As resort towns go, Sandpoint has got the right stuff.
There’s good shopping, pretty scenery and, most important, some decent spots to nosh.
While a few restaurants have ceased to exist in the past year (Bradley’s, Gregory’s and the Longhorn Barbecue), several new places have opened.
The annual Sandpoint Winter Carnival, which begins this weekend, is a perfect time to explore Sandpoint’s eateries.
The Red Martin Natural Food Cafe has a comfortably funky feel. It’s located in an old house, so the tables are scattered throughout the different rooms. When the weather is warmer, outside seating is available on the sundeck.
The meatless menu ranges from a simple bowl of brown rice to pasta with a marinara sauce. Other entrees include a jumbo veggie dog ($3.75), a veggie pizza ($5.25), potato tart ($4.50), a black bean burrito ($2.50 for a small, $4.50 for a large) or a hummus plate ($4.50).
There are also daily specials offered. I tried a baked potato with stir-fried veggies offered as a special. It was filling, but I kept reaching for the salt shaker.
The Red Martin is open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Other new entries on the Sandpoint dining scene include The Bamboo Hut (Chinese), The Bangkok (Thai), Pend Oreille Brewing Company (upscale pub grub) and Jumpin’ Joe’s Espresso, where they have such obscure coffee flavorings as snicker doodle, pumpkin pie and tiramisu.
Up on the mountain, Jean’s has the feeling of a new restaurant with its completely revamped menu. They’ve also added a breakfast buffet so skiers can quickly fuel up before hitting the hill.
The menu at Jean’s is nicely organized by price levels. There are some inexpensive appetizers like warm artichoke dip ($5.95) and steamed mussels ($7.95) as well as a selection of affordable sandwiches and a couple of hearty stews (one with venison).
I would much rather pay a couple of extra bucks for the excellent grilled chicken sandwich in the pleasant atmosphere at Jean’s than settle for the mediocre cafeteria fare in the lodge. (That sandwich was distinguished by roasted red peppers, spinach and a flavorful basil mayonnaise. It was $6.95, but that price included salad or soup.)
More substantial dinner-type dishes range from grilled pork chops with a wild berry demiglace ($14.95), a prime rib steak with gorgonzola butter ($17.95) and salmon roasted with a Moroccan-spiced glaze ($14.95) to various pasta entrees. I really liked the exotic port wine sauce used on the smoked cornish game hen ($14.95).
The restaurant has a small, but well-chosen wine list that includes such class acts as the Ferrari-Carrano chardonnay.
Swan’s Landing has put a new Southwest spin on its menu, which makes some sense if you remember the restaurant was originally built to resemble a Louisiana riverhouse. (At least, they’re both in the same geographic region.)
The Dungeness crab empanadas ($6.50) were a tasty fusion of Northwest ingredients and Mexican cooking techniques. The crispy, bite-size turnovers were stuffed with a rich crab filling and served with a pineapple citrus salsa that, unfortunately, tasted too much like orange marmalade.
Other starters included calamari with a roasted red pepper aioli, warm goat cheese with mixed greens and an apple-smoked salmon.
At dinner, an early bird special is offered between 4:30 and 5:30 every evening. Various dishes are available for $9.95.
During a recent meal, I was blown away by a spicy corn chowder. I was impressed by the heat and the intense flavors.
The cornmeal-crusted Idaho trout ($14.95) I ordered was moist and properly cooked, but its lime-cilantro beurre blanc needed more citrusy zing and a little less beurre.
Also, the chicken fajitas ($10.95) were underseasoned. They were served with black beans, a fresh salsa and rice, but no guacamole. Fajitas without that guac just aren’t fajitas in my book.
I like the dining room here, especially when a fire is roaring, so I’ll probably be back to give Swan’s another try despite those minor disappointments.
Swan’s Landing is open for lunch and dinner daily.
