Archive for the ‘Reviews and comments’ Category

Ownership of The Roadhouse recently passed from one of my friends to another, and everyone is better off for it. While Fred Lopez had the money, vision and desire to raise up The Roadhouse from the smoldering ash pile that was once the hottest niteclub around known as Hotties, he did not have the time to run the place himself. I watched from a front row bar stool as he went through four managers who, despite The Roadhouse’s initial success managed to run off a lot of business after two and a half years.

Meeting with Fred nearly every week at the time for a drink, I told him straight out that he would one day regret getting into the nightclub business. I owned one for four years and since the day I bought it 14 years ago, I have been watching nightclubs come and go left and right. I tell everyone, not just Fred, contemplating getting into the nightclub business that they will regret it. I would have told Joey the same thing if he had asked but he did not.

But I know Joey well and have appreciated his talents and abilities since we met many years ago at my old place, The Rock Inn at the Old Plantation. He coaxed and coached me into the world of karaoke, teaching me how to host and participate. He insisted that I would sound as good as him if I found songs that suited my voice and practiced them all the time. Though I eventually hosted karaoke at the Rock Inn four nights a week and sang my heart out on the three slow nights to help keep things going, I never came close to sounding as good as Joey.

After we pulled up stakes at the Rock, I went back to being a contractor/carpenter and hired Joey on a big remodel project. I learned first hand that Joey is truly a jack of all trades. The guy could tile or plumb or paint and he was a good carpenter, but it was his skill as an electrician that blew me away. I can still picture clearly the sight of him standing on a step ladder with exposed wires going everywhere as he worked on the garage door opener ceiling outlet. I would have gotten shocked five times just pulling everything apart, let alone putting it all back together. Joey did not even turn the breaker off, every one of the twelve or more wires were hot. He never got a shock and he fixed the problem.

On top of what I used him for, Joey had mastered other trades as well. He had been a sound technician for a long time, starting years before when he ran the sound monitors for the bar band he sang for and toured the West coast with. He ended up going much further with his hearing than his singing, as he went on to run sound for local concerts and even touring with Kenny Chesney. During the time we were working on my remodel project, Joey was running sound for Paul Rogers, former lead singer of Bad Company and the Firm. Paul Rogers did not need to tour steadily and so it was just a part time deal for Joey.

I have heard a hundred stories on a  hundred Monday mornings about what a wild weekend some wide-eyed and overly animated co-worker of mine just lived through, but no one topped one of Joey’s weekend weekend adventures . There he was with his tool belt on, saw in hand as he told me about riding in a limo somewhere in Japan with Paul Rogers and his wife during his long four-day weekend. The amazing thing was that he acted like it was no big deal, just like the twelve hot wires that would have been the shocking death of me.

From that job I continued being a carpenter here in Spokane and Joey went to work for Eddie Money for several years. He hired on as his sound guy and then eventually became his road manager. Unlike Paul, Eddie needed the money, and so Joey had a full time job flying and bus riding all over the nation organizing all of the thousands details involved with each of the 150 plus shows a year.

He was still in town a lot and always looking for a good side job and so I introduced him to  Fred when he needed some help with the sound system at his new sports restaurant and bar, The Ref, here in the Valley. To make a long story short, the two have worked together ever since as Fred soon opened The Roadhouse nightclub and then The Palimino and found himself, like Paul, Eddie and me, needing the the skills and talents of Joey Shalloe, who had grown weary of the road and left Money behind.

So my two friends became friends but whether they remain friends remains to be seen because they have gone to a place I would have advised them not to go, but they did not ask my advice. Fred was tired of being a gentleman nightclub owner and Joey needed something to do. I would have told Joey that it looks a whole lot funner than it actually is, which is what I told Fred and what I tell anyone who will listen. However, if anyone can pull it off it is my old friend Joey the jack. So far he is doing everything right and once again I am impressed.

