Posts Tagged ‘best places to eat in spokane valley’

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

Having opened my own restaurant/nightclub years ago, I cannot walk into a new place without scrutinizing everything and calculating their chance for success. I am also a carpenter/homebuilder and I do the same sort of thing every time I walk into someone’s house for the first time.The new Black Pearl Restaurant and Card Room at Pines and I-90 in the Spokane Valley has some impressive ingredients that may contribute to its long-term success. I hope they are enough to overcome some things I see working against that obvious goal.

Top of the list of things to be impressed by at The Black Pearl is the rich decorum the new owners have sunk a lot of money into. Every surface in the old building has undergone a transformation from the paint on the walls to the coverings on the floor to the trim around the doors to the doors themselves. The furniture, the fixtures and everything else right down to the dishware has been selected to contribute to the overall stylish setting that puts the Black Pearl in rare company in the Spokane Valley.

Another feature The Black Pearl restaurant and card room has going for it is food. I have heard a few disparaging remarks but my experience after three visits is that their kitchen does a good job. The other night Elaine had the Chicken Oscar while my daughter, Jacque, had the Chicken Dane. They were both ecstatic about their meals and ate every bite. I had the barbecue ribs and was a little disappointed. It was not that they weren’t succulent and had great sauce, but rather this time that I had them they were overly fatty as opposed to the first time I tried them there a month or so before when they were great in every way.

The upscaleness of the menu, decor and prices is a feature that is good but could work against their success. While the Spokane Valley needs fine dining  places like The Max and Twigs and The Luxury Box, the truth is that for most us a $70 -$100 dinner date (with dessert and drinks) is about a once a year event. This is the Valley, where Thrift stores are the most prevalent type of retail outlet on Sprague.

Furthermore, I think trying to put the two concepts of “upscale restaurant” and “card room” together  in the average person’s mind is not going to be an easy thing to do. When I think of card room, I think of the old smoky, dingy places like the old joint next PM Jacoys downtown. I suppose card players will have no problem, but the decision where to dine is heavily influenced by the ladies and I saw very few in the Black Pearl’s card room.

The card room’s place in the building is one of my big problems with The Black Pearl as it has been reconstituted. Actually, pretty much the entire layout is a problem. Though hundreds of thousands were spent redecorating and recovering the building’s surfaces, the buildings layout remains exactly as it was before the remodel and it was not a good layout before and it is worse now.

Walking into the building, the first thing seen is the beautiful bar and lounge area. It has always been there but now it has a much more intimate or cramped feel, depending on the crowd, because the old dancing area to the right has been walled off to create the new card room. With large windows and two open passage ways, the partition wall does little to provide any privacy between the lounge and the bright, sparsely decorated card room. It is like those exotic aquarium bars you sometimes see in the movies, only the card players are the interesting creatures on display behind the glass. Personally, I found it more irritating than entertaining.

To the left of the front door is the dining area, I think. That is where we have always been seated anyway, though it does not really feel like a dining area so much as a wide hall way with long luxurious booths along the window wall and nothing along the other side. It is wide open with no coziness or intimacy or even much warmth. Beyond this area is another separate, lonely dining room. That is where the card room might should have gone and then been given a more private feel.

The point is that the Black Pearl’s building is large and strangely laid out since it is the product of something like three different add-ons that served an entirely different business. At one time that business, Mathew’s, was just a restaurant (which is now the bar and card room) that added a nice bar and lounge (which is now the dining area) and then added a niteclub area ( the empty back room). New owners came along and bagged the restaurant and completely switched everything around and never attained any visible signs of success as a bar/nightclub for the many years it kept its doors propped open.

My other problem with the Black Pearl is that it seems like the owner is not running the place hands on. I don’t believe it is possible to open such a complex place, hire some managers and then sit back and think it is going to take off. No one ever cares like the owner  because to every one but them it is just a job. I see a lot of little things that need attention like an incredibly long time between taking orders and delivering meals. While we had that problem, the rest of our service was fine but I have heard more than one complaint regarding the Black Pearl’s service.

One night during their grand opening the sign on the end of their building said “half off the entire menu” and the electronic reader sign on Pines said the same thing but our waiter insisted it was only the entres and not apps and sandwiches or burgers. The next night the sign said all steaks half off, but it turned out they offered just one 8 oz steak for $9 something. I didn’t bother with the $12 bbq rib special they promised on the last night. Little things, but an owner that is sweating out the details notices those things while employees may not care quite enough.

