BEST OF THE INLAND NORTHWEST — PEOPLE
Katherine Tibbetts, Cabin Coffee
"Gimme a 20-ounce, split-shot double latte with soy, sugar-free vanilla and sugar-free mocha. Oh, and extra foam, too." Katherine Tibbetts has been dealing with orders like that from already well-caffeinated clients for nearly six years at Cabin Coffee's three locations (including their newest one at the Tapio Center). She's a pro at drawing leafy designs atop a cuppa joe.
And we like ours strong. Tibbetts says that "about one in 20" of her customers orders a quad. Interestingly, preferences vary by area. "In Browne's Addition," Tibbetts says, "you get a lot of artsy-fartsy people, and they want their coffee stronger. At the Tapio Center, you get a lot of businesspeople from the Valley, and they will order, like, a 20-ounce single."
Yahoos. At least we've refined our tastes over the years. "Six years ago," says Tibbetts, "people would only order a vanilla latte." But now customers are "more experimental," she says. "People are ordering a lot more cappuccinos and Ghirardelli mochas."
And judging from our vote count, they want Katherine Tibbetts to be the one swirling their foam. — Michael Bowen
2nd: Brandy McClinton, Rocket on Argonne; 3rd: (tie) Terra Neilson, Rocket on Argonne; Brianna Ferrante, Brews Bros.; Jon Lewis, Cafe Doma
Dr. Kenneth J. Collins
If your Web site is WeMakeSpokaneSmile.com, you'd better be able to back up your claim. And Dr. Ken Collins does, offering laser whitening (a little gel, a little light — next thing you know, you've got pearly whites) and porcelain veneers (use a chemical bonding process to straighten out your chompers).
But what about those of us who have nightmares about Laurence Olivier peering into Dustin Hoffman's mouth and asking, "Is it safe?" "That's a common concern of a lot of patients — they're afraid of dentists," says Collins. "But we have TVs, headphones, laughing gas — we can sedate them. Nowadays, a lot of dentists are getting extra training in sedation techniques."
A lot of anxious people out there, huh? "No, with today's busy lifestyle, a lot of people just want to come in, have several procedures done and get it over with," Collins says. He even has a new jaw-tracking machine, which figures out ideal bite positions for patients who clench or grind their teeth or have other pain issues.
Dr. Collins' family practice offers safe, painless, friendly dentistry. It's a service he extends from his family (his father, Dr. Kenneth M. Collins, and his wife, Dr. Marnie Collins, are both dentists) to yours. — Michael Bowen
2nd: Dr. Jodi Funk; 3rd: Dr. Jack Ashlock
Best Elected Official
Jim West, Mayor of Spokane
Hizzoner pops up on local-access TV channels in an orange safety vest, helping little kids cross the street and explaining those mysterious parking kiosks. He was willing to wade into the River Park Square quagmire, managing to emerge, if not unsullied, at least still intact. And with Principles of Government, he has rejuvenated a process — determining budgetary allocations — that's usually, let's face it, soporific. For a man who's fighting off cancer, he's a regular Energizer Bunny of civic governance. Not only is Jim West our hometown guy, but now he can also claim that in a fairly held election (among our readers, anyway), he out-polled the president. (There is no truth to the rumor that Karl Rove is demanding a recount.) — Michael Bowen
2nd: President George W. Bush; 3rd: State Senator Lisa Brown; North Idaho's Best: Gov. Dirk Kempthorne
Harold Balazs has big hands. You see right away how he would be such a great sculptor. After his paws crush yours in a vise-grip, then he fixes you with that toothy smile, throwing his head back and letting out a guffaw, his eyes taking in everyone around him with a bemused grin.
A real character, you think. This old man must have plenty of stories to tell.
He's told them — in steel and stone and ceramic — all over town. You know that abstract aluminum floating thing in the river under the Washington Street bridge? It's called "Centennial Sculpture" and it's by Harold Balazs. So is that 30-foot concrete tower (like a Japanese lantern) at the northwest corner of the Opera House.
