I’ve all but given up hope of a real New York-style deli opening in these parts. I’m talking about the kind of place where they stack lean pastrami to jaw-breaking heights on real rye bread. The kind of place where pickles and cole slaw are standard condiments on the table. The kind of place you see in Woody Allen movies.
While it’s doubtful Carnegie’s Deli in Manhattan will open a Spokane franchise anytime soon, there have been some heartening developments on the Spokane bagel scene.
Two new bagel joints have recently opened: Cal’s is located in the former Rax on fast-food road, also known as Third Avenue, and The Bagel Company opened this spring in the Valley.
These shops specialize in the fatfree dough discs, along with sandwiches made with said bagels and a selection of soups and salads. Cal’s has also continued the Rax tradition of an all-you-can-eat food bar during lunch and dinner.
That pair of businesses join two other bagel purveyors in Spokane, which means we’re on our way to becoming the biggest bagel mecca between Seattle and Minneapolis.
After dedicating several mornings to tasting the chewy orbs, I’ve come to the conclusion each place has its own style, so each will probably appeal to different palates. Here’s how they stack up:
Cal’s is the newest entry on the bagel-bakery landscape. The restaurant proclaims its product as the genuine New York-style bagels, which is a bit misleading. The bagels at Cal’s are steamed rather than boiled, so they come out slightly softer, with a more bread-like quality. New York-style bagels are boiled before they are baked, giving them a dense, chewy texture.
Still, no matter what you call them, the flavor of the Cal’s bagels sampled was outstanding. I especially liked the sesame, which had a great nutty quality.
Cal’s gets high marks for offering a good selection of flavors. Among the more exotic types were pumpernickel, sun-dried tomato, cranberry and honey grain.
Also, I think the softer bagel might be better-suited for sandwiches. And it just so happens that Cal’s offers a pastrami, Swiss and sauerkraut. Sounds promising. I’ll be back.
A baker’s dozen (13) at Cal’s sells for $5.25.
The Bagel Company in the Valley has an even larger selection, more than a dozen choices including jalapeno, bacon-cheese, cranberry-orange, apple-cinnamon, chocolate chip and pesto.
The bagels were rather large, probably too big to squeeze into a standard toaster. But when I picked mine up they were still warm so they never made it home for the toaster test.
I was impressed with the rich taste of the sesame bagel, the wheat and a tangy sourdough. The blueberry was also fruity and flavorful.
The Bagel Company boils its bagels before baking so they have a nice chewy shell. Inside, the texture was a little lightweight, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I just prefer a bagel with a backbone.
The Bagel Company, located at 12905 E. Sprague, sells its baker’s dozen for $5.75.
Fitzbillie’s, located at 1325 W. First, also offers a fine assortment. Flavors such as Italian herb, sun-dried tomato and cranberry are served along with the more traditional choices.
And these puppies have some heft. A bag containing a half dozen easily outweighed a dozen from the other bagel spots.
While I appreciated the body of my Fitzbillie’s bagel, I found it lacking in the flavor department. And my sesame bagel was definitely short on the seeds.
For a bolder taste, try the “everything” bagel.
At Fitzbillie’s, a baker’s dozen sells for $5.75.
Finally, as much as I enjoyed tasting all the others, the Ultimate Bagel remains my favorite. They don’t have a huge selection of flavors, but their sesame bagel is tops - a perfect balance of great, full flavor and a fine, chewy texture.
I also like the whole wheat, though I’ve had a few that were rock hard, so I suspect they weren’t fresh. And, it’s essential to enjoy a bagel on the day it’s baked. Otherwise, stick them in your freezer to keep them fresh-tasting.
The Ultimate Bagel has two locations, one in the Sherwood Mall in downtown Spokane and in Wandermere Shopping Center. Their product is also available at various locations including Harry O’s Fresh Market and at In the Round restaurant in Coeur d’Alene.
These burritos are B-I-G
A couple of friends have added the new Big Mamu Burrito Company to their lunch rotation.
The small shop, located at 8 N. Howard, has the shortest menu around - five choices in all. The big draw, according to my pals, are the mammoth, inexpensive burritos. Prices range from $2.95 to $4.69.
I recently tried the black bean burrito ($3.95) with guacamole (for 50 cents extra). It was well-seasoned and stuffed with basic, good ingredients. In addition to the black beans, it contained rice, cheddar cheese, salsa and sour cream. Olives and jalapenos can also be added.
The filling is warm, not hot, so the cheese doesn’t melt. Owner Jim Franey told me that’s what makes the burritos California-style. I really liked it except that the rather flimsy flour tortilla makes it difficult to pick up and eat.
Other menu choices include the Big Mamu, a huge bean burrito large enough for a couple to share, the Little Mamu, which is a smaller version, but by no means small. Chicken and beef burritos are also offered.
It might be a good idea to phone in your order and avoid the lunch rush. The number is 624-9395.
I don’t usually like to gush about Seattle restaurants, but Etta’s Seafood does have a local tie.
One of the owners, Jackie Cross, was born and raised in Spokane. With her husband, chef Tom Douglas, they have become culinary celebrities in the Emerald City. For years, they have run the wildly successful Dahalia Lounge and recently the pair opened Etta’s Seafood near Pike Place Market.
The restaurant, at 2020 Western, is the former site of Cafe Sport, once a supernova on the Seattle dining scene and the place where Douglas once worked his creative kitchen magic.
Etta’s has a long list of Northwest seafood favorites, along with some exotic offerings like lemon-oregano mackerel and striped bass with lobster sauce.
At dinner a couple of weeks ago, I went absolutely nuts over a crispy crab and shrimp spring roll and my grilled rockfish served on a bed of lentils fired by a dose of Thai curry. The rim of my dinner plate was painted with a lovely mango chutney. The combination of flavors was wonderful.
Aside from an order of overcooked squid, the meal was flawless.
Unlike many upscale restaurants, Etta’s has an unpretentious, comfortable feel. Along with the spendy items, there’s also a good selection of entrees under $10, such as fish and chips, spicy peanut noodles and a grilled chicken sandwich.
If you ever find yourself hungry in Seattle, I highly recommend Etta’s. For reservations, call (206) 443-6000.
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