by Susan Hamilton & r & While Coeur d'Alene throbs with tourists eager to experience life on its lake and shore in the summertime, in autumn the Lake City belongs to the locals. And as far as I'm concerned, fall is the most glorious time of year here. The softening sun sparkles off ripples on the lake, elegant maples are ablaze in reds and golds, benches in the lush City Park are free for reading or daydreaming and a light breeze blows off the lake. Why wouldn't anyone want to live here?
The Coeur d'Alene neighborhood just a few blocks from downtown's Sherman Avenue is inhabited with quaint and well-kept Victorian and craftsman-style homes on quiet, tree-lined streets. There's a decidedly small-town feel to this neighborhood. Old-fashioned churches stand sentinel on street corners alongside a Veterans of Foreign Wars post and auto and glass repair shops.
Even Sherman Avenue, near the world-famous Coeur d'Alene Resort, has a small-town flavor. The Penny Candy Store looks like a shop that was popular in your grandparents' day. Baskets brimful of every kind of sweet -- from bon bons and taffy to lemon heads and bubble gum -- beckoning the kid in all of us to go on a wild candy spree. Memorabilia of bygone years lines the back walls, and big picture windows tempt passersby to come in and indulge.
Tony fine art galleries are right at home on the avenue where the Coeur d'Alene Eagles Lodge features a weekly Sunday breakfast for just $5 that includes eggs to order, pancakes, biscuits and gravy. Clark's Jewelry Store has had a presence on Sherman Avenue since 1907. Its old oversized clock in front of the tile-faced shop shows that the neighborhood is proud of its history. Sherman Square, a store-sized park, offers green space and benches for sitting awhile, although some prefer to sip a glass of wine across the street at the trendy Brix outdoor dining space.
Which brings us to dining. Which local eateries contribute to this small-town feel on Sherman Avenue? And where do the locals go when they want a bite to eat, a cuppa joe or a good glass of wine with their meal? There are many choices for locals within walking distance, from Moon Time to Caf & eacute; Doma to Takara to Beverly's (just to name a few).
Hudson's Hamburgers & r & But you might as well start at Hudson's Hamburgers, a Coeur d'Alene institution. Harley Hudson opened the burger joint in 1907 and it's stayed in the family ever since. Harley's great grandsons, Steve and Todd, still run the place.
"I started working here when I was 13," Steve says. "I washed dishes, took orders and did whatever was needed."
Brother Todd started at an even earlier age -- 10 -- doing the same. Now they share the duties of running a place beloved by locals and tourists who hear of its tasty burgers.
Huddy burgers are a way of life for many Coeur d'Alene locals. The burgers are hand-formed from fresh meat and grilled while customers watch from the same counter and 19 worn stools that have seen decades of burger lovers.
It's no muss, no fuss at Hudson's -- just a beef patty, pickles, onion and a bun. No fries or chips accompany the legendary burgers. Although the condiments have a legend of their own. The hot mustard and ketchup were introduced back in the Depression, when hungry customers began dousing their burgers with ketchup and mustard, eating up Hudson's profits.
"My great-grandfather made the condiments hot so people wouldn't use as much," Todd says.
The afternoon I stop by, Hudson's is filled with teenagers, construction workers and seniors. The only outsider is a man from Michigan who says he always stops at Hudson's when he's in the Lake City "because the burgers are just so good."
A jaunty older lady dressed in aqua sits down next to me and slides her $2.95 across the counter to a young man flipping burgers. He doesn't miss a beat, putting her meat on the grill and filling her mug with coffee.
"I've been coming here for 21 years," Florence reveals. "I always get the same thing -- a burger and coffee, so I don't have to put in my order. They know just what I want."
Florence is so consistent ("just like the burgers," she says), that if she doesn't show up on Wednesday afternoons, the Hudson's staff calls to see if she's OK.
"It all started when we played pinochle next door at Eagles, and then we'd come to Hudson's to eat," Florence says. "Now I walk from where I live. The exercise helps me burn these calories," she adds, pointing to her burger, which she decorates with ketchup and mustard.
