BEST LOCAL PLAY OR MUSICAL
SINGIN, IN THE RAIN
(SPOKANE CIVIC THEATRE)
Director Kathie Doyle-Lipe's revival of singin' in the rain at the Civic in October is best remembered for several emblematic moments: Cameron Lewis, in the Donald O'Connor sidekick role of Cosmo Brown, slapping on a Viking helmet, tumbling out of a cart and convincing us that he had rubberized limbs in "Make 'em Laugh"; Alyssa Calder-Day's combination of an impressive voice with girl-next-door approachability in "You Are My Lucky Star"; and, of course, Andrew Ware-Lewis swirling around a lamppost (with actual rain falling out of the rafters!), just as Gene Kelly does in our dreams and all those Oscar montages.
With all the rain and old-timey silent movies and large-scale tap numbers and trunks full of costumes, Peter Hardie (technical director), David Baker (scenic and lighting design) and everyone at the Civic deserves much credit for taking on the challenge of recreating movie icons. (MB)
2nd Place: Bus Stop (Interplayers); 3rd Place: Peter Pan (Coeur d'Alene Summer Theater)
BEST TOURING MUSICAL
In the 30 years since its Broadway premiere, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin's musicalized ANNIE has asked the big questions: Where do I come from? How are families created and sustained? How can our nation rebound from bad circumstances? How can we snag optimism out of bleakness? Annie's no philosophical tract, but its adaptability explains its continuing success: We've all felt lonely and overwhelmed -- but with a trusty dog, a chipper president and a sugar daddy, the answers to your problems will just be, always, a day away.
The highlights of the touring version that danced through the INB Center in February included Ming Cho Lee's off-kilter orphanage interior and grandly curved staircase for the billionaire's mansion; theater veteran Conrad John Schuck's gruff egghead take on Oliver Warbucks; Alene Robertson's dowdy, irritable orphanage director, Miss Hannigan; the non-curly-headed gumption of Marissa O'Donnell in the title role; and of course, the aw-shucks obedience of a dog named Lola in the role of Annie's trusted canine companion. Just as Annie the girl finds a home to live in, Sandy the dog also finds someone to love. And that's why folks keep flocking back to Annie. (MB)
2nd Place: Hairspray; 3rd Place: Chicago
BEST COMMUNITY EVENT
PIG OUT IN THE PARK
Here's what the week leading up to Labor Day means around here: Strolling up to a food booth in Riverfront Park with $7 in your pocket and stepping away with some gourmet food. (On a stick!) Middle-aged guys back-slapping and chugging beers in a beverage garden before whooping it up during a blues musician's set. Kids clinging to Mom with one hand while using the other one to smear their faces with cotton candy. People dressed in comfy, wispy clothes for the September heat.
Funnel cakes and tank tops, spring rolls and roller blades, tacos and tattoos, chicken fried steaks and sun visors, elephant ears and beer bellies -- Pig Out presents an array of aromas, a cornucopia of comestibles. You start browsing, and next thing you know, you've sampled the Italian and the Mexican and the Chinese and the Thai. Your wallet may be lighter, but your stomach is full. And while summer may be drawing to a close, at least PIG OUT IN THE PARK has helped you in the process of storing up for winter. (MB)
2nd Place: Hoopfest; 3rd Place: Bloomsday
Best North Idaho Community Event: Ironman
BEST CHARITY EVENT
COACHES VS. CANCER GALA
COACHES VS. CANCER is a nationwide collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches. The idea is to use the celebrity of big-time college basketball coaches to turn golf tournaments and black-tie dinners into fundraising efforts in the fight against cancer. Here in Spokane, Gonzaga's Mark Few has been the spearhead of an effort that, in just five years, has raised more than $1.5 million for the ACS. The August golf tournaments at Spokane Country Club and Indian Canyon have attracted coaches like Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, and while Few's wife Marcy has hosted the "BasketBall Gala" at the Davenport Hotel; next summer's gala is at Northern Quest. (MB)
2nd Place: Orange County Choppers for Boys & amp; Girls Club; 3rd Place: Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure
BEST ART GALLERY
Part of what makes the MAC's art gallery experience artful is the gallery itself: the entrance at ground level, that taste of contemporary art in the In Focus space, the descent to the fluid, versatile cluster of galleries that branch to the left after you cross the ramp with its view of the enormous main gallery below.
Ben Mitchell, the MAC's curator of art, has only been on the job for six months, so he emphasizes that he can't crow about the museum's last year of art shows, including Kathryn Glowen's "Petland" (objects assembled from the life of a Spokane pet store owner) and Scott Fife's "Big Trouble" (oversize cardboard sculptures of 1905 Idahoans).
"The Gaylen Hansen show makes the case," says Mitchell, referring to the WSU professor's paintings that are on display through Aug. 5. "But these are all one-person shows."
Eventually, Mitchell intends to bring "conceptual" shows involving the work of several artists to the galleries in Browne's Addition. He emphasizes, moreover, that other curators in the area -- whether at academic, municipal or for-profit institutions -- do such a fine job that, he says, "I was almost surprised that the MAC won" in this category. (MB)
2nd Place: Lorinda Knight; 3rd Place: Tinman
Best North Idaho Art Gallery: The Art Spirit
BEST ARTS FESTIVAL
ART ON THE GREEN
We think it's the resort and the restaurants and the lake. Plus all those grassy areas. Last August, for the 38th time, Art on the Green brought more than 130 visual artists and crafts makers to the campus of North Idaho College. The jewelry and the paintings, the strolling crowds, the musical flavors -- everything from jazz to New Age, from bluegrass to East Indian and folk -- all contribute to a highly anticipated, bucolic-yet-highbrow event. Organizers are obviously doing something right: They're getting 50,000 people to show up on a college campus -- during the summer.
Sometimes the best musical and artistic education is the one you seek out voluntarily. And while wearing flip-flops.
But Art of the Green's outlying attractions -- the fact that it takes place so near parks and historic neighborhoods and beaches -- really seal the festival's deal. It's the coolest way to combine summer frolicking with serious-minded art-hunting, and it truly provides Coeur d'Alene's best summertime "marketplace, performance space and gathering place." (MB)
2nd Place: Artfest; 3rd Place: Farm Chicks
BEST LOCAL MUSICIAN
Though most of the superstars he's opened for play country music (Collin Raye, Kenny Chesney, Merle Haggard, etc.), SAMMY EUBANKS is the proud recipient of the Inland Empire Blues Society's Best Male Blues Vocalist award. "I swing both ways," he says, insisting that people will dance to anything, so long as you package it right.
