Archive for the ‘Spokane Valley Seafood’ Category

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 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.

Black Pearl Restaurant and Card Room on Urbanspoon

Buffet restaurants are like vacations for me, some may be better than others but I love them all. Elaine on the other hand is like many other finicky, uppity eaters who refuse to look down their nose through the sneeze glass to scoop and tong and ladle the dishes they desire at the portions they prefer.

This to me is the ultimate egalitarian dining experience where  hungry citizens eat whatever they please whenever they please for as long as they please. It is never as long as I’d hoped going into the meal and far too long afterwards as the sidewalls of my stomach stretch painfully, suffering from the free-for-all my mind and eyes and mouth and hands had at its expense.

It is obvious that many of my fellow buffeters do not suffer the same limited storage problem that I do and perhaps that is why places such as the Old County Buffet and virtually every other buffet restaurant I have grown to love has been forced out of business. It might just be that as their popularity amongst the heavy hitters grows, their profits diminish in direct proportion to the expansion of their clientelles’ midsection.

At any rate, Elaine’s tummy seldom suffers at a buffet because she does not suffer buffets, partly because of  the earthy, well-fed crowds they often attract that she finds unattractive. Being fair-minded to a fault, I have never seen her point. But she is a sensitive thing and I would argue, a bit of a fool in that she continually has tossed out the baby  with dishwater, buffetly speaking.

One of her favorite stories goes back probably 27 years when it was just her and I and the Valley had two long-gone Chuck Wagon Buffets (one where the Grocery Outlet is at Havana and Sprague, and one where the Plasma Center is at Sprague and Farr). I remember we got in a bit of an argument about where to have a late lunch one Saturday. It centered around the unfairness I felt about living in the Valley with two buffets beckoning to me like sirens as I drove by at least one nearly everyday and yet I could not enjoy their bounty because this crazy lady I married refused to enter their doors.

But I almost got my way that day as she begrudgingly gave in and agreed to dine at the Chuck Wagon on Havana. There we were just a few feet from the cashier when the couple in front of us turned around to make small talk in a friendly sort of way. The trouble was the man’s generous belly peeked out grossly from below his dirty tight shirt and the woman had more teeth missing than she had present.

It was more than Elaine could endure and she wheeled around in disgust, leaving me alone in line with my new buddies as she crossed the street to eat at McDonald’s, which  was normally beneath her sensibilities as well. There was no way I was about to follow my snooty little bride with the smell of all those tasty dishes prancing around my nostrils.

As usual, I committed the sin of gluttony and suffered accordingly. Unfortunately for me, but to Elaine’s seemingly eternal amusement, something amongst the vast array of dishes I consumed for lunch came back to haunt and torment me through the night. How I suffered as I repeatedly leapt from my bed in agony to spew forth into the toilet. Each time as I weakly slipped back to bed, Elaine would chuckle as she rolled over and say with supreme satisfaction, “I guess that ought to teach you.”

I think she wanted my agony that night to teach me that she was right about buffets and hence pretty much right about everything. The years have unfolded to teach her that I learned neither lesson on that painful night. In fact, though I was a bit suspicious I never thought it fair to be certain it was food poison. Maybe it was a brief and violent flu bug. At any rate, I was willing to be generous and forgiving, never allowing my Chuck Wagon upchucking to dampen my enthusiasm for buffet dining.

After the kids, who all rejected their mother’s snobbery position and embraced my slobbery one, came along, I no longer had to buffet it alone.  The Old Country Buffet where we dined Motherless and they ate like little heathens and drank chocolate milk like rock stars, will forever be cherished memories for them as I still cherish the Sunday  buffets of my childhood including Tony’s on Couer D Alene Lake and U City’s Golden Hour (where I had the tastiest job during high school slicing the barren of beef each Sunday at the end of that historic buffet line.) Later in my teen years the Red Lion put forth a Sunday breakfast brunch that still makes my stomach growl and eyes moist every time I walk through the large passage way going into The Max at Mirabeau where they set up their incredible repast each Sunday.

Flash forward 35 years to the Hong Kong Buffet at the Valley Mall where a lifetime of making a pig of myself at buffet lines meets two of my most favorite foods : oriental and seafood. It is so good that Elaine looks forward to our second annual Mother’s Day meal there. Keep in mind it is Mother’s Day and so it is her call. To be able to say that is one of my life’s richest rewards.

