CASUAL Bridge to Europe & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & odeled after Italy's ancient Ponte Vecchio bridge, the Cedar Street Bridge in Sandpoint has a new food vendor that fits its historical inspiration. Cedar STREET BRIDGE CAF & Eacute; owner Manuela Frazier serves food she likes and remembers from living in Italy with her military husband, Tim. They'd walk to town for fresh gelato and cappuccino, and they enjoyed gourmet ham and classic Provolone cheese, as well as pastries, fresh artisan bread and the Italian-style grilled sandwiches called panini.
In her cozy caf & eacute;, Frazier grills panini ($5-$7.50) -- using meats and cheeses she imports from Italy -- on bread she brings up from Coeur d'Alene's Bakery by the Lake. Variations include the chicken breast topped with roasted marinated peppers, basil pesto and butter cheese on focaccia bread, as well as the prosciutto di Parma and sopressata (spicy, dry-cured salami) with rosemary-garlic oil, organic mixed greens and provolone on herb ciabatta. The cheese panini is unusual: Seattle-based Beecher's "No Woman" cheese, flavored with Jamaican jerk spices for a warm, nutty flavor, is served on peasant loaf, topped with pear, walnuts and cranberry mustard.
Sandpoint's venerable Pine Street Bakery provides many of the baked treats like fluffy croissants, muffins and cakes ($1.50-$4), perfect with a latte, espresso or Italian soda. Frazier sometimes contributes her own baked goods, like K & auml;sekuchen, which is made with a yogurt-type cream cheese called quark and reflects Frazier's native German heritage. She also makes her own gelato on-site.
Dining at the caf & eacute; is al fresco, sort of. The Bridge simulates the feel of a public market, similar to Pike Street, yet is encased floor-to-ceiling with glass for a pleasant view of the inlet through all four seasons. "It's a place for family and friends to gather," says Frazier of the laid-back environment. Outdoor seating is planned for the summer to further enhance the feeling of European-inspired casual dining.
-- CARRIE SCOZZARO
Cedar Street Bridge Caf & eacute;, 334 N. First Ave., Sandpoint, Idaho, is open Mon-Thu, 7:30 am-6 pm, Fri 7:30 am-8 pm, Sat 8 am-8 pm and Sun 9 am-5 pm. Visit www.cedarstreetbridge.com or call (208) 265-4396.
DINING Royal Road
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he north side of the city is really growing, and new restaurants are popping up everywhere. The newest addition in the Wandermere area on Highway 395 is the family-owned CAMINO REAL MEXICAN GRILL. The floor plan is wide open with an outdoorsy faux timber log interior. Bright pieces of Mexican art hang just below the ceiling, and there's plenty of light to see clear across the room.
Camino Real's menu boasts many traditional Mexican menu items. From pork and chicken options, fajita and chimichanga choices, and seafood and combo meals, they've got just about everything you'd expect. For those who aren't craving traditional Mexican food, they also offer sandwiches, "build your own" burgers, salads and vegetarian meals. There's a special section for kids, and they are more than welcoming to families.
Their appetizers offer more than just your normal fare -- try the Nachos Idaho, a platter of potato skins covered with cheese, your choice of chicken or beef, plus tomatoes, onions, guacamole and sour cream ($7). All of the meal options are reasonably priced and come piled high on a very hot plate. The chicken burritos and steak fajitas were popular choices at the tables surrounding us. Every dinner party is treated to chips and salsa, both made right on site and served while they're still warm.
For dessert, the flan is a popular option, but not as frequently requested as the fruity margaritas. The frozen huckleberry margarita was both sweet and tangy, made from a sugary syrup and a hint of tequila. Perhaps more important than the food choices is the fast, friendly, efficient service. Because of the open floor plan, it's easy for the servers to see exactly who needs what without wading through hordes of other customers. We were well taken care of, and we appreciated both the speed of the service and the approachability of the staff.
Upon leaving, a group of the male staffers cheered us, saying, "Gracias, senoritas! Adios!" If we're up north again, with a hankering for Mexican, we know where we're stopping.
-- MARY STOVER
Camino Real Mexican Grill, at 12628 N. Division is open daily 11 am-10 pm. Call 466-3626.