There are these lovely painted tiles — birds in flight — on the side of the Lincoln Building downtown. Doesn't look like the work of any artist I know. But Harold Balazs is there, too. He's there before us a lot of the time. That's what artists do. — Michael Bowen
2nd: Conrad Bagley; 3rd: Dorothy Fowler
Best Local Athlete
He stayed for his senior year, and while it didn't get him any further into the NCAAA tournament, it did cement his place as a local hero. Another great year has gone by, but suddenly we won't be seeing No. 1 in a Gonzaga uniform anymore.
Ronny — around here, he's a first-name-only celeb — will be remembered, among many other things, for dominating the Maui Invitational when he was a sophomore, for dropping 23 against Missouri in the Battle in Seattle, for cheering at baseball games and retelling jokes in whatever language was convenient, for being the WCC Player of the Year.
Spokane adopted this Martiniquean, and by staying one last season as a Zag, Ronny dug himself deeper into our memories. — Michael Bowen
2nd: John Stockton; 3rd: Adam Morrison
Best Radio Station
93 Zoo FM
The Zoo's headliners are Brooke Fox and Tanya Tyler, who will wake you up during drive time. They'll scream at you every morning for an entire week at 6:30 am in a feature they call Get Your Butt Out of Bed. At 6:50, they deliver the Unfair and Unbalanced news. At 7 o'clock, it's time for Tanya's Trash, which is apparently devoted mostly to making fun of Lindsay Lohan's boobs. Their Web site features photos of Brooke and Tanya posing for pictures with such well-known and famous luminary celebrities as Kimmie Safer, Kenny Andrews and Kurt Angle. (We don't know who they are, either.) Still, the Zoo's mix of pop, dance and even R & B won the station top honors this year. — Michael Bowen
2nd: KCDA-FM; 3rd: Rock 94.5
Best Radio Team
The Breakfast Boys, Star 96.9 FM
They're not crazy, they're just a little unwell. The Boys have won this competition now seven consecutive times — obviously, listeners respond to how Dave Sposito and Ken Hopkins sprinkle music of the '80s and '90s on Star 96.9 for your morning delectation, mixing it up with features like "Let's Help a Listener" (a sort of communal psycho-babble help line). For added fun, check out the Boys' online gallery of visual gags, which includes Glen Campbell's mug shot, Michael Jackson with his assortment of noses and Prince Charles riding a Camilla horse. — Michael Bowen
2nd: Brooke and Tanya, KZZU; 3rd: Radio Men, KKZX
Best TV Anchorperson
Stephanie Vigil, KHQ
Stephanie Vigil has some chocolate-covered strawberries she'd like to sell you. When she's delivering the news from her anchorperson chair, she may be Very Professional; but in her heart, she's Very Berry.
That's the name of her confections company, which creates desserts so delightful, they just might show up on film at 11:00. After four straight years of earning the silver or the bronze — but not the gold — Vigil has finally triumphed as the favorite on-camera news delivery talent of Inlander readers everywhere.
Our readers must be sweet on her. — Michael Bowen
2nd: Randy Shaw, KREM; 3rd: Shelly Monaghan, KHQ
Best TV Sportscaster
Dennis Patchin, KXLY
The goatee, the smirk, the rat-a-tat-tat spouting of sports trivia — Dennis Patchin, winner in this category three of the past four years, is getting just a little too big for his athletic britches, if you ask me. Prides himself on knowing all kinds of — not just trivia, but arcane trivia, the really out-there stuff.
OK, so answer me this one, Mr. Patchin. Who won fifth place in the 1968 Class "C" Shot Put competition in the Tustin [Calif.] Intermediate School League track and field championships (with, by the way, an impressive 28-foot heave of the hefty six-pound ball) and has the ribbon to prove it? Huh? Does Mr. Smarty Pants Sports Trivia know that one?