I hold the Hong Kong high as my personal bastion of buffets based upon a lifetime of enthusiastic connoiseurism. I have snorted and stuffed my way through worthy buffet lines offered up by the Couer D’ Alene Resort at a few Thanksgivings and several Sundays, I ate myself silly at Suzy’s seafood smorgasboard on several Friday nights back in the day on Trent before that icon went down in a blaze of glory. I have feasted like a fool along the Vegas strip for breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snack. When the Longhorn and Kentucky Fried Chicken went buffet, I went nuts. If buffet eating were a destructive habit, I would not have made it out of my 20’s.

And so when I say the Hong Kong Buffet is good, don’t trust me. I have  never met a buffet that I did not like. But when I tell you that Elaine likes the Hong Kong Buffet, you must listen. I mean she is still a snooty little thing and does not like some things about the place like the occasional Buddha belly and the rather tacky but typical Oriental decor. (And I myself wish the staff had better rule over the English language so they understood what “football” meant when I ask them to change the channel). But she has finally come to see there is a buffet line here in the Valley with a vast array of delicious dishes that rises above the scenery and meets her incredible standards.

And so it falls on me to use whatever gifts of prose God gave me, to use all that I have learned about internet Search Engine Optimization to draw people into this deserving Valley jewel so that the kids and I can eat like heathens with Mom on every Mother’s Day for as long as we both shall live.

I mean if you love seafood like I do this place will make you wish you had a whale of a belly so you could eat like a horse.

Then there is their sushi bar complete with a sushi chef making the stuff up as fast as the diners can put it away.

This is round one and I have to be very careful because I can only go two rounds. Each morsel on this plate has earned the right to be there. The peanut chicken in the left foreground is fantastic but narrowly made the plate as it is almost crowded out by the heavenly coconut shrimp. And look up, there next to the glimmering mussel on the right is a frog's leg which I have to have one of every time I go because where else in this town can a guy get an honest-to-goodness frog leg?

This is round two and each item would have been first string at any other buffet. If you notice there are no repeats and also that this plate is slightly less crowded. Both are because of tummy restraints. If it were up to my mind's eye and tongue's tastebuds, this plate would be piled high with more to follow. Those little stuffed crabshells in front are so tasty I save them for last because they are like dessert.

And this is Jacque, the youngest of my four little heathens, so full of amazing Oriental food that she begins to look like a giesha girl. Notice how she gloats in her father's face because she is able to still eat dessert while he can only burp and groan, no longer having so much as a spoonful of stomach space left.

Hong Kong Buffet on Urbanspoon

Considering that we are located along the same longitude as the seafaring, seafood-loving Scandinavian countries and hence the blood of those countries flows through the veins of so many Valley natives , it has always struck me as odd that the Spokane Valley is bereft of seafood restaurants. There is not one in the Valley and I have to go back to the beginning of our marriage, 28 years ago, to recall a time when things were different. Looking back, it brings to mind Richard Harris speaking forlornly :  “Don’t let it be forgot / That once there was a spot / For one brief shining moment / That was known as Camelot!” That is exactly how I feel about the old Sea Galley where Elaine worked as a waitress not long after we were married.

She had actually begun her waitressing career at another long-ago-and-far-away-but-not-to-be-forgot downtown sandwich and dessert shop called The Early Dawn Ice Creamery on the street level of the Parkade. From there she moved to the Valley and worked briefly at another golden memory called the Golden Hour at University City in 1984 just prior to Pat and Greg Kreotch taking over, closing for remodel, and then renaming it Percy’s Eating and Drinking Establishment. That was a lifetime ago, (at least for the Valley’s beloved Percy’s) but I have carried a torch in my heart for The Sea Galley where Elaine went after we realized the remodelling was going to last longer than our savings.

It is interesting looking back because those are what I would rank as the two best restaurants the Valley has ever seen, in my years at least. The Golden Hour and The Sea Galley were culinary versions of King Arthur and Sir Lancalot. For a brief time, they were the brightest stars in the hospitality heavens in Spokane Valley. There were a few other great though slightly less noble spots nearby that also have fond memories still rumbling in my tumbly. How could a kid not love the old IHOP with its careening blue roof sheltering the most sinfully scrummy pancakes and waffes and crepes. In the now-distant time before the Happy Meal, IHOP was every kids vote for dinner. It was like going to the candy store for supper.

