Archive for the ‘Best Places to eat in Spokane Valley’ Category

I must confess that recently I have been committing deadly sin after deadly sin at The Owl Casino on Indiana . It is not the games of chance that lure me helplessly back again and again but rather the plates of rapture carried out from the kitchen and placed before me. Gluttony, not gambling nor girls, has been my personal heavenly hell since I chanced upon a wonderful secret a month or so ago.
It all started when I read an article in the paper that our local Hooters closed  after a ten-year run. Since Elaine found their theme a turn off we never would have gone there except that they offer the cheapest well drinks in town.  Despite the affordable libations and the  fact that the place always produced fond mammories, the food was far from titillating  and so I was ambivalent about Hooter’s closing. What caught my eye in the article was that Hootwinc, the corporation that owned the Spokane franchise as well as the other  nineteen West Coast Hooters, decided to open a new breakfast restaurant in the building while keeping the casino running. I found it unusual that they would take another run at it .
Normally, a place goes out of business and the next guy comes along and says to himself, ” I can do better than the guy who didn’t make it here. My idea is better and I am a smarter operator.” In this case, Hootwinc  is apparently saying that they have a better idea than the one they had before. I admire their buoyant spirit and would agree that nearly anyone could come up with a better idea in the way of good food than their last effort.
As I continued  reading the story, it was hard to keep my eyes looking downward  as they kept rolling around and around in my head. A Hooter spokesperson waxed on about how the new place was going to serve fresh “farm-to-table ingredients” in what they called urban fusion. Apparently, this type of cutting edge cuisine is trending across California and West Coast Hooters top bras, I mean brass, has decided the Valley will support this new place even though we did not support our Hooters. Egg It On is what they have named it, which is about as clever as their old name.
Between the hype,  the name and the slim chances I gave them, I probably never would have gone in there again but those affordable libations beckoned me back to the casino a month or so ago. That is when I learned the Secret and  have been drawn back again and again by the most powerful law of attraction.
Apparently whoever is in charge of this Egg It On is good in the kitchen and has been experimenting back there, putting his creations on the menu for hungry gamblers to approve. While I am not a gambler, I am an approver.
The first thing I ordered was the recommended Meatloaf Monster Hash, which looked as ugly and menacing as a monster when it showed up in front of me. Luckily I was hungry and so did not judge by appearances.
Even though my hungry stomach opened my mind, this was the most flavorful skillet type dish I had ever had and it stood the test of two more reheats at home.I know something is good when I reheat a portion for breakfast and then polish the last of it off for lunch and find it tasty each time.
The next thing I indulged myself with there was the Sage Chicken Eggs Benedict. I thought maybe a Sage Chicken was a pheasant but after a few bites I figured out that the Sage was about the flavor. It was not long before I was full of Sage Chicken and so I boxed up the uneaten half for Elaine to try when she got off work. The dish passed another foolproof taste test when she took a trial bite of it cold and found it so good she had a few more before getting it into the microwave.
The next time I slipped into the casino I tried the Heath Bar Pancake. It was about the size of a medium pizza and could easily have fed all four of my kids when they were little. Unlike them, I never order souped-up pancakes or waffles but after the Monster and the Chicken, I had to see what this great creator was going to do with a pancake. I indulged more of it than I care to divulge.
Within days I was back again for the Aspargus Salmon Benedict which more than took care of the fix my body and mind craved for whatever was  next on the menu. Elaine and I split it and still took enough home for Eli, our young-adult-still-firmly-at-home son. He devoured it in a flash but that is certainly no test of good taste. The only thing it told me for sure was that he had not eaten in at least an hour.
I hate to admit it, but I have been back twice more since then and have even slicked my entire plate clean of a generous portion of Fruity Pebbles French Toast. That is when I knew I needed to get myself together. I am doing better now but now I hear that “Egg It On” has opened.  I see a relapse in my future since I need to study the new place to see if it is possible for them to create an eating establishment that lives up to the creations that have so easily led me astray.

While this Monster Mash vaguely resembled a pile of something I see in my back yard when my dog has a tummy ache, it tasted as good as it did not look.

While this Monster Mash vaguely resembled a pile of something I see in my back yard when my dog has a tummy ache, it tasted as good as it did not look.

 

There were four over-sized english muffins at the foundation of this Sage Chicken wonder. It was like no other eggs benedict my eyes had seen before.

There were four over-sized english muffins at the foundation of this Sage Chicken wonder. It was like no other eggs benedict my eyes had seen before.

I hate confess that I was guilty of eating most of this pleasure.

I hate confess that I was guilty of eating most of this pleasure.

