by Michael Bowen & r & Tucked away in various neighborhoods within a two-mile radius of the North Division Y are three diverse eateries -- a coffeehouse, a diner and a Thai restaurant. They've already attracted the locals and are well worth checking out, even if you don't live on the North Side.
Encore Espresso & amp; Bakery & r & The glazed glass out front reads "soup and salads, sandwiches, espresso, lattes, cappuccinos, teas, smoothies, ice creams and wireless Internet" -- and that even leaves out things like the organic and vegan homemade pastries, the warm interior and the lending library. Encore Espresso & amp; Bakery, a Whitworth-area hangout for years, offers a great deal to its neighborhood customers.
Owner Jan Brandvold is famous for her No-Bake Cookies. Butter, cream and chocolate are heated on a stovetop, then oats are added for consistency as the concoction is simply allowed to dry for a couple of hours. Voila, a giant and scrumptious cookie.
Encore also features "healthy-option pastries," including "organic Blackstrap molasses cookies" for Halloween, priced at $2 but gigantic. Everything in them is grown organically, with nothing processed. Similarly, the "Blueberry Buckles" in the display case are vegan, organic, non-processed blueberry muffins.
"I use mostly organic ingredients," says Brandvold, "and I revise recipes so they're egg-free and dairy-free."
On the sandwich front, it's design your own -- six breads, six meats, etc. There are also specialty sandwiches (the Humdinger, the Vegetarian), salads (taco, teriyaki) and soups (sometimes including Boston clam chowder and tomato basil, along with Yankee pot roast and Italian wedding soups.
Encore offers 18 different kinds of smoothies (including the Coco Nut and the Peanut Butter Zing), and Brandvold also offers "a huge range of teas. I used to own a tea business, so I'm kind of a tea snob."
Encore had already been a Whitworth hangout for 10 years before Brandvold bought the place and remodeled it herself in May 2004.
But doesn't business at a college hangout decline when the students are away?
"It slowed this summer, but not as much as I thought," says Brandvold. "I figured half my business was college, with a lot coming from St. George's and North Wall School. But then something happened during summer -- the neighborhood and the businesses around here decided that it's nice to sit outside in the summer with a cold drink. We make a really good espresso shake. And then, of course, ice cream sales go way up in the summer months."
"That man who was just in here, Jack -- he lives across the street," volunteers Elizabeth the barista. "He's in here all the time. And his wife comes in, too."
And Brandvold herself lives the paradigm of the genuine neighborhood joint: She walks to work.
Encore's interior is inviting, with oranges, reds and earth tones predominating. (Officially, the walls are painted in "copper penny" and "rhubarb.") Raised chairs accompany the wooden counter that lines two walls. Conical orange paper lamps hang over several tables.
A bookcase serves as a free lending library, with well over 100 titles ranging from The Proper Care of Cats and Thailand Handbook to lots of John Grisham and Michael Crichton, 40 Stories by Anton Chekhov and even A Commentary on Jeremiah written by the parent of some alumni.
Sometimes those Whitworth religion majors just need some java to go with their jeremiads.
Frank's Diner & r & If you come inside from the crisp autumn cold and take a counter seat at the new Frank's Diner, you'll catch some of the warmth off the grill and some of the cooks' dialogue.
"We got a kid's chicken fingers and a BLT with fries -- and we just got a patty melt and a French dip."
"You workin' fries?"
"Yeah, both BLTs have fries."
"How we doin' on breakfasts? I got hardly any browns on."
"We're all right."
Maybe for now. But as they're quick to advertise, "Frank's serves 15,000 eggs and two-and-half tons of hash browns a month." They may've only been open at the new Frank's since Aug. 22, but yeah, they're busy.
Short-order cook Kevin Kelly says, "Last week, I had tickets from here to here," extending his arms as wide as they'll go and indicating slots for about 20 rapid-fire incoming orders.
So which order makes you groan, Kevin?
"Joe's Special," he says, without hesitation. (The menu labels it as "three farm-fresh eggs scrambled with spinach, onion and ground beef. Garnished with grated Parmesan and served with hash browns and toast" -- and you can always add brown gravy and onions to your hash browns at Frank's.)
Wielding two spatulas at once, Kelly comments that "the burger and the spinach get all over your spats and your grill, so you have to clean them after, and that kinda slows you down." And this is a guy who works fast -- "on the weekends," he says, "12 to 13 hours."