Then there was the old Holland House attached to Newberry’s east side at University City. That was back when they called buffets smorgasboards. They should have called them gorgeasboards because that is what diners did, gorge themselves. To top it all off there was the Karmel Korn Shop just across the mall from Newberry”s, where the tastiest form of carmel popcorn the world has ever seen was stirred up with a large wooden paddle in a shiny copper kettle the size of a wine barrel. Those were the days when a place like the Sea Galley and the Golden Hour were able to swoon the Valley through their doors just by laying out steaming good food that drew healthy crowds by the dent of their scent and words from their appreciative customers’ mouths.

How far that is from then to today as the Valley’s mall sprawls far from its center on the other side of  I-90, with its corporate franchise restaurants resting on their parking lot pads, using national, million-dollar marketing campaigns to draw customers like mouths to a flame. Not one of them could hold a candle to the Holland House, let alone the Golden Hour or my beloved Sea Galley. Time, of course, adds seasoning to all the dishes I fondly remember from those beloved old places.

It was way back at the Sea Galley, where I dined every Friday night and my young bride served me, that I always ordered my favorite version of  a dish served by many restaurants called “The Captain’s Plate”. It typically comes with deep-fried clams, shrimp and fish filet accompanied by a potato and salad, preferably coleslaw. The Sea Galley outclassed every place I have ordered the Captain’s Plate by giving me a merry go around their circular salad bar that my belly’s eye still weeps for as it lovingly dreams of their baked beans and jello and a vast selection of savory salads .

I have tried the Captain’s Plate at dozens of places through the years and not only has no one ever offered anything remotely close to the Sea Galley’s round salad bar of delight, nor has anyone in modern times  come close to the quality of the fish, the texture and taste of the clams and the succulence of the shrimp. I have eaten the C Plate once at the Northside’s Red Lobster and once at the Valley’s Black Angus and will never return if mine is the deciding vote because I put them both up to bat at the old C Plate and they struck out like the mighty Casey.

I know that of which I speak concerning this matter of the Captain’s Plate, the dish that I have ordered a hundred different times at a hundred different places. I had actually given up on it because no one seems to be able to deliver the goods any more except one place that I had all but forgotten about until this Summer. That would be a lowly but lovely little diner out on Wellesly in Otis Orchards called Pryor’s. I used to build homes out there in the early 90’s and had their Captain’s Plate for lunch at least once a week.

This summer I was at a wedding up at Riplet’s Mansion and a lady came up to me and said “Captain’s Plate with fries,chowder and coleslaw, right?” I had no idea who she was or what she was talking about . Come to find out she was one of the owners of Pryor’s and had served me my lunches in those few years I had worked out in Otis Orchards  15 or so years before. That reminded me that there still existed a place that served a Captain’s Plate that made me heart swell like a puffer fish, not to mention me tummy.

So it wasn’t long before I found an excuse to be in Pryor’s vicinity around the vicinity of lunchtime. I was curious to see if they were still able to put out what others have failed to do. I was very nervous as I waited for my meal to arrive. Fifteen years, after all, is a long time to maintain a standard of excellence. But then my coleslaw arrived and it was just as creamy and full of flavor as I remembered it. Then came my clam chowder and I began to quiver with excitement as I tasted the same rich chowder that I remembered.

My stomach did flips like a Sea World dolphin as it  looked forward to the prawns and filets and clams it had not seen in 15 years. On top of all this, Pryor’s does something that no one, not even the mighty Galley of lore did: they pack the plate with two more delicacies, two of my favorites: the oyster and scallop.I have found no one but Pryor’s, in all my vast experience of ordering the Captain’s Plate across America and up into Canada, has ever included both of these worthy mollusks on the C Plate where they so richly deserve to be bedded amongst the other little fishies.

And so after every last piece of Pryor’s prizeworthy C Plate had plummeted down into my paunch and I  ached in ecstasy, I slowly stood and waddled my way out. I could barely make it through the door because I was beside myself knowing that even though the Galley of my youth had long ago sailed away with the other worthy vessels like the Holland House, IHOP and the Golden Hour that had so nobly served the Valley from their U City district moorings, Pryor’s still served a worthy Captain’s Plate. The thought of it warmed my Scandinavian blood as it rushed to my swollen belly to help digest all that sumptuous seafood.

Ecstasy in a basket. Not shown in this picture are the highly worthy supporting characters: Coleslaw, fries and chowder.

If you love shellfish, I highly recommend a Pryor engagement.

Pryor's Restaurant on Urbanspoon