Believe it or not, there is a heavenly slamon eggs benedict buried in there. And it is a three- or four-manner

Believe it or not, there is a heavenly slamon eggs benedict buried in there. And it is three- or four-manner

 

Egg it On on Urbanspoon

I have to wonder how long the herd will continue to stampede Buffalo Wings Sports Bar and Restaurant that opened last month at the Valley Mall. Since this is the chain’s 455th place since 1983, I am assuming this not a flash in the pan, but I would think only a Times Square location could sustain what I have been seeing at our new B-Dubs.
If this were a movie opening, it would be like James Cameron’s Titanic, riding high at the top of everyone’s list of must-see dining. I have been Buffalo-watching since they opened and have been astounded by the numbers that have flocked the place. During the first few weeks the wait at times was two hours long. I went in by myself once on a Sunday around noon and told the hostess I just wanted to sit at the bar, expecting her to let me pass and seat myself. Instead, she started taking down my name like she expected me to wait for the first available bar stool. I told her I am not a waiter when it comes to sitting alone at a bar and off I went down the road a bit.
The next Sunday I went back earlier and I was able to get a spot at the bar. It was a first for me when the hostess escorted me to what turned out to be the last opening. I found it a bit embarrassing, like I needed any help finding a bar stool. Though I knew that I was there to research this blog, to the rest of the packed bar, which all seemed to turn and watch me following my young guide, it had to look a lot like I was drinking alone fairly early on a Sunday morning. That is something I prefer to be more stealth about.
While I might have been sinning solo on a Sunday morning, there were a lot of others there skipping Sunday School to watch football as well. If you consider how popular this chain is and that the scene I was witnessing was being repeated 455 times across the nation, B-Dubs is responsible for a lot backsliding across America. It is a great place to relapse and relax with large-screen, high-def plasmas lining the walls broadcasting every N.F.L. game being played. Back to back jumbo screens in the center of the building separate the bar from the family dining area, which is only slightly bigger and only slightly less boisterous.
Part of the appeal is the noise level which for a place to eat, B-Dubs is like being at the stadium live. If you are going there to have a nice quiet meal, go somewhere else. Likewise, if you are going there for really good food, go somewhere else. It is not that the food is bad, it is just that I find it very chain-esque, meaning it holds its own with Red Robbins and IHOP and all their nationwide rivals competing in the hunger game.
Though they have a fine and full menu, it is a success story that came in on a wing if not prayer. I find it interesting that the Spokane Valley took so long to get our first B-Dub while distant outposts like Billings and Missoula have been enjoying their Buffaloes for a while now. Could it be that B-Dubs was buffaloed by, or perhaps just plain chicken of the established local wing slingers? Though I am not sure how healthy a chicken wing is, there does seem to be some healthy competition selling it.
I believe Flaming Joe’s was the Valley’s first wing joint and from the start they have been a testament to the fact that the Valley loves its wing just as much as the next town. I have never been a fan of the vinegar-based buffalo flavor nor the heat when it comes to hot wings, but if a person feels different about these things, Flamin’ Joe’s has always had their wing. Apparently, more than some like it hot since Joe’s features eight increasingly hotter original buffalo sauces that peak at a sauce they call Code Red. I am a sweet and gooey kind of a guy and they have me amply covered with 18 different sauces. Elaine, on the other hand, is a dry rub kind of gal, only wingly speaking, of course, and they easily take care her kind of bird with 7 different versions.
The Ref opened not long ago and proved that the Valley had a big enough appetite to fly two wing joints at the same time, though apparently our wing cravings had increased since a few years before when we let Wingers down at the Mall. Unlike Wingers, but like Flaming Joe’s, The Ref is locally owned. Unlike Flaming Joe’s owner, The Ref’s owner Fred Lopez, has not been involved in any federal sting operations and has been on a tear opening the Roadhouse country night club, the Black Wolf gaming center and is now remodeling The old Moose Lodge just off Francis into a country night club and concert hall after opening The Ref.
The night to try one of his 31 flavors is Wednesday when they sell them for 65 cents apiece. They are great wings and I am sure they sell a lot of them but I can’t be sure because on that night I am at Boston’s where they sell wings in the bar for only 35 cents. They have been doing it for years and it is not a very well-kept secret. It is elbow to elbow, as the ravenous, heaving crowd pile up gleaned and cleaned wing bones, going through yards of napkins, attempting to keep the sauce from oozing past their own elbows and onto the elbows of their neighbors.
Though you could never tell it by the Wednesday night crowd at Boston’s, I would guess that the Buffalo has sucked a lot of wing lovers from the Ref and Joe’s and Boston’s, with which it shares the parking lot. Like all types of food enthusiasts, Buffalo wing enthusiasts tend to roam when something bigger and better and more boisterous comes to town. I root for B-Dubs and the army of young servers and cooks they have put to work, but at the same time I am partial to the wing status quo. Hopefully, the Valley is up to the task of eating our way to the success yet another wing eatery. Judging by our overall slowly but steadily increasing average weight, it is likely that we are up to the task.

 

These are the wings from B-Dubs and these are how they serve them. Elaine did not like eating out of paper boats though she did like their wings.

These are the wings from B-Dubs and these are how they serve them. Elaine did not like eating out of paper boats though she did like their wings.

The Refs wings are dang good. Afreind of mine from New York who has been eating wings since they were invented in Buffalo thinks these are about the best in the Valley.

The Refs wings are dang good. Afreind of mine from New York who has been eating wings since they were invented in Buffalo thinks these are about the best in the Valley.

 

While The Ref's taste may compare with Boston's wings, their Wednesday night price of 65 cents a wing does not stack up next to Boston's 35 cents. Elaine and I can gnaw our way through about 20 of these. That's $7.

While The Ref’s taste may compare with Boston’s wings, their Wednesday night price of 65 cents a wing does not stack up next to Boston’s 35 cents. Elaine and I can gnaw our way through about 20 of these. That’s $7.

Flamin' Joes has a lot of good grub. I like the waffle fries they serve with their wings.

Flamin’ Joes has a lot of good grub. I like the waffle fries they serve with their wings.