During a recent shutdown  due to a lapse between Fred’s liquor license expiring and Joey’s arriving, Joey went to the great effort of pulling every piece of equipment out of the kitchen, thoroughly scrubbing it down and then repainting the floor. It is a fairly new and unused kitchen and he did not have to do that. He did it because he has high standards not because it will make him any more money, because it won’t. He also painted the bathrooms and made lots of other  subtle improvements.

What I am most impressed with is the food he has been cooking up in his pristine kitchen. I should have known Joey could cook and had the gumption to create a great menu and then take shifts working the kitchen. Rather than go on and on how good his food is, I will just say two words – Taco Tuesday. He took something that every other bar in the Valley is doing and came up with a whole new standard. Every Tuesday The Roadhouse hits the cycle while all the other players  are happy with just hitting singles. He does a black bean chili quesadilla for $5 bucks that is so good I now resent Mondays even more for not only ending the weekend but now getting in the way of Taco Tuesday at the Roadhouse.

To lastly prove my point about Joey and his knack at being a jack of all trades, including his current one, consider today’s benefit concert for the firefighters at the Roadhouse. It is a smart and worthy move and one I did not see any of the competition making. Probably the best times Elaine and I had at the Rock were the fundraisers we were fortunate to be able to host. In hindsight I wished we would have figured out how to do more. We let people who had a cause come to us, but The Roadhouse has seen a cause and took the lead since the Washington forest fire crises began. Today’s concert which begins at 2 is part of their impressive efforts.

I recently learned that Joey did not jump into the bar business by himself but rather took on his buddy Joe O’Conner  as a partner.  If you have to go into it, might as well spread the risk and the worry and hopefully the riches. I know that I could never have run our place alone because there is just too much to do and try to be good at. Joey is good at a lot more things than most people and certainly than I am and so I give him twice the odds I would give anyone else at The Roadhouse, which still only gives him fifty fifty. I would not bet on him and I would not bet against him but then I never bet on anything, but I love to root for a good team and I found one at The Roadhouse.

Elaine and I have a long history at this odd-looking builing. When we were children, we there with our parents to annual budget dinner meeting for Pines Babtist church that both our families attended.

Elaine and I have a long history at this odd-looking building. It was a smorgasbord  when we were kids and  we went there with our parents to the annual budget dinner meeting for Pines Baptist Church that both our families attended. Later  when it became Sea Galley Elaine worked there as a waitress and I spent too much  time at their round salad bar and the regulguarantee sitting bar.

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Later it became the Valley’s hottest spot just as Elaine and I moved into the neighborhood and had just reached that blissful time when the oldest is able to babysit the others. We found ourselves there often and were bitten by the niteclub bug. We even made Scott Lane, the owner , an offer that he at first accepted and then reneged on when we wrote him an earnest money check for $10,000. That is what sent us down the road to The Rock Inn.

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Years later Fred Lopez bought the building  for less than what Scott turned down for just the business that The Rock Inn started on it’s path to destitution. I went there many times as Fred gutted the building and rebuilt it . I found this caricature lying on the desk in the empty office where a decade before Elaine and I had sat down with Scott and his Dad, who owned the building, and offered them our earnest money check. Having competed for four years against Scott I can say firsthand that he was not the fun looking guy to play with that he looks like in the picture.

Fresh start starting with fresh food.

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Scott has gone on to that big nightclub in the sky or perhaps he’s with the Big Hottie down below, and Fred learned to appreciate my powers of prophesy. Now it is Joey’s turn, and I can safely say that no one with his get up and go and high standards has been there since Elaine waited tables there 30 years ago.

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All I know for sure about this whole deal is that as long as Joey’s Taco Tuesday is there for me, I’ll be there for Joey.

A friend of mine who worked for the forest service said he used to go into burn areas months after a forest fire became buried under deep snow. They would use heat seeking instruments to detect smoldering, burried logs. While I always thought that incredible, as a camper I have several times restarted the dead coals from the previous night’s fire by purposefuly arranging thin twigs and branches and then blowing like a kid trying to extinguish ten or so birthday candles. Both were matchless experiences.