I didn't think so. — Michael Bowen
2nd: Tom Hudson, KREM; 3rd: John Fritz, KHQ
Best TV Weathercaster
Tom Sherry, KREM
If the way tomorrow goes for you hinges on whether conditions during your afternoon commute will be 54 degrees and partly cloudy or — and this is where it gets real dicey — only 52 degrees and completely cloudy — well, then, Tom Sherry's your man.
With a sunny disposition like a May morning — he's a one-man warmness front — Sherry has won this category for the 11th straight time.
He knows whereof he forecasts. Did you realize that Sherry graduated from the Broadcast Meteorology program at Mississippi State University? Or that the BM program includes courses like Applied Climatology and textbooks like Introduction to Satellite Image Interpretation?
And here we thought that while Sherry was pointing and gesticulating, some guy just stood in front of that blue screen and waved fistfuls of cotton balls back and forth. — Michael Bowen
2nd: George Maupin, KHQ; 3rd: Kris Crocker, KXLY
Best High School Teacher
James Hagney, Lewis & Clark High School
John Hagney is the kind of teacher you wish you'd had in high school. He runs a student-centered classroom but still wears a tie. He banters with his students, but he doesn't talk down to them: A recent classroom discussion focused in part on the failure of NAFTA to remedy problems with U.S. immigration policy. From a student perspective, it's like this: Mr. Hagney may use lots of SAT words, but he also treats us like adults.
In his classroom, Hagney has made provisions for his students' physical comfort — in addition to the usual too-small desks, there are rows of potted plants, lots of arts posters and reading lamps hovering over cushy lounge chairs. But just as clearly, when it comes to intellectual pursuits, he wants to push his kids outside their comfort zones.
His students' grandparents, Hagney says, would be "astounded" that his classes are "not teacher-centered or textbook-driven. I really do believe in the Socratic method. I become the moderator — I ask questions to generate a dialogue."
Because he's in his "30th year of teaching, going on 40," Hagney has the seniority to teach the students he wants — in his case, seniors in Honors Humanities (recent discussion: "What kinds of things endanger democracy?") and a form of service learning known at LC as the Practicum in Community Involvement (PICI).
"We work with about 30 different nonprofit organizations," Hagney says. "The students develop research projects based on internships. From there, they engage in different projects, guided by mentors with expertise in the subject they are researching."
In other words, students don't just read, they do — it's book learning nourished by actual life experiences.
When it comes to service learning, Hagney walks his talk: He has won public service awards for his work on the Spokane Boundary Review Board and the Chase Youth Commission, among other civic projects.
Included among the PICI student projects Hagney has overseen are studies of the local effects of globalization, free trade and public transportation in the context of the New Urbanism. Students have worked with Spokane City Hall personnel, Hagney says, to devise "economic development strategies for a creating a University District that is attractive to [the students'] demographic.
"Most of my students go on to college. More often than not, they pursue whatever they did for their service-learning project as a major.
"Last year," Hagney recalls, "one student with a strong background in biology and chemistry worked with the Kettle Range Conservation Group. He settled on doing work with bio-diesel at UW — and now he's starting his own company!
"Another student — I think she was class of 2000 — was the first high school student in the country to be licensed, in conjunction with a service learning project, as a hospice caregiver. She did a project on spirituality and the process of dying. Well, she went on to do her undergraduate work, and now I hear she's going on to Harvard Divinity School."
Even if it doesn't always produce that close a linkage between academic pursuits and personal aspirations, service learning seldom fails to ignite students' love for learning. Says Hagney, "It's the closest thing to a panacea I've seen in 30 years."
LC students may joke about Mr. Hagney's cardigan sweaters (the return of Mr. Rogers) and his idea of good television viewing (artsy stuff on local-access cable), but they're obviously glad to have him around: Last fall, "Mr. Hagney for President" stickers sprouted around campus.