My advice for you when dining at B-Dubs is to stick to the well-worn path. Daring to try other items beyond their tried and true wings could lead to disaster. This Tailgater Sampler looked interesting but tasted not so much so.    All three dips were bland and tasted watered down. When Elaine told the mananger who ecame by and enthusiastically inquired how much we like the food, he replied they never watered anyhthing down because it all came prepackaged. Maybe that is the problem. But the wings on the sampler were quite tastey.

My advice for you when dining at B-Dubs is to stick to the well-worn path. Daring to try other items beyond their tried and true wings could lead to disaster. This Tailgater Sampler looked interesting but tasted not so much so.
All three dips were bland and tasted watered down. When Elaine told the mananger who ecame by and enthusiastically inquired how much we like the food, he replied they never watered anyhthing down because it all came prepackaged. Maybe that is the problem. But the wings on the sampler were quite tastey.

 

 

Good Job, Elaine

Posted: September 15, 2013 in Best Places to eat in Spokane Valley
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When it comes to a waitress job, not all restaurants are created equal. That is why Elaine, with my gentle and good guidance, went about her recent mission to secure a part-time position at a local eatery with diligence and deliberation. Having waitressed off and on all of her adult life, and having run her own place for four years, Elaine has been on both sides of the table as well as stood over both ends. She has had it very good most of the time but also has had it rough enough to know there are a lot of variables involved and this time she wanted to make sure all the variables were aligned just right.
The perfect place had to be in the Valley. Her last waitress job was at Ferraro’s on north Divison. Pat Ferraro had asked her to help him open the bar in his new restaurant. It was the third time she set up a new bar and it was suppose to be temporary until it lasted two years. The only variable she hated about the job was the location, or rather the drive it took to arrive at that location. The new job had to be easier on her 72′ Mach One that she loves driving everywhere except rush-hour freeways.
The perfect place could not be a chain. One of her first jobs was at the old Sea Galley across from the old University City. It was owned by a big corporation and she loved her job. The problem with the Red Robins and Black Anguses in the Valley today is that they are all run by managers. Most of the managers are young or at least younger than Elaine. They are also less experienced and often intimidated when they see the word owner on Elaine’s work history. It is kind of hard to know that for sure but that is what I concluded after watching her get passed by when she tried to get a job shortly after we closed our place seven years ago.
Another variable the perfect new job had to have was a working owner. Even if the chain managers are not insecure and immature, they are still managers. It is not that we look down on managers, rather it is more that we look up to owners. There is a big difference between running someone else’s place and running your own place. Elaine is the type that gives everything when she’s working and she loves working for an owner that is doing the same.
The new place she was looking for also had to be established with a good reputation. More than most other lines of work, a waitress’s take home pay is directly tied to the success of their employer. While the minimum wage is no longer anything to sneeze at these days, for the waitstaff it is all about the tips. Personally, I think somebody pulled a fast one when the standard tip went from ten to twenty percent and while I haven’t fallen for it, I heartily appreciate all of Elaine’s customers that have.
Along those lines, the perfect spot had to have class. Her spouse not withstanding, Elaine loves classy things. A wait staff is a part of every restaurant’s atmosphere and setting. At the same time a restaurant’s atmosphere and setting is the wait staff’s working environment. All things being equal, why shouldn’t Elaine be surrounded by good taste on her job? If nothing else, it takes a little pressure off me.
Given that all these variables had to be in line, there were not a lot of job opportunities. Only Ambrosia Bistro and Wine Bar at the Argonne Village had everything she wanted except an opening. The fact that they have a very slow turnover is a bad thing only when you are trying to get a job there. She dropped off a resume anyway. During one of her return trips, she told Scott Cook, the owner that he had to hire her sooner or later because she was not going to work any place else. Eventually her persistence fulfilled her prophecy and Scott and his wife, Kara hired her recently.
Elaine soon found that her dream job is even better than she dreamt it would be when she discovered how good they are at running the place and how hard they work at it. The Ambrosia wait staff, which includes their teen-age son, loves working there.
It is the kind of place that when I tell people she got a job there, I always get positive responses. Ambrosia has a great reputation and is loved by everyone who has ever dined or served the diners there. As for me, I have also loved everything I have ever eaten there and have always rooted for them. Now that they hired this cute little waitress that I have the hots for, I am their newest devotee. I win all around because at Ambrosia good things come to those who wait as well as those who eat.

Sandwiches and salads are around $11 while entres hover just south of $20.

Sandwiches and salads are around $11 while entres hover just south of $20. Elaiine and I split this great Club sandwich and then upgraded the salad that came with it to the Ambrosia salad which is chock full of tasty tidbits and covered in a very good raspberry vinaigrette. So we got away with a good lunch there for $6 apiece.

