Avast Ye Brigands!

by Ann M. Colford & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen Spokane's first 70-degree day hits, it draws everyone, even bleary-eyed scribes, blinking into the sunshine. But on the aggressively beautiful day that Josh Smith and I drop in at Scalawag's, a smallish breakfast-and-lunch place on Indiana just west of Division, I'm emerging from the fog of a migraine. In the tight parking lot, I ease into a space beside a purple Harley that's decked out with a matching stuffed purple dragon. I blink a couple of times, wondering if my migraine-induced hallucinations are coming back. But no -- inside, I pick out the bike's owner right away. A modern-day scalawag, I think.

The place has been open for nearly a year now, so they've got their "basic fare with a flair" thing down pat. The lunch menu has everything you'd expect -- hot and cold sandwiches, salads, soup and dessert -- but the basics come with a twist, a little something extra that pushes each item beyond the ordinary.

And then there are the names. Following the pirate theme, the menu features a Rascal and a Rogue, Hi Jinks and Shenanigans, a Villain and a Whippersnapper, and even the mysterious Scotyhopper. (It involves egg salad.)

It's a great place to go with Josh, who delights in absurdity and playful language. He considers ordering a Skenbooglar (roast beef, ham, Swiss and cheddar on a hoagie) simply to be able to say it. (Now, is that SKEN-boog-lar or sken-BOOG-lar? And what the heck does it mean, anyway?) The Ruffian -- Scalawag's version of the taco salad -- tempts him, but he goes with the Scamper ($7), a focaccia panini filled with ham, pineapple and Swiss.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n my post-migraine haze, I have trouble focusing on the menu long enough to decide. I love all the names, and many sound intriguing, but I keep returning to the PDB ($5): a double peanut butter and bacon panini on whole wheat with a side of raspberry preserves.

Peanut butter. And bacon. Two great tastes. But together?

Anyone courageous enough to put such a combo on the menu, braving the derision of the unadventurous, deserves a vote of confidence, I decide. Besides, in the wake of a big headache, I always crave a serious dose of protein. To compensate, I order the side salad -- the Sidewinder ($2) -- so at least I can pretend that I'm eating a balanced meal.

Our sandwiches arrive complete with a generous serving of Scalawag's homemade potato chips: thick, crispy and still warm. They're the perfect accompaniment to -- well, just about anything.

The PDB awaits, cut neatly into quarters and oozing molten peanut butter. I offer a quarter to Josh then sniff tentatively at the edges of the sandwich; it's peanut butter, all right, but the smokiness of the bacon comes through as well. I dab some raspberry preserves onto the tip of the sandwich and sink my teeth through the crunchy panini-toasted whole wheat. My mouth swims in warm peanutty goo with an explosion of smoky saltiness in its midst, accented by a hint of fruity sweetness. In one bite, I've captured most of the basic taste sensations: sweet and salty, smooth and crunchy, meaty and earthy. This sandwich really hits the spot. Who woulda thunk? It's not for everyone, but on this day, for me, it is ultimate comfort food.

Josh is pleasantly surprised at the PDB, although he's vaguely disturbed by the sensation of chewing bacon with a mouth full of soft yet sticky peanut butter. But he polishes off the sample, pronouncing it "strange, yet oddly compelling."

The Scamper comes hot off the panini grill, too, with thick slices of ham topped with pineapple, honey mustard and melted Swiss cheese in a focaccia bun. Josh says it's good but seems to be missing some zing. He thinks perhaps the honey mustard comes down a bit heavy on the honey and light on the mustard. More spiciness or tang would have balanced things out better and really made the flavors pop. But overall, the sandwich is a success.

The Sidewinder salad fills a platter with colorful greens and vegetables. The ranch dressing is thick, more like a dip, and complements the crunchy cucumber slices perfectly. It's an odd companion to the PDB, but on its own, this salad is a delightful step up from iceberg lettuce and hothouse tomatoes.

All the desserts at Scalawag's are made on the premises, so we had to try one. While still in PDB bliss, I let Josh make the final choice. The lattice-topped apple was fruity and good -- a little sweet for both our tastes, but that didn't stop us.

My one disappointment came with the coffee. It's adequate diner fare, but the only choices for lighteners are non-dairy creamers (flavored or plain) or milk. No half-and-half, no cream. Since I don't put fake stuff in my coffee, and milk doesn't give a satisfying mouth feel, I drank my coffee black. It was OK, but it wasn't what I craved and it started my visit on an unsatisfactory note.

Fortunately, the rest of the meal redeemed the trip. We decide that we'll be back to explore more of the menu. As the scalawag on the Harley drives away with his purple dragon, I swear I see him wink in our direction.

Scalawag's, 113 W. Indiana Ave., is open Mon-Sat, 6 am-4 pm, and Sun 10:30 am-3 pm. Visit www.scalawagsrestaurant.com or call 327-1804.