"We're at the Slab [Inn] this weekend, which is pretty darn country," he says, "but they get filled up on dancin' fluid, though, and they want some rockin' blues." Conversely, "At those blues gigs you can play a country-based song so long as you don't let anybody know," he says dryly. "You'll get them tapping their toes."
"I like to pattern myself after Delbert McClinton," says Eubanks. He plays both without differentiation and it works for him, he says, concluding simply, "It's all entertainment." He's certainly right about that. (LB)
2nd Place: Cary Fly; 3rd Place: Cory Howard
BROOKS & amp; DUNN
THE SPOKANE ARENA
Here's how you know that, in addition to being country music superstars, Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks are also just regular guys. During their Spokane Arena concert last October, the duo noticed a man in the front row talking on his cell phone and called him on it. I mean, come on, in the middle of a concert? But the guy's response was surprising: "My brother couldn't take in the concert tonight, so..." B & amp;D waded into the crowd, talked to the brother on the phone for a bit, then planted the cell right on top of the grand piano and let the brother listen all night long.
It's that kind of common touch that has made this singer-songwriter duo so popular. Most associated with the country line-dancing craze of the early '90s and with the campaign theme songs of George W. Bush, BROOKS & amp; DUNN truly are "hillbillies deluxe." You've gotta "Believe" in the power of "Boot Scootin' Boogie." (MB)
2nd Place: Tom Petty (Spokane Arena);
3rd Place: Nickelback (Spokane Arena)
BEST LOCAL BAND
BEST LOCAL BAND NAME
INTERMISSION / THE LET UP
Every day at 11 am, on the second floor of a tiny house near Rochester Heights Park in northeast Spokane, the band formerly known as INTERMISSION bangs out alt-rock that echoes through the neighborhood. It's an inauspicious location for Spokane's favorite band to play, but they've been trying to keep a low profile.
Intermission is dead for all intents and purposes. Its members have been spending months retooling into something they can be more proud of. Even the name was abhorrent to them. "I think Intermission is the most terrible name," says frontman/mastermind Cory Howard with spite. Ironic, then, that they'd also win for best band name.
It's a testament to past success that, despite not playing any gigs for months at a time last year, Intermission came out well ahead in the bands race. Or maybe, it's a testament to a clever marketing stunt aimed at clearing out tons of now-useless Intermission merchandise. Trying to get rid of a hundred T-shirts and other items, Howard and company set off to the STA Plaza on a free ride day to play and hawk their wares. In the end, tons of people heard and liked them, from band accounts, but they didn't sell a single piece of merch. "I guess people riding the bus for free aren't looking to spend money," Howard concludes.
So they're left considering taking three crates of merch to Goodwill en masse. Howard wonders, "Is that a tax write-off?"
Probably, though the band might think about keeping the shirts, at least in the short term. As they start again on the long road of getting their new band, THE LET UP, out there, it would be beneficial to connect it with an older band that was, for a time, Spokane's favorite. (LB)
Best Local Band
2nd Place: Fat Tones;
3rd Place: The Trailer Park Girls
Best Local Band Name
2nd Place: Fat Tones; 3rd Place: The Trailer Park Girls
FOOD & amp; DRINK
BEST MEXICAN FOOD
Azteca has won our readers poll for best Mexican food so often that it's hard to remember it all began with the vision of four brothers from Cuautla, Mexico. They brought recipes for their mother's luscious tamales, quesadillas and chiles rellenos north to the Seattle area where they established their first AZTECA restaurant in the mid-'70s. Since 1991, Spokane diners have enjoyed Azteca's dizzying array of Mexican-American dishes, featuring freshly made tortillas and salsas. From more traditional flautas and borregos to award-winning nachos and fajitas, Azteca has Mexican-American cuisine covered -- not to mention the zesty margaritas. And not only is the food great, but portions are muy grande. The comfortable, colorful, hacienda-style atmosphere makes diners think they've taken a trip south of the border. Service at the family-owned restaurants is friendly, efficient and accommodating without being overbearing. With locations in downtown Spokane, at Northpointe and in the Valley, diners don't have to go far to satisfy their hankering for something spicy. (SH)
2nd Place: Rancho Chico; 3rd Place: Casa de Oro
BEST ITALIAN FOOD
With the tried-and-true formula of good food and good service, LUIGI'S once again takes the crown for Best Italian Food.
"We have a great staff, great recipes -- and unlike a lot of chain restaurants, we're locally owned and serve homemade food," says owner and general manager Marty Hogberg. "Very little of what we use is processed or frozen or pre-made. It shows in our quality and makes a big difference."
Hogberg also thinks the upscale menu of veal and seafood items has contributed to Luigi's success. They proudly boast their signature smoked salmon lasagne as having been written up in Gourmet magazine, and they're the only restaurant in town to offer the popular gnocchi Alfredo. Spaghetti with the works also sells well, as does the soup and salad bar for lunch.
Hogberg says he is asked all the time about expansion to new locations, but his immediate priority is finishing the development of his current building, which will include an outdoor caf & eacute; on the west side. (MLO)
2nd Place: The Olive Garden; 3rd Place: The Italian Kitchen
BEST FINE DINING
BEST ROMANTIC RESTAURANT
CLINKERDAGGER is one romantic restaurant, just not (necessarily) when you're dining with kin. The 33-year-old Spokane institution has raked in the Best Of awards over the years, and '07 is no different. The Dag (as I call it) won for 1) fine dining, 2) romantic atmosphere and 3) service. Sitting across from Shane, my little brother, with a gorgeous view of the Flour Mill parking lot, I decided to test them out only on categories one and three. For the middle category, I'd need to rely on memory.
And lo, 1) the dining was fine indeed, and not as wallet-bustingly expensive as you might expect. For a mere 20 clams, I had a simple, delicious grilled salmon. Shane's steak, judging by how he tried to fit the whole thing in his mouth at once, was also good.