Here I sit, keyboard under hand, at 1 pm on a warm Father’s Day afternoon conducting, perhaps, the most honest survey ever. There is only one judge, but he is honest and true. On this one day of the year I can eat anywhere that I choose and so far I have not eaten anything more than a couple of tastey malt balls from the quart gallon Whoppers box one of the kids gave me. I asked her to stop giving me such presents as they are helping to turn my belly into a whopper.
Actually, it is this whopper of a belly that I have been working on for many years that is conducting today’s survey. While it always leads out in front, it does not always get to choose which way we head. But today, my belly gets to eat wherever it chooses and the only thing my head has to do with the course of culinary events this day is to try and help stave off consumption for as long as possible. I reason that a hollow, howling belly is the most pure and unbiased judge. A belly is like a baby in that when it is hungry it is quite focused and just wants what it wants. Unfortunately, some bellies also act like babies in that they seem to grow on a daily basis whether you like it or not and they are never as cute as when they were little.
I live at Alki and Bowdish, the center of the Valley (the gut you might say), and I can head out in any direction. All four winds blow wonderful scents toward me, but I can feel my tummy tug me to the West. In that direction lies Charlie P’s, which I have for years claimed to be the most delicious spot in the Valley. I love just two types of food:seafood and barbecue, both of which Charlie P’s dishes out in an array of delectable varieties.
There is a worthy argument to be made that the seafood calizone on their menu is Spokane’s most indulgent sin. It is one that I have too often committed. Charlie’s seafood omelet itself has the power to suck my belly down there even as I attempt to write this piece. At this point in the day, I dare not get started talking about their seafood fettucine which might be the best I have ever eaten.
Then there is the smoke pit barbecue which has far too often lured me astray like the sirens of the Odysseus. I normally try to eat alone when I order the barbecue since I dine spellbound and cannot think of anything but the alluring food before me. But recently, I have become aware of a new bastion of barbecue, The Spit Fire Grill at 6520 East Trent.
While I think my belly might first lead me into Charlie P’s for their $5-two-rib-and-fries happy hour special, I have a gnawing feeling that I will be traversing a bit further west today. Barbecue, I realize, is a very personal area of each man’s life and I do not want to step on any tongues here, but too my increasingly boisterous belly, The Spitfire is Charlie P’s greatest rival and for this day appears to be the likely victor.
This place is so into barbcue that they have bbq pulled pork nachos and tacos. Their sauce is so good I would imagine they could also serve waffles and use it for syrup. The only drawback with the Spit Fire is that it is a neighborhood bar that is a tad short on the atmosphere. If only it looked as good as it smells. As for myself, I keep intending to do Take Out, but I can never imagine holding out long enough to get it home.
The thing that I find quite ironic is that just last month the Spokesman Review did their own barbecue survey that cast it’s reach all the way to Coeur D’ Alene and up north to Wandermere and downtown. Nine places were featured, with The Log Cabin drive-thru at Trent and Freya coming out on top. My belly took umbrage to this outrageous outcome. Only two Valley venues were mentioned in this survey, the Longhorn and O’Doherty’s, both good friends of my belly’s. But to leave off Charlie P’s and The Spitfire? My stomach did more than growl over that, it roared.
Not to take away from the noble efforts of these other purveyors of heavenly cooked meats, but leaving off Charlie P’s and the Spitfire from a Spokane survey of sumptuous barbecue is like leaving off Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds on list of baseball’s biggest batters, which would be balderdash at best. They should not only be included in any survey, they should be at the tippy top.
But I must stop writing because my tummy can’t take it any longer. It is after all, a big baby and so I’m off to see the wizards, the wonderful wizards of awes.

These are not your normal nachos. Never have I seen such a thing on any menu. Barbecue Nachoes, what a great idea.

These are not your normal nachos. Never have I seen such a thing on any menu. Barbecue Nachoes, what a great idea.

“This is not Charlie P’s seafood fet. We happened to go there one night hey were having a Salmon Fet for the dinner special. It was to die for.

I have known Ryan Heaton, owner of the Valley Senior Froggys since about 1973 when he and I played trumpet  at Bowdish Junior High. I was a consistent third or fourth chair below Renny Smith and Teresa Tsalaky while Ryan, who was a year younger, normally sat far below.

Everyone hated those surprise tryouts that publicly and painfully exposed our lack of musical talent and lazy practicing habits. Anything could happen. More than once I sat at the bottom after a humiliating attempt, only to look up the line to see Ryan beaming back down at me from my old chair after he had pulled off an unusually good performance.

Even on his best trumpet days, I would not have put him on my most-likely-to-succeed list. It was not  until high school when he began bussing tables at the Valley Red Lion that it became apparent that he possessed first-chair talent in the hospitality field .

One year out of high school at age 19, he was managing The 1881 Room at the Sheraton Hotel downtown.  Back then Patsy Clark’s was their main competition, today it would be Churchill’s or Spencer’s, which is at the 1881 Room’s former location.

After problems developed with a new general manager, Ryan thought he could do better and so applied for the manager position when it came open at the neighboring Casablanca restaurant, owned by the Omni Corporation.

They liked the looks of the kid but not the idea of him running a place where he was not old enough to go into the bar, especially when its nightclub was downtown’s hottest. They lured him away by offering him a better salary and a manager position at their Taco Time on Division.

At one time, Omni had a big operation in Spokane. They owned Casablanca, all the Taco Times, Fuddrucker’s and The Rocking Horse Saloon. Ryan became a key team player they moved  around to run other local Taco Times for a few years.

Then they sent him to  California to open a new Fuddrucker’s before coming back to open and manage their new Spokane Fudruckers, a gourmet hamburger franchise. By the time he was 25, they put him at the helm of their starship, The Casablanca where he was in charge of four assistant managers and 95 employees.

After meeting Dave Hooke at a golf tournament, Ryan decided it would be better to raise is two young boys on fast food. The plan was that he would be allowed to buy into Dave’s  local franchise, Senor Froggys, a move designed to help fund Dave’s retirement and secure one for himself. That was 23 years ago and things have progressed nicely, with Ryan owning the Valley and Indiana Froggy’s.