As I leave, an older couple, two of Florence's buddies, take stools near her and order their burgers. And so it goes.
Java on Sherman & r & Java on Sherman has proudly anchored the corner of Third and Sherman for about 11 years. Its huge windows flood the former bank and ice cream shop with light and allow customers to watch their neighbors go by. The Renaissance d & eacute;cor, small tables, fireplace and cozy couch give the place a comfortable feel.
"This is a second home to some people in Coeur d'Alene," says manager Penny Sbicca. "Most of our business is local. We know our customers by name, face and what they drink. We had a full house last week, and there were only four people here that we didn't know," she adds.
Java on Sherman features breakfast and lunch items, and, of course, coffee. The most popular morning items are the ham and cheese scramble, Java Benedict (on a toasted bagel with hickory-smoked ham, eggs, Hollandaise sauce and cracked pepper) and Java huevos (two steamed eggs with cheese served over spicy beans and sides of salsa, sour cream and tortillas) -- for about $5 each.
The master baker, Jonel Baker (it's true), comes into the shop at midnight to bake humongous muffins, scones and cookies from scratch, as she has for the last 10 years. The oversized chocolate-chip cookies are much loved, and for good reason. Rich and chewy, with an almost brownie-like consistency, they're perfect for dipping in coffee -- coffee like Java's specialty, the Bowl of Soul. A blend of coffee, espresso, Mexican chocolate and steamed milk, it's a coffee lovers dream come true. A couple at the next table tell me that they come from Spokane's South Hill every week just for a Bowl of Soul and chocolate chip cookie. It's that good.
"We strive for consistency," Sbicca says. "We have quality coffee, our food is wholesome and our baked goods are the best in town -- especially our sour-cream muffins."
How about Java's lunch menu? The Java Club sandwich, a double-decker on toasted whole wheat or sourdough bread, with turkey, bacon, jack cheese, lettuce and tomato, is one of the most popular items. Then there's the Ultimate Quesadilla, another popular item. Two tortillas enclose melted jack and cheddar cheese with black beans, salsa, sour cream and green onions.
"Our clientele ranges from students and housewives to professionals and retirees," Sbicca says. "Don and Lucy are in their 90s and have been married for 64 years, and they come here every morning for coffee. It's customers like Don and Lucy who fill our hearts with the true spirit of Coeur d'Alene."
The Wine Cellar & r & The Wine Cellar embodies the spirit of Sherman Avenue -- comfortable, eclectic and personal. It's a casually elegant restaurant that has brought a certain flair to the avenue for 13 years. The Wine Cellar is known for its award-winning wine list and Mediterranean fare. But the music menu is the first thing you'll see out front on the avenue before descending the wooden stairs to the cozy subterranean cellar that houses the restaurant.
Local musicians perform jazz and blues nightly here. Customers can hear the likes of Carl Rey and the Blues Gators, the Lindel Reason Trio's smooth jazz and the Painkillers, whose "blues really rocks."
But what about the food?
"We have an eclectic menu based on quality food with reasonably-priced items," proclaims owner Jim Duncan. "Our large wine selection gives people a great opportunity to learn about wine. And we're open late at night, too."
What I notice at the Wine Cellar is the wonderful, earthy aroma emanating from the kitchen. It blends well with the eclectic d & eacute;cor -- original rock walls covered in modern artwork, Mediterranean arches and murals, a well-worn bar and small stage.
Duncan says some of the most popular menu items at the Wine Cellar are the specials. Catfish etoufee and chicken orvietto (stuffed with prosciutto, artichoke hearts and chevre) showcase the talents of Chefs Cheryl Callins and Adrian Wheholt. Regular menu items, like the authentic three-course Italian meal, prime rib, bouillabaisse, paella, crab manicotti and Greek scampi, are just as tasty, especially when accompanied by the wine specials.
But it's the personal aspect that brings Duncan's customers back again and again.
"I know half the people who come here," he says. "I help them by recommending wines. And I have stories to share with all of them."
And that's what gives the many dining choices of downtown Coeur d'Alene their neighborhood flavor.