Archive for the ‘Spokane Valley Dining’ Category

   I called Elaine about 10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 2nd of last year and asked her to meet me for lunch  at our usual place, which for lunch is Sullivan Scoreboard in the Valley. She blew me out of the water when she told me that a friend had just called and told her about how the Scoreboard’s owner, Scott Reckord, had been involved in  a deadly pickup-versus-bicycle fatal accident. The news shocked me, but it did not affect my desire to go have lunch at our favorite spot.

   While I think Scott has done a lot of things right at his place, he was never the reason we became lunch special lovers at the Scoreboard and so while our thoughts were with him that day, his presence was not required for us to enjoy our meal. Unfortunately for us, Deanna, Scott’s wife, was at home with him dealing with the tragedy and not in the kitchen at the Scoreboard  where she belongs at lunch. While we certainly understood and were very concerned for her as well, lunch at the Scoreboard is not the same without Deanna.

   But then again lunch is not the same anywhere else either.  Deanna is the special ingredient in their daily lunch special. Everyday she comes up with a new creation for lunch that hits the spot without fail. The only reason I ask her what the special is when I go in is so that I can start to focus my hunger on whatever she has dreamed up that day. I already know I want the special, the only question is what will we be treated to.

   And it is not just me, Elaine and I nearly always share the special. But Elaine is a pickier eater and her self-imposed limitations keep her from trying everything that Deanna comes up with, like say a meatball sandwich. On those rare days that Elaine turns up her nose, we split ways and I adhere to the special while she finds some  safe staple to satifisfy her selective sensibillities.  The only two things in this world that I will not eat are peas and lima beans. But if Deanna said her special was a pea salad with lima bean soup, I would give it a try just to see if she could make a special that I did not like. 

    But that Tuesday Deanna was at home with Scott and the Scoreboard was a somber place to be. One customer who comes in for a while each day to visit with his friends was visibly shaken. I have known the guy, who is retired, for many years and I always enjoy his company. As I talked with him that day, I realized that while he felt terrible about what Scott and Deanna and the other family were going through, most of his concern was whether or not the bar might have to be shut down. The guy loved coming to the Scoreboard to visit his friends and flirt with the staff and just being around people.

   That was almost a year ago and the number of patrons like our friend and ourselves that enjoy the atmosphere and people at the Scoreboard continues to grow.  The place is actually something of a phenemenon. They opened just 3 years ago and they sold more beer than any bar in Spokane this year. Jack and Dan’s was second but stop and think how long they have been around and what a prime location they are at. The Scoreboard location, on a hidden secondary lot behind the Tesoro on Sullivan, is worthy of a dive bar, which is pretty much what it was before Scott took it over.

   So why is this one of, if not the most successful bar in town?  The outdoor area, complete with horseshoe pit, volleyball court and a stage packs out from late Spring to early Fall and has done a lot to put the place on the map. This area is probably two, maybe three times bigger than the building. Here is where the beauty of the ugly location comes into play. No place on prime commercial land could afford to donate so much footage to open spaces. The Scoreboard actually does it’s best business in the summer which is the opposite of every other bar. It is a great example of the benefit of being able to zig while everyone else is zagging or should I say, sagging.

    Beyond the outdoor area, there is nothing obvious that makes the Scoreboard different. It is a square cinderblock building with beer specials plastered all over the walls and poorly ventillated bathrooms. (Patrons are well advised to sit at the opposite end from the men’s bathroom and if you must go Number 2 it is a good idea to wander over to Tesoro lest you exit the Scoreboard’s bathroom to find the nearby customers holding their noses and wiping their eyes as they wait to see who comes out.) They do have lots of good televisions and the N.F.L Season Ticket which was a big draw this year.

   The main reason the Scoreboard has done so well is simple and subtle and certainly not obvious because every place has a version of this factor.  It’s just that the Scoreboard has it in quality and quantity. Last Friday I asked Elaine where she wanted to watch the E.W.U. championship game. I let her pick because I go to watch while she seldom gets involved but she loves to visit with whoever is handy. She chose the Scoreboard because she likes the people there. And they are the subtle difference.