I had expected the exact opposite of 3) Best Of quality service, judging by the swankiness of the joint and the fact that Shane and I were dressed like plumbers and journalists respectively, which means we must have looked filthy, poor and shifty. The waitress, though, was very prompt and cordial, hopping around spryly and cracking the odd joke. The light in her eye dimmed, though, I noticed, when Shane changed his mind from the filet mignon to the top sirloin, a decision that would cost her $12 in tippable revenue. The waitress should take solace that the added cost of the filet, had he opted for it, probably would have come out of her tip. I'm a baller on a budget.
I won't trouble you with my gauzy recollections of 2) romantic atmosphere. Suffice it to say that Clinkerdagger is the classiest place in town that'd let a shlub like me entertain a lady. It deserves the considerable accolades it has amassed. (LB)
Best Fine Dining
2nd Place: Luna; 3rd Place: Spencer's
Best North Idaho Fine Dining: Beverly's
Best Romantic Restaurant
2nd Place: Luna; 3rd Place: Spencer's
Best North Idaho Romantic Restaurant: Beverly's
2nd Place: Luna; 3rd Place: Downriver Grill
Best North Idaho Service: Beverly's
BEST MEAL FOR
LESS THAN $5
I feel like an imposter about to be discovered. How can I call myself a food writer if I don't know DICK'S? On a weekday at 12:15 pm, cars zip in and out of the parking lot, some of them nicer than mine and some looking like they've been rode hard and put away wet. I stand by the window for just a short wait before placing my order: a quarter-pound burger, fries and a shake. Now I can count myself among the converted -- for $3.75, I got more food than I could eat in one sitting.
Lots of other people in Spokane know Dick's, though, as evidenced by the full parking lot -- as well as the drive-in's stranglehold on our cheap eats category. Ever since 1960, Dick's has served up burgers and Whammys, fish and fries, shakes and sodas to generations of Spokanites, earning a reputation for selling good stuff cheap. The burgers are fresh, not frozen, and the fries are cut from real potatoes. The shakes come thick and smooth without being syrupy sweet. And you can't beat the view of the Division Street off-ramp -- it's a slice of human drama, right beyond your windshield. (AC)
2nd Place: Taco Bell; 3rd Place: Zip's
One fine day in the land beside the river, Mr. Pastrami Head had a wonderful idea: He would call his friends and they would all go have sandwiches for lunch!
In olden times, Mr. Pastrami Head would ask his secretary to call the secretaries of his friends. But now everybody has technology so the friends do texting and messaging all by themselves. It makes them happy because they see themselves as lords of the land beside the river, downtown power players who do mighty things -- like texting -- and who like to have big, meaty sandwiches and talk importantly to each other about "economic development" and "revitalizing the core."
They all have regular names of course (some even have titles) and they wear important businessman suits and shiny shoes, but when they walk into DOMINI'S SANDWICHES a magic thing happens -- they are revealed for who they really are.
Look, it's Mr. Full Turkeyprovolonefrench with Ms. Halfhamcheddarwhite. Such is the powerful magic at Domini's that Mr. Pastrami Head and his friends never feel insulted.
"Hey, buddy. Hey, buddy," the Dominis sing when the door opens. The popcorn pops and the popcorn air makes everybody sigh. Mmmm. More people come in. "Hey, buddy. Hey, buddy." They are led across the popcorn floor to small tables where they talk importantly and make grand gestures. They try to fit lunch in their mouths. "Look at this sandwich," they say. "It's so big!" they exclaim.
Then one thinks out loud about becoming the next strong mayor of the land beside the river. Sez you, Mr. Pastrami Head, the others scoff.
(This true fairy tale brought to you by Smallroastbeefswiss Mustardonlydarkrye.) (KT)
2nd Place: Subway; 3rd Place: Quizno's
My pizza-loving East Coast soul rejoiced when DAVID'S PIZZA hit the scene. Apparently a lot of other people feel the same way, because the Gonzaga neighborhood mainstay is at the top of the heap yet again.
The toughest decision at David's is which variety to try. Should I go for the pesto this time, maybe the one with fresh tomato slices on top? Or the classic Thai chicken, with its spicy peanut sauce and chunks of chicken meat? The Hawaiian, combining salty and savory Canadian bacon with sweet and tart pineapple, is another favorite. And there's always pepperoni.
Each variety begins with a fresh hand-tossed crust -- the foundation of a great pizza. There's lots of fresh garlic around, along with plenty of whole-milk mozzarella. Add it all up and you've got a pizza worthy of Michelangelo's masterpiece. You can get a whole pie or just a slice or two, whatever you need. And nothing sets off those slices like the classic red-and-white checkered liner paper. (AC)
2nd Place: Bennedito's Pizza; 3rd Place: Papa Murphy's
Best North Idaho Pizza: King Pizza
This local burrito-shop-that-could has weathered the storm of changing its name from SONIC to IONIC last fall. It was no small feat for this David taking on the Goliath of national chain Sonic Drive-In. The surrounding Gonzaga community and local businesses supported Ionic co-owner Melissa Massie in her fight to keep her business even though she had to buckle under an expensive name change. Even the nearby Sonic Drive-In kicked in with financial aid. But legal wrangling aside, Ionic has some great fare -- no doubt due to the fresh ingredients, gourmet salsas and hot sauces that make up its custom burritos. From the Thai Burrito's teriyaki chicken and spicy peanut sauce to the Mediterranean's feta cheese and Greek relish, there's a burrito for everyone's tastes -- all washed down with microbrews or wine. Now everyone can enjoy Ionic's massive hand-rolled burritos, beverages and live weekend entertainment, and can take heart that, against an assault by the corporate world, a local business came out swinging. (SH)
2nd Place: Slick Rock; 3rd Place: Qdoba
BEST WINE LIST
A wine list is about more than just a lot of wines. For a restaurant to have a good wine list, it needs to offer variety; if it's going for excellence, it needs to offer truly distinguished wines.
Some wine lists go for bulk, arriving at the table printed, bound and annotated, listing hundreds of bottles of obscure and far-flung wines. Others limit their quantity and shower diners with quality -- trophy vintages, boutique wineries -- or professional attention. And others are comprehensive, containing all the wines from Asphyxx-en-Provence or some such locale.
