When Albert Commellini came to America from Italy in 1907, he worked as a steam boy on the railroad. His sister Leta arrived 15 years later, settling in Spokane, where the brother and sister team ran an Italian import company downtown. In 1941, they moved their restaurant business to north Spokane, where Commellini's became a popular dining spot known for its chicken cacciatore. It was also known as a gangster hideout, with members of the Chicago Mafia hiding in the guesthouses, and tales of underground tunnels used for bootlegging.
New owners Tammy Paulino and Frank Burger have brought back some of Leta Commellini's recipes to FRANCISCO'S AT COMMELLINI'S. They're also recreating some of the gangster style in the Speakeasy Lounge. The five dining rooms have been updated, especially the one overlooking the creek. The interior of the restaurant is rustic, with dark, knotty-pine paneling, reflecting its setting along the Little Spokane River, a few miles north of the city limits.
New chef Paul Harvey brings his experience working at the Glendale Country Club in Bellevue and the Beyond Hope Resort in north Idaho to Commellini's.
"He's taking a few old favorite Commellini's recipes and making his own sauces for them," Paulino says. She especially recommends the meat baked lasagna and the house-made potato gnocchi.
The traditional Italian chicken or veal cacciatore is flavored with wine, peppers, mushrooms and olives, while a seafood-stuffed portabella mushroom appetizer comes seasoned and baked. Favorite Commellini's dishes from the past include marsala scaloppini (veal, chicken or tilapia lightly breaded and browned in butter and lemon with a rich demi-glace) and pork osso bucco braised in a savory broth. Eggplant parmigiana, chicken or shrimp risotto, linguini with clams and tri-color tortellini fill out the Italian-themed menu. And don't forget cannoli for dessert: The deep-fried pastry shells are filled with sweetened ricotta cheese and chocolate.
Prices at Commellini's range from $9 to $23, making it a higher-class destination restaurant that is worth a drive in the country.
-- SUSAN HAMILTON
Francisco's at Commellini's, 14100 N. Dartford Dr., is open Tues-Sat 5 pm-closing. Call 466-2088.
Hanging from the front of the (relatively) new permanent coffee bar inside THE SHOP on South Perry is a gorgeous circle of hammered copper with the words "What Service" encircling the coffee haven's name. Keen-eyed observers will note the lack of punctuation. Owners Mark Camp and Jason Williams say the ambiguity allows patrons to interpret the phrase with an enthusiastic exclamation point -- "What Service!" -- or with a question mark, depending on their feelings or the day.
It's just that kind of tongue-in-cheek promotion that has endeared the Shop to its regulars, along with the funky furnishings. (A crystal chandelier hangs from the ceiling between the rusted rails of an overhead garage door; a playing card -- the seven of hearts -- sits inexplicably stuck to the ceiling right in front of the former auto shop's old engine hoist.)
The Shop stopped booking live music last year, but they plan to host the Perry neighborhood's outdoor summer movie series again this year. The partners started roasting their own coffee a couple of years ago and now produce Anvil Coffee about 3 feet from the end of the coffee bar. You can buy their Brain Freeze ice cream out of a small freezer unit. And about a month ago, Camp and Williams added lunch to their offerings, mixing up creative sandwich and salad combos with equally creative names.
In keeping with the building's former life, the menu is entitled, "A Guide to Eating in an Old Auto Garage." On the sandwich side, there's the 40-Wt. Chicken, with custom-made coffee barbecue sauce; the Front Tooth Grill (grilled cheese); and the Croissant Wrench (groan) -- it's made with tuna. Sandwiches come with your choice of Tim's chips or fresh veggies and hummus. The half-dozen salad choices include my favorite: the Lug Nuts, drizzled with chipotle vinaigrette and topped with the oh-so-addictive coffee-glazed walnuts.
Shop employees make each lunch to order, so sometimes you'll find yourself waiting a few minutes to place your order and then to get your food. But don't stress out about it. Hang out at one of the tables. Listen to the always-interesting music. (Each employee has an iPod playlist that gets pumped over the speakers.) Read the paper. Relax.
"We're almost always worth the wait," quips Williams. And if you're not sure which partner is which, he adds helpfully, "I'm the cute smart one."
-- ANN M. COLFORD
The Shop, 924 S. Perry St., is open Mon-Fri 6:30 am-7 pm, Sat-Sun 7 am-4 pm, with extended hours in the summer. Visit www.theshop.bz or call 534-1647.