So will the good outweigh the bad at the Black Pearl? I think they will have to fix a few things in order to make a profit. I have heard the owner has deep pockets and he will need them. I know they are not as deep now as they were when he got into this venture. But it is a  beautiful building at a great Valley location where they serve a good meal, furthermore it is locally owned and staffed with people who live here and so I hope the Black Pearl makes the right moves and kicks butt and takes names for years and years.

Not a good sign.  


Black Pearl Restaurant and Card Room on Urbanspoon

For my kids, the A & W east of Sullivan on Sprague has been there the better part of their lives as well as a part of their better memories. They were stunned when I told them on Saturday that I had just driven by and saw all new signage for an interloper called “Wraps.” What had happened to our old family friend? I told them I was buying lunch on Monday and we’d find out what in the blazes was going on around there.
So five of us headed down yesterday and discovered that while there was no trace of the old A & W from the outside, it is still pretty much there minus all the franchise branding and advertising. Turns out that the people who own the franchise here in Spokane decided to try something new. While their other three A & W’s in town are remaining as A & W’s, they decided to create a new kind of fast food joint called “Wraps” at the Valley location.
Though there are plenty of wraps, the name is a little misleading because there is a lot more on the menu. They seem to have everything that A & W had including the 21 piece shrimp that I often ate, the chilli cheese hot dogs and fries that were standards there and even the good old root beer floats though I would be surprised if it were A & W root beer since they had Mug rootbeer on the pop machine. Beyond the items you would expect at a fast food place that sold wraps and burgers (which is a combination you might not expect), they also have lots of chicken, salads, Mexican and five different kinds of fries – regular, juicy, gravy, chilli cheese and cheesy gravy. On top of all that have a big breakfast menu.
We all thought the food was fine and the portions and prices were quite fair and so I’m thinking these guys may be onto something at their new fast food joint with everything.
BTW- they are open for breakfast.

Wraps did not make it long. It closed recently.

Ferraro’s on east Sprague has what I consider to be very good Italian food and it also has what I unequivocally know to be one of the very sharpest owners in this town. Elaine and I split a wonderful seafood fettucine there for dinner last week. It came with fresh french bread and homemade garlic butter, tossed green salad and ice cream dessert – all for $14 which means we had a nice meal for $7 apiece. The alfredo sauce was rich and creamy and there was nothing but cherished chewing followed by savory swallows. It was the kind of food where one looks forward to any after burps that might bring back gaseous mementoes of the gone-too-soon delicious dinner.
For us, however, the good food is a distant second to the waitress who served us and the hostess who sat us. The former was named Crystal and the latter was Jacque and both their last names is Swanson which happens to be our last name as well. How could we not love them, they are our beautiful teenage daughters. Crystal, who just graduated from West Valley, began working as a hostess more than a year ago and was recently moved up to serving. Pat Ferraro thought so much of her that he hired Jacque when she turned 16 last fall. He thought so much of both of them that he just hired Natalie, 17, their best friend and cousin.
There is an interesting story behind Natalie recently being hired. She had a summer job lined up at Applebee’s, or so she was led to believe. But when she went in for her orientation she was told that the person who hired her was no longer with them and that they were overstaffed. So this Apple bummer bee assistant manager, or whatever he was, has her take an aptitude test. She is a kid and so she tries to be honest which is more than he was being. Based upon her responses, the guy tells her she is not cut out to be a hostess at Applebee’s. What a crock of crap. (That is one of the reasons I seldom eat at the chains – they are managed by corporate-trained managers whereas independents are normally run by life-trained owners.)
This being her first job experience, Natalie was devastated and went home and cried herself to sleep. When our girls heard about it they immediately told Pat, who had been interviewing for a hostess, that Natalie was available. He reasoned that Natalie was family to his trusted employees, which are family to Pat, and that was good enough. I would wager that in his entire career as a long-time restaurateur,Pat has never used an aptitude test to judge the worth of a person and that makes him smarter than all the corporate run restaurants in this town. But I have further reason to believe that he is smarter than his local competition as well.
That night as we were leaving Ferraro’s, Pat asked Elaine for the tenth time or so if she would come to work for him at the new place he was opening at the old Dewey, Cheatum and Howe location on north Division. He had been asking her for weeks and Elaine had just kind of laughed it off. She was making a living painting and working with me building houses and was not looking for a job. But Pat was very persistent and that night he told her she could make out her own schedule and take the shifts she wanted. Pat said he needed her help in the bar where he had no experience.
While Elaine was honored and moved, I thought to myself that it was about time that someone appreciated this women like she deserved. I bought a niteclub/restaurant, The Rock Inn, nine years ago because I believed in Elaine so much. She has more personality and professionalism than any owner, let alone wait person, that I have seen in all of the Valley watering holes. Yet in the 5 years since we left the Rock Inn, no one in the Valley has been smart enough take advantage of her. She has tried to get a job at different times but only offered a few lousey shifts when a couple of the owners were desperate.
I crave Charlie P’s food, and I love the atmosphere at the Iron Horse and the Sullivan Scoreboard is a lot of fun, and furthermore I consider all the owners of these Valley establishments and several others to be our friends. I have thought for years, however, that they were all foolish for not asking Elaine to come whip their staffs into shape, considering none of them have really great service. She would be an example to everyone that local bars do not have to settle for the mediocrity in service that they all have become complacent with.
At the Rock Inn, Elaine not only took care of our 4 kids, she also ran our wait staff, waited on tables, organized and served dozens of banquets and meetings, and bartended 4 nights a week. On top of all that she did our books and the year we did 1.2 million in sales she was off $1.36. Now that is a person that has something to offer. But until now, no one was smart enough to see that but me.
While he knows we owned a place and that Elaine helped run it,Pat has never seen her serve nor has he interviewed her or given her a silly aptitude test. But he knows what an outgoing and upbeat person she is and he knows how much how he loves the daughters she raised. Based on that and what he knows about the business and what he knows about people, Pat felt he had to have Elaine at his new place. I think that is about the smartest thing I’ve seen in a very long time.
Pat’s persistence finally paid off and Elaine is going to retire from painting and go to work doing what she loves to do at the new Dewey’s Burgers and Brew on Division later this month. She put together a schedule that allows her to help me on the houses and still be there for Pat 5 days a week. It will be a challenge for her, but she is more than capable of delivering and living up to the tremendous belief both Pat and I have in her.
Elaine and Crystal who started hostessing at the Rock Inn when she was 10.
Jacque the hostess that we love the mostest.