For their part, LC parents know that John Hagney is the kind of teacher they wish they'd had back in the day — and the kind they're glad their kids can learn from in the here and now. — Michael Bowen
2nd: (tie) Tom Armitage, North Central; Jeff Norton, Lewis and Clark; 3rd: (tie) Darren Nelson, North Central; John Phelan, East Valley; Emily Torres, Ferris
Best Public Official in North Idaho
Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne revealed last week that he has been permanently scarred by his childhood in Spokane.
And he loves it.
Kempthorne was at the airport north of Coeur d'Alene last week for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a new hangar and headquarters for Empire Airlines, an Idaho company that has outgrown its quarters at Spokane International Airport only to be lured back east of the state line by what company officials called a better business climate.
"Take a look here. Is there a scar?" Kempthorne asked an aide, poking a finger to his lower lip. "Yes, sir, that's a scar," the aide confirmed.
"Freya," Kempthorne said. "That's Freya."
And then he smiled. The governor reminisced about the wicked good sledding down the Freya hill when he was a child. "This one kid cut in front of me and I couldn't stop. The sled runner got me."
Kempthorne came to Spokane in 1953 when he was 2 and attended Franklin Elementary School on the lower South Hill through the fourth grade.
While in town for a conference a few years ago, he made an impulse visit to his old school and dropped off a photograph that he signed and is now on display near the main office.
His dad, Jim, was a sales rep for Maytag, and his late mother, Maxine, worked downtown as a receptionist in an insurance office. The family, including older brothers Jim and Mark, lived near 15th and Freya.
The governor has fond memories of adventures near "Suicide Lane" (the neighborhood boys' name for the road at Upper Lincoln Park), of learning to ice skate on the pond just south of Lincoln Heights and of the school carnivals at Franklin.
"What a town," Kempthorne said. "It was a time that, as an 8-year-old, I could ride the bus downtown after school to meet my mom."
On the way home, they would often stop at Northwest Seed to look at the puppies. On rare excursions to dine out, Kempthorne said he has a lasting memory of a cool dessert: "I don't remember if it was the Ridpath or the Davenport, but they had this dessert where they would put dry ice in a bowl and then orange sherbet in another bowl that went inside of that. For a kid, what a great thing."
Even in his speech before the ribbon-cutting, he mentioned his fondness for the region: "I grew up in Spokane, graduated from the University of Idaho and got married on the top of Moscow Mountain." And he made no bones about running a business-friendly state.
"We want to raise our children in educational facilities that are the finest, and to do that we need a strong economic base," he told the gathering. "We need to be pro-business so that when our children grow up, there will be jobs and they can stay here."
It may be his unabashed affection for North Idaho that makes him the rare state politician who is popular north of McCall. Maybe that's why the espresso-toting readers of an alternative newsweekly would, in one of their Best Of categories, choose a Republican governor from one of the reddest of the red states.
Even Kempthorne was bemused. — Kevin Taylor
Best Delivery Person
Eric Battleson, UPS
Live human tissue for skin grafts. Urine and semen samples. Baby snakes. If you're a UPS delivery man with a South Hill route filled with medical-related delivery stops, as Eric Battleson is, you're not just carrying letters from Aunt Martha.
In 15 years with UPS, Battleson has schlepped around a lot of bulky packages with his handcart.
Yet most people don't even notice delivery people, at least not enough to be able to vote for them by name in a contest like this one. How did Battleson get so well known?
"Well, to be frank, I half-jokingly went around and mentioned to my clients that The Inlander was having a Best Delivery Person category this year, and that they should vote for me," he says.
"I was just joking around. But I guess you need to be careful what you wish for," he says. "I'm gonna get raked over the coals at UPS over this."
Battleson, 35, also delivers to residences on the South Hill below 14th Avenue. So what about the stereotype of the lonely housewife answering her front door in something skimpy?
