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by SUSAN HAMILTON and ANN Colford & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & Y & lt;/span & ou might not necessarily drive out to Spokane International Airport (SIA) just to try the food, but sometimes having choices beyond a simple cup of coffee at the airport is not only desirable, it's downright civilized. Following the trend of airports around the country (including Boise), SIA has upgraded its dining options by offering new food and beverage concessions in the Rotunda Food Court and on Concourse C.





"Everybody is excited about the variety," says Judy Gifford, properties manager for SIA. "Service is quicker and the area is looking good."


The former upstairs TSA security space has been transformed into a plethora of quick food options -- from DAVID'S PIZZA and QUIZNO'S SUB to CHILI'S TOO and VINTAGE WASHINGTON. After getting delayed in faraway airports, as did so many other holiday travelers, I was more than relieved to have these food and beverage choices available when I arrived back in Spokane later than expected.





"Vintage Washington is a new concept," Gifford explains. "We opened it to promote and showcase our wonderful Washington wines."





The full-service bar and casual dining restaurant features vintages from local wineries, like Arbor Crest and Townshend, and well-known Columbia Valley wineries, such as Jackson Triggs and Covey Run. A variety of on-tap beers and spirits are also available. Appetizers (including Ivar's clam chowder and antipasto), salads (like Dungeness crab and bay shrimp Louie) and sandwiches (grilled chicken with pesto on a baguette) are offered. Entrees include herb-crusted sole and Gorgonzola penne Alfredo.





At Chili's Too, Southwestern breakfast items, Big Mouth burgers and salads featuring grilled chicken are a few of the dishes available. Local favorite David's Pizza offers its popular handcrafted, New York-style pizzas as well as hot meatball and Hawaiian sandwiches. Quizno's offers fresh salads, soups and toasty subs, including light versions, like the honey bourbon chicken on wheat bread.





Concourse C has its own new food stands -- LAPISA CAFE and FRESHENS SMOOTHIES. Ubiquitous STARBUCKS will have one of two planned stands at SIA open by the end of this month. And Pyramid Ales, Coeur d'Alene and Northern Lights Brewing Companies will soon give microbrew aficionados a place to hang at SIA.


-- SUSAN HAMILTON





Food and beverage concessions at Spokane International Airport are open daily from 4 am-8 pm or the latest departing flight. Vintage Washington hours are 6 am-8 pm daily.











& lt;span class= "dropcap " & Y & lt;/span & ou'd think establishing one successful restaurant would be enough accomplishment for a year, but the partners behind Vin Rouge on the South Hill decided to go over the top in 2006 -- shortly before Christmas, they opened MERITAGE in the space formerly occupied by Benjamin's, behind the Parkade in downtown Spokane. They weren't looking to be overachievers, says partner Jeff Jenkins, but when the opportunity came along, they decided to jump in.





And they jumped in quickly. The space was transformed in about a month, says partner Rhonda Rey. "Tim [Hartman], Jeff and I did a lot of the work," she says, "with help from some great staff members who we'll owe lunch to for months."





Meritage offers a casual atmosphere for breakfast and lunch daily. A couple of favorite menu items from Vin Rouge -- the wasabi crab cakes and the delectable honey pumpkin bisque -- have made the journey down the hill, but generally the menu at Meritage is all its own. Breakfast can mean the standard -- pancakes, French toast, eggs and hashbrowns -- but it can also mean blueberry crepes with goat cheese, a chorizo burrito or crab cake eggs. For those who prefer just coffee and pastries in the morning, Rey makes a pineapple rum coffee cake daily, and there are scones and apple turnovers from Vin Rouge.





At lunch, choices range from burgers and hot sandwiches ($7-$9) to full entrees ($7-$13), along with salads, a soup of the day and the ever-present honey pumpkin bisque, topped with cardamom cream ("like pumpkin pie in a bowl," according to Sandy, my server). Some favorite Vin Rouge desserts -- the peanut butter mocha torte, the chocolate raspberry bombe -- are on hand at Meritage, along with Rey's coffee cake. And they will be offering assorted beer and wine within about two weeks.





The space is cozy in winter, with artwork hanging on the blue and green walls; come summer, they plan to spill outdoors onto the patio by the surrounding brick plaza. Meritage is also available for private functions in the evenings. "There are not many venues for a 30-to-50-sized group," says Jenkins, "so we're saving the evenings just for functions."


-- ANN M. COLFORD





Meritage, 112 N. Howard St., is open Mon-Fri 7 am-3 pm, Sat-Sun 9 am-3 pm. Call 455-7600.

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