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Conley’s Place is one of those rare Spokane Valley restaurants: it is an independent and it has been around for more than 20 years if my guess is correct. Anyway, it seems like at least 20 years  since it was Pioneers Pies, which was a relatively short-lived endeavor compared to Conley’s which came after it  and the A&W Rootbeer stand which went before it.

That is where my sister got her first job running out burgers and root beer on those old trays that hooked on the windows of the driver’s door of the cars parked under the awning like they do now at Sonics for nostalgia. That was back around 1974 and the place was a bit of a relic back then. Between Conley’s tenure and the history of the building, when you eat at this setting, you are eating at a place that Valley diners have been going to for decades.

Conley’s was long established before the power house chains like Applebee’s and Marie Calender arrived in the Valley to instant success. Conley’s has years on the slew of Valley Mall eateries like the Red Robin and Boston’s and Outback Jack’s. Time and heritage is one thing Conley’s has on these high-profile, big name restaurants. Family operated is  another advantage none of the big boys can ever match Conley’s on.

Breakfast is perhaps Conley’s biggest leg up on the corporate competition. Partly because most of them do not serve breakfast, but mostly because those places that do cannot come close to Conley’s cozy comfort cuisine. They have a menu with such a wide array of choices that Denny’s, IHOP and Shari’s would have to join forces to come up with half of the original dishes that Conley’s offers.

I took my daughter there a few weeks ago, (breakfast is every kid’s favorite meal out) and the choices were so vast that we took nearly till lunch to decide what we wanted for breakfast. I finally decided to try their interesting dish that sounded like a  delectable version of biscuits and gravy where they put eggs and bacon on top of the biscuits and under the gravy. My daughter had to try their stuffed croissants even though all my kids always go with French Toast.

I have a feeling that we could have gone with anything on the menu and we would have been happy as clams, it all sounded so good. I know for sure that our choices turned out to be as good as they sounded on the menu. You got to love a place where the food is as good or better than the menu promises. The corporate breakfast places not only have overly enthusiastic descriptions of their selections on the menu, they also employ magical photographers to illustrate them.  I would encourage everyone to be independent minded and try breakfast at Conley’s where their menu actually under promises and their cooks over deliver.

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Conley's Place Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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

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