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Best of the Inland Northw#51825 

by Inlander Staff & r & & r & Best Place tp Fulfill Your French Fantasies & r & Ah, Paris. Intimate cafes, exquisite food and wine. Old World elegance and magnificent art. Jerry Lewis. The French certainly know how to savor life. And those of us who crave their seductive lifestyle (parts of it, at least), know where to find it in Spokane. BitterSweet Bakery and Bistro, on the lower South Hill, offers crepes, pastries and an atmosphere that's straight out of Marseille. Owner Gina Garcia, who travels to France every year, says BitterSweet is a French-style bakery-bistro with an American accent.


Of the many luscious baked goods, our favorite is the chocolate-orange scone. It's just what you would expect from a European pastry -- crumbly, not too sweet, and with just the right m & eacute;lange of chocolate and orange.


And let us not forget the crepes. BitterSweet's menu serves them both savory and sweet. High on our list: the Italian crepe (so what if it's not French?), with prosciutto, black olive, fontina, eggplant and tapenade. Molto bene. Some customers call it the best crepe this side of the Atlantic. Of course, if your crepe fancies run on the sweet side, Garcia also fills the light, paper-thin pancakes with seasonal fruits -- strawberries, bananas and the quintessentially European nutella (cocoa-hazelnut spread).


Sitting on the cream-colored benches in BitterSweet's dining room, forking at a crepe, surrounded by high-ceilinged walls painted teal, deep cocoa and olive, with views of St. John's Cathedral -- it's a moment in Provence. -- Susan Hamilton





Best Place to Pretend You're Tony Soprano Over Dinner & r & This 1931 newspaper photo of Albert Commellini shows him in his store with his "receiving committee for visiting bandits." Committee members? One .45 caliber automatic, one sawed-off shotgun and two high-power rifles. It's hard to tell if he's a wise guy or just a protective shopkeeper. Still, the shot lends some credence to the hoary rumors of Chicago's made men coming to Spokane to lay low.


At Commellini's restaurant, Al and his sister Leta may be long gone, but staff today still insist that Al Capone came to the lonely north-side roadhouse for the chicken cacciatore, not to mention the bootleg liquor. Or maybe the boss brought his own. (Like anyone's gonna tell him "no.")


Of course, the grain mash from the moonshine may have had another use -- to feed the thousands of chickens that were raised on the 100-acre compound on Dartford Road. It may have been out in the boonies, but the locals responded well to the food and hospitality that the Commellinis brought from the old country. Former Spokane Mayor Jack Geraghty, whose 1951 senior prom was at the restaurant, was a regular for 40 years and recalled county commissioner lunch meetings there, always accompanied by big jugs of wine. When bigwigs came to scout Spokane for Expo, city leaders took them to Commellini's.


Yeah, the mob connections may be sketchy (as are other details of the Commellinis' lives), but you can still imagine some tough guy saying, Hey, fuhggedaboudit. Order the cacciatore. Tell 'em Al sent ya! -- Suzanne Schreiner





Best Reason to Show Up Late For Work & r & Nutritionists say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It's meant to be more than just an espresso and granola bar on the way to work. So why not turn a normally rushed meal into a prolonged culinary reverie? What else are you going to do -- work? Try Frank's Diner (both locations), where sassy waitresses call you "hon" and line cooks carry on lively banter behind the counter. They're known for humongous breakfasts, like the King of the Road (with six eggs, ham, cheddar and Swiss cheeses, peppers, onions, hash browns and toast) and the homemade Belgian waffles -- topped with (get ready) peach, caramel, almond, strawberry or huckleberry sauce. Or Ferguson's Caf & eacute;, a mainstay of the Garland District since 1948, where the waitresses know what customers will order before they even sit down. Often it's country-fried steak smothered in gravy, or the Southwest skillet with Longhorn sausage (our Sunday morning weakness). Nearby, Wall Street Diner serves breakfast all day, including the popular Justin's Scramble (German sausage, onion, cheddar cheese, ham and hash browns). Wall Street's build-your-own breakfasts include eggs, any style, Belgian waffles, pancakes, French toast, bacon, sausage, ham, biscuits and gravy. In Browne's Addition, Caf & eacute; Marron's weekend brunch features an open-faced asparagus sandwich with grilled tomatoes, bacon and poached egg, or banana bread French toast with whipped cream. At Just Jerry's Sunday brunch on the South Hill, you can get huevos rancheros with homemade salsa and smoked salmon Eggs Benedict. Start thinking of new excuses to feed your boss. -- Susan Hamilton