Most new places open at old sites. Like campfire rings in the wilderness where prior establishments set up shop, some with great success and some with not even a taste of it. With a little luck the new campers find the bed of coals waiting for the right combination of combustibles to be laid on top with a fair amount of huffing and puffing to be blown back to life. The new Darcy’s, which rests on top of the old Percy’s site, should not have to waste a lot of breath considering the prices on the new menu and the quality of the food they have set out to serve.

I can’t think of a spot in the Valley where so many have gathered around the fire for so many years. Personally, I go back to 1966 or so when University City was being built by my great uncle, Clyde Higgenbottom, who was a superintendent for Halverson Construction.

The shopping mall that Clyde built became the center of the Valley as soon as the occupancy permit was issued. My first love at U-City was the wishing well at the heart of the mall where I would toss pennies into the clear water and watch them sway back and forth as they came to rest along side the other glistening coins on the white and blue mosaic tile that made up the pond’s floor.

My favorites changed over the years as I went from childhood to adulthood wandering the stores at the mall. As a grade-schooler I loved the pet department in the back southeast corner of Newberry’s where I bought tropical fish for my first aquarium. Then in junior high it was the second floor of The Crescent where I bought my first album, Talking Book by Stevie Wonder in 1972.Later when I became aware of the opposite gender, Hamers and Harvey’s clothing stores had the all the threads I needed. And always the crowded aisles of the Hallmark store yielded the perfect gift for every occassion I was forced to shop for.

My appetite for good food never changed however and so the one constant favorite from the beginning was The Golden Hour. Back then there were no chains, not Mc Donald’s or Arby’s,which were the first two to arrive in the Valley just across the street, (Arby’s then McDonald’s, if memory serves). The Golden Hour was the pinnacle of Valley dining and their Sunday buffet was the pinnacle of the pinnacle.

I worked there in high school and knew the buffet line well. I whittled away at the baron of beef with a long, white-handled carving knife at the end of the line, attempting to figure out where to place the slabs of beef on the already too-full plates of the glutonous customers that came smiling up to me.

Then I graduated and moved on. The Golden Hour soon graduated into Percy’s as my old boss Percy Howell slipped into retirement and turned the reigns over to his daughter and son-in-law, Pat and Greg Kroetch, who kept the fire well stoked. For years the campfire ring at Percy’s enjoyed the Valley’s warmest blaze.

It packed them in with karoake way too many nights a week and it was the place to go after shopping, especially Christmas shopping. That folkway long outlasted U-City Mall as shoppers found there way back from the U-Surper Mall on Indiana every Christmas season and most specifically on Christmas Eve when a toddy at Percy’s was a local tradition and hidden treasure for natives and newbies alike.

Then after the better part of a career, Greg passed away and Pat left the building like Elvis, turning it over however relunctantly to the new owners of the Luxury Box. With the king gone, the building that had warmed so many for so long became cold. Like a transplant recipient that rejects its donor organ, the old building would not accept its new enterprise and for whatever reason the Luxury Box slipped into the history books.

And now we have Darcy’s.

As I said, I go way back at this particular spot on Google Earth and I predict with the confidence of Notradomus that these new guys will resussitate the fire from the deep down smoldering, golden embers that have been at that location longer than most of our citizens have either been alive or lived here. Darcy’s is a new concept at an old, sheltering site. It is a camper that I think Percy would welcome.

Having opened the sandwich shop, Casey’s, several years ago, Annette and Kevin Hayes, do know the first thing and everything else about making good sandwiches and salads. As the new owners, they have a dinner menu that includes traditional American favoites but the bulk of their menu reads like a sandwich shop, a very good sandwich shop that knows how important good salads are these days in a weight watchers world.

They also know how important price is in our present penny-pinching paradigm. Most new places push the envelope just a tad when it comes to prices, apparently thinking their newness justifies it. Not Darcy’s.

Their prices are so good that McDonald’s next door needs to be  worried as should all the Valley sit-down restaurants. Why would you want a $5 fast food burger you get handed to you in a bag after waiting in line when you can pay just $2  more at Darcy’s and get one served with fries by a smiling young waitress. And for that matter why would you go to any other sit-down restaurant where you would pay $3 more for perhaps an inferior restaurant burger?