But NIKO'S has developed the wine list that Inlander readers call their favorite by excelling in drinkability. There's the usual table-thumping guide to the (rather extensive) cellar, but the restaurant also offers a one-page, more informal approach. "Flights" of wine, featuring several small glasses of different red or white wines, can be poured to accompany a flight of hors d'oeuvres. Wines by the glass (16 whites, 24 reds) offer more substantial accompaniments. The wine bar also has a list entitled "Forty Great Wines Under $40" that's a fusion of strong Washington and Italian table wines. The big guide itself displays admirable quirks, letting wine snobs show their stuff. (Just note how they temper a rambunctious Bordeaux lineup with a minerally foray into the Rhone valley when it comes to France.) (MD)
2nd Place: Luna; 3rd Place: Vin Rouge
Best North Idaho Wine List: The Wine Cellar
Iced oysters on the half-shell can be slurped in this clubby, wood-paneled, martini-strewn restaurant. It's also possible to find a rare, retro iceberg lettuce salad. And at lunchtime, the restaurant serves trendy sandwiches such as Kobe beef burgers and salmon BLTs. But it's the steaks -- USDA prime beefsteaks, available for lunch or dinner -- that SPENCER'S has made its reputation on, and it's the steaks that Inlander readers love most.
Sure, there are other meats to be had at Spencer's (pork, halibut and chicken if you like that sort of thing). There is even other food to be had at Spencer's -- including a good range of genuine bistro-style vegetables -- ordered a la carte so as not to contaminate the meat with too much plate architecture. But why worry about other food when a slab of highly marbled beef is lying seared (using infrared technology!) on a plate in front of you? (MD)
2nd Place: Wolf Lodge; 3rd Place: Outback Steakhouse
BEST VEGGIE MENU
A beef burger on the menu? Sure, because all cows are vegetarians. If you stop and think about it, cows are made of grass and corn. If you are what you eat, then you can think of beef as simply naturally processed vegetables.
OK, so the logic is strained. And the proprietors of Mizuna don't subscribe to it at all. They've built a solid reputation by offering a creative, healthy menu to the vegetarian and vegan community in Spokane, and have once again been voted by Inlander readers as having the Best Vegetarian Menu. They're not trying to change anyone's mind about anything.
Mizuna owner Mike Jones told The Inlander earlier this year that he thinks people are looking for heavier food in the colder months. Something more substantial -- like a burger. "We're just kind of reaching out," he says.
Known for an extensive selection of fine wines and a pleasant atmosphere, Mizuna remains committed to its vegetarian patrons, as well as to using only organic produce, line-caught fish, and hormone-free, free-range chicken and beef whenever possible. (MLO)
2nd Place: Huckleberry's; 3rd Place: Pita Pit
For a newcomer to Spokane, the very presence of the ROCKET empire is a kind of pastry-laden, caffeinated welcome, complete with comfortable seating and plug-ins for laptops. And the fact that one Rocket is not a clone of every other adds to the joy. Though we hope the eight stores produce great, swift-flowing streams of revenue, they feel neither slick nor corporate, but entirely homegrown. Apart from the addictive qualities of the orange cream muffin -- which doesn't quite rise to the level of meth, but doesn't lag far behind -- we find it hard to say a word against our beloved Rocket.
And why should we? There is no fine print here, no warnings or disclaimers. (Well, maybe a caveat emptor on the comically overpriced designer chocolate at the Rocket Market on 43rd.) If a stale croissant or two has crept in among the multitudes of fresh pastries over the years, we never heard of it. We come in, we hand over our Rocket card (that way, we're not spending real money, ya' know), we are served by the cheerful baristas, settling down with yet another orange cream muffin and maybe a Generra if we're feeling particularly sassy that day. We hang out with our friends, we watch the world go by, and we are content. (SS)
2nd Place: Rockwood Bakery; 3rd Place: Great Harvest
BEST KID-FRIENDLY RESTAURANT
You can get more than two dozen different kinds of burgers at RED ROBIN -- everything from the Pot Roast Burger (gravy, onions, horseradish and more slathered over an open-faced bun) to the Monster Burger (two patties) to the Burger Parmigiana (tomato sauce over fried mozzarella).
Alisha D'Agostino, manager of the downtown Red Robin, reports that the Gourmet Cheeseburger (according to the menu, "the one upon which we have built our fame!") remains the most popular choice. (You can choose one of seven different kinds of cheese to go on that one.)
"And tell people that the Peppercorn Burger is coming back," D'Agostino emphasizes. (Apparently, lots of customers cried out for their peppercorn patties after those folks at corporate HQ took it off the menu -- temporarily.)
At peak capacity, Red's kitchen can handle 18 burgers at a time, each of which cooks in three and half minutes over briquettes on a rotating Nieco broiler with three tracks: one for your chicken burgers, one set at 160 degrees for your "pink 'n' juicy" burgers, and a 175-degree belt for your "no-pink" burgers.
As for the kid-friendly factor -- well, whenever Red himself appears in the aisle, your adorable son can have himself a grand time poking that oversize robin right in his big fat bird belly. But other restaurants offer mascots and crayons and silly birthday songs. What makes Red Robin any different?
"It's because adults can come in here and have a nice meal, too," says D'Agostino. "The kids can do their thing, but we cater to the parents and grandparents, too. We have TVs so Dad can catch up on sports."
Dad can belly up to Red's full bar as well, though D'Agostino hastens to point out the large proportion of non-alcoholic drinks that RR sells.
All the better to wash down a treat like the 5 Alarm Burger (pepper jack cheese and salsa with jalapenos). (MB)
2nd Place: The Onion; 3rd Place: D'Lish's
Best North Idaho Burgers: Hudson's
Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant
2nd Place: Chuck E. Cheese's; 3rd Place: Tomato Street
Imagine Spokane in 1913. There was no Davenport Hotel. The railroads brought both mining wealth and hardscrabble workers into town. And in the midst of all, there was a candy shop that sold wonderful, unique little gems called Murphys: a whipped vanilla filling hand-dipped in milk chocolate, rolled in freshly toasted coconut and turned into a golf ball-sized treat.
These delectable morsels are still the heart and soul of SPOKANDY, the local chocolatier and candy manufacturer on Third Avenue, with additional retail outlets at NorthTown, Spokane Valley Mall and Ironwood Center in Coeur d'Alene. The company's biggest effort now is in the wholesale business, sending Spokandy products all over the Northwest and south to California; they also do a big corporate business, making chocolates imprinted with logos and trademarks.