The nice progress has come through a battle of wits and hard work against difficulties like  relentless national competition, an abysmal economy and a traffic shift that did not work in his favor. Ryan has kept his Froggys hopping by using two key strategies.

One of the strategies was cutting edge when he became a Bruchi’s franchisee and co-branded it together with his two Senior Froggy’s  11 years ago. He was the first in Spokane to implement this nationwide trend, offering two original Spokane franchises in one location.

Beyond menus that complimented each other, Ryan and Bruce Greene, founder and owner of Bruchi’s worked well together, having known each other from the Casablanca days when Bruce was an assistant manager under Ryan. Currently, they are partners in the new Cheney Bruchi’s and up until January, Ryan ran the North Town and Valley Mall Bruchi’s.

Knowing a year in advance that he would be loosing his lease at the malls, Ryan  took the co-branding concept to the next level, coco-branding, and brought in Itallalian Express, another local franchise that had been started by Dave Hooke with recipes provided by  Luigi’s owner, Marty Hoberg , who had been one of Ryan’s busboy at the 1881 Room.

The second strategy Ryan has implemented is himself. He will tell you he believes he has been  at the same location for 23 years because they deliver a consistent, quality product for a good price. While that may be true, Ryan is the one who has ensured those standards day in, day out. He is hands-on and works everyday, 40 hours a week. When you combine that work ethic with a 1st-chair talent for playing to a room full of diners, The Froggie is going to make it even in the rough waters of the Spokane Valley fast food pond.

When I took Mom to lunch there the other day, he took our order at the counter and delivered the meal. It occurred to me how unusual it is at a fast food place for anyone, let alone the owner, to bring the food out even though it seems like a pretty simple but accommodating service to provide. I guess that it is something that only an owner who enjoyed working with his crew and serving his customers would be happy to do. I would imagine most owners would not enjoy either.

I could tell Ryan, however, is the oddball and is happy to be doing what he was doing and to be where he is at. As I sat looking up at him from my chair as he cheerfully cleared our table, I recognized that  look of contentment on his face from forty years before and I knew it was genuine.

I have no problem vouching for their raviolli. They also offer it with alfredo.

I have no problem vouching for their raviolli. They also offer it with alfredo.

Mom will have to vouch for their chimichanga. \it must be good she has been eating this at Senor Froggies for years. It looks mighty tempting.

Mom will have to vouch for their chimichanga. It must be good because she has been eating this at Senor Froggies for years. All I know is that it looks mighty tempting.

The only thing happier than that frog on the outside is the big bullfrog on the inside.

The only thing happier than that frog on the outside is the big bullfrog on the inside.

 

Having been trying for the last 30 Valentines to find romantic spots to dine on the most important dinner night of the year, I was amazed at our good fortune last night at The Black Pearl.

Due to a scheduling snafu, Elaine  discovered we had the night off from the family at about 5:30 when she got off work. She thought we should go out for dinner to celebrate Valentine’s Eve since she worked late the next night. She called on her way from downtown and asked me to think about a place.

I knew she would want some place special that would compliment our romance which can  flare like a Piccolo Pete on Valentine’s Day.I was thinking Timber Creek Buffet would be the perfect metaphor for the smorgasboard of love we share between us. Perhaps the ribs at Charlie P’s to honor God’s ultimate gift exchange when he swapped Adam a rib for Eve. It would make the perfect eucharist for lovers like us, or at least for a manly rib lover like me.

I kept my ideas to myself and I told her I would think about it while she was getting  home. But with an attention spanning maybe an inch, my mind moved on between my goodbye and hers.

Luckily, she rescued our hastily scheduled but crucial, must-win annual dining event with a suggestion even more brilliant than my own secret ideas. I was impressed. We had stopped in the other day at The Black Pearl but  only had the chance to look at the menu during our brief visit.

It was an impressive and tempting look, worthy of a second. Cost effective with lots of tempting choices for both of us, just what we like to see in a menu. Everything is reasonable. None of the other places that advertise Valentine Dinner Specials can match The Pearl’s pricing. We could have gotten loaded nacho’s for $9.99 which would have gotten my vote Valentine dinner or not had we been there during Happy Hour when they are half price.

Beyond a menu worthy of the sacred supper, The Pearl has class. I would say it is right up there at the top of the local class. Once cost has been factored in, it is the Valley’s Valedictorian of Valentines Value.

It’s three parts, casino, lounge and restaurant, are upper class but comfortable. The staff is well dressed, attentive and friendly, complimented by their surroundings of  rich woodwork, atmosphere lighting and stylish furniture.

I liked the second to the last buddy bar in the lounge where I  sat facing the door and could watch the game room behind a glass wall to my left and the long, well-appointed bar to my right. With Elaine sitting between them in my field of vision, there was no possibility of being bored.

None of this back drop was so distracting that it drew undue attention. But there were brief moment’s during Elaine’s retelling of her day in sometimes numbing detail that my attention wandered left to the more interesting gamers and then drifted right to the more colorful bar. But that just about never happened.

I have not made it through 30 Valentines by not paying attention to my sweetheart, but The Pearl is a place that makes it easier and more interesting to look into her eyes while looking occasionally beyond. It is also a place that delivered the perfect romantic dinner for the right price. She got Coconut Prawns for $7.99 which were quite good. I know because she shared two with me.