Beyond their brilliant and bold price positioning, Darcy’s is obviously emphasising quality recipes with fresh ingredients. While my time to test things out has been limitted, I have been doing my part to help rekindle the flames having sampled their menu on four seperate occassions in the few weeks they’ve had their doors open. It is apparent to me that the owners are hands-on and heads-up in the kitchen.

On top of their food and prices and beautiful setting, Darcy’s has location, resting on the Valley’s warmest bed of coals where we have been blessed with decades of professional yet down home hospitallity. The new owners appear to have all the right talents and skills to rekindle the blaze and tend to it for years to come.

Everyone orders what we know and love and that is why I tried the Chef Salad first thing. I really was not expecting much for $7.  It was not quite as bountiful as the $11 version you find at a few other places, but the ingredients were fresh and this size was all a person needs and so the value was far greater considering $7 worth of good salad that you eat all of is way better than$11 dollars worth of salad that you over eat what you can and take home the rest only to have it too soggy to enjoy the next day.

The Hawaain Has been one of my go-to sandwiches forever. Now I know Darcy’s is the place to go to for my go-to. Like Beatles said, its way beyond compare.

McDonald’s price compares, but their quality and portions do not.

These chicken strips are phenomenal.They are so good that the word “strips” should be replaced in this case by “jewels”. Because if McDonalds can call their’s nuggets, these are priceless jewels by comparison. Like Darcy’s fish and onion rings, the chicken is hand battered, and a better batter is beyond imagination. Best of all, they are on a special happy hour menu in the lounge for only $5 , fries and all. When it comes to chicken at Darcy’s, I say better batter up.

So after months of waiting, the Valley has the opportunity to go in and enjoy a relaxing repast at The Ref, which is exactly what Elaine and I and two of our kids did on opening night. When it comes to putting out an opinion on food for public perusal, I trust all three of them more than I do myself. At 53, I’m getting to be more and more like Elaine’s beloved and long-departed grandfather Alvin Clark.

Apparently, everything set before him tasted great and even better when he mixed together seemingly unrelated foods on his plate like green salad with Blue Cheese dressing together with the mashed potatoes and brown gravy topped with ketchup. While his never-ending food mismatching caused all the younger generations, including myself , to shutter at the sight of a few strands of green beans disappearing into his mouth forked just ahead of a chunk of turkey topped with ketchup, he always cleaned his plate, had  dessert and lived a robust life until the age of 94.

Jacque, our 17-year- old, and Eli, the college student, are far from their great-grandfather in regards to taste buds, while I seem to be following in his elderly foot steps. But that may not be all bad. As with bad hearing that allows me to miss unkind words and a bad memory that allows me to forget the ones I do hear, perhaps tired taste buds are another blessing of old age, allowing no foods to offend me. At the Ref, however, I would have preferred youth on my tongue as the reading glasses on my nose made clear to my aging eyes that the pizza Elaine had picked out looked very tasty indeed.

I was a bit worried that a large pizza would not be suffice for the four of us and so I slipped in a small order of wings with sweet chili sauce. Silly me. The pizza turned out to be a 4-person-butt-kicker. Being the one who gets the check put in front of them ( before I slide it over to Elaine), I liked that aspect of the pizza.  It basically meant we could have dined to everyone’s capacity on very good pizza for about $7.25 a person. Considering the fun, lively atmosphere and friendly service, that was a bargain. (And when there is a big game on when the fam has to be fed out for some reason, The Ref, with its host of flat screens insuring there is not a bad seat in the house, will be every Fathers on-demand choice).

It was pretty much a given that I would find the pizza tasty since I love Thai and they did a great job. As the family scavenger, I had an additional bonus because  when I picked  the perfectly good left-over crusts off my family’s plates and dipped it in the ranch dressing I found it made delicious bread sticks for me. Alvie would have been proud even if I didn’t add ketchup.