Quite a few spots claim to be local favorites, most notably the Hydra, which attracts the hard-core ski crowd, and Connie’s, where the fare is old-fashioned and filling. (Check out the prime rib and the huge breakfasts.) The Garden has changed hands and the new owners have added daily specials to the menu such as stuffed trout, Mediterranean pasta, peppercorn steak and salmon Florentine.
Prime rib is still only offered on Friday and Saturday nights, but the salad bar has been discontinued.
There has been some remodeling, including adding a few tables in the lounge.
Eichart’s is another popular place with Sandpoint residents. (It was packed during a recent lunch.)
This pub specializes in a good selection of microbrews. The 12 taps change frequently, though Guinness is always available on tap. There’s also a cask-conditioned ale offered.
The creative and reasonably priced menu is several steps above the typical pub grub.
Try the Caesar with blackened fish (the seafood selection is based on what’s freshest) or the garlic burger (also available in a veggie version).
In addition to a few more burgers, the sandwich lineup includes a tasty Southwest chicken with roasted red pepper and pepperjack cheese along with a roasted vegetarian sandwich with a pesto mayonnaise.
After 5, dinner items include dishes such as a chicken picatta or a seafood saute with fresh herbs, white wine and spinach fettucine. Both of those are under $10.
Most entrees are served with either soup (made from scratch daily) or salad (try the porter vinaigrette).
Eichart’s is open daily starting at 11 a.m. Every Wednesday evening the pub is smoke-free. Other times you can sit in the non-smoking section, but the room is pretty small so you cannot completely escape the fumes.
Eichart’s features live music each Thursday, Friday, Saturday and a blues jam on Mondays.
If you’re craving Mexican, there are several choices including the popular Jalapeno’s, but I prefer Toro Viejo, which does a fine job with traditional dishes such as chicken mole.
For a truly special treat, try Ivano’s, the best restaurant in town. This comfortable Italian eatery offers huge portions of flavorful pastas and entrees such as chicken with garlic and sun-dried tomatoes in an intensely flavored marsala wine sauce, along with seafood, beef and veal dishes.
If you’re not looking for a full-blown meal, but a relaxing place to hang out over a pot of tea, check out the Cafe Espress.
It’s located on the second floor of the Coldwater Creek complex, so it has a great view of the Sand Creek and the lake beyond.
In addition to a great selection of teas from the Republic of Tea, a full line of espresso drinks are made with Craven’s beans.
Fitting accompaniments to those hot beverages include croissants, Danishes and biscotti.
This inviting spot is open from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. daily.
Finally, if you don’t have time to stop and eat, pick up some of the tender, fresh noodles in various shapes and flavors at Pend Oreille Pasta.
At this nifty little store, you can also buy several types of sauces, some wonderful, locally baked baguettes and even a bag of pre-washed greens and dressing. To top off your meal, there is a small, but outstanding selection of wines.
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MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: AROUND SANDPOINT Bangkok Cuisine, 202 N. Second Ave., (208) 265-4149 Cafe Espress, Cedar Street Bridge, (208) 265-7359 Connie’s, 323 Cedar St., (208) 263-9581 Eichart’s Pub, Grill and Coffee House, 212 Cedar St., (208) 263-4005 The Garden, 15 E. Lake St., (208) 263-5187 The Hydra, 115 Lake St., (208) 263-7123 Ivano’s, 124 S. Second Ave., (208) 263-0211 Jalapeno’s, 109 Cedar St., (208) 263-2995 Jean’s Northwest Bar and Grill, Schweitzer Mountain Resort, (208) 265-0257 Jumpin’ Joe’s, 116 N. First Ave., (208) 263-1563 Pend Oreille Brewing Co., 220 Cedar St., (208) 263-7837 Pend Oreille Pasta, 2885 Hwy. 95 North, (208) 263-1352 Red Martin Natural Foods Cafe, 710 Pine St., (208) 263-0369 Swan’s Landing, Lakeshore Drive at Hwy. 95, (208) 265-2000 Toro Viejo, 207 Cedar St., (208) 265-8128