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Monroe Street Grill specializes in down-home American grub

LaShay and Lonnie Germain would drive by the busy corner and dream.

They already had a small eatery of their own. But they would pass by this location on their commute from their home in North Idaho to their restaurant in Cheney. This spot was more than twice the size. That’s one of the reasons it seemed out of reach.

“It was driving me crazy that it was sitting here empty,” said Lonnie Germain, who called about the property only to learn it was slated to be developed into a Burger King.

Time passed. The fast-food joint never opened. The Germains kept driving by and dreaming. Finally, Lonnie Germain called again. And, after six months of renovation at the old Shari’s restaurant on North Monroe Street, the couple are settling into their new digs.

Monroe Street Grill, opened in mid-October, specializes in down-home American fare. The menu features breakfast, seafood and burgers with the aim of offering approachable and affordable food in a comfortable and casual environment.

“We have something for everybody,” said LaShay Germain, noting, “We always take pride in our food.”

It is, said Lonnie Germain, “family-man, working-class food – not high end.”

The Germains closed their old cafe, Top of the Line Seafood and Burgers in Cheney, in order to open this new location with a new name. They opened Oct. 11 with 30 employees and an expanded menu, which includes some of the same signature items as the old spot. Look for the top-selling, hand-breaded fish-and-chips made with Alaskan cod.

Look, also, for clam and seafood chowders, both scratch-made by Lonnie Germain, as well as a dozen hand-pressed burgers served on buttered and toasted buns. The fire-roasted Hatch green chili burger pays homage to New Mexico, where LaShay grew up. The “Senor Jalapeño” features cream cheese and bacon. And the “Top Notch” comes with bacon, barbecue sauce, American cheese and two onion rings.

Friday nights at 4, come for the pit-smoked prime rib, marinated for 24 hours then smoked with mesquite chips. Pulled pork and roast beef for sandwiches is also pit-smoked on the same smoker out back.

Filling out the menu are salads, sandwiches, chicken strips, clam strips, fried oysters and fish tacos.

Starters include beer-battered onion rings, house-made deep-fried seafood chowder balls, cheesy bacon potato bites, calamari and deep-fried dill pickle spears.

“Finishers” include a brownie sundae, New York-style cheesecake, carrot cake and root beer floats.

Breakfast is served until 11 a.m. weekdays and noon Saturdays and Sundays. There are six assorted scrambles and omelets. Customers can also build their own. Pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, steak-and-eggs, a couple of Benedicts, and French toast – stuffed, classic or deep-fried – round out the morning menu. The “Monroe Street Hangover’ is a house-made, Southern-style biscuit with country-fried steak, house-made sausage gravy and two eggs.

“It’s your basic hungry-man breakfast,” said LaShay Germain, who manages the front of the house while her husband runs the kitchen.

The couple got into the restaurant business together in 2013, when they opened a drive-thru in Chattaroy. They operated it for a year before moving their business to Cheney for about three and a half years.

“Cheney was very good to us,” said LaShay Germain, 47. “We started out little. We did baby steps to where we are now. It’s been a lot of hard work, I’ll tell you that.”

Two cooks and two servers from the former location followed them to the new restaurant. “It’s the same concept but a different location,” said LaShay Germain, who has “always been a bartender or server because of the tips.”

She worked at O’Malley’s Sports Pub and Grill in Rathdrum for several years after moving to the Inland Northwest from New Mexico about 14 years ago. Today, she and Lonnie Germain, 53, have a blended family with five grown children ages 21 to 27 and a 10-year lease on the old Shari’s Cafe and Pies.

The building had stood empty for about four years. It still features the chain’s distinctive hexagonal building design, but the Germains gave it a facelift. Renovations started in April and took six months. They included new neutral-colored paint, floor and ceiling tiles, booths, tables, counter tops, lighting – even a new roof. A new lounge, still under construction, is slated to open at the first of the year.

Meantime, there’s room for 120 patrons in the main dining area, where a wall of windows overlooking North Monroe Street lets in lots of natural light. Seating is a mix of benches and booths as well as tabletops and chairs. There’s also counter seating facing the kitchen.

“It still looks like Shari’s. It’s always going to,” LaShay Germain said. But, “This is home. This is where we worked so hard to get to.”

And, Lonnie Germain said, “We’re excited to be here.”

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