"Yeah, I've had the lady in the towel several times," he says. "Once I had a phone number put on my board instead of a signature. But only once."
Did he call?
"She was really putting herself out there. But nah, I was embarrassed."
After all, the UPS way is regimented. By the book. Battleson delivers around 350 parcels a day — at Sacred Heart Receiving alone, he drops off "between 100 and 130 — my 'stops per hour' is 16.5," he says.
Sounds as if UPS keeps careful track of such things.
The company's new DIAD 4 monitors will be equipped with GPS — meaning that supervisors will be able to pinpoint their drivers in real time.
Still, the public may feel like they see UPS drivers a little too often, in front of them on our streets and highways. (What can Brown do for me? It can get the hell out of my way!)
"The worst problem," says Battleson, "is that people see a barn door, this big brown truck, in front of them and they want to get in front of it — when actually, I'm probably going to move faster than they are. I have to drive pretty aggressively just to get through my day — I'm not going over the speed limit, of course, but I'm not wasting time, either."
If you had to make a delivery at a new location once every 3 minutes and 45 seconds, you wouldn't waste any time either. — Michael Bowen
2nd: Joe Jones, Pizza Pipeline; 3rd: Phil Moritz, Beau-K
Sonna Brado, Jaazz Salon
"People assume you're a hairstylist because you can't do anything else. But it's a career," says Sonna Brado of Jaazz.
Brado has been a hairstylist for 22 years. She travels to New York every other month to research the latest hairstyling techniques and products and to teach at the hairstyling academy run by Sam Brocato.
Pretty clearly, running the Jaazz Salon is her profession, not just her second choice. Brado conducts in-house seminars for the stylists on her staff — a recent topic was conditioning techniques — along with providing medical and investment benefits. She wants her employees to regard hairstyling as a career, too.
Sonna and her husband Mark Brado opened a salon in Cheney in 1985, where they remained for a decade before opening Jaazz in downtown Spokane. Having moved to another Washington Street location in December — now they're in the American Legion building at Riverside — they've rechristened their business as the Jaazz Salon and Skin Care Center. The interior bespeaks big-city sophistication, with lights strung from overhead steel grilles and Breakfast at Tiffany's looping endlessly on big screens. (Audrey Hepburn — that's the look we're after.)
Being so well established in her career, how does Brado keep satisfying her creative impulses?
She's ready with a recent example of a hairstyle she devised. "There's a woman who works at Mizuna who has very, very long hair, and she wanted something different," says Brado. "So we cut it extremely short on top and then layered it behind in stair steps, almost like shingles. If she pulls it up, it looks like a China doll bob. But it's still long in back, so it's a very versatile look."
Do her customers simply let her work her creative magic on their heads? Brado smiles. "When clients say, 'Do whatever you want,' they don't mean anything of the kind. So it depends on the questions that I ask."
And if they insist the equivalent of a mullet?
"Then I will treat you very gently, as a professional. All I can do is advise you from a place of knowledge and say, 'This is why I think it won't work.'"
She laughs. "It's a good thing that hair grows back," she says, adding that "the trend is toward more volume in hair. In the '80s, we had big hair; in the '90s, it was more flat. Now we're somewhere in between."
You'll have an opportunity to learn about hairstyling trends in late April at the Coeur d'Alene Resort, when, as part of "Pause and Play," Brado will be one of the hairstylists discussing techniques and performing makeovers.
In the meantime, consider paying a visit to Jaazz, where, says Brado, "We want to make people feel good about themselves. I don't want people to look at you and think, 'Great hair.' I want them to think, 'You look great." — Michael Bowen
2nd: Mark Zalomsky, Studio 1929; 3rd: Chris Leigh, Salon Nouveau
Best George W. Bush Impersonator
Somewhere in the world, each of us has a look-alike. But with a population of 6 billion and climbing, most of us will never know if that's true. So it's pretty miraculous that Lee Lorenz not only found his look-alike, but that the person happens to be the President of the United States. A Coeur d'Alene resident for about 30 years, Lorenz says he never paid much attention when people commented that he bore a striking resemblance to the governor of Texas. "I thought, 'So, I look like someone else, so what?'" he says. But when George W. Bush became president, Lorenz's friends and family urged him to capitalize on it.
