As any local restaurant owner who has set up shop in a longtime Spokane landmark will tell you, sometimes it's not so easy to exorcise the ghosts of the previous tenants. "Where's the soda fountain?" someone will invariably ask. "How come you guys don't serve breakfast anymore?" "Do the gas pumps still work?" And then there are the stories: "My husband and I used to buy groceries here when candy bars were still a nickel," and "Did you know this place used to sell milk... in glass bottles?" While some places manage to train their customers to get over it, because the soda fountain is not coming back, others find the best solution is to beckon the ghosts up to the counter, pour them a steaming cup of French press coffee and invite them to stay awhile.
Such a strategy seems to be working for Quinn's, which took over the digs of longtime downtown favorite Travo's two years ago. Chef Kile Tansy's elegant creations -- things like Reverse Steak Oscar, Ginger Cod and Rosemary Chicken Soup -- attracted lots of hip young downtowners as well as folks en route to theater, dance, music or film at the Met, across the street. It also helped that the place was not only tricked out in leopard print cushions, gilded picture frames, light strings and gauzy curtains, but also served some of the best damn cocktails in town. But was it all enough to keep Quinn's comfortably afloat? Not really.
"It was essentially a marketing decision," says chef and owner Kile Tansy. "Travo's found a formula that worked for more than 60 years. We had some new investors come on board, and one of their conditions is that they wanted to see this place revved up. We tried it my way for two years and if it had been wildly successful, we'd still be doing it that way."
One of the biggest changes is that Quinn's is now open for breakfast and lunch. During the week, you get the Quinn's Coffee Shop Menu, where you can choose from both traditional morning grub along the lines of French Toast ($3.95) and Three-Egg Omelettes ($4.95) as well as nowhere-else-in-Spokane selections like Turkey Chili Ranchero ($6.95) and Redeye Ham and Eggs ($5.95). On weekends, Quinn's is open for brunch and serving up all of the above along with Idaho Trout and Eggs ($7.95) and Irish Joe's Special ($5.95).
It was hard to tear our attention away from the ample people-watching opportunities taking place outside in order to focus on our menus, but we managed. A few things were immediate standouts -- for instance, the Huevos Verde y Jamon ($6.95) and the Redeye Ham and Eggs ($5.95). The Huevos Verde comes in a delicate flour tortilla with browned edges. A nest of grated cheddar, hash browns and proscuitto cradles two authentically poached eggs (cooked in acidulated water), all of which is topped with piquant tomatillo sauce.
The flavors and textures of this "Green Eggs and Ham" were amazing. The gooey, slightly tart, slightly crisp nature of eggs Benedict was effectively captured, but with an added zing in terms of both taste and presentation.
The Redeye Ham and Eggs was slightly less successful. "Redeye gravy is a Southern American specialty, made from ham drippings and coffee. Sometimes it has some sugar added, and more extreme cooks will even add some coffee grounds," says one of our tasters. "But it's always viscous, a little scary, and incredibly rich and boldly delicious. What we received was white, creamy and tasted like a latte. It was not redeye gravy. The accompanying ham, however, was excellent -- thick, uneven slices of pork that ran the gamut between dry and juicy, salty and sweet in one bite."
For a healthier breakfast choice, we opted for the Tofu Tahini Scramble ($4.95). It was flavorful, full of veggies and a delightful alternative to the usual breakfast standards. For those who don't eat eggs, or who prefer the kind of breakfast that doesn't blow out your arteries, this is a superb choice.
We also tried one of the omelettes (fluffy) and the pancakes (yummy but not as good as the Apple Jacks we had on an earlier visit), all while enjoying the deliciously dark French press coffee. But while the food was satisfactory, the service was somewhat less so. Our waitress was not rude -- in fact she was very nice -- but when the last of our party arrived, she didn't notice to bring him a menu (one of us finally got up and procured one). Also, there was a little bit of confusion about the menu: a toast and how-do-you-want-your-eggs choice was offered for an item that comes poached, with no toast.
We do not wish to quibble, however, and it looks like the changes at the new Quinn's are working, even if the changes affect things we liked about the old Quinn's.
"We took out the live music and allowed smoking in the lounge, and business has just about tripled back there," says Tansy. "And in terms of the menu, it's nice to be able to offer classics and neo-classics. For example, you can still order one of our Quinn's salads, or you can order the Chef Salad, which comes with that gloppy Thousand Island Dressing on the side. It depends on what mood you're in.
"Sometimes the old standard is exactly what you want."