     I’m not really talking about the patrons, though the place does get a respectful, friendly and down-to-earth crowd for the most part. The main attraction, however, is the staff. I know from experience that no brand new place opens with a phenomenal staff. It takes time to weed through and find out who the keepers are. Some places never do really get it just right and that is usually a reflection of  the owners or their managers. After three years, the Scoreboard has it nailed. All of the players are keepers.

    Deanna is the key keeper and I give Scott credit for believing that to the extent that he made her his partner in life as well in the business a year or so ago. People like to talk and gossip and Scott gave them a lot to talk about on March 1, 2010. Personally, I simply feel that I was not put on this Earth to pass judgement given the fact that we almost never know the whole story for one thing and for another thing, I am too imperfect and unwise to think I am above anyone else. But I can pass judgement on what Scott Reckord has created at the Scoreboard. It is to his credit that his place is like the lunch specials we enjoy so much, his presence is not required but it is an added bonus especially if his better half is there with him.

Update: Scott began serving today, Oct.30th for the incident mentioned in the above story. He had told that he and his attorney were hopeful that he would end up serving 16 months. I have not heard if that will be the case or not.
Scotty's Sullivan Scoreboard on Urbanspoon

While I love Chinese food, I hate trying to find just the right combination on the menu at different Oriental restaurants. Frankly, the whole concept of someone else deciding what three different items I wanted kind of irritated me. I am more of a free-thinking, pro-choice kind of guy when it comes to loading up my plate when a multitude of options lay before me.

And that is why I love the lunch special out at Ching Hau Gardens located at the big red barn in Greenacres. I could not believe my eyes the first time I spotted it on their menu. For $6.95 they let you create your own combination from a list of nearly thirty items. What a bold new concept. I wish it would start the next Chinese revolt and free all us American customers from the tyranny of the Oriental restaurant menu. They deserve to be the next Chinese naturals to win the Nobel prize as far as I am concerned. Maybe they could use the prize money to open restaurants all over America and give the entire country a vote in the combination meal that winds up before us.

Until that occurs, I will be more than happy to go out to Greenacres where a man can decide for himself what he wants to eat at a Chinese restaurant. Beyond the freedom of choice, the lunch special is a great value. Where else do you get a good beverage (hot tea) and soup and dessert (fortune cookie) thrown in for the price of the meal? Truth is you don’t and so it a closed case.  Point proven.

Additionally, the 3-item meal is way more than most can eat and so Elaine and I move up one to the 4-item at $8.25 and spilt it. So two people get tea, soup, more than enough great food of their choosing and a tasty fortune cookie all for $4.125 a piece. Considering that this is a sit down meal delivered by a pleasant server, I don’t believe there is a value combo meal at any fast food joint that comes even close to it.

Ching Hua Garden Restaurant on Urbanspoon

If there was ever a new place that I was vehemently rooting for, the Hong Kong Buffet would be it. Since the Valley lost its last Oriental buffet at the old Sizzler’s location at the corner of Sprague and Farr several years ago, I have been lamenting that there is no local feeding trough featuring all that nummy stuff from the Far East.

But if there were ever a new place with long odds of success, the Hong Kong Buffet would be that as well. I have not been keeping close tabs, but it seems to me that there is a pretty high turn over rate throughout the mall and that the restaurant location across from Tilt, the game arcade, at the entrance by the theaters has been a particularly brutal battleground. When the mall opened way back when, that spot was occupied by a pasta joint if memory serves, but it was not there long and so my feeble memory did not get a firm hold. I could easily be mistaken. But I am sure there have been two or three attempts at that spot and I am even more sure none of them made it.

I think location is important with a restaurant but it is not paramount and I do not buy into the worn adage that says certain locations that have seen a succession of failures can never host a successful venture. People will flock to winner no matter where it is at. And that is what I am praying for here. Please support this place so that I can stuff my face there for the rest of my life and not have to be sad that I live in a community that has no Oriental buffets.

