by CARRIE SCOZZARO & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & ojo is a polymorphous word meaning magic, style, self-confidence and that elusive quality which sets one apart. In that case, it's an apt name for the Spokane Valley restaurant that strives to be -- and nearly accomplishes -- all of the above.
Mojo, which opened last May on North Sullivan, is innovative in format and menu. A greeting station with menus explains the process: Choose from standard selections or create your own (salad, sandwich or entr & eacute;e), from a menu that owners Steven Brower and Chef Charlie Connor describe as "gourmet fast casual."
You can, for example, choose from flank steak, grilled chicken, sausage or oven-roasted turkey to build your own sandwich ($6/half, $8/whole, with one side dish) or entr & eacute;e ($9/one side, $11/two sides). Side dishes vary from grilled zucchini and squash, salad, and St. Maries wild rice, to potato incarnations (mashed, fried, whipped mercilessly). Similarly, build-your-own salads are romaine, mixed greens or spinach, with up to five toppings (like roasted bell peppers or corn, caramelized onion, crunchy seed mix, Tillamook cheddar), with additional toppings (for $1) like marinated artichoke hearts or garlic-herb pecans, and several yummy, house-made dressings ($6 half/$8 whole). Salmon or sliced meat can be added for a few bucks more.
Daily specials like chicken carbonara and a roasted vegetable "stack" on whipped mashed potatoes offer even more flexibility in what the owners call "Make Your Mojo" menu options.
On this occasion, however, too many choices were just that and no one was in the mood for taste experiments. We ordered two sandwiches from Mojo's Magic selection -- Indian pulled turkey with a "signature" side ($1 extra) of onion rings, and the cheesy chicken apple with a signature side (and another $1) of mac 'n' cheese. We also split the wild sockeye salmon salad and warmed up with cups of steaming Mighty Leaf brand tea. The Liquid Mojo menu offers libations covering a standard litany of red and white grape by glass or bottle, as well as domestic beer and imports, like Negra Modelo and gluten-free Redbridge Lager.
Sodas, tea and Thomas Hammer coffee beverages are serve-yourself as is seating in the dining room of this innocuous storefront locale with a bistro-like d & eacute;cor: individual tables with cute candleholders (more decorative than functional as the light from the bulb was barely perceptible), brushed steel seating, earth tones and subdued drop lighting -- simple, suspended canvas sheeting is artfully applied to dim the overhead lights, muffle sound and warm up an otherwise cavernous industrious space. The exhibition kitchen and open floor plan could get quite loud at full capacity, and without any attempt at partitioning -- screens, plants, varied height tables -- the space feels in need of additional tweaking to provide just a touch more ambience. Still, servers (including Chef Charlie) buzz in and out of the dining room often, which is a charming accommodation.
Our food arrived quickly and beautifully prepared. The salad ($10/half, $13 whole) was a bouquet of flavors ranging from super-fresh greens, delicately poached salmon, roasted butternut squash, spicy pecans, tangy bleu cheese, and sweet Craisins. The half-portion was generous, although the accompanying toasted focaccia that accompanied it was overdone.
By contrast, the Indian pulled turkey sandwich ($7 half/$10 whole) was disappointing, with flavors and textures that didn't work. The meat, while moist, was mostly dark with unidentifiable fatty bits, and it easily overwhelmed the bland curry aioli. The romaine lettuce added a necessary crispiness and the Rainier cherry chutney had a strong bright flavor, but contributed little else. The side of onion rings had good crunch, almost too much, but at $1 more for just three rings, a better option might have been garlic curly fries or house-made stuffing.
The real star of the magic show was the cheesy chicken apple sandwich ($8/half, $11/whole). Made on fresh sourdough (Mojo's bakes their own via the in-house Bread and Butter Bakery, which also sells wholesale to area restaurants), it was a perfect blend of tangy, crispy, savory and sweet: moist grilled chicken, applewood-smoked bacon, creamy havarti cheese, crisp Red Delicious apple slices, and a topper of caramelized onion, a few greens and honey-mustard spread. It disappeared right before our very eyes! The "adult" mac 'n' cheese was decadent penne in a cheese sauce that may have included havarti and a hint of onion.
Sandwiched as they are between mass-produced fast food and restaurants that pay more attention to trend than taste, Mojo has a lot of potential. Worth a second look the next time I'm in the Valley, Mojo appeals with its innovative format, comfort-oriented foods and gourmet-inspired flavors at less-than-gourmet prices.