"It was only two and a half years ago I started doing [impersonations]," Lorenz says. An agent picked him up after Lorenz e-mailed a few photos and says he's been booking gigs non-stop since. It's no wonder; Lorenz looks so much like Bush Jr. that he says people have tried pulling on his face to get the mask off. "One of the first [events] I did was a Lincoln Day Dinner, and I was scared because I didn't know if I could pull it off," Lorenz recalls. "But when [Idaho] Senators Butch Otter and Larry Craig, who know the president personally, were doing double takes at me, that made me realize. They gave me a lot of confidence, both of them saying, 'I thought he was supposed to be in Japan tonight!'"
Now a free agent, Lorenz flies all over the world impersonating George W.
"I've done speeches, political dinners, corporate parties, meet-and-greets," he says nonchalantly. "We put on all the trappings [to make the experience] like what people see on TV — the Secret Service, the metal detectors, the limo. They part the crowd and everyone is cheering."
Lorenz says he's been flown to Madrid to film a movie and to Australia to shoot a commercial for a South Korean credit card company. In Los Angeles, he was approached for an interview and ended up on Jimmy Kimmel Live. In addition, he's attended some spectacular parties, including a New Jersey bar mitzvah, where the kid's family rented the Oval Office set from Saturday Night Live and had Lorenz stand behind the desk and introduce the boy to the crowd.
"There was a [gig] right after that in Arlington Stadium with the Texas Rangers," Lorenz recalls. "I got to throw the game ball at a private corporate party, which had rented the stadium. It's quite a thrill standing on the mound, throwing the ball."
His most memorable gig? "We did a party for the Best Buy Corporation, for [the company's] top producers. They brought everyone to Disney World and rented a private beach. I had a good time with the Nicole Kidman look-alike."
Lorenz hasn't let all the hobnobbing go to his head; he says he doesn't take it too seriously and knows that when George W.'s gig is up, so is his: "I know a Bill Clinton look-alike, and as soon as Clinton was out of office, he was out of work." But that doesn't bother Lorenz, who owns the Coeur d'Alene security installation company, Security Solutions — his "real" job, as he puts it. "It's a chance to travel, I got a good start on my daughter's college education and it's a lot of fun."
As for whether Lorenz is a Bush fan? "That's a no-brainer," he says, chuckling. "I voted for his dad, too. It'd be really hard to play this part if you hated Bush." — Cara Gardner
BEST OF THE INLAND NORTHWEST — RECREATION
Best Cheap Family Fun
Everybody crows about the downtown revival going on these days, and about the how the Davenport Hotel put Spokane on the map. But we would posit that the construction of Riverfront Park was one of the best things this city ever did for itself. And while it's no Chuck E. Cheese or Six Flags, the park is an ideal place to take the kids on a mild Sunday afternoon. Bring breadcrumbs for the voracious waterfowl, stop for a picture at the Red Wagon (does that thing ever get old?), feed the garbage goat, take a ride on the Looff Carrousel, then let the kids run up and down the grassy hills until they collapse. That way — at least come June or July — they'll be just quiet and docile enough to feel some awe when you pack them into the newly remodeled gondola for a sweep over the falls. — Joel Smith
2nd: Wonderland; 3rd: The Garland Theater; North Idaho's Best: Silverwood
Best Place to Fish
Lake Coeur d'Alene
We'll be the first to admit that this category is a joke. Everybody knows that a real angler never reveals his or her favorite fishing hole, for fear that every goofy-haired newbie caster and his brother will swoop in and shatter what once was a peaceful, bass-packed paradise. That said, Coeur d'Alene Lake is as good a place as any for said newbie to cast his first line. Packed to the gills with landlocked salmon, kokanee, small- and largemouth bass, and some of the portliest pike in Idaho, the abundant catchins make it a sweet spot for practicing technique. And at 50 square miles, it's plenty big enough to find a nice patch of privacy, allowing the freedom to work on that other half of the fishing technique: quiet, meditative patience. — Joel Smith
2nd: Lake Roosevelt; 3rd: Spokane River
Best New Way to Burn Calories
All of us slovenly winter-fat staff writers were really hoping our readers would inspire us with exciting new ways to get fit for spring. But no. Our second- and third-place winners have been around since the dawn of time (though which came first is up in the air), and the big winner has been blasting away calories for almost 80 years. Developed in 1926 by Joseph Pilates — who called it "The Art of Contrology" — Pilates eschews repetitions of the same exercise for fewer, more precise controlled movements, especially in the "Powerhouse" area — the ass, abs and lower back. Some liken it to yoga, but without the spiritual component.
