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Sweet Surprise 

by Lauren McAllister & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & ur Northwest sister cities always seem to have an abundance of clever little businesses that fill unique niches. In Seattle, I remember seeing an espresso machine repair shop. In Portland, there's a shop that features only items from Paris. Here in Spokane, little businesses are cropping up that cater to all sorts of esoteric needs. In a vintage rehabbed set of shops on Grand Boulevard across from St. John's Cathedral, a dog accessory store shares the block with the BitterSweet Bakery and Bistro. Even if you don't have a dog, this little block is not to be missed.

The storefront features big windows that let lots of light into the long, narrow space. The walls are bathed in a most intriguing blue -- "It's called 'Old Blue Sea," the cashier replied without hesitation when I asked. Warm ivory and green accents add interest, and the airy interior was lively with a steady stream of patrons coming and going. A long bench along the north wall allows cozy seating for up to four people at a table. But the best seats in the place are at the windows, where you can grab a stool and keep an eye on people and their infinite variety of doggy companions arriving at the Urban Canine next door.

We stopped in for breakfast recently to fuel up before a morning walk at nearby Manito Park.

Ordering takes place at the counter, where you'll have a chance to peek at the desserts and pastries that gave the business its start. Take the Cake has provided countless decadent desserts to local restaurants and weddings for years, and now owner Gina Garcia has a chance to satisfy requests for more breakfast pastries and sandwiches. But she's doing it with a twist. After traveling in France, Garcia became interested in crepes and noticed many big cities in the States have restaurants featuring crepes. "Well, that's something Spokane could use," she remembers thinking. Although a bit apprehensive about starting a crepe shop in Spokane, Garcia says people have responded well to her authentic sweet and savory crepes. At BitterSweet, the crepes are served flat, with four edges folded up a bit to hold the fillings in. "We put buckwheat flour in our crepes, which is traditional in Breton, and they fold them all kinds of shapes," Garcia says.

There are three crepe options for breakfast ($8): eggs, cheese, bacon, spinach and tomato; roasted red peppers, potatoes, spinach, tomato, eggs and cheese; or ham and eggs. My crepe with the red peppers, white potatoes and green spinach was a colorful sight, drizzled with creme fraiche. The potatoes and peppers added a nice earthy taste, complemented by the pungent cheese and warm, rich eggs. The crepe had just a hint of black pepper to distinguish it from the flavorful fillings. The version with bacon was even better, with at least four slices of thick, crisp-fried bacon mingling with the eggs, cheese and spinach. One thing that didn't get mentioned on the menu was the nice little fruit cup that accompanied the crepes. We got orange slices, bananas and canned pears -- tasty enough -- but the lucky devils next to us had blueberries in theirs.

For lunch, the menu switches to savory crepes, with cheese and meat fillings.

A visit to BitterSweet is not complete without sampling the scones ($1.70). There are usually three varieties available. The mixed berry provided a nice contrast, and no doubt a few coveted antioxidants, to our rich breakfast crepes. However, if decadence is the goal, skip the berries and move on to the incredible maple and pecan version. Lots of chopped pecans enliven the light-as-air scone, while the crunchy exterior is bathed in a yummy maple glaze. This is my favorite scone, but my companion preferred the also-incredible dark chocolate and orange. Here, mini-slabs of rich chocolate are complemented by orange flavor in one of the happiest marriages of sweet, rich, tangy, crunchy, delicate fluffiness ever created. The chocolate-filled croissants are also the best I've had in Spokane. (You can get a variety of desserts and baked goods to go at BitterSweet, too.)

I ordered a cup of tea and the giant cup was a fun surprise. "It could be a birdbath!" my companion exclaimed. The organic Numi tea was fragrant and satisfying. Coffee was hot and strong, as it should be.

The crew of workers appears to be having fun, which is always infectious. They were efficient in bringing orders and clearing away dishes, but for the most part, you're on your own to grab water, silverware and napkins here. That's OK by me -- it helps make the wonderful food affordable.

BitterSweet Bakery and Bistro & r & 1220 S. Grand Blvd. & r & Mon-Fri 7 am-5 pm, Sat 8 am-3 pm

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