But as I said, I am not the consumer the chef  at the Ref is worried about. That would be Elaine and the two kids. The next afternoon as Jacque munched on one of the three pieces of pizza we brought home, she asked when we were going to go back. She loved the pizza and thought the wings were perfect. The menu, she said, looked so good she could not wait for another round at The Ref.

Here is the awesome menu that, combined with the delicious pizza and wings, made us all look forward to another round at the Ref.

This is a pretty darn good-looking appetizer menu. I got my eye on the loaded chips and the Slam Dunk Buffalo Dip.

They have the salads covered.

Hopefully, Jacque won't read this because I already went back for lunch on Friday with my mom. She had been gone a month and had a birthday while she was away so I feel quite justified indulging myself. She had the Chicken Ceasar wrap that was big enough for her to take half home to Dad. I tried a few of her fries and they were quite dandaroony with great seasoning. I had the Pulled Pork sandwich that is their Friday lunch special ( the real reason for eating there on a Friday). I love BBQ and so I can vouch that this is a good one , especially with the appleslaw mixed in there. Unlike a lot of the inventive food pairings Alvie used to come up with, the slaw with the pulled pork was obviously the conncoction of a culinanary talent in the kitchen that is sure to be a crowd pleaser, I know it was a Craig-pleaser.

This is where things start to get a little serious. There is a lot of pizza to be had in the Valley, but not a lot of premium pizza. The Ref saw the situation and has seized this opportunity, making their place the place to go for really good pizza in the Valley. The Thai Pie that we tied into came with their house appleslaw on the side. Elaine, taking after her Grandpa Alvie, slathered it all over the top and thought she was up there in heaven with him.

Really can’t vouch for their burgers since I seldom touch the buggers.

Their wings are their knockout punch. You can tell by their sauce selection that The Ref is not coming in on a wing and a prayer in matters concerning this part of the beleaguered chicken's anatomy. ( What a bummer for cows and chickens to be so tasty to the American palate. Much better to be a dog or cat. Though India would have been a great place to be born a cow and China for cats is not where you'd want to be.) At any rate, I can tell you they have willy wonderful wings. The first night with the family we had boneless with chilli sauce. While I loved the sauce, boneless is not what behooves a man, but both my kids prefer them and they loved The Ref's rendition. Friday night Elaine and I had a late night snack of a 1/2 pound of the traditional wings with the Thai sauce. The wings to us were succulent and delicious, there's just something that the old bone does for the meat that works for Elaine and I.

Unlike Alvie, I never have room for dessert, but these look like destination desserts, worthy of their own visit.

This menu is smart because the Valley is a special place in more ways than one.The Happy Hours apply to the weekends which I think is very smart. A lot of places do not remember to keep the Happy Hour sacred on Saturday let alone the Sabbeth.

The bottom line on this new place is that the originality and inventiveness of the menu is backed up by genuinely good food and good service. If you have been keeping track, (and I hope Jacque’s not) I have eaten there three times with four different people. The service was always good and every dish was dead on in presentation, portions and preparation. I am proud of the owners, Fred and Melanie Lopez, for creating a new place from scratch that obviously puts a heavy emphasis on good food.

   I love that their menu was put together and dialed in by people who live right here andnot by East Coast chefs working  in a million dollar culinary laboratory back East somewhere like they do for Applebee’s. This Pulled Pork sandwich with the appleslaw mixed in there a la Alvie was really good  and that is coming from a guy who has been carrying on a decades-long love affair with the old pulled porkarooskie. The sweet potato fries were pretty darn good as well.

They obviously paid attention to a lot of little things. For example the celery that came with these wings were crisp and fresh while the Blue Cheese dressing that we dipped them in was about as good as it gets. And those wings are as mouth-wateringly good as they look. They are able to bake them at the Ref and not just deep fry them and so they come out with an outsanding succulence. These are what Elaine and I would call the Right Wing while the kids, who grew up during the height of the McNugget Era, seem to be fonder of the boneless wing.

      While the visual focal point  of the interior of The Ref is the huge oval bar with its eye-catching  and very original scoreboard/ flat screen display hovering above, the real focus of The Ref’s owners and staff is on putting out a great tasting product with friendly and professional  service. Which is exactly the way it should be.

