Fare thee well, Spokane
Last call for food column
Right now I’m slouching at a desk which, by the time you read this, will no longer be my desk.
I’m savoring the last bite of a meal that took more than four years to finish.
This is the final installment of Taste of the Town, and, as we all do at the end of a great meal, I’m reflecting on my time at the table, wishing I’d chewed each bite just a little more slowly.
Before I leave, I may as well fill out the comment card. These are the reasons the Spokane scene will always get a good review from me:
After getting to know more than a few bartenders, line cooks, chefs, servers, general managers and restaurant owners over the years, I’ve learned something:
A lot of local service industry types are artistic, talented, crazy-as-hell workaholics. And their end goal is simply to sell their own concept of Awesome to the rest of us.
Look to people like Patty Tully and Tim Lannigan, owners of Neato Burrito and the Baby Bar, who parent and work full-time to run downtown Spokane’s most badass de facto cultural center (read: the place hipsters go for cheap eats and PBR). Not only do Lannigan and Tully keep the place afloat, but they keep it interesting, cramming people in on a regular basis for art shows, bike club proms and some of the best live music in town.
Then there’s The Globe Bar and Grille’s head chef, Howard Bateman, who continues to come up with ways to revolutionize the creative process with initiatives such as his fully customizable ACME Test Kitchen menu on Thursday nights, which allows people to order based on their moods.
Or David Blaine of Latah Bistro, who, besides being a magician in the kitchen, runs the most informed insider’s blog in the area, From the Back Kitchen, (thebackkitchen.blogspot.com).
The local food scene also wouldn’t be anywhere without visionary bankrollers like William and Marcia Bond, who opened the always-stellar Luna in the early-1990s and followed up with Bouzie’s Bakery and Café Marron in more recent years. This town needs more people who know how to use the money they have.
Speaking of visionaries, I’ll always dish a hefty portion of admiration – not to be confused with envy – for over-clocked guys like Noel Macapagal (Raw Sushi and Island Grill, Okane, The Casbah) and William Webster (Zola, Isabella’s Restaurant and Gin Joint, 360), who never seem to slow down in their drive to bring on the nightlife, no matter how much stress they have to endure.
This town also could use more living-the-dream stories like that of Mike Jones, who worked as a server at Mizuna Restaurant and Wine Bar for nearly a decade before finally buying the amazing downtown eatery from former owner Sylvia Wilson.
And a shout-out also has to go to the bartenders of Far West Billiards, past and present. As far as I’m concerned, the staff and the beer selection are the only reasons they get away with charging $10 an hour for pool.
As my future draws me away from the Inland Northwest, I’ll miss the unique spots that season this region.
Old-school, tried-and-true institutions like Domini Sandwiches and Doyle’s Ice Cream Shop in Spokane and Hudson’s Hamburgers in Coeur d’Alene remind us of who we are by telling us where we’ve been.
If I were smart, I would bald-facedly steal one of those business models and open it in a food mecca like Portland. Show ’em how we’ve been doing it in the Inland Empire for the past 50 to 100 years.
But it wouldn’t be the same.
Neither could someone transplant Bob Hemphill’s Chicken-n-More, or former David Lynch hangout The Swamp, which three-way-ties with The Viking on the North Side and Capone’s in Coeur d’Alene for the best place to drink many, many good beers.
I’m pretty sure Azar’s Restaurant on Friday nights is the only place in the world where you can eat babaganouj and watch bellydancers in an old converted drive-in.
And, for true Spokane flavor, there’s Mootsy’s and The Satellite Diner and Lounge. You’ve been there. You know what I’m talking about.
Writing this column gave me an excuse to invent adventures to keep things interesting, proving wrong all those who claim this is a boring region.
For instance, in summer 2006, a couple of colleagues and I undertook the local brewery tour, where we hit Spokane’s Northern Lights, C.I. Shenanigan’s and Steam Plant Grill in the same day, then took another quest to cover North Idaho, visiting Fred Colby at Laughing Dog and the upstarts at then-fledgling MickDuff’s in Sandpoint, following up with a trip to Coeur d’Alene Brewpub.
The cold brew was a welcome change after an adventure earlier that same year, when some friends and I hit vision quest-worthy spice level at Northern Lights after judging nearly every pub in the area rumored to have reputable hot wings.
The most fun I had on the job was the Monroe Street Pub Crawl in 2007, when a couple of friends and I started at The Hub and worked our way south to Charley’s. If you’ve never done the crawl, grab a couple of friends and go on Saturday. You’ll never forget what you can remember.
That said, no quest could compare to the great Spokane Pizza Throwdown of 2007, when Jim Kershner, former correspondent Kevin Finch and I sampled pizza from 30 local joints in 26 days.
I’ll always be struck by how much good pizza there is in this region, with Bennidito’s, Ferrante’s, Pedro’s … drool.
My only regret is that we never got to tackle North Idaho.
It’s ironic that after all this time spent writing about the Spokane area, it took getting laid off to feel like I did my job.
The validation comes from you, dear readers, who’ve called, sent e-mails and posted well-wishing comments on the Taste of the Town blog.
The warm, fuzzy feeling in my stomach can best be summed up by a blog comment from a reader named Brad:
“I’m not exactly the blog-comment-leaving-type,” he writes, “but you helped make me excited about living in Spokane.”
Thank you, Brad. That’s exactly what I set out to do.
Stay classy, Spokane.