Best Way to Get From Sandpoint to Social & r & Yes, it's ruggedly beautiful. And yes, property is dirt-cheap compared to L.A. or the Bay Area. But we suspect the real reason Californians continue to swarm to Sandpoint -- more so than Coeur d'Alene or Spokane - is Joel's Burritos. The uber-popular downtown lunch spot (and former taco truck), serves up the kind of big, bulging foil-wrapped burritos that are mother's milk for Californians, but an endangered species in these lily-white parts. Wrapped tight and stuffed with carnitas, chorizo, tofu, egg and potato (the menu says "egg & amp; pot," but don't be fooled), these are easily the best California-style burritos we've found in the Inland Northwest. And we suspect Joel knows he's got Golden Staters hooked -- try the California Burrito, filled with meat, salsa, avocado and French fries. (JPS)





Best (and Easiest) Way To Catch Wild Game & r & North Idaho may be a sportsman's paradise, but some people would rather not have to hunt down (much less kill and dress) their wild game. That's where G.W. Hunter's comes in. The popular Post Falls meatery serves up nearly every kind of game imaginable -- eight-ounce elk loin and elk round steaks for breakfast and dinner; buffalo, elk and turkey burgers for lunch. The dinner menu boasts duck tenders and a deep-fried alligator appetizer, along with the tamer slow-roasted prime rib, filet mignon and London broil. Just don't expect Hunter's to cook up that wild game you found under your tires. You still have to do that yourself. (SH)





Best Place to Go Offline & r & For starters, there's the odd name -- Sushi.com. Is it a Web site? Nope. Does it even own that domain name? Nope. It's a downtown sushi joint. Obviously. And it's at the top of the Spokane sushi trend right now. Sushi.com's menu features 30 sushi rolls, including the rock 'n' roll with yellowtail fish, green onion, cucumber and smelt egg, and the Spokane River roll with spicy tuna, cucumber and special sauce (PCBs not included). Plus, there's a sake bar offering 15 varieties of the Japanese good stuff. The restaurant had a resident jazz group a few months ago, but apparently the sushi-jazz combination didn't work out. We hope the sushi-dotcom thing does. (SH)





Best Place to Set Aside Your Differences & r & The baklava is Greek; the hookahs are Turkish. In certain parts of the world (say, Cyprus), combining these two is the stuff of holy wars. But at Azar's Greek Restaurant (at Monroe and Jackson), their commingling yields the dulcet, languorous whiff of conflict resolution. In the spirit of cultures coming together, we suggest you settle your next squabble over a plate of hummus and a bowl of apricot tobacco. Of course, certain newfangled smoking prohibitions have extinguished the shishas and rendered the smoking porch a sad and barren nook. But the good folks at Azar's promise its speedy return (probably in a new location, 25 feet from the door). Peacemakers, rejoice. (LB)





Best-Kept Coffee Kiosk Secret in Town & r & Unlike those corporate coffee shops with outlets on every other block, Caffe Delicio puts out quality coffee quietly. The narrow little North Monroe kiosk offers consistently tasty espresso -- especially its excellent huckleberry white coffee latte and white chocolate mocha, made with Ghirardelli chocolate. It also has fresh baked goods (pumpkin bars with cream-cheese frosting, toasted sun-dried tomato bagels from Sweetwater Bakery and scones from Hearthbread) to satisfy the sweet tooth. A writer friend of ours frequents Caffe Delicio because she says it's quiet and cozy inside, without the din of chattering friends and corporate soundtracks -- as in those, ahem, other coffeehouses. Sometimes the best places are the quiet ones. (SH)





Best Reason to Rue Winter & r & Why this place isn't open year-round is beyond us. Maybe just because some of us have a craving for banana ice cream isn't enough to support Doyle's Ice Cream Parlor through the winter. But every spring, we count the days. We drive by at least once a week, crossing our fingers for the neon sign that signals the beginning of ice cream season hereabouts. It's March now. Soon our daily commute to West Central will begin again. (JDS)





Best (and Only?) Pub at a Park & r & You can't really call Parkside a "bistro." It's more like a shack -- complete with scribbled-on dollar bills pasted to the ceiling. But its claim to fame is its location -- right on the edge of downtown Coeur d'Alene's City Park. And what you can call Parkside Bistro is an honest-to-goodness pub, with plenty of micro-brews on tap (though how the place ever got a liquor permit near a park still has us scratching our heads). Their wraps, salads and sandwiches (Philly cheese steak, smoked turkey and Swiss, steak and cheddar hoagie) are serviceable. The chipotle mayo gives the sandwiches a little extra zing. The Friday night open-mike jams, featuring local groups, really make this place a hangout. (SH)





