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Surprising Goodness 

Venezuelan cuisine inside a chain hotel. Plus, a food extravaganza around Rathdrum.

click to enlarge Go for the salsa (everyone does). Stay for a surprisingly deep small-town food scene. - CARRIE SCOZZARO
  • Carrie Scozzaro
  • Go for the salsa (everyone does). Stay for a surprisingly deep small-town food scene.

You wouldn’t expect to see authentic Venezuelan dishes emerging from a place so pedestrian as the Quality Inn. The dining space there is dollar store-humble and has “spaghetti and grilled cheese sandwiches” written all over it.

But then, the Israelites didn’t anticipate showers of fluffy bread discs to rain from the heavens in the middle of the desert, either. (See the Bible, Exodus 16:31.)

So, in that sense, Manna restaurant is aptly named.

“We’re a place that offers different food with an ethnic twist,” explains Leonardo J. Felice, a Venezuelan immigrant, Gonzaga graduate, former owner of the late Leonardo’s Bistro and creator of Manna.

By “different,” he’s means divergent. Manna has a an astounding hodgepodge of Americana (and quasi-Italian) — like surf and turf ($23), meatloaf ($15), grilled salmon wrap ($11), shrimp fettuccini ($14), pizza ($15) and a funnel cake ($5) — offered in addition to the traditional Latin American fare.

You don’t stumble in here by accident. Manna sits camouflaged inside a chain hotel. Walking here requires either a repel down the South Hill or crossing the Division Street off-ramp. Inside, faux Italian grape vines crawl along the walls and oversized goldfish casually drift in a glowing aquarium.

You’ll note the menu choices as your eyes wander from category to category, each labeled with a syllable-packed title that reassures the quality of the food you’re about to eat: “Chicken Plates Of Goodness.” “Beefy Plates of Goodness.” “Seafood Plates Of Goodness.” “Various Plates Of Goodness.”

And indeed, Felice’s signature item, scrumptious chicken soup concocted with classic root vegetables ($2.50 cup/$3.75 bowl) lived up to expectations. The Caribbean platter ($11) — saffron rice, grilled chicken, black beans, fried plantain and fresh salsa — was nice too.

It was the Arepas ($4.50/2 for $8), though — an indigenous Venezuelan version of White Castle’s infamous mini-sliders — that left a lasting impression. These are cute, fist-sized buns of moist, golden corncake stuffed with your choice of grilled chicken, ham, turkey, tomato, bacon or cheese with a side of homemade salsa.

Felice certainly gets props for bringing Latino flair to a neglected spot. If you can get past the unconventional location, consider stopping by for an Arepa. And maybe a funnel cake. (Blair Tellers)

Manna Restaurant, 110 East Fourth Ave., is open Mon-Fri, 5-10 pm. Call 838-6101.

Highway 53 Revisited

There’s good eats happening lately in Rathdrum, Idaho, one of many quiet quasi-rural and historic communities you’re likely to pass through en route to someplace else this summer. For passersby and residents alike, this small town of around 7,000 at the confluence of highways 41 and 53 has an unusual assortment of eateries, several with notable food news.

At this point, there are few media outlets that haven’t done a story on Taco Chic Salsa (8016 Main, 208-687-2464). The Today Show, MSNBC’s Donny Deutsch and Country Living Magazine (which named her 2008 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year) are just a few to sing the praises of Juanita Carmack, the energetic matriarch of the Rathdrum-based Salsa Factory.

Earlier this year, Carmack — joined by husband John, son Patrick and daughter-in-law Angelina Siebert —started serving lunch Monday-Friday from 10 am-2 pm. You’ll never eat mushy refried beans again after tasting the tender beans that accompany her lunch plates of tacos, enchiladas or tamales. Two chicken enchiladas (choice beef or cheese, too) with rice, beans, chips, fabulous salsa and a beverage are $8. Tacos cost $1.50 each ($1 on Thursdays) and tamales (chicken, pork or beef) are steamed inside the husk ($3.50 each). You’ll feel good about eating here.

Just across the tracks along Highway 53, CJ’s Family Restaurant and Lounge (14853 Hwy 53, 208-661-8998) opened next to the Feed Store. The menu is down-home comfort food and plenty of it, with breakfast served until 2 pm ($4-10), lunch ($6-10) and dinner from 4 pm onward ($9-21). The Friday/Saturday prime rib caught our eye ($11/8 ounce, $21/16 ounce), as did the biscuits and gravy ($5).

Down the road, Granny’s Pantry (14683 Hwy 53, 208-687-0881) is under new ownership, the former owners of 18 years having closed the bakery portion of the business before selling to Montie and Larry Readel. Granny’s has a down-home menu too, with a huge offering of breakfast omelets, pancakes, waffles, and assorted baked goods like homemade cinnamon rolls. This cozy old-fashioned diner with the entry counter and revolving pie case serves homemade soup, hot and cold sandwiches and assorted salads. Dinner is heavy on the meat, including pork chops ($9), Salisbury steak with mushroom gravy ($9) or liver and onions ($8), as well as seafood and pasta.

Rounding out our roundup of Rathdrum food news is the recent addition of stone-baked pizza to Burger Heaven (13735 Hwy 53, 208-687-2211). The style is East Coast, according to owner Maria Sabo (you can hear it when she says Long Island, music to our ears!): thin crust, not a lot of sauce and sized according to Big Apple standards. Almost, anyway. The XL is typical of a New York large while Burger Heaven’s 14” large is more like a typical NYC medium.

Additional toppings are sliced and cooked to order ($1.50/$2.50). Sabo opens after 4 pm during the week and stays open all day on the weekends. He says he might someday offer delivery, but for now, be you resident or passerby, you’ll just have to make that trip down Highway 53 to check it out. (Carrie Scozzaro)

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