As owner Todd Davis gives me the tour of the candy case -- solid chocolate bunnies, truffles, hand-dipped butter creams, nut bark, clusters and the classic pastel butter mints, along with a full range of low-carb sugar-free offerings -- a customer comes in, walks up to the counter and announces, "I've come for some Murphys." The tradition continues. (AC)
2nd Place: Hallet's; 3rd Place: Boehm's
A few years ago, it was hard to find sushi in Spokane. Now it's hard to choose where to go. But RAW tops the list, according to our wise and discerning readers. The restaurant expanded last August, spreading into the space next door and more than doubling the capacity. They've also expanded to a full liquor license, meaning you've got lots more choices of what to drink with that sashimi. The menu offers plenty of choices, too, but the rolls with a little tempura crunch seem to be the most popular. The Okane roll has tempura shrimp rolled up with avocado and topped with barbecued eel, cream cheese and sesame seeds; Da Bomb starts with tuna, salmon, avocado and cream cheese, all rolled up into rice and quickly deep-fried to give a light, tempura-quality crunch to the outside. For extra zing, check out the Firecracker -- it's Da Bomb with lots of extra spicy stuff added. If sushi's not your thing, there are plenty of island-style entr & eacute;es and curries. Even if you don't think you're into sushi, dive in and try a California roll -- it's kinda like sushi with training wheels. (AC)
2nd Place: Bluefish; 3rd Place: Sushi.com; Best North Idaho Sushi: Takara
BEST ASIAN FOOD
BEST NEW RESTAURANT
After galloping into downtown Spokane last fall, P.F. CHANG'S has been a new-restaurant success story. Reservations for weekend evenings are often filled by Wednesday, says manager Raj Tubati, unless you'd like your dinner at 4 pm or after 9. Lunchtime is busy, too -- and expect the action to heat up even more once the weather warms up and the outdoor dining patio reopens.
Based in Scottsdale, Ariz., P.F. Chang's now boasts about 150 locations from Boston to Honolulu. The menu draws inspiration from across China, and the atmosphere is decidedly casual-upscale American, with granite, tile, dark wood and sleek lighting fixtures throughout. It's that blend of cultures that draws people in -- along with the wide-ranging menu. You'll find traditional favorites like lo mein or beef with broccoli alongside surprises like Shanghai cucumbers and wild Alaskan sockeye salmon with ginger.
Not only did P.F. Chang's take top honors in the Best New Restaurant category, but the downtown eatery also topped voting for Best Asian Food, beating out the perennial favorites at Mustard Seed. And the newcomers nabbed another win: Best Dish. Yep, more Spokane diners voted for the Chang's CHICKEN IN SOOTHING LETTUCE WRAPS than any other dish among area restaurants. The appetizer (there's also a vegetarian version made with tofu) is the restaurant's signature dish nationwide, riding the tide of low-carb popularity.
What makes the lettuce wraps so special? There's the play-with-your-food factor of wrapping your own, plus the study in contrasts. Take a crisp, cold, cupped leaf of iceberg lettuce, fill it with hot garlicky wok-seared chicken in a brown sauce, then roll it up and try to eat it before it leaks. It's probably not a first-date dish, but it's a savory treat that puts the fun back into dining. (AC)
Best Asian Food 2nd Place: The Mustard Seed; 3rd Place: Gordy's
Best North Idaho Asian Food: Bonsai Bistro
Best New Restaurant 2nd Place: Wild Sage; 3rd place: Vin Rouge
Best Dish 2nd Place: Pad Thai, Riverview Thai; 3rd Place: Meatloaf, Moxie
BEST THAI FOOD
We love a good pad Thai; so do you, apparently. And the place to go is one of three locations of THAI BAMBOO. The restaurants aren't fancy on the outside, but inside is all East Asian exoticism. The menu contains all the usual suspects: crispy deep-fried spring rolls, curries in red, green and yellow, and the aforementioned pad Thai. Also delicious are some of the lesser-known items on the menu. One of my favorites is the larb gai, a salad of tender chicken and fresh vegetables in a spicy lime dressing redolent with cilantro and mint. If you've never tried the fresh rolls -- like spring rolls only not deep fried; just rice wrappers holding freshly cut veggies, noodles, tofu and prawns, ready for dipping in a spicy peanut sauce -- do yourself a favor and check them out. And don't forget dessert (I love the mango slices on sticky rice with coconut milk) and a refreshing Thai iced tea.
And good news for North Idaho diners; Thai Bamboo plans to open up its fourth location this summer on Fourth Avenue in Coeur d'Alene. (AC)
2nd Place: Riverview Thai; 3rd Place: Linnie's
The folks at FRANK'S DINER are the perennial champs in the annual march toward breakfast perfection. Ever since the classic old railroad car opened up at Third and Maple in 1991, Frank's has been the go-to place for breakfasts reminiscent of the good old days of diner-speak. And now that Spokane has a second Frank's up north, there's twice as much opportunity. You can find favorites like eggs benedict, chicken fried steak and Joe's Special (eggs, spinach, onion and ground beef), along with pancakes and French toast alone or in combination. The tables are fun, set next to windows full of railroad memorabilia, but my favorite place to sit is at the long counter, where I can watch the cooks work their magic at the grill and listen to the friendly banter among cooks, servers and customers.
And the best part about breakfast at Frank's? You can get it all day long, from the 6 am daily till well into the evening. (AC)
2nd Place: Old European; 3rd Place: Kalico Kitchen
Keeping in mind the three Ls of real estate, ANTHONY'S has not only the best seafood, according to Inlander readers, but also one of the best locations in town to enjoy it. Praised for high-quality seafood offerings and a stylish atmosphere, the downtown restaurant is perched atop a sheer cliff overlooking the Spokane River's upper falls.
"We have our finger on the market in the seafood industry better than anyone in the region," says assistant manager Mike Saccone, "because we have direct contact with the fisherman." Anthony's has its own wholesale seafood company, with product flown in from Seattle three times a week to guarantee freshness. Saccone says this gives them the advantage of knowing what's available on the market ahead of their competitors.