Best Answer to the Question, "IT's 3 AM: Do You Know Where Your Kids Are?" & r & A simple question earns a simple answer. Just follow the slightly crazed, starved-looking crowds. The masses will be gathering at the Satellite -- the only downtown joint (we know of) that stays open when all the bars shut down, and the best place for the underage set to get a good look at their futures, as drunks tease tons of greasy goodness into their beer-filled tum-tums in a desperate attempt to assuage the horrific hangovers to come. We find the breakfast croissant an able cure-all but know deep down that three Jell-o shots and one more Pabst will best simplify our drift into the Land of Nod. (CM)





Best Place to Get a Feel for the Neighborhood & r & When does a local business become an empire? When it's been going for almost 15 years and has eight successful shops. Rocket Bakeries are beloved not just for their coffee and baked goodness, but for the way each shop reflects and adds to its neighborhood. Take the Rocket on Garland Avenue. As the second-oldest in the Rocket Bakery empire, it feels lived-in -- from the local newspapers scattered on the front room counter to board games like Sorry (a personal fave). With showcases of up-and-coming local musicians and artists, it's the best place to take the pulse of the Garland District -- and get a line on the most mouth-watering banana bread in town. (SH)





Best Place to Get Your Pea Split & r & It's not easy being a vegetarian restaurant in the traditionally meat-and-potatoes Inland Northwest. But Mizuna has proven its staying power and has been consistently acclaimed as one of the area's best restaurants for the 10 years it's been open. A strictly vegetarian restaurant for the first five years, Mizuna added seafood to its menu at customers' request, says owner Sylvia Wilson. When Ian Wingate came on board as guest chef in 2003, he introduced organic filet mignon. Current chef Brian Hutchins continues the tradition of offering innovative vegetarian, seafood and meat dishes. We think Hutchins' vegan split-pea soup is the best in town. Take that, meat lovers! (SH)





Next Best Thing to a Cheap Ticket to Thailand & r & It may not look like much from the outside, but when you step inside Bangkok Thai, you've entered another world. Owners Jamie Cozzetto and Kay Chindrapradist enfold their guests in a traditional Thai experience, with d & eacute;cor straight from Thailand. Sandstone sculptures of Thai mythological figures accent the persimmon-colored walls. Glass tabletops allow guests to admire lush Thai silk coverings beneath. Even Bangkok Thai's wait staff is adorned in authentic Thai costumes at dinner. But we're not just here for the ambience. We want the vibrant flavors, hot spices, exotic condiments, aromatic sauces and appealing presentations that make Thai cuisine unique. Bangkok Thai delivers -- with chefs from Seattle's popular Thai Ginger restaurant and the co-owner from central Thailand. (SH)





Best Source for Quail Eggs in Brine & r & We'll confess we've never had quail eggs -- in brine or au naturel -- but we know where we could get 'em: the Oriental Grocery on Trent Avenue, a sort of market/mercado/casbah for grocery items not readily available on Safeway's shelves. Whether an ingredient comes from the Far East (China, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines), India, the Middle East or Latin America, chances are good the funky little Quonset hut in the industrial wasteland of Trent will have it. Their Chinese jasmine tea is a regular on our grocery list, but while there, we stock up on fish sauce, garlic chili paste, orange blossom water (a flavoring in Middle Eastern delicacies) and noodles of every variety and nationality. (AC)





Best Use of Renaissance Imagery Not Invovling a Costume & r & It's an unlikely name for an ice cream shop and it's in an unlikely location -- in the strip mall that houses the big Albertson's at 57th and Regal. Perhaps hardest to believe is that the Swordsman, now entering its fourth year, is the answer to every dieter's dream. A half-cup of their soft-serve frozen yogurt contains only 38 calories, 8 grams of carbs and no fat. None. And it tastes good. Soups, sandwiches and salads round out the menu, along with several varieties of hard ice cream for those who want to splurge. Oh, and the swashbuckling name? It comes from the little plastic swords used to impale a maraschino cherry on top of a frozen treat. (AC)





Best Meal With a Side of Testerone & r & We're suckers for massive meals full of manliness -- man-sized hunks of meat in a rugged, savory broth. Maybe there are some vegetables in there -- but what with all the manliness, we don't care. So when we're in a masculine mood, we take our man-feet and head for a bowl of hearty stew with shepherd's bread at O'Doherty's Irish Grille. Nothing is more filling (or body-warming on a winter day) -- especially when complemented with a nice black and tan. Once our man-stomachs have had their fill of manly fare, we can return to the office in a forthright, manly manner -- wondering why they put that feminine-looking -le on the end of "Grille," but still content in the knowledge that we have eaten as men do. (JDS)

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