Update: since writing this post I have become something of a regular at the Ref and have now tried quite a few different things there and talked to a lot of people about their meals. I still stand firmly behind their pizza, and can now add atleast the BBQ burger to my list of recommendations, having tried and loved one. Two friends told me they loved their burgers as well. We always order their great sweet potato fries that come with a great dipping sauce.
But I have to pull my tip of the hat to their pulled pork sandwich and warn that their kitchen apparently has some consistency issues. The sandwich we had Saturday was a far cry from the one I had a few weeks before. It was flat out bad in that the bread was soggy and had the rubbery texture that nuking does to bread. It was tiny and had very little of the appleslaw that earned my ravenous ravings the first time around . In truth, Elaine, who split the sandwich with me, and I both felt that the sandwich reminded us of one of those that you get at a convenience store wrapped in paper that you cook yourself in the microwave.
All that being said, I still have no problem standing behind my glowing review and after having the opportunity to get to know the owner and some of his staff, I know they will eventually get everything up to the excellence and consistency they have been delivering from day one on nearly all of their menu.

To read a feature story on Fred Lopez click here.

The Ref Sports Bar on Urbanspoon

The above Scoopon (poop on Groupon) may seem a bit meager and not worth the effort to those unfamiliar with Deanna Reckord’s daily lunch special which she makes one at a time with as much love as your gramma put into anything she ever cooked just for you. The photos below depict a few of the reasons why my eyes well up with tears of sadness and joy each time Deanna sets my midday meal before me. Sadness because I’m reminded of both of my dear grandmothers who have long ago moved up to that big kitchen in the sky, and joy because I know I’m about to eat something that they would have been proud to feed me.

This is what I’m talking about. Elaine and I always have to split her sandwiches. There is too much ooey-gooey, cheesy-weezy, yummy-nummy goodness stuffed into each one. Forgive that I took a bite or two before snapping this picture with my Droid. I started to take the picture first but as soon as I got this juicy thing into focus, my left hand reached into the picture and snatched up the sandwhich to my mouth as my stomach over-ruled my brain. It was a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing.

This is the same kind of sandwich, I think she calls it her turkey-bacon melt (her specials could be called “uniques” because they aren’t on the menu). This day it was like super special because it came with French Onion soup. Forgive that this picture is out of focus. I was crying so hard that this was as close as I could get.

I’m not even sure what kind of wrap this was besides fantastic. I had to go without Elaine on this particular day (you do what you got to do) and so I could only wade through half of it. The other half served as dinner since Elaine was still at work.

This is what a “grilled ham and cheese” looks like at the Sullivan Scoreboard when Gramma Deanna is cooking it up as her lunch special. This was so good that I had this pic enlarged to about 36×42 and professionally framed. It now hangs above the fireplace.

And this is the grandmotherly gourmet who sees to it that none go away hungry. By now these pictures have given you a pretty good picture of how special things are around lunchtime at the Sullivan Scoreboard. That  is why our “one dollar off” Scoopon is a better deal than any of those screaming Groupon deals that the masses flock to. Truth is, anyone who reads this should be sending me ten bucks for giving them the scoop on this remarkable repast that deserves to be remarkably reknown.

Scotty's Sullivan Scoreboard on Urbanspoon

The hastily written sign taped on the front door of the Fubar said “closed for roof repairs”. That is the proprietor’s official excuse for having locked the doors mid January.  Having operated our nightclub, The Rock Inn, for nearly four years in that building, Elaine and I can attest to the dilapidated condition of the building’s roof. It is as neglected as a drunk sleeping at the bar.

I remember the worst night we had. It was a December weekend night and so we had a nice 30 person  Christmas party scheduled in the banquet room, a 70-person in another area  and our niteclub was packed. We probably had about five leak spots that required pans to catch the steady drips. The bad part was that one of those pans had to be placed right in one of the chairs at the the table of the 30 person party and one had to be conspicously placed next to the Au Jus sauce on the buffet line of the larger party. The smaller group happened to be our attorneys office and the larger group was from the county courthouse and so there were several judges and prosecutors and their staffs.