I got my beloved ribs for $9.99 and they were quite good which Elaine knows as well because I also shared. I cannot be more generous because as much as I love her, she is no better than God, and so like Adam, I will only give up one of my ribs.

This plate has love written all over it. The decadent steak fries were the big ones with lots of salt and seasoning. This great and sinful slaw had a tangy taste and  terrific texture. Neither God nor my divine wife, could get me to part with more than one rib off this plate from me. And if they were both sitting there, they would have to share it between them.

This plate has love and lust written all over it. The decadent steak fries were the big ones with lots of salt and seasoning. The great and sinful slaw at the top of the plate had a tangy taste and terrific texture that forced me to eat every last piece of cabbage and carrot.  I never have to share any coleslaw with Elaine because it is on her do-not-disturb list. The french fries are another matter. Neither of us can resist the forbidden pleasure of poking  deep fried potatoes into our personal dipping sauce blend of tartar sauce and ketchup. I have always tried to be generous when it comes to poking potatoes and I think she likes that about me. But neither God, nor my divine wife, could get me to part with more than one rib off this plate . And if they were both sitting there across from me at the same time, they would have to share that one between them.

 
 
 

Black Pearl Restaurant and Card Room on Urbanspoon

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Look carefully at the picture above. It is a masterpiece to the eyes of a hungry man’s empty paunch. At the center of this classic you see a pulled pork sandwich, my standard first choice at every new opening that dares to put this American staple on their menu. Mama Doree’s rendition easily manhandled the anticipation that always bursts inside my head as soon as I realize I am about to see if some new place can pull off their pulled pork promise.

To the lower right of the main attraction is as tasty a squash casserole as you will ever slide your fork into. You immediately know that this is the kind of food you came to expect when you went and ate at which ever family member cooked really good. Personally, I was blessed with a grandmother, named Grannie as far as I was concerned, and a mother, who I always call Mom, that put out this kind of food as a matter of routine. With great family recipes dovetailing with culinary skill and flair they made everything they touched excellent.

The coleslaw in the work of art above reaffirmed what the squash and pork had stated before. It was just right tastefully and texturally while being different and unique and so I knew it was another tried and true family recipe. The cornbread also had the taste and feel of generationally great grub.

Then came the blueberry cobbler which by now had a lot to live up to. The bar set and raised by each of the previous selections was easily sailed over by this clean up batter of a dessert, a walk-off home run cobbler. It was just the kind of dreamy meal-ender I always saved just a sliver of stomach for every Sunday dinner at my Grannie’s table growing up.

Turns out that Mama Doree is the grandmother of Frank Hunter, owner of the new place. It looks as though the idea is to sell to the drive-thru customer at least as much as to the dine-in crowd. My meal which included everything pictured, drink and all, was $1o.95 and was dished into to-go containers as I made my selections to the server on the other side of the buffet line. Think KFC buffet line dished up like at Subway, but think of your Gramma’s finest going on the plate.

I hope the Valley rises to this new dish man’s opportunity in Veradale, which has become something of a Bermuda Triangle for eateries, having swallowed up the likes of the Staggering Ox and an A & W in the last year or so. Porky G’s sadly being the most recent new business to vanish shortly after entering the quadrant.

The building at 14787 East Sprague, home of the new Mama Doree’s, is itself the exact spot of a few strange and mysterious disappearances. Please let this not be the case this time. If everyone would skip their next meal at one of the big chains that soar like giant trees choking off the sunlight from the independent local seedlings that try to take hold below, and give Mama Doree’s a try, they would be fine.

The idea of stopping by my beloved Grannie’s home and picking up a quick dinner to take to my home is a dream that I can only pray comes true in heaven. Until then, I hope Mama Doree’s is there to help satisfy my longing for my grandmother and her divine cooking and make the wait a little easier to endure and a tad more tasty.

Cuisine-ly speaking, you can travel around the globe in less than one mile along Sprague. At the eastern end of this short trip is O’Dohtery’s where a clock on the wall counts down the seconds to the next St. Patty’s Day and on the far end of this worldly mile heading into the sunset is The Three Sisters Vietnamese and Chinese Cuisine that gets the very high Urbanspoon rating of 90 percent ladling out a Pho they say is unfogetable.

In between Ireland and Vietnam lie a handful of eateries representing countries near and far. The majority of the owners were born in these foreign lands far beyond the Spokane Valley city limits. I am not sure what it means but I think it might say that people, including restaurateurs find our little neck of the planet to be a nice place to set up camp.

Though it seems unlikely, maybe it just means that these folks think we have a wide range of taste here. At any rate we certainly have a wide range of selection in that short but global mile. You can dine in the Orient at the HuHut Mongolian Grill or at the Sushi Saki just across the street.

Abelardo’s next door puts you back in our hemisphere south of the border. The cooks may not know English real well but they know how to serve fluent Mexican. Trust this gringo when I tell you that the American dollar goes a long way at this place. If you have a belly that can bury one of their burritos then you got yourself a belly to be proud of.

Down the avenue just a skip and a jump to the west you  wind up back in the busiest part of the planet at A Taste of India and its neighbor The Peking Palace which is by now one of the oldest eateries in the Valley considering I remember eating there as a kid and that wasn’t yesterday.