The signature dish is the Alder Plank King Salmon, roasted in a red pepper beurre blanc sauce. Fresh sturgeon from the Columbia River is also a favorite, with a firm texture and what Staccone describes as a fresh and clean taste. March is also oyster month, and Anthony's offers eight varieties in four different preparations. And it's halibut season.
Complimentary valet parking adds just a touch of class. (MLO)
2nd Place: Milford's; 3rd Place: Red Lobster
The place is decorated profusely with sports memorabilia, oddly framed pictures of American life from then and now, and antique-looking advertisements for antiquated products: "Don't go another day with Dr. Bumbutts Saddle Sore Salve - Put out the fire with Bumbutts." APPLEBEE'S strives for an atmosphere that's as American as apple pie. It's a busy look for a busy restaurant. The soundtrack for your meal is on the soft side of classic rock, with some R & amp;B thrown in for good measure.
The appetizer sample platter comes. First of all, size matters. It proves to be more than a substantial meal for one. Eaten as an actual appetizer, it could easily go several ways. The tender boneless buffalo wings have a Louisiana hot sauce tang, but are mild. The chipotle chicken quesadilla wedges get an extra shot of flavor from the bacon, and are good. The mozzarella sticks have a crust of seasoned breadcrumbs and are decadent, but we're talking about fried cheese here, so they are pretty heavy stuff. And the centerpiece, my personal favorite, was the spinach artichoke dip. I could eat it all day long, but I have to save room for the... um... other appetizers. (MLO)
2nd Place (tie): Twig's and Clinkerdagger; 3rd Place: Bluefish
Best North Idaho Appetizers: White House Grill
If you want a KRISPY KREME doughnut (and yes, it's a "doughnut" there, not a "donut") in Spokane, there's only one place to satisfy that craving -- but having just a single location in this area didn't stop the North Carolina-based entry in Spokane's donut market from taking the Inlander poll's top honors. As befits the company's factory-style production line, the doughnuts are all shaped perfectly, with glazes evenly applied, belying any touch of a human hand.
"Krispy Kreme is dead set on the perfect doughnut," says assistant manager Kevin Keys. "If there's a flaw in one, we throw it in the trash." That attention to quality explains the exacting uniformity of KK doughnuts.
The shop hands out free samples of its original glazed raised doughnut from 6-9 am (till noon on weekends) and 6-8 pm daily. People will come in for the freebies and then sometimes slink out without buying anything, but Keys says the staff doesn't mind because they know they'll probably come back another time. A hot, original glazed KK is like a perfect ring-shaped pillow of dough. (AC)
2nd Place: Donut Parade; 3rd Place: Mike's Old-Fashioned Donuts
BEST LOCALLY BREWED BEER
"We've been around 13 years, so we have a lot of name recognition. We happen to brew some damn good beer, too." That's how brewmaster Mark Irvin explains his success in this category. He's right on all accounts. NORTHERN LIGHTS' seven year-round beers and its handful of seasonal specialties (the summer wheat, the current Solar Winds spring beer, etc.) are creative, well balanced, hand-crafted and, yeah, damn good. With four available by the bottle in grocery stores and most of the rest on tap at 80-some locations around the area, the brewery's bubbly elixir has rooted itself in the local brew scene (alongside 2nd place winner Coeur d'Alene Brewing), even as newcomers like Shenanigans and Sandpoint's MickDuff's vie to become your new favorite drunk. The Gonzaga-area favorite isn't getting too comfortable, either. Irvin says they're stepping up production next year, ratcheting up their foamy output by a quarter, bringing the total quantity of their crisp, well-hopped ales and lagers to 46,500 gallons. That's 372,000 frosty pints. Or just shy of two beers for every Spokane citizen. Think about that. (P.S. If you don't want yours, we'll drink it.) (JS)
2nd Place: Coeur d'Alene Brewing Co.; 3rd Place: C.I. Shenanigan's
BEST BAR FOOD
THE SWINGING DOORS
This place likes things big. There aren't just a couple of TVs tuned to sports throughout the bar -- there are more than 30. (Truth be told, though, one was showing soaps when we visited last week.) The menu? It boasts 130 different items, from bacon burgers and meatloaf "sand-wedges" to gizzards and chicken-fried chicken. And there's plenty of each.
Owner Bob Materne says staff members at THE SWINGING DOORS pride themselves on big quantities. "We give out more to-go boxes than anybody in town," he says, chuckling.
But the grandiosity of the place belies its familial atmosphere. Materne is nearly always there. Even if he's not, his daughter is; she's the general manager. The rest of the staff, Materne says, feels like family. Aside from the quesadillas and jo-jos, this could be why so many north-siders spend half their time there -- because it feels like home.
"We try to treat people well. We don't allow fights. We don't allow foul language. We cater to the ladies so the husbands can come in," he says with a laugh. "It's kind of what you learned in kindergarten. 'Please,' and 'thank you' go a long ways." (JS)
2nd Place: Steelhead Bar and Grill; 3rd Place: The Satellite
Best North Idaho Bar Food: The Iron Horse
BEST ESPRESSO DRINKS
The shoosh of quiet as you pass through glass doors and into a refuge from urban noise. Conversational heads close together over espresso cups. Posters for "Aged Sumatra, Lot 523." Norah Jones CDs for sale. This is the place, familiar from every second street corner in Seattle, where you can accompany your organic blueberry bar ($2.25) with a Venti Cinnamon Dolce ($4.55).
And in case you want to bring the exquisiteness of STARBUCKS espresso into your home, they'll gladly sell you a De'Longhi Rialto Single Touch Digital Super Automatic Espresso Maker ($1,800). So if you prefer your shot pressurized at 203 degrees -- unlike those gauche people who have it infused at 197 -- then you can dial up a cuppa java joy just how you like it.
Espresso: not the favored beverage of Henry David Thoreau, but very much the drink of Chuck Palahniuk. Let Starbucks fuel your writing engines too. (MB)
2nd Place: The Shop; 3rd Place: Brews Bros.
