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The Saranac Public House re-invents the old Isabella's space. Plus, Little Olive brings Mediterranean to Sandpoint.

click to enlarge The Saranac Public House serves up lots of choices. - JORDAN BEAUCHAMP
  • Jordan Beauchamp
  • The Saranac Public House serves up lots of choices.

Interior design is communication. In moving the bar at 21 W. Main from the absolute back of the building (as it was at Isabella’s) to near the front of the building’s large bank of windows, the owners of the new Saranac Public House have made a very clear statement that can be heard from the sidewalk.

They want you to drink here. Inside, they refine the pitch. The décor is spare and utilitarian — all dyed concrete floors, exposed brick walls, stainless steel tabletops and industrial-ish lighting. It is not flashy. Saranac Public House wants to be a pub and seems to understand what that means. The atmosphere is casual; the tables, booths and dinnerware are built to take a beating and the space is integrated — far more fully than Isabella’s ever was — into the neighborhood.

And the neighborhood responded on opening night. The place was packed, a seeming mix of Community Building after-workers and a smattering of Spokane’s food-adoring cognoscenti.

It was a mess, of course. Opening nights always are. The servers didn’t get ruffled, though, and people seemed to stay happy. The signature Saranac Burger ($9) was more fixins than patty: the veggies fresh, the Kaiser roll soft, the bacon rich and perfectly cooked. Other handfoods — a Kahlua pork ($10) and chicken caprese sandwich ($8) — were simple and tasty. Saranac makes its own potato chips. These were crisp and perfectly seasoned.

Two days later, a return visit found organizational issues fixed. Service was prompt and friendly. Food came quickly, as did the drinks. Branching out, we found plentiful vegetarian options, befitting a place that’s in the Saranac and across the street from a co-op. The noodles in the Yaki Udon stir-fry ($11) were a bit overcooked, but the ginger sauce was sweet and mild.

They still have work to do — like the noodles, the hamburger patties have a tendency to be overcooked; their mac & cheese ($8) is probably best described as mac & cream — but they’ve laid a solid foundation that is seemingly built for the long haul.

That’s good, because the best view is probably from down the block. Walking away after a meal and a couple beers, it was nice to look back over that hip stretch of Main and realize that a bit of the thrumming nighttime vitality that’s been a staple of the north side of the street had bled south. (Luke Baumgarten)

Saranac Public House • 21 W. Main Ave. • Open daily from 11 am - 11 pm • saranacpub.com • 473-9455

Mediterranean by the Lake

Sandpoint's Little Olive returns a much-adored restaurant location to its Mediterranean roots. Opened by Tullaya and John Akins, who spent four years searching for a location, the restaurant is located just off busy First Avenue in the original home of Ivano’s Ristorante (which remains, a block away).

Bathed in Mediterranean blue, the interior walls are covered with framed photos of whitewashed churches and villas overlooking the ageless Aegean Sea. The restaurant has two slightly different dining spaces, one with a cozy bar, which gives the feel of being in a generous family’s dining room, and the other filled with natural light.

There’s also the patio, which beckons in warmer weather.

The menu is a mix of the expected — falafel ($11), lamb and beef gyros ($6), hummus with toasted pita and kalamata olives ($6) — and surprises, like whole marinated Idaho trout with mushroom rice ($18). Kabobs are traditional lamb ($14) and chicken ($10), but also marinated tofu ($10) and swordfish ($11). Ask about gluten-free options.

Saganaki, which is fried cheese (two of our favorite words put together in one gooey, savory mouthful), is served at your table, flaming in brandy ($10.50). And Little Olive’s beer list features more than 30 domestics and a round-the-world tour of imports like Red Stripe, from Jamaica.

Try one of the many buckets of beer ($12-14). Stairway to Heaven includes Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA and Maui Brewing’s CoCoNut Porter. Order Greek Fries topped with fresh herbs, feta and bleu cheese ($6). Add friends, and you’ve got great plans for Labor Day. (Carrie Scozzaro)

Little Olive Restaurant • 124 S. Second Ave., Sandpoint, Idaho • Open Mon-Fri 11:00 am– 9 pm, Sat 4:30-10 pm, Sun 10 am-2 pm. • www.littleoliverestaurant.com • (208) 597-7499.
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