I am obviously not a connoisseur of fine food and I am not a trained restaurant critic, but I know good eating and good value and I have no problem begging and beseeching anyone who will listen to give this place a try. It really is a good buffet and I can guarantee that everyone can find at least a few things on the buffet line they will love. I found way too many things. It is one of those deals where I wish that I could magically have a barrel-sized belly just for an hour while I feasted like a drunk Viking on all the steaming hot dishes lying just below the old sneeze glass along the vast buffet line.

This place is a no-brainer, you-can’t-miss recommendation. I can say this unequivocally because I took my entire family there the Saturday after Thanksgiving. While the kids and I have different tastes, we are not uppity eaters. We all had no problem finding way too much to be ecstatic about. Elaine, on the other hand, is an uppity eater. She will not do Old Country Buffet or Timber Creek which baffles and befuddles the rest of us. But she will give an Oriental buffet at least one try and she certainly gave the Hong Kong Buffet an honest effort. And as we waddled out with our bellies bulging like little Buddhas, I rubbed mine and prayed  the gods would smile on this new establishment and bless the Valley with a great place to pork out.

Hong Kong Bufett on Urbanspoon

    I don’t mean to always pick on the big apple, but to me they represent all the corporate/franchise restaurants that have 20-minute lines of hungry Valley folk eager to redeem their coupons or take advantage of the heavily advertised specials. Meanwhile the local independent eateries are lucky if they can fill all their tables at least once during any given meal.

   It was bad enough that Applebee’s trounced all of our small restaurants. Now they are going after the bars. When I owned my place, the Rock Inn, I grew to resent the way people packed out Applebee’s, Red Robin and the other giants during lunch and dinner, but I always took some comfort in the fact that none of them tried to compete much with the bars.

    I figured they could never compete with the locals, and it seemed they did not cared to try, considering that they usually charge downtown prices here in the Valley and the neighborhood watering holes are a dollar under that. They also never had any entertainment and so their nightlife was nill. But now that Applebee’s truly is today’s version of a neighborhood Grille, it wants to bring up the bar part of the business to the same level.

    I will be very curious to see if Applebee’s is successful with their venture into nighttime entertainment. My guess is that I would not be surprised if they do all right. Applebee’s are adding entertainment all over the country and they would not be doing it if it weren’t working somewhere. I know that they have picked at least two good forms of entertainment. Karaoke on Tuesday is a good choice because you can get a great night going with karaoke any night of the week if you do everything just right and get lucky.

    Wednesday with Wii is a good idea for more than just that the name is catchy. Wii is a cheap form of entertainment that is popular and successful in most other cities but the Valley doesn’t have much of it that I know of and so that makes it a possibility. I don’t know anything about the backlight party on Saturday night but I am sure it is also something that other Applebee’s around the country have found successful.

     But the bar business is a little different from grille business. I doubt they can create a truly neighborhood bar because of their prices. People just won’t go and sit around during the day or happy hour and pay downtown prices. You can never call yourself a neighborhood bar without a core of daytime regulars. They are the neighborhood.

   That doesn’t mean that our Valley Applebee’s can not build at least 3 strong nights of entertainment. It would take a minor miracle considering how dead most places are on Tuesday and Wednesday night in the Valley but I say more power to them on the one hand because I like to see places create fun and exciting night spots for all the people out looking for one on any given night of the week. You can find something fun on any night in Vegas, all the better if a person can find it in a nice place to live like the Spokane Valley.  

    On the other hand, I cringe at the thought that a few locals will lose some business if Applebee’s builds some successful nights. But I guess the local nighttime entertainment field will have to get used to the corporate player just like everybody else in business. Who knows, the Valley night scene might be better off for it.

    But as long as city well drinks cost a buck more than Valley wells, Applebee’s won’t ever be a neighborhood watering hole. Success in the nightlife venture, however, is conceivable. I just wonder if they would ever change their name to Applebee’s Grille and Nightclub.

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

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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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