If you did not want to travel that far, you could back up two buildings and land in Italy at Ferraro’s where the owner Pat Ferraro still speaks in a heavy accent 50 years after moving to Spokane from Italy at the age of twelve. Across the street, Monica Sanders who owns the cupcake shop, Love at First Bite, speaks with an equally charming accent that she has retained from her motherland of Columbia.

The new kid on the block is Two Columns Greek and Italian restaurant located at the recently old T Pranos, formerly known as Pinocchio’s and originally known as Wendy’s. Owner Masada Areano, who immigrated to America after picking up a doctorate in business at Cambridge 30 years ago, certainly fits into this varied Valley neighborhood.

Two Columns may be the only place in town serving homemade gyros which makes those of us living close to the Valley’s International Mile quite fortunate. Additionally, the Mediterranean menu is emphasizing gluten-free and vegetarian dishes that have become sought after amongst the dining crowd.

This is a small enterprise where the owner is cooking and serving the recipes he brought with him from the region of his ancestors. There is something very genuine and old world about that and I hope the Valley embraces his efforts. We should because we are, after all, a culturally diverse and sophisticated little city, cuisine-ly speaking.

This Gyro was absolutely as good as I’ve eaten.Though admittedly not that experienced, I have had a few of these ethnic eats. It and the rest of the homemade menu are a welcome addition to our little strip that rivals a worlds fair for cuisine diversity. The price at only $7.50 makes it food fare fit for even our tightly-mitted, fair little village.

Two Columns on Urbanspoon

Perhaps the best development in the Valley during recent years has been a certain kind of growth. It has nothing to do with population or plants but rather a veritable boom in barbecue eateries. For years and years here in the Valley, The Longhorn was the lone source of barbeque-generated smoke, the sweetest form of pollution man has ever produced.
Currently that lonely bellwether of barbeques has three competitors stoking their pits across the Valley. It is a competition I highly encourage and strongly support to the point of borderline gluttony. Like the meat on the barbecue, I am a pig.  I’m just glad to be a porker on the food chain a link or two above my distant relatives that I so lovingly devour.
Being an admitted slave to desire, I must show the utmost respect to the barbecue masters and so I will list them in chronological order as is only fair.
Starting with the youngest, Porky G’s fired up their smoker here in the Valley a few months back. Located on Sprague in front of Fred Meyer’s, the new kid on the block hails from Couer D Alene where it opened its first place in 1995.  I was impatiently knocking on the door a minute before they opened that first day here. My impatience was soon rewarded as I dug into their baby back ribs. All the drooling I had been doing as I had driven by during the remodel was wiped away as I prepared my chin to be covered in another warm, thick and much tastier liquid, barbecue sauce.
Since that blast of God’s bounty was opened to the Valley, I have been back a time or two to draw from the well. I particularly like the pulled pork sandwich and the ribs. Beyond those iron-clad recommendations, I would also offer my services to stand on the sidewalk and enthusiastically wave folks in to try their vast array of sides. They have a ton of superb sides, or maybe super”a” sides is more accurate. From the smokey bacon au gratin potatoes to the seasoned green beans with bacon, every side I tried was a hit. At the risk of sounding partial, I must say that when it comes to Porky G’s, you have to take sides.
From Porky G’s we take a short hop down the timeline to Charlie P’s, which has been open almost two years at Sprague and Vista.  The P-man, like the G-man, knows his Q. Since the first time I laid eyes on his menu to this day after trying everything on the menu that looked like my kind of thing, I have been a rabid fan.

I have written at least two blog posts about his menu and have more in mind. Because barbecue is my favorite that has been my focus, but seafood is a close second and I haven’t said a word about their amazing seafood fet or seafood calizone let their nose-, eyes- and mouth-wateringly good seafood omelet. Then there is the pizza and broasted chicken to tell the world about. Maybe I would carry on more about his food if I weren’t so busy carrying it out and putting it where it belongs which is in my belly.
The only problem with Charlie P’s ribs is that they scream out at me every time I open the menu, drowning out all the other worthy choices. Heck, those ribs are so obnoxiously good I can often hear them screaming at me from my house three miles away. My recommendation for Charlie P’s is their Smokehouse BBQ Combo for $16.95. It is perfect for Elaine and I to share because I am able to hog the pork ribs, give her the chicken and fight for a fair split on the fantastic sirloin roast.
Next in the birth order of our blessed brotherhood of barbeques is O’Doherty’s on Sprague between Bowdish and Pines. Savory smoke has been seeping past racks of meat that it richly flavors on its way out the smokestack and up into the Valley sky since the late 90’s when Smokey’s was there. O’Doherty’s moved there in 2002 and have been serving solid servings after solid servings ever since. It is the kind of place that when you look back you realize that everything you have ever eaten there was good.
The other night  I was there researching this story and refreshing my fond memories on a half rack of ribs with  Elaine. She ordered a salmon sandwich that we had not seen there before. It was so good, it almost made me wish I had ordered it instead of the ribs. Luckily, it was several bites over Elaine-size and so I enjoyed a rib/salmon combo that went straight into the old stomach’s scrapbook of memorable meals. You might call their food “good mood food”. Whatever mood your are in, order the food that fits it and you’re good.
The oldest of the barbecue boys by far is the Longhorn on Argonne. Today is Father’s Day and like every Father’s Day, the Longhorn will be packed with fathers who were given their one day of the year to choose where to eat. There will be a long line all day leading up to heaven where the world’s best barbeque buffet has been laid out. If the Longhorn had been around in biblical times, this would have been the disciples vote for the last supper.
At one time this buffet was only served on Father’s Day but now it is served several days and always on Sundays. This made it convenient to beat the crowd and have my private Father’s Day celebration a week earlier while the family was attending a graduation. As I sat there with just two all-too-brief plates of bbq resting peacefully in my swollen paunch, it dawned on me that this buffet should be kept at a once-a-year gift from heaven. There are no left-overs at a buffet whereas I normally leave there full with a full doggy bag in my hand. (I have never understood why they call it a doggy bag because they never have done our dogs any good, at least not the ones from Longhorn. Those I call Daddy’s lunch bag.)
There is one clear choice for me as far as recommendations go for the Longhorn. When we were first married 29 years ago, back before the kids came along and decided where the family was eating out, back when the Longhorn was a drive-in, we ate there at least half the time since it was always my choice. We ate there occasionally on Elaine’s turn as well because she loved their bbq beef sandwich almost as much as I loved the bbq ham and swiss.

