There are times when I become belatedly aware of a wonderfully unique local eatery and have to give myself the old V8 hand action to the forehead. “What was I thinking,” I tell myself, reminiscing about all the fantastic rhetorical meals I never enjoyed there, and ruing how I could have, and very well should have, made the place a regular haunt long ago.
I seem to recall hearing about Post Falls’ Big Bear Deli probably around the time Tim and Cathy Riorden first hung an “open” sign in the A-frame house a block off the main drag behind Napa Auto Parts over three years ago. I think I might have even cruised by a time or two and said, “Weird place for a deli, I’ll have to remember to check it out,” but those particular brain cells might have been among the ones I lost in a tragic champagne incident on New Year’s Eve 2008.
When a kind reader recently recommended the place, I actually had to hit the Google to figure out exactly what he was talking about. Now that I’m a bit more on top of the situation, I’ve got some catching up to do.
Fortunately, between their all-inclusive menu and their innovative daily specials, I’m not going to run out of new things to try any time soon. The main menu lists over two dozen preformatted sandwiches encompassing nearly every imaginable combo, but they’ll also let you invent your own from a massive roster of meats, cheeses, veggies and breads.
Big Bear’s prices may be a buck or two more than the average blah franchise deli, but you’re never going to be able to get fresh pastrami, smoked Gouda, dill havarti, Greek olives or house-roasted peppered turkey with your $5 footlong.
There seems to be a minor cult built around their daily specials, likely because they’re not afraid to get a little out there and offer up some more unconventional deli cuisine. Last Friday saw them serving up “N’awlins Style Fried Shrimp Po-Boy” sandwiches and homemade jambalaya soup.
Recent highlights also include a sun-dried tomato quiche and a toasted foccacia loaf stuffed with chicken, smoked bacon, mozzarella and lemon-pepper feta mayo.
Having finally conquered my phobia of rye bread, I’ve recently become a convert to the Reuben sandwich. A half a Reuben and a cup of homemade tomato soup seemed like a promising way to spend my maiden voyage into Big Bear territory, and I wasn’t let down. The marbled rye was toasty and the sauerkraut was tart and crisp, the corned beef and cheese had just the right amount of warmth and delicacy, and the soup was rich and pungent, bright with the flavor or fresh herbs.
The obligatory bag of Sun Chips and dill pickle spear did add some value but seemed almost like unnecessary wallflowers next to the resplendence of the soup and sandwich.
Dessert is definitely a big deal at the Big Bear Deli, and the place is just as popular for its remarkable baked goods as it is for top-notch lunch items. Cathy Riorden seems to be quite the queen of the cupcake scene, with innovative ideas such as confetti cupcakes with Bavarian cream frosting and gumballs, huckleberry crème-filled lemon cupcakes, and French vanilla cupcakes topped with Pastry Pride, mango sauce and a candied blackberry.
Personally, my vote for the most dreamily debauched variety goes to the fudge brownie cupcakes with peanut butter frosting, drizzled with caramel sauce. Yes, I’d like two, please.
Browsing the lurid images of her work on Big Bear’s Facebook page is sort of like looking at a travel brochure about a wonderful, colorful fantasyland where pastel icing flows freely and fat and calories don’t stick to thighs. I wasn’t planning on indulging in a treat, but a big, gorgeous chocolate-toffee cookie bar winked at me as I was paying for my meal, and I was unable to resist.
I had every intention of saving it for later, but I left it in direct sunlight in the car for 10 minutes while I ran in to the post office and I opened my car door to the intense smell of warm, oven-fresh cookies.
To make a long story short, a few blissful moments later I actually had to pull over and wipe melted chocolate off my steering wheel and hands and clean up the millions of tiny crumbs I’d managed to scatter all over myself and on every surface of my car interior. It was moist, messy and splendid, worth every quarter I plugged into the car wash vacuum.
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