It never dawned on us to ask them if the drips they had to endure might be a way for us to wiggle out of our lease. But then why should we want to do that, we were packed and the place was making money. We just called the landlord who sent his handyman out in the middle of the downpour and sure enough the guy got all the leaks patched up. Turns out he had a lot of experience at patching up that roof.

That night was probably six winters past and it was in dire need of a new roof back then. The landlord had been patching leaks for years. A large section had been covered years before with cheap rolled roofing, the type used on old barns and outbuildings. But that was good enough to get by, I guess, and avoid putting out $30k to $40 for a new roof.

Under normal conditions the roof does not leak even when it is raining. But when the conditions get like they were in mid January this year or like they were for us that night then all hell breaks loose and it is like someone turned on the fire sprinklers inside. It basically takes a good snowfall followed by warm and heavy rain. The water gets pooled and puddled up and finds all kinds of places to seep into the building.

For the owner of the Fubar, it was the perfect storm. It was a blast of wet and warm weather that delivered him from a very cold environment. They had opened at the beginning of July and by mid-January they were looking for a way out and it came from above. I know what it takes to make money at that location and they were a long way from it.

I wish the Fubar owner success at walking away from the lease. He is just the last in a very long line of misguided dreamers that the landlord has seduced into thinking that building was a goldmine waiting to happen. Besides our last two years there, I truly doubt that there has ever been a profitable fiscal year there since the original owner passed away more than 20 years ago. There have been four unfortunate, money-losing ventures come and go there in the 4 years since the landlord gave us the boot. I don’t believe in grudges and I say let bygones be bygones. But I can’t help but root for the Fubar and hope they become the first escapees from that building and that lease, which I know has broken and bankrupted more than a few dreamers. Let the landlord fix his roof and say goodbye to the one that got away.

Last Spring shortly after Charlie P’s opened at Sprague and Vista, I wrote a blog entry declaring my belief that he had opened up with the best menu of any bar in the Valley.(They also have family dining.) After adding a calzone section to his menu recently, Charlie goes to the top of all eateries as far as I am concerned.

It is not that I am a calzone connoisseur. In fact, I almost never order one. But I am a seafood lover and I will try anything new that looks good along those lines. So when I spotted the “Seafood Calzone,” I had to give it a whirl. I already knew he put out the best seafood omelette and fettucine around and so I had high hopes as I hungrily awaited the arrival of this new concoction to my table. I could have waited for hours and it would have been worth every minute.

That first bite was an eye-popping, “OH-MY-GOD!” moment. That calzone deserves the Tony the Tiger “They’re Grrrreat” seal of approval. It instantly became my favorite dish in Spokane. It was the best thing Elaine and I had eaten since Cyrus O’Leary’s stopped making their Shrimp Fromage several years ago. We were so bummed when they took it off the menu and had not found anything like it until that first bite of Charlie P’s seafood calzone.

Now I understand that rich, cheesy and doughy seafood calzones are not for everyone but that wonderful dish is not really the reason that I put Charlie P’s at the top of the list. It is the fact that his kitchen is able to put out dishes that make a seafood lover cry, while out back he is smoking up ribs and chicken and beef that make a barbecue lover pee their pants. I know because I am both and have figuratively done both. In fact, now I am in a culinary conundrum whenever I go there. Which do I order, the ribs that I have been gorging on for several months or the new kid on the block, the seafood calizone?

Charlie P’s ability to offer great barbecue and seafood put him firmly at the top of my list but he doesn’t come close to stopping there and that is why he deserves to be at the top of everyone’s list. He serves broasted chicken that I have often seen tables of six eat nothing but that. His weekend prime rib is always good . He has awesome daily lunch and dinner specials. His menu has anything anyone would want from salads to steaks to burgers and it is all great and reasonably priced.

