October 10, 1997 in Seven

Frank’s, Knight’s Classic Diners With Heritage Of Good Food

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Trains occupy a special place in American history, having helped shape the way the country developed by moving people from one end to the other.

These days, relatively few people travel by train. But you can still experience a sort of vicarious thrill of riding the rails by eating in Spokane’s two restaurant railroad cars - Knight’s and Frank’s - both diners with a capital “D.”

There, in the narrow confines of the refurbished coaches, you won’t find fancy-schmancy food that needs to be ogled before it’s eaten. These menus are chockfull of old-fashioned favorites. This is real home cooking - if your home happens to house a talented fry cook, that is.

Both diners have long, interesting histories. Frank’s railcar was built in 1906 and was used by the president of the Northern Pacific Railroad as his private car until 1931. Frank Knight (brother of Jack Knight, who operated Knight’s Diner in Spokane) then bought it and ran it as a diner in Seattle until 1991.

It was moved to Spokane and refurbished by Pat Jeppesen in 1992. Much of the original woodwork, stained glass windows and brass fixtures were restored.

When Frank’s first opened, it got off to a shaky start with a string of cooks and managers. The food was mediocre, the service abysmal. Then, in May 1996, veteran restaurateur Larry Brown bought it and turned the place around.

During a recent visit, there was a happy commotion of cook’s hollering for servers to pick up an order, silverware clanging and bread popping out of the toaster.

Take a seat at the counter and watch these skillful cooks flip, scramble and fry.

With a griddle full of orders, Greg Stewart, Robert Caldwell and Ken Wilder show real grace under pressure.

Lunch items are served, and dinner will be added before the end of the year, but the real attraction is breakfast food. And lots of it.

I usually fall victim to Frank’s breakfast combo ($5.99) - two eggs (over easy, please), eight dollar-sized pancakes, two strips of crispy bacon, toast and heavenly hashbrowns. You won’t need to eat for the rest of the day.

Here’s what I especially like about Frank’s execution of this perfect morning meal: They offer several unusual toast options including a sourdough and a rye - along with a good selection of jams.

And the hashbrowns at Frank’s are a thick oval cut, so they’re crispier and more flavorful than most. You can order gravy to cover these, but I found the creamy stuff bland with black pepper the overriding flavor.

A Denver omelette ($6.49) I tried was nicely done - a thin layer of eggs wrapped around bits of ham and slightly crispy onions and peppers.

Other breakfast choices include chicken-fried steak and eggs, the classic Joe’s Special - scrambled eggs with ground beef and spinach - and a six-egg omelette called King of the Road. (The menu says this one is enough for two but too good to share.)

Like all good diners, Frank’s serves breakfast anytime. There are 44 seats and usually a 30-minute wait for a spot during peak breakfast hours.

I’ll definitely check out the dinners when they get rolling some time in December. The management is surveying its customers to come up with the menu. So far, steaks and stroganoff are leading vote getters.

Lots of folks have long love affairs with Knight’s Diner. You’re not a newcomer if you remember its old location on North Division, which first opened in the late ‘40s.

In 1991, the car was relocated to Market Street, but beyond a change of venue, little else has been altered.

It still has the best hashbrowns - light and fluffy, but crispy at the same time - and the smoothest service around.

Owner Vicki Green teases regulars, takes orders, sings along with the radio, keeps coffee cups filled and loads up the toaster - all seemingly at the same time. She even cooks when somebody calls in sick. In all the years I’ve eaten at Knight’s, I have never seen her lose her cool. She’s a real marvel, whose easy-going, efficient style other servers should study.

The 25-seat restaurant attracts a crowd, people who are willing to wait for fluffy buttermilk pancakes made from scratch, eggs with German sausage and lightly crispy corned beef hash.

When I went out to lunch there recently with a vegetarian friend who is a longtime Knight’s fan, he went on and on about their omelettes. He called them one of his guilty pleasures. Not exactly a heart-attack-on-a-plate, it’s loaded with American cheese and big slices of mushroom, grilled onions and peppers. Hold the ham.

It’s simple, but perfectly done, he said.

That could describe all the meals I’ve ever eaten at Knight’s Diner.

Lunches run the gamut of burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, a different soup everyday.

But even at noon, make mine a “mini” - a little bit of everything for under $5. Smother my hashbrowns with onions and give me that tasty brown gravy on the side.

Order, then sit back and enjoy the show. Trendy restaurants these days proudly show off their display kitchens, where you can watch chefs create. But at Knight’s Diner, customers can’t get any closer to the action.

, DataTimes MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story:

1. Frank’s Diner

Location: 1516 W. Second, 747-8798

Days/hours: Daily 6 a.m.-2 p.m.

Meals: Old-fashioned American

Prices: $3.39-$7.89

Smoking: non-smoking

Reservations: no

Credit cards: D, MC, V

Personal checks: yes

2. Knight’s Diner

Location: 2909 N. Market, 484-0015

Days/hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

Meals: Breakfast and more

Prices: $3-$6

Smoking: non-smoking

Reservations: no

Credit cards: no

Personal checks: yes

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Frank’s Diner Location: 1516 W. Second, 747-8798 Days/hours: Daily 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Meals: Old-fashioned American Prices: $3.39-$7.89 Smoking: non-smoking Reservations: no Credit cards: D, MC, V Personal checks: yes

2. Knight’s Diner Location: 2909 N. Market, 484-0015 Days/hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Meals: Breakfast and more Prices: $3-$6 Smoking: non-smoking Reservations: no Credit cards: no Personal checks: yes


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