March 13, 1998 in Seven

Ferguson’s Cafe Just What A Diner Should Be

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Ferguson’s Cafe is like a food museum, a relic from another era that would be worth a visit even if the food was lousy.

Fortunately, it’s not.

This joint reeks of character - and cigarette smoke. Everything from its weathered vintage sign to its old-fashioned soda fountain gives the place a time-warp appeal. Walk in the door and you might feel like you’re back in the ‘60s, especially when it comes to the prices.

Only a few treats are still served - shakes and root beer floats - so it’s the well-prepared diner fare that draws customers these days. That, and a sense of community. It’s the kind of place where the servers seem to greet everyone by name. Or, by their regular order anyway.

As you walk to your table, check out the faded photos and clippings on the wall. Some date to the ‘40s when the place first opened.

A couple of years ago, Lisa Keetch and her family bought the place from people who had run it for 20 years. The biggest change the new owner made was to expand the hours. It’s now open daily.

Grab a booth in the back and you can watch the fry cook in action - a blur of motion hovering behind the grill.

I hooked up with a group of guys who have been having breakfast at Ferguson’s since they were kids. One told me in all his meals there, he’s never had a bad surprise.

On that recent morning, our group’s collective cholesterol count soared as we sampled all sorts of egg dishes - omelettes stuffed with cheese, a pair over medium and perched on top of dandy corned beef hash and a scramble with chunks of country sausage.

All good stuff, but what really stood out were the spuds. Regular readers know I’m a potato freak. (With a name like Kelly, whaddaya expect?) My search for the perfect potato dish is an ongoing quest, but the home-fries at Ferguson’s were right up there.

These were sliced thin and fried golden. Not crunchy, but nicely crisp. And they were not too greasy.

You can order them smothered with brown gravy, which had a good homestyle flavor. It was slightly salty, but that was fine by me. That’s why I always order gravy on the side.

These guys recalled that the previous owner didn’t take kindly to requests like that. Back then, if you asked for your bacon crisp or gravy on the side and the waitress would look over at the cook and say, nope, can’t be done. Ah, those special memories.

Throughout our recent meal, service was sterling. Our coffee cups never dipped below half empty. Water glasses were often topped off. The food came out fast and hot.

When I didn’t clean my plate, the waitress expressed concern. Did I get enough to eat? Did I want to take the leftovers home? Was everything OK?

Yeah, but there was just so much. And it was so cheap. Most everything is $4 or less. A steak and eggs is the priciest item and it’s $5.95.

In keeping with good diner tradition, breakfast is served until closing at 2 p.m.

I did go back for lunch and loved it. A deluxe burger with fries was a great plate and just $3.45. The juicy, well-seasoned patty was garnished simply with a slice of tomato, lettuce, pickles and sliced onion. The bun was fresh. It was darned tasty. A big pile of crinkle-cut fries were hot and crispy.

The BLT was a masterpiece - a perfectly stacked doubledecker on toast. Paired with a cup of homemade cream of potato soup (with more bacon), it was an all-American lunch for under $4.

Other standouts include a daily lunch special for $4.95 (stuff like spaghetti with meat sauce) and a fried egg sandwich for $2.

Satellite Diner

Spokane’s newest hash house, the Satellite Diner caters to an after-hours crowd. Sure, it’s open for breakfast and lunch weekdays, but it’s been packed on the weekends after the bars surrounding it close.

Owners Colleen Doctor and Bill Volpone wanted to give late-night revelers a place to have a cup of coffee and something to eat before the drive home.

But you should be sober to fully appreciate the quality of the chow. I tried breakfast - in broad daylight - just after the diner opened and the crew seemed to be working out some wrinkles.

Our order went awry - the gravy ordered on the side came splashed on top of the biscuit and an order of eggs came minus the hashbrowns. Oh, I thought you wanted just eggs, the server apologized.

Also, the food had cooled off after sitting on the counter waiting for the waitress to deliver it. Please, please, please invest in some heat lamps and don’t put my food in front of other customers who might cough on it.

After getting down to the business of eating, though, the food was terrific.

The biscuits were fluffy and flavorful and the country gravy was rich without being too fatty. The eggs were cooked just right and the sausage links were nicely seasoned, packing a bit more zing than most.

The hashbrowns had a crispy golden crust on the outside and were softer inside. It made a fine canvas for a splotch of ketchup.

Wedges of ripe cantaloupe on each plate were a nice touch.

Other breakfast choices range from chicken-fried steak and eggs to hollandaise-smothered eggs Benedict. Most of those meals are around $5, with the most expensive - an 8-ounce New York steak and eggs - topping out at $9.95. A short stack is a real deal at $1.95.

One high point of the meal at the Satellite Diner was the coffee. Too often, cafe coffee is little better than hot brown water. At the Satellite, they serve Craven’s. It was strong, but not as brawny as some of the Craven’s blends.

Beyond breakfast, the prices get a little steep. A grilled ham and cheese is $5.25, there’s a $4.95 BLT and a double meat, double cheeseburger rings in at $6.95. Of course, those do come with soup, salad or fries.

What sounds really promising is the list of appetizers such as roasted red peppers, smoked salmon with cream cheese and capers, a prawn cocktail and marinated veggies. Not your typical diner fare.

The Satellite Diner is open from 7 a.m. until 4 a.m. Monday through Friday and from 6 p.m. until 4 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. It’s located at 425 W. Sprague.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Ferguson’s Cafe **

MEMO: Leslie Kelly can be contacted via E-mail at lesliek@spokesman.com or regular mail to Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210.

Leslie Kelly can be contacted via E-mail at lesliek@spokesman.com or regular mail to Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210.

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