Manager Carissa Engels says that "Compared to the downtown branch on Second Avenue, we're doing just as much business. We're still behind on breakfast, because they've been there for years and have such an established clientele downtown.
"But on dinner, we're beating them big-time. Since we've been open for dinner -- and now that people know about us -- more people have come to realize that downtown is open for dinner, too."
The most popular dinner items, says Engels, are "the hot turkey sandwich, the chicken pot pies and -- this was a real surprise to us, because we hardly sell any downtown -- the beef stroganoff."
Engels says that customers are drawn "from the North Side, mostly." Both the College Homes and Camelot neighborhoods are within walking distance; I've talked to or overheard customers from Deer Park or points north all three times I've been at the new Frank's.
They come here for the atmosphere -- and there's a reason that "Great Northern Railroad" encircles the Frank's Diner logo. The new Frank's is housed in a Pullman coach known as the Laketon, which started service in St. Paul, Minn., in 1913. Weighing 65 tons, it was originally a Great Northern sleeping car during runs from the Midwest through Glacier National Park and Spokane on its way to Seattle. In the 1920s, it was converted to a dining car; by the '40s, it had been relegated to being a construction diner for railroad crews. By the '90s, it was alone on a railway siding in Ballard, Wash.
About two years ago, the Landmark Corp. -- which also owns the downtown Frank's and the two Onions -- started seeking a North Side location and acquired the Laketon about a year ago.
Engels says that customers mostly prefer the booths in this former dining car, but that "kids love to sit up here and watch the cooks at work."
The kid next to me looked up from his coloring book. We could see Kelly and his colleagues slaving away over a dozen dollar hotcakes, two sandwiches, three thick sausages, some bacon and an enormous slab of hash browns.
There's always something goin' on the grill at Frank's.
A Taste of Thai & r & Next door to Calvary Chapel in the Fairwood Shopping Center, A Taste of Thai serves the neighborhoods that surround Mead High School.
Above a dozen tables with dark tablecloths, posters of Thailand hang on the walls. Colorful fans, globular white paper lanterns and upside-down parasols are suspended from the ceiling.
On fans lining the walls, elephants cavort in waterfalls; on a shelf, there's a display of Thai women wearing primary-color gowns and those towering golden head ornaments. Delicate Thai music helps them sway in their silent dance.
While A Taste of Thai has been open for more than 10 years, it's been under new ownership since the first of the year. Nicky Fair, who waited on my table and seemed to be managing the workflow, says that the most popular items are the cashew chicken, the Pad Thai and the garlic shrimp.
"We [serve] 50 or 60 soups every night on the weekends," says Fair. "And the Pad Thai also -- about 60 a night." Indeed, the place was filling up early on a recent Saturday night.
My spring rolls were flaky, lightly fried, filled with fresh veggies and served with a delightful orange-colored sweet-and-sour chili sauce. My Pad Thai noodles -- cooked with egg, crushed peanuts, pickled radish and green onion -- were garnished with crisp bean sprouts and julienne carrots. I chose tofu, but beef, pork and chicken were also options. A Taste of Thai uses no MSG, but their recipes do tend to use lots of sugar.
According to Fair, other popular combination items (all in the $9-$10 range), include the Goong Obe Woon Sen (stir-fried prawns with garlic pepper and clear noodles), the Goon Paha Pik Pao (prawns with shrimp curry paste, onions and bell peppers) and the Raha Nah (stir-fried noodles topped with baby corn, broccoli and mushrooms and your choice of chicken, beef or pork). But at the top of the list is a dish that Fair says he offered as a special for a long time, "but so many people kept ordering it that we made it into a regular dish." That's the Gaeng Garee Gai (chicken cooked in a light yellow curry sauce along with coconut milk and potatoes).
Yet another intriguing item among the appetizers is the coconut milk soup, with chicken breast meat, coconut milk, lemon grass, kaffir leaf, galanga, green onion and cilantro.
"The locals have been very good to us," says Fair. "But we also have people who come in here regularly from Deer Park, from Loon Lake. They bring in large parties of people. And people come here all the way from Idaho. They've heard about this little place -- we're kind of out of the way, blocked off from people in some ways -- but they come in here because they've heard we cook with a little bit different ingredients."