BEST DRIVE-THRU ESPRESSO
Ever since we first asked readers to name their favorite drive-thru espresso place, JACOB'S JAVA has been the best of the bunch. Since the Jacob brothers were among the first in town to figure out that people might want to order espresso drinks from the comfort of their vehicles, it stands to reason that they'd be tops in customer satisfaction as well. It all started with a single coffee stand at the corner of Sixth and Washington, where the brothers captured all the caffeine-addicted drivers coming down from the South Hill. Now their drive-thrus are fast and efficient purveyors of lattes while your engine idles -- they're kind of like the pit crew for your coffee-related needs.
Signs at Jacob's Java promise that they'll custom-make any drink, so I put them to the test the other day with my picky coffee-snob order of two shots over ice with a dash of half-n-half. The barista made my drink, checked to see if there was enough water (there was) and then checked to make sure she put in enough cream for my taste. After handing me my drink, she said, "Now taste it and make sure it's the way you wanted it." I did. It was. Bravo, Jacob's. (AC)
2nd Place: Brews Bros.;
3rd Place: Jitterz
BEST COFFEE ROASTER
Yorkshireman Simon Craven-Thompson, who should really be drinking tea, brewed the first cup of CRAVENS coffee in 1992. Now he sells dozens of different roasts, including decafs and organics and varietals from particular countries -- a little United Nations of beans. I tend to lean pretty hard on French and Italian roasts most of the time but there is a whole world of coffee out there. Tanzanian Peaberry, which I have never heard of, is noted for its "intense wine-like character." The peaberry is two beans formed as one, which are separated at the mill. I am intrigued.
If you like to think your choice of coffee bean is doing good as you sip, Cravens thinks likewise. The company targets agencies and charities that work with children, such as Children's Home Society, Vanessa Behan, and Spokane Child Abuse and Neglect. A wide selection of good coffee sweetened with social consciousness -- now that does amount to a hill of beans. (SS)
2nd Place: Thomas Hammer; 3rd Place: 4 Seasons
Best North Idaho Coffee Roaster: Doma
BEST ONE-OF-A-KIND COFFEE SHOP
If there were ever to be a dictionary entry for "one-of-a-kind coffee shop," it should come illustrated with a photo of THE SHOP, in Spokane's South Perry neighborhood. Located in an old automotive repair shop, here's a coffee shop that began life as a spin-off to a recording studio. In the good weather, they throw open the big garage doors to bring the outside in; on hot summer evenings, they show movies in the parking lot, bringing the inside out. Owner Mark Camp has been roasting his own Anvil brand coffee on-site for the last four years, meaning the coffee you get at The Shop is about the freshest you'll find anywhere. Now he's just started offering lunches -- a variety of salads and sandwiches listed on menu with the heading, "A Guide to Eating in an Old Auto Garage," and with names like the Lug Nuts salad. And today -- March 22 -- is the Shop's eighth anniversary in business. The furnishings and equipment at the Shop are constantly changing and evolving -- in the back corner, you'll find both a coffee roaster and a welder -- but at the heart of it all is great coffee. And that's one of a kind. (AC)
2nd Place: Rocket Bakery; 3rd Place: Brews Bros.
Best North Idaho One-Of-A-Kind Coffee Shop: Doma
BEST ICE CREAM SHOP
Dan and Susan Sutherland's little creamery began as a cold idea for the hot climate in Tempe, Ariz. More than 1,000 stores later, they claim to have "redefined" ice cream, blending the super-premium stuff on a frozen granite stone with endless combinations -- fruits, nuts, candy, cookies, brownies... even chocolate-covered crickets. That's crickets, as in the insect. Apparently, a media firestorm ensued, which went unnoticed by me. I would definitely remember chocolate-covered crickets. But with enough butterfat and chocolate, even pencil shavings would delight the palate.
Yet despite the call of the butterfat and that cold slab of granite, I had somehow eluded the siren song of COLD STONE CREAMERY. A reporter cannot shirk her duty, however. A co-worker recommends a concoction of chocolate ice cream, chopped brownies, and raspberries. "Doesn't Dairy Queen do something like this?" I ask. "It blows that out of the water," he laughs. Well, OK, then. I won't say how much of the ambrosial stuff I crammed down my gullet, but I think I'm going to have to walk from here to Arizona to work off the butterfat. Then I'll stop in Tempe and get some more. (SS)
2nd Place: Baskin-Robbins; 3rd Place: Maggie Moo's
BEST NEW NIGHTSPOT
Mark Fuhrman's gotta be stuffin' ballots! How else can BISTANGO have won Best New Nightspot two years in a row? OK, fine, there's another option. Two years in, people are still finding out about the North Post hideaway. It's perhaps a less scandalous answer, but it's the more instructive one. Bistango has managed to create the mystique and buzz required to open up something as narrowly focused as a martini bar, while still remaining accessible to Joe Spokanite.
No one in Spokane wants real exclusivity, but we certainly like the appearance of it. The wide-bodied, besuited bouncers who're actually little teddy bears on the inside provide an inviting, though cosmopolitan accent, but the real trick is size. The joint's so damned small, it's always packed. People get turned away not because of any hipness deficiency, but because a single soul over capacity might grind movement to a halt. I've walked past the place on countless nights to find people gazing longingly into the long, narrow space, yearning to get in. We bet more than a few people voted for Bistango despite never getting further than the sidewalk out front. (LB)
2nd Place: Raw; 3rd Place: Steelhead Bar and Grill
Best North Idaho New Nightspot: Beacon
BEST HAPPY HOUR
C.I. SHENANIGAN'S is a nice, quasi-spendy restaurant with a nice cheap Happy Hour appetizer specials. It's an opportunity for the hoi polloi to mingle with the Convention Center glitterati, and the reason Shenanigan's is Spokane's favorite happy hour. Every weekday from 3-6 pm and every evening from 9 pm to close, the joint offers two-for-one appetizers and decent drink specials in an atmosphere that's unexpectedly inviting. Big, plush, semi-circular booths are the best place to enjoy bruschetta and calamari, comfort food in relaxed environs.
It's good the joint won, since the new convention center blocks Shenanigan's from almost every view. The only way you can see the restaurant anymore is if you take to craning your neck over the west side of the Sam Guess bridge as you drive south or while tubing down the deadly part of the Spokane River. What was once a visible, comely riverside landmark is in danger of becoming the Spokane restaurant no one remembers exists. You fans should keep the place on the tip of your tongues since people can no longer see it with their eyes.