Charlie P’s is doing great and it is always busy during meal hours but you can usually find several tables available during the off hours which tells me that most of the Valley has not discovered them yet. I say this because the other night I stopped in at Applebee’s on a Wednesday night at 7 and there was a line. I know there was not a line at Charlie P’s at that moment, but there should have been. In fact here should alway’s be one. Applebee’s has great specials and mega advertising and that seems to be just the ticket for Valley. I have eaten there many times over the years and it always pretty good, but not one time have I ever had an oh-my-god moment. Whereas at Charlie P’s I get that every time I order the ribs or the calzone (which almost always all I order because I am fanatical about both). I may have trouble deciding between the two, but I never have trouble deciding where to eat when I am hungry. It is Charlie P’s every time I get to make the call.

this seafood omelette is oozing with good stuf including real crabmeat and scallops


From the Ribs to the fries to beans and bread, this meal is all good

Another post on Charlie P’s

One thing that I try to have is an open mind. I believe that our opinions limit us and cause us to miss out on many good things that the confines of our narrow minds won’t allow us to experiment with. For example, for the first few years of our marriage Elaine swore that she hated seafood but one day I got her to try something that I had ordered. She loved it and could not really remember why she thought she hated seafood.

While I don’t know if I have ever passed on an entire category of food, I have been guilty of not trying a lot of eateries here in the Valley because of one silly notion or another. This Sunday I cast aside a handful deterring opinions and strolled into the Ambrosia Wine Bar and Bistro at the Argonne Village. I must admit we were planning on going to Panda Express when I looked over and saw Ambrosia was open.

I’ve not been interested in it because I’m not a wine bar or bistro guy. To be honest I have never been sure just what a bistro is, I just knew it did not sound like my kind of thing. Well, if all bistros are like Ambrosia then I guess they are my kind of thing. I am into good food to start with and what’s more I love anything seafood. The crab ravioli is so much better than anything I ever tried at the Red Lobster that it is not even a laughing matter.

Everything was good. I mean really good. We had sweet potato fries with some kind of wonderful sauce and goat cheese sprinkled on top. We also had desert that was like amazing. I am pretty sure that I could have ordered anything on the menu and it would have been good. But then again, this is one of the few places in the Valley that has a  true chef conjuring up culinary creations in the kitchen.

I used to think everything a chef put his name on had to be expensive. Wrong again. I’d say their prices are fairly competitive with the Red Lobster and when you consider how much better the food is at Ambrosia, then they really look good. Now I would not say that anyone is as stupid as I am, but if you have just read this blog and do not check this place out ASAP, then I would have to say maybe you are a little dumber. On the other hand, if you have been enjoying Ambrosia for a long time, I tip my hat to a much wiser soul than me.
Ambrosia Bistro & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

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The Cottage Cafe came on the scene a few years ago with a small bang. The only reason it was a small bang is because the place is so small. If it had been a big place it might have been a big bang , but maybe not. I tend to think that the  limited seating is part of its success. People don’t mind waiting in line for a while. In fact we tend to view a line as a good sign.

Beside creating a line, the small eating area has enabled the owners to stay right on top of the customers they have sitting at the tables. I went in last Sunday around 11 and every table was full and about five customers were at the eating bar. The amazing thing was that they had four servers on the floor. In some restaurants, the entire Cottage would be one server’s section. I ate at the bar and just watched the good service.

But my vantage at the bar gave me a view to the power behind this great operation. There were just two cooks but they filled the warming station with meals almost faster than the servers could take them away. I cooked at the Rock Inn every day and I can tell you that it is not an easy job. To keep on top of a full house you have to know what you are doing, move as fast as you can and have the focus of a $1,000 spotting scope . Those two cooks have been working there since the day it opened (which makes them unusually steady citizens as far as cooks go) and so they clearly know what they are doing. But you talk about move fast and kick out the orders.

I love to order from their lighter fare section and always get the one-egg omelet, hash browns and half a Belgium waffle for about $ 5. It is a great meal at a great price. Everything is always consistent and sitting at the bar and watching those high-energy cooks is like going to a dinner show for breakfast. They are as fun to watch as their food is to eat.

Cottage Cafe on Urbanspoon