SPOKANE, WA — On a recent trip in which I was invited by Visit Spokane to be a guest in its fair city, I had a chance to discover the many charms of this Northwest city.
Did you know it’s the home of Bing Crosby and even sports a Bing Crosby House Museum?
Or that there’s a giant-sized Radio Flyer downtown that you can climb on, then slide down?
Or that it boasts a 1909 historic hand-carved wooden carousel, where you can climb aboard a horse, giraffe, tiger or Chinese dragon chair for a spin?
Of course, it’s also home to some incredible restaurants not to be missed. Take a taste.
Where Brunch Is A Bodacious Affair
When Joile Forral and Allen Skelton, otherwise known as Couple of Chefs Catering and Food Truck, opened their first brick-and-mortar locale two years ago, Bruncheonette easily became the go-to-place for the most important meal of the day.
The adorable place with the cute name serves creative, fun breakfast-type fare every day until 3 p.m.
I had a chance to try smaller, tasting-size portions of a few dishes. It was hard to not devour everything because it was just so darn good.
Tuck into Verde Hash ($13), a bowl with three kinds of potatoes piled with house-smoked carnitas, poblanos, verde salsa, queso fresco and sunnyside-up eggs. The meat is tender, licked by smoke, and with just the right amount of spice.
Chicken and Waffle ($13) features a cinnamon and brown sugar waffle supporting boneless fried chicken with a sturdy, super crunchy crust. With the waffle reminiscent in flavor of spice cake, it’s a sweet-savory combo that is hard to resist.
For a different spin, there’s a Tamale Waffle ($13) that is indeed made with a masa-based batter full of cheddar and green onions. It’s the base for Mexican-spiced shredded beef and pickled jalapenos. The masa offers up a robust corn flavor, and creates a softer, denser type of waffle.
There’s also a Bacon Sticky Bun ($6.50). Made with a brioche dough, it’s airy, yeasty and buttery with a good dose of sweetness from a brown sugar glaze and vanilla cream cheese. Crunchy bacon bits cover the top in this over-the-top pastry.
Where Soul Food Comes With A Side of Philanthropy
Fresh Soul serves shatteringly crisp fried chicken, perfectly moist fried catfish, fall-off-the bone ribs, and sweet, cakey cornbread that will make you weep.
But this warm, welcoming soul food joint also serves up the promise of a better future for youths in underserved neighborhoods.
Chef Michael C. Brown, president of and founder of the non-profit Spokane Eastside Reunion Program that owns the restaurant, has worked tirelessly to build a multi-pronged effort to teach kids important life skills.
There’s the tutoring program in which partner universities match neighborhood kids to college students mentors. There’s the 6-year-old basketball camp that now numbers more than 100 participants. And there is Fresh Soul restaurant, where kids, ages 14 to 18, get paid minimum wage during a 16-week internship in which they learn valuable cooking and serving skills, along with greater self-esteem, to help them when they enter the workforce after high school or college.
Brown, who lives three blocks from Fresh Soul, labored for more than three years to transform a once-dilapidated building into this now-cheery spot that attracts diners of all walks of life.
Fresh Soul definitely lives up to its name.
Where A 12-Year-Old Restaurant Still Packs Them In
Wild Sage Bistro, which opened in 2006, has long been one of Spokane’s best-known restaurants for its regionally focused cuisine.
A dozen years later, it still remains a local favorite for its lively cocktails, sharp wine list, and solid fare.
The Yukon Taquitos ($14) have been a best-seller since Day One. In fact, they can’t take them off the menu without a revolt. It’s easy to see why. With crunchy corn shells that give way to a creamy, smooth puree of potatoes enlivened with white cheddar, avocado, cabbage slaw and a zesty chile lime sauce, what’s not to love?
Popovers are another can’t-miss, arriving at the table warm, light as air and piled atop a silver tumbler like a golden bouquet of flowers.
Steelhead & Crab ($34) is a signature dish of cedar-roasted steelhead accented by Dungeness crab meat and a tarragon buerre blanc. A tomato-caper relish adds a dash of briny jolt. It’s exactly the type of entree you want to chow down on when you come to the great Northwest.
Where Three Chefs Make Magic In A Chic Locale
From the moment I walked in, I knew I was going to like Inland Pacific Kitchen.
With some restaurants, you just know.
It’s housed in the soaring Washington Cracker Building, which was — yes — was once home to a cracker factory. That industrial feel remains, though, softened by sophisticated touches, including incredibly roomy booths, and a large elegant, under-lighted bar that adjoins an open kitchen.
Here, Chefs Jeremy Hansen, Chong Vang, and C.J. Callahan offer themed tasting menus that change weekly and are inspired by the seasons, world cultures, and personal stories.
Hansen, who cooked at the lauded Cafe Gray in New York, also owns Spokane’s Sante Restaurant and Charcuterie with his wife, along with Common Crumb Artisan Bakery, Biscuit Wizard, and Hogwash Whiskey Den. What’s more, he somehow also finds time to volunteer, a la Jose Andres, in feeding disaster victims such as those in Puerto Rico.
Inland Pacific Kitchen offers both a tasting menu ($120) and a la carte options. The latter are small composed plates that offer some real bargains, relatively speaking, too. I mean, where else can you enjoy wild, line-caught Alaskan Sika Coho salmon for only $19? It’s a modest yet quite decent-sized fillet, cooked perfectly to medium-rare succulence with miso and bacon conserve. It’s perched atop barley-like malted white wheat that has a wonderful toothsomeness.
A dish of Pancetta in Fig Broth ($15) brings a crisp round slab of pork belly, its richness countered by a fruity fig broth and slices of golden persimmon.
The Mofongo ($12) turns the pounded plantain mixture into arancini-like balls dressed with avocado, aioli, and crumbles of chili lime chicharron. Golden crisp on the outside and creamy, starchy within, they’re the perfect bite.
The food is full of thoughtfulness and contemporary flair. And if I’m ever lucky to be in Spokane again, I am making a beeline here pronto.