Sure, you'll have to practically go underground to get there, snaking through the convention center lot, avoiding minivans and Midwesterners. The appies that await, though, are worth it. (LB)
2nd Place: Europa; 3rd Place: Vin Rouge
Best North Idaho Happy Hour: Iron Horse
If burgeoning martini menus are any measure, Spokane likes its cocktails. But unlike in our Wild West days of yore, when men were real men and liquor was real liquor, the most popular drinks these days are colorful fruity blends served up in martini glasses. At TWIGS, the Strawberry Lemon Drop and the Pomegranate Martini are two of the most requested cocktails, according to one of the bartenders: "People like the sweet ones that don't burn."
The printed menu at Twigs offers 24 martinis, but drinkmeisters there will pour, shake or stir virtually any concoction you can think of. Even if they've never heard of it, they'll do their best to mix up the ingredients you want. There are the classics -- gin or vodka, a touch of vermouth, two olives -- along with drinks no hard-rock miner could possibly imagine, like the Chocolate Kiss, made with Godiva dark chocolate liqueur, Stoli Vanil vodka, Irish cream and coffee liqueur, and garnished with shaved chocolate. Of course, these days a martini is any drink containing either gin or vodka and served in an inverted conical glass, but whatever you want to call them, the drinks at Twigs offer tremendous variety. Just don't tell Dutch Jake about the Strawberry Lemon Drop, though, or we'll lose our Old West cred. (AC)
2nd Place: Bistango;
3rd Place: The Davenport Hotel's Peacock Room
Best North Idaho Cocktails: The Iron Horse
BEST MOVIE THEATER
Q. Mr. AMC, do you have any comment on being named best movie theater?
Q. Best movie theater -- you've been voted best movie theater in Spokane. That must be a good feeling. Can you comment on that for us?
A. Look, man, I don't know who you are... but are you some kind of moron? A movie theater is a movie theater, bro. I mean we are all darkened rooms with comfy seats and drinkholders and obscenely overpriced snacks.
Q. So you are "humble yet proud to have been selected as the best movie theater," -- is that a fair statement Mr. AMC?
A. What's your deal here? I just told you we're all the same. Are you high? Do you have any ID?
Q. But Mr. AMC, you offer stadium seating and more art house films than any other local cinema. Surely, sir, that is worthy of a comment.
A. Security! Security! (KT)
2nd Place: Regal NorthTown; 3rd Place: The Garland
Best North Idaho Movie Theater: Riverstone Regal
BEST PLACE FOR A CHEAP NIGHT OUT
There are two distinct GARLAND THEATRE experiences. Though united by location, price and second-run film fare, the two are about as different as is humanly imaginable. On weekdays, the place is a yawning cavern of cinema. The massive seating area (with space for 630) feels empty even when ticket sales would sell out most first-run theaters. It's honestly one of the most enjoyable, relaxing ways to catch a movie you missed.
If you go on a weekend, the experience will be chaotically the reverse. Especially for one of the midnight showings (featuring cult classics like Rosemary's Baby and Rocky Horror), the joint is invariably packed with smart-asses, crying babies, hormonal teenagers and more unidentifiable smells than you'd think possible. It's less relaxing, but no less enjoyable, as it points to an era when film was an event, not simply a diversion. It would be one of Spokane's best nights out at AMC and Regal's prices. With films running $2.50 a ticket and bottomless popcorn for less than $5, the Garland should dominate this new Cheap Night Out category for years. (LB)
2nd Place: Dick's; 3rd Place: Home
Best North Idaho Place for a Cheap Night Out: White House Grill
The trick for casinos is to get you having so much fun that you stop caring about all the hard-earned payola the fun is costing you. Slots, table games and Keno are enough reason for problem gamblers. In order to become the region's favorite casino six years running, though, you can't just cater to the addictive types (they'll come anyway). No, you've got to offer that complete Vegas-ish experience. That means dining in all its (inexpensively) luxuriant forms: steakhouse, noodle hut, buffet, delicatessen. That means performances up the wazoo from pre-millennial greats like Air Supply. It means celebrity impersonators and drag queens. It means a rewards card that gives you free meals and show tickets and such. All you have to do is keep giving NORTHERN QUEST CASINO your money.
It's enough to make a grown man spend his retirement, six years running.
Where else can you gamble away your life savings, eat bottomless buffet-style ribs and see Hal Linden? Nowhere, that's where. (LB)
2nd Place: Coeur d'Alene Casino; 3rd Place: Big Daddy's
BEST BEER BAR
What's not to like? The weird location, tucked almost secretively behind KXLY on Boone? The crummy-looking, windowless tin shack it's housed in? The free popcorn overflowing its wicker baskets and ingratiating itself with the carpet? The bountiful bric-a-brac and beer signs covering nearly every vertical surface (and some of the horizontal ones)? If you don't like that (and we certainly do), then there are about 32 other good reasons for you to fall in love with THE VIKING. The Lambic, for instance, which -- and this is rare -- is on tap year-round. Or Thor's Hammer, an imperial stout based on the recipe of a bartender who used to work there, and which is now brewed exclusively for them by Montana's Lang Creek brewery. Aside from the 32 draft beers, there are more than 100 in bottles, from all over the world. They even make them easy for you to drink, with sweet weekly specials like $3 pint night (Tuesdays) and a Wednesday special that scores you a free pint glass with purchase of a pitcher. Besides, it's a truth universally acknowledged that free popcorn and shuffleboard make beer taste up to 15 percent better than usual. Which is, like, 15 percent better than awesome. (JS)
2nd Place: The Elk;
3rd Place: Northern Lights
Best North Idaho Beer Bar: Capone's
BEST DANCE CLUB
BEST LIVE MUSIC VENUE
The concentric rings of the BIG EASY's progressively elevated main floor are like the terraces of single-person purgatory. In order to ascend to club kid paradise -- a relationship (or an extended series of hookups) with some smoldering, limber-assed clubster -- one must prove one's worth.
Ascending each level (finding mate, getting to know mate, getting mate drunk enough to think you're a nice person -- this isn't necessarily gender-specific) requires specific skills of solo dancing, dancing with a partner and dancing one's way back to the floor holding a Sex on the Beach (very subtle, Romeo) in one hand and a Courvoisier in the other. (Inlander helpful tip: make romantic though self-aggrandizing chatter like: "I usuall