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Door to Your Belly 

by Joel Smith & r & Everybody at the Swinging Doors is talking about the water. The news just hit this morning that officials found strains of E. coli bacteria in a North Spokane water supply, and that residents in that water district ought to boil theirs before using it. The Swinging Doors sits right on the district's border. A crusty old local dude stomps into the restaurant and calls out to someone behind the bar, something like "All right, give me my E. coli."


But the marquee outside the restaurant announces proudly, "WE HAVE CITY WATER IT'S CLEAN!"


But no one goes to the Swinging Doors for "clean" or "healthy." The place has been a local favorite since its opening in May 1981, largely because of its casual atmosphere and bazillion sports-tuned television screens, but perhaps more so because of its menu, loaded down with rich, heavy, happy comfort food. Rib-sticking food. Beer-swilling food. Football-watching food.


Luke and I aren't watching our figures. We came to gorge ourselves stupid. And we did.


Here's how: We started, naturally, with beer. More or less ignorant to the ways of the Swinging Doors, we had worried on the way there that all the taps would be charged with Coors Light and Kokanee. Wrong. They did have those, but they had another 15 or so taps loaded up with regional microbrews. Luke went for Deschutes' seasonal Twilight Ale; I needed to warm up from the drizzle outside and summoned a Northern Lights stout. I figured it'd go nicely with the second-hand smoke I was inheriting from the haggard-looking dude in the down vest, just down the bar from us.


Hoping to bridge the long-standing cultural divide between Mexico and the American South, we ordered both hot wings ($8.95) and black-bean-and-cheese quesadilla rolls ($8.50). Word to the wise: Eat the latter first. And eat them slowly, mindfully. Because they were, without a doubt, the best things I ate all day. Looking suspiciously like taquitos, the quesadillas were lightly, perfectly crisp on the outside and bulging with rich, smoky, creamy beans and cheese on the inside. They were subtle but supremely satisfying.


Moving onto the wings made the quesadillas/taquitos a distant memory. Good and meaty, they were slathered in a sauce that -- like all good hot wings sauces -- managed to be sweet, spicy and tangy all at once. They went 10 rounds with our taste buds but, unfortunately, they lacked a certain something in the middle range, a nice oomph of flavor to weigh down all those other sensations.


Sadly, the soup du jour -- a curried coconut concoction -- got short shrift in the line of food directed at me. I was so busy nibbling wings and licking my fingers and guzzling my beer and looking for a winner in the bank of scratch-card tickets behind the bar, and ogling the bazillion TVs all, seemingly, showing different games and ESPN talk shows, that I only got a few minutes alone with the soup before the entrees arrived. Suffice it to say that it was tasty but a little viscous.


The entr & eacute;e that broke up my tryst was a leaf of fried chicken swimming, bathing, soaking in a pale golden sea of gravy. Chicken-fried chicken with chicken gravy ($11.45). I don't really even know what that means, but it sounded sinful on the menu. It would have been, too, if one of the Seven Deadly Sins were insipidity. Even coupled with a pint of "The Swinging Doors' Own 'Bob's Brew,'" (actually just Lang Creek's London Ale), the chicken was a disappointment. The meat was a little mushy and the gravy was tasteless. It reminded me of the stuff we used to serve to the geriatrics when I worked at a retirement home. Halfway through it, I felt the pang of missing out on the Doors' new and intriguing-sounding Margarita Steak, which I'd originally ordered but of which, by lunch time, they'd already run out.


Luke had better luck. His pulled-pork sandwich ($7.95), which came encased in French fries like a Dale Earnhardt commemorative plaque encased in packing peanuts, was the real deal. It looked like a brain escaping its toasted skull but tasted better. The soft bun soaked up the sauce, while the rim kept all the little tender pork chunks imprisoned, awaiting oblivion. He washed it down with a pint of Blue Moon's Belgian White. (Did you know that Blue Moon is actually Coors' microbrew line? I just learned that today.) He said it was a "nice, light, fruity-tasting counterpoint" to his freight train of a sandwich; I doubted he could even taste it anymore.


About 90 percent into my chicken-fried chicken with chicken gravy, my appetite came to a wobbling halt. Luke's followed shortly thereafter. We sat in our bar stools like stuffed specimens, which, I reasoned, would fit right in with the restaurant's delightfully cluttered down-home d & eacute;cor. I visited the restroom. Twice.


We were so blinded by our gluttony that we barely noticed, on our stumble out the front doors and into the daylight, all the cool stuff in the front room -- the two pool tables, assorted video games and shuffleboard table. How nicely a soothing game of shuffleboard would have worked to ease our bloated bellies. As it is, we returned to the office, only to stare vacantly at our computers for the rest of the afternoon. Around 3 pm, Luke called to report that he was so stuffed that "I can barely see anything." The next morning at work, we related to each other that neither of us had felt the need even to snack again until about 10 pm.


The water was clean at the Swinging Doors, but we ate ourselves sick anyway.

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