by CARRIE SCOZZARO & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & owntown Coeur d'Alene was hopping on the busy Sunday afternoon that my gal-pal and I visited the Beacon, on the corner of 4th Street and Sherman Avenue. Sitting inside by the floor-to-ceiling windows, peering out onto Sherman Ave., the experience was a bit like watching television with the sound turned down: motorcycles cruising slowly, a just-married couple in a convertible, a pasty family on a carriage ride waving from beneath the awning. Other seating options include the four-sided, island-style bar or up along a row of seats that line a long, narrow counter resembling a judge's panel. Outside seating is also available.
Inside the Beacon, perky waitresses clad in black bustle back and forth to the kitchen next door in Brix Restaurant, which owns the Beacon. Look up the Beacon, in fact, and you'll be directed to Brix's Website and phone number. There are shades of Brix elsewhere at the Beacon, like its trendy d & eacute;cor blending Craftsman stylings, dark cherry wood and exposed brick, and a sophisticated use of space and lighting. That the Beacon also has good food was a welcome surprise since I was prepared for disappointment based on past experiences there.
We started with an appetizer of potato hummus and grilled pita ($5), a European twist on the original Mediterrenean recipe of ground garbanzo beans. The hummus turned out to be a garbanzo-potato mixture, dense with garlic and a lemony bite. The menu listed this as accompanied by cucumber and red onion salad and fried "popcorn" feta cheese. The salad never materialized, but we were too busy arguing over the last bite of hummus to notice. The fried feta was either cut too small or overcooked and didn't add anything to the dish.
We contemplated healthy choices, like the Sunshine Salad: shreddded romaine, cotija cheese, fried plantains (okay, mostly healthy), spiced almonds, avocado and mango vinaigrette ($5). The lamb burger ($8.75) and the pizzas -- cheese, barbecue and chicken, taco or smoked mozzarella and house sausage -- were also possibilities ($6.50-$10).
Instead, we opted to continue with appetizers. The basket of jalape & ntilde;o-cream cheese wontons arrived with a sweet-and-sour raspberry sauce ($7.50). Lightly crispy with just the right amount of pepper heat, these were a satisfying variation on the usual deep-fried, breaded poppers.
Beer was needed to balance the bite of jalape & ntilde;o, our options being draft -- eight choices from traditional Bud Light to local Laughing Dog to something called Rotating Handle and, of course, Guinness -- or bottle (22 choices). While beer afficionados might see the limited selection of beer as a drawback, there was enough variety to satisfy a casual beer consumer like me. A smattering of fairly reasonably priced red and white wines ($5-$10) by the glass was also available. The Beacon does not serve hard alcohol.
Our "main course" was beer-battered fish and chips, which was expertly done, moist and flaky. At $8 for three and a half large chunks of fish, it's easily the most affordable fish and chips from Coeur d'Alene to Sandpoint. Although the Beacon mostly serves cod, they'll occasionally switch to halibut in season, but the fresh batter is the key to this dish being a come-back favorite. The accompanying tartar was sweet and bold with a hint of capers. The fries tasted like they might have been battered too, crisp and just barely salted. The only letdown was the coleslaw, which was utterly tasteless and browning in spots.
Despite a few minor disappointments, our experience was still delightful. The tables include baskets of napkins, which is thoughtful, and the water arrives with lemon. We'd asked for additional coleslaw, since we were splitting our fish and chips, and were not charged for it. Service was excellent. The ambiance was equally pleasant, making the Beacon a good place to hook up with friends or go get your fill of comfort food. And with a tab just under $25, we pronounced our experience enlightening. The Beacon isn't the brightest light in downtown Coeur d'Alene's Sherman Ave. restaurant row, but it shines as a hip locale for tasty pub grub that's reasonably priced.