In those wonderful years when calories were of little concern, The Longhorn Special featuring a sandwich and two sides was our favorite. While much has changed in, on and around us since those days, the Longhorn bbq sandwich remains the same, standing like an oak on Argonne where  all the fast food chains have grown up around it like spindly scrub brush,  trucking in every wimpy sandwich and burger their food labratories can concoct.
There is nothing fast about the meats cooked at the Longhorn or O’Doherty’s or Charlie P’s or Porky G’s. These boys have the slow-smoked-meat market all sowed up and there’s no need for a big bbq chain like the Texas Roadhouse moving in to these parts. Their scouts probably looked at the Valley Mall where they would have been right at home competing with other chains like Boston’s and Outback. That probably looked enticing until they nosed around the Valley a bit and got a whiff of the local competition. The Valley, they wisely surmised, is already covered barbeque-wise and so off they went to Couer D’ Alene with their plans of expansion rolled up under their arm and their tails tucked between their legs.

 

 

 

 

 

I caught this tired looking fellow out at True Legends annual Luau/ Pig Roast last Saturday. Everybody had a great time except maybe this guy.

This is one of Porky G’s strong selections, the Pulled Pork sandwich.

Porky G’s ribs aren’t bad either.

This is Charlie P’s combo plate. It takes a combo of two or three people to get it ate up.

O’Doherty’s ribs are a work of art tastefully framed with sides of ecstacy. Their corn bread is perfection.

After a round at their unbelievable salad bar, it’s time for the meat plate. This is one time I don’t mind things kind of running together on the plate.

If you made it all the way to the bottom of this blog post, then you certainly deserve a reward. This is it. Between 3 and 6 Charlie P’s has a two ribs and fries for $5. It is the perfect little dinner.

 
Porky G's Southern BBQ on Urbanspoon
O'Doherty Irish Pub & BBQ on Urbanspoon
Charlie P's on Urbanspoon
Longhorn Barbecue on Urbanspoon

I believe most hospitality establishments are like people in that nearly all have something incredible to offer the world if only the world can find that often hidden, in fact often buried treasure even the crustiest curmudgeon has to offer. The Black Pearl in the Spokane Valley is certainly no curmudgeon and it has a lot of great food and drinks to offer in plain sight on the menu, but one has to get up at least kind of early in the morning to find what I found because it is only on the breakfast menu.
Their seafood omelet is the rare, sought-after black pearl among the ivory pearls their worthy kitchen offers. Every time I eat breakfast at a new place, I always peruse the menu with gaurded optimism as I seek my favorite type of omelet. Seldom is my seafood search successful and so when on occasion my dispirited, almost desperate quest is rewarded with a genuine seafood omelet on the menu it is my selection without fail. Normally I get so excited when I find it that I begin waving frantically to the waitress to quickly return and take my ecstatic order so that no time is wasted in getting that thing in front of me.
What finally showed up after perhaps 10 minutes that seemed like ten hours was pure pleasure on a plate. I nearly never see food like that and I did not see this precious pearl of an omelet for long as it quickly disappeared beneath my nose as one forkful forcefully followed another down my throat with such speed that that little hot-dog-eating Oriental dude would not have dared challenge me that morning to a seafood omelet eating contest. At least not if it was the Black Pearl’s omelet.


This photograph is a show of sheer unimaginable willpower as every atom in my body screamed out to have the atoms in that omelet join them. While I had to pause for a pic, I said to hell with a prayer. Almost faster than the light from my Droid’s flash could subside, this beautiful masterpiece and I were one.

Like a ravenous lion ripping the hot, bloody meat from the quivering, still-twiching body of a barely-dead Zebra with hungry hienas hovering nearby, I could hear my animal subconscious growl menacingly at my nerdy, blogger side that had to interrupt my feeding frenzy to take this picture. But I had to take it. Who would ever believe the chef’s generosity with the fresh and very real crabmeat. And I knew a thousand words gushing on and on from my pen could not capture the rapture of this gift from God like one quick picture. After I had devoured the entire omelet and a spotless plate stared back at my eyes so bulging I could barely blink, I forced them to shut as I took a moment to offer up a slightly belated but all the more heartfelt prayer of thanks for the bounty that had been set before me.

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