Grumpy’s is the name of a mid-town Coeur d’Alene restaurant, not how we expected to feel after a disappointing meal there recently. Fortunately, a repeat visit revived the warm fuzzies we felt when the little bistro first opened.
Let’s begin at the beginning: When we visited this summer, Mr. Meat-and-Potatoes and I were delighted to discover the local feel of this 4th Street location, formerly Bambino’s and conveniently located along the Lake City’s busy north-south roadway. At the time, Garad Crawford was the head chef and Joe Chapman co-owned the joint along with Dana Musick, who formerly ran the successful Veranda House B&B and restaurant in Kellogg, Idaho. A gelato business was planned. Crawford promised interesting specials.
Since then, Crawford and Musick have both split, leaving Joe Chapman, a longtime restauranteur and local businessman, to run things on his own, with an occasional stand-in chef. The gelato business melted. They still have specials, like the prime rib on Fridays and Saturdays ($17), and there are a few seafood items on the menu. The menu was (and still is) a bit of this and that: seafood, salads, some pasta dishes, a few appetizers, a large lunch menu of sandwiches ranging from burgers ($7-$10) to the classic BLT ($9) — just enough variety to be eclectic, with reasonable prices. The ambience was warm and casual. The place felt like it could be a nice little local hangout for a quiet lunch or dinner with friends.
That was our frame of mind last week, when we returned to review the place. Debating the coconut prawns ($8), sautéed mushrooms ($7) or prawn cocktail ($9), we opted for the latter. It was served in a martini glass full of chopped baby shrimp, celery and spicy cocktail sauce rimmed with five plump prawns and a few store-bought rice crackers. The flavor of the prawns seemed somehow bland and tinny, an odd flavor that might have been lessened with a squeeze of lemon.
For dinner, we ordered linguine and chicken with sautéed, sliced Portobello mushrooms, fresh asparagus, sage, diced tomatoes and olives ($16). It sounded better than it tasted, with the sage and earthy Portobello competing with each other, leaving other flavors just flat. It needed more tomato, maybe a bit of garlic, red pepper flake even — anything to bring distinction to the dish.
Our second meal choice was more disappointing — confusing even. The Joe’s Special is chopped sirloin, mushrooms, onion and fresh spinach sautéed with eggs and topped with parmesan cheese ($9). There was nothing about the presentation that made this appealing, and the presence of the suggested side of vinegar was no help; a tomato-based condiment would have been a better choice. Regardless, this too was bland and forgettable.
Disappointed and on the verge of grumpy, we felt it necessary to give the place another shot. We returned a few days later to fi nd Chapman himself at the grill.
This time we tried the baked artichokes in mushroom-wine sauce ($8) and were pleased to find a fragrant dish with good texture and taste. Although the sauce seemed a bit thin, there was plenty of herb-topped fresh bread to sop up the garlicky goodness.
We opted to share the Mediterranean prawns ($19), curious if the unusual taste of the prawns was limited to our previous encounter. While there was still something a bit off-tasting about them, they soaked up the lovely flavors of this well-seasoned pasta dish. Garlic, pine nuts, Feta cheese, tomato and olives provide good texture and taste with plenty of moisture on the thick linguine noodles. Although not listed on the menu as part of the dish’s ingredients, a few spears of grilled asparagus added an earthy yet bright flavor as well.
The service this time was — as before — excellent and attentive yet unpretentious. Our server chatted amiably, as did owner/ chef Chapman, stepping out from the kitchen every now and again to catch the score of the Zags game on TV. We had finished our meal and politely declined dessert (triple chocolate brownies, cheesecake, apple pie ala mode, $5-$5.50) when the game turned into a knucklebiter. Before we knew it, Chapman and Mr. Meat-and-Potatoes (who knows no strangers) were reminiscing about all the folks they knew in common, Coeur d’Alene Vikings basketball and a whole variety of other topics.
And just like that, we were glad we gave Grumpy’s a chance to restore the warm fuzzies.
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free options: Vegetarian and vegan menu items are limited to salads and a Garden Burger, although many of their pasta entrees can be ordered without the meat (their marinara sauce is vegan). No special gluten-free options are available. Local ingredients: “[Buying local] gets hard in the winter months,” says Chef Matt Curley. “During the summer months we try to get local produce. Most of our meat comes from the Idaho area.”