had grown up on their crepe’s and I had a love affair with their stuffed french toast. Imagine my delight when they recently re-opened as The Little Euro just down Alki on Pines.
Reason #4-Cottage Cafe. Though they have been around 5 years, I group the Cottage with Euro and the Egg in so far as being the new places. The Cottage opened as successfully as anyone I have ever seen. They pretty much did everything right. Elaine and I went in there at one o’clock on a Wednesday and sat at the bar to avoid waiting, which is amazing considering they close at 2 oclock.
Reason #3 Terry’s Breakfast and Lunch. Having owned and worked a place for four years with Elaine, I most admire the owner that puts in shifts on the front lines of their place. If you want a lot of good grub and want to watch the owner cook it for you, go to Terry’s. The only reason Terry is not higher on the list is because he is not nearly as good looking as the top two.
Reason #2 Jenny’s Cafe. The first Saturday I went into Jenny’s she had her hair down and was waitressing as only a natural can and then the next Saturday she had her hair tied back as she cooked in the kitchen just as naturally. Jenny started there when was 16 when it was Waffles and More and bought it 14 years ago. The main reason Jenny is at number two on the list is because at 24 years in the business she does not yet have half the years in as my monarch of the morning.
Reason #1 Donna’s Diner. Donna starting waiting tables 50 years ago in Troy, Montana after school when she was 12. If you want to see Donna, don’t go on the weekends because she takes off Friday through Sunday. Donna’s is the only breakfast and lunch place open from 5 to 3. All the rest are 6 to 2. Donna is there for all 10 hours Monday through Thursday waiting on her customers.
Donna does a great job serving a great breakfast, as do the Valley’s other nine great reasons to dine out in the morning. I didn’t bring up price because they are all within a buck on any given meal and I didn’t bring up quallity because breakfast is a pretty easy meal to get right as they all have accomplished.
Judging by the numbers I saw crowding into all of these places on the weekends, I would say that I am not the only one who did not get enough pancakes when I was a kid. And while I love them all from Ronald to Donna, I will always remain most smitten by Smitty.
Family Meal at Denny’s
One Thursday last August Elaine’s brother and sister-in-law and niece, Craig, Beth and Kelsey Clark ( first three in selfie) , were passing through and wanted to get everybody together for dinner on the fly. After a bulletin text was sent out and attendance was confirmed or declined, a group conversation began about where to eat. I did not get into the discussion as I was withholding my final decision concerning my own attendance since I had a lot of work to do and had just seen these particular out-of-towners just day or two before and so had had enough hugs from these lovable and quite publicly demonstrative family members for the season, at least from one of them.
Then final decision to make it Denny’s it on Argonne came buzzing in on my phone . One of the things on my ongoing to-do list was researching the story above and so doing Denny’s with a group was a great opportunity. I texted back that I was in, resigning myself to one last round of heartfelt farewells. I had work to do at Denny’s and besides, my old childhood buddy-turned-brother-in-law, Craig, isn’t bad company once I get past his initial mandatory man hug.
As I drove there I pondered why Denny’s was the group concensus. I wouldn’t have thought of it and I was further intrigued upon arrival to see two large family groups besides ours. After conversing and dining with the family and analyzing the menu and the selections made from it, I came up with an hypothesis.
First of all Denny’s prices are reasonable and secondly the menu’s range goes from dawn to dusk and back again. I found it telling that out of 10 of us, only one person went past the breakfast pages and ordered a dinner entre. I would guess that ratio was a little unusual, but I can see where Denny’s anytime and all kinds of breakfast offerings makes it a family favorite especially ones with children.
The children within our adult family ordered across the breakfast board that day. I discovered that Faun,Elaine’s mom ( fifth back in the selfie), often eats at Denny’s and usually orders the breakfast sandwich in the second photo above. She said she most often has coffee and breakfast at the Hi-Co Subway. Of all fast food breakfast choices she thinks Subway is the most tasty, healthy and affordable, furthermore my mother-in-law who is a woman of many opinions is of the opinion that Subway on Argonne serves the best food out of all the local Subways.
My little inside guy had to try the Strawberry Pancake Puppies with cream cheese and so I ordered them as an appetizer to share though after tasting the first one I did not share as many as I had intended. Elaine went for one of those flashy but tempting menu items called the Red,White and Blue Slam pictured in the fourth photo. For $7.99 she got two blueberry pancakes topped with cream cheese and strawberries along with two eggs, hash browns and sausage . Elaine’s Slam did not land on the table with the normal two links as I had devoured one of them whole after deftly snatching it away while she talked in the other direction.
The R,W & B Slam that Elaine had is yet another version in a long and creative line of Slams. The original Grand Slam is still on the menu and remains the Slam I go back to time and again. As a hungry teenager, I mentally and emotionally consummated my relationship with her midway through our first encounter.
Though not as old , The Grand Slam is the Egg McMuffin of casual dining. Denny’s keeps pumping 0ut and glossily photographing one new invention after another such as what I have always thought was the cleverly named ” Moons Over My Hammy” . But I love it in name only having never been tempted to cheat on my Grand Slam by its alluring picture and personal information on the menu.
The selfie above was taken outside the front door after we had all indulged in our personal pleasures and great family visiting. It is a picture of a group of well fed family members happy to have had another opportunity get together break bread and waffles and pancakes. What I was mostly thinking about in that shot was I knew I was only minutes away from having that mug in the front approaching me as he comes in for his obligatory farewell embrace.