Holes in the wall can be hard to define, but worth seeking out
Bombing across town recently we found ourselves on Garland Avenue, and as the historic Milk Bottle came into sight we realized it was time for lunch. We recalled that our editor suggested a sandwich shop in the neighborhood, and we were almost through the area when we saw the big sign painted on the side of a building: Garland Sandwich Shoppe.
We stopped, ordered a Southwestern turkey and a Reuben, which we often use as a common base for comparing menus, and launched into a discussion about “holes in the wall.” Garland Sandwich certainly qualified for the feeling we had about such places: small, plain, reasonable and locally owned.
Right off the bat we decided HITW was a compliment. The Garland seemed perfect, being on Madison Street, a block west of Monroe. When we asked about a restroom, the owner offered the sink for hand washing, but for anything else it took a trip to the tavern next door. (If we owned the bar we would take rent in trade.)
There aren’t much more than a half-dozen tables, but dozens of sandwich and salad options. The Garland proved tasty. Our criteria of friendliness and cleanliness were not an issue – and the Reuben gets our recommendation. We wondered about the other HITWs we had visited over the years, such as Dave’s Bar and Grill in the Valley, the Yellow House in Post Falls, Something Else Deli east of downtown, Kowalski’s, hidden in a bank on north Division, and the Brooklyn Deli in the heart of Spokane, and what defines such places.
As this idea took hold, one of us remembered a sandwich board on the corner of Northwest Boulevard and Ash Street touting home cooking. That had to be a HITW so we headed that direction, finding the Sweetie Pie Cafe at 1724 W. Carlisle Ave. It was a classic, but as we headed into a Hawaiian-themed room we spied a Spokesman-Review article with pictures of the place from October 2011. That gave us a sinking feeling – not because of the food, cleanliness or service but because we didn’t think we should be touting a place so soon. However, that story was about pies, so we passed on the quiche, declined the tempting dessert and just had sandwiches. A tasty tuna melt with butternut squash soup and a club with pasta salad were both very satisfying. Trying to define HITW wasn’t.
As our list expanded, we decided HITW was special, and not to be confused with Great Little Spots. A HITW is a GLS, but not all Great Little Spots qualify as a Hole in the Wall.
We rejected the Cottage in the Valley, the Wall Street Café and Bennidito’s on the South Hill. Fine places all, but they just didn’t have the feel – either a little too big, too updated or too trendy.
Location contributed – a main drag would generally bump a HITW to just a GLS. You can definitely tell that Dave’s, on Sprague, is on both lists but Something Else Deli, on Second and Sherman, isn’t. What about the Yellow House on Government Way, or our old friends at Smackey’s Deli off the Broadway exit? Maybe parking, or a lack therefore, contributes to the feel.
For both, local ownership is a key, especially if one is standing over the grill or behind the counter.
What role does the menu play?
Although there is a fear that giving up a HITW would be like giving up a secret fishing hole to outdoors editor Rich Landers, we would like to hear about your Hole in the Wall and what defines it. And the truth is we’re probably going to give it up in a future article sometime down the road, so be careful if you hope to keep your place a secret.
Former longtime S-R writer Dave Trimmer and his friend, former restaurateur Dan Coyle, forged a common bond over dinner and drink. They know it takes more than great food to make dining out worth the money. They share recent finds and longtime favorites in this column, which runs monthly in the 7 section. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.