Those who still pronounce it "pie-lates" and think only California airheads and wussy zen wannabes can do it would be wise to check out classes someplace like FSG, 24 Hour Fitness, Positive Power or Precision Pilates. We guarantee that in 30 minutes, you'll be begging for mercy. —Joel Smith
2nd: Walking; 3rd: Sex
Best Place to Hike
Riverside State Park
In Hindu culture, rivers are considered holy, and the confluence of two (or more) rivers is seen as a sacred place. It's no surprise, then, that Riverside State Park, overlaid on the confluence of the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers, feels like a sanctuary. The park's 10,000 acres of trails and wilderness are precisely what everybody's talking about when they call this area "Near Nature, Near Perfect."
New hikers to the park will be impressed with its 55 miles of trails, but they should stay on their toes, so to speak. Come summer and sunny weather, the place can crawl with other hikers, bikers, horseback riders, wheelchair jockeys (seriously — the park has a mile of ADA trails), canoers, kayakers and plain old tourists coming to ogle the spectacular Bowl and Pitcher. We say get your hikes in now, people. — Joel Smith
2nd: Mount Spokane; 3rd: Tubbs Hill
Best Place for Rock-Climbing
Minnehaha (John H. Shields Park)
Climbers say that the best thing Minnehaha has going for it is its location, just six miles outside of downtown Spokane — meaning that in about twenty minutes you can go from sitting in your office, staring at your computer, to hanging from 10 fingers off a granite ledge. That nearness has made Minnehaha a staple among local climbers, but some suggest that it's also made it terra cognita, and thus something of a bore. As with fishing holes, climbers tend to keep their favorite walls secret.
Still, you can't beat the proximity. And though a lot of the best plums may have already been picked over, tougher climbs like Smokey on Fire (V8) and To Have and Two Holds (V7) still give even the most experienced climbers a tough time. And with 70-some other routes scattered around the area, there's still plenty for the novice to discover. — Joel Smith
2nd: Wild Walls; 3rd: Bowl and Pitcher/Deep Creek; North Idaho's Best: Q'emlin Riverside Park, Post Falls
Best Golf Course
Though it's gotten a good dose of competition lately from its fellow muni, The Creek at Qualchan, Indian Canyon remains the crown jewel in the Parks Department's golf circuit. Built on a canyon wall with a 240-foot vertical drop, it's repeatedly been named one of the top 25 public courses in the nation. And that's not because it's easy. Local duffers have cursed themselves indigo trying to tame their hooks and slices over the narrow greens, carved out between towering pines. And just when they've learned to straighten their drives, they're fooled by blind corners, undulating hills and inky, deceptive shadows.
But it's like they say on the ski slopes: If you never fall down, you're not trying hard enough. At Indian Canyon, you know you're at the top of your game when you end every 18 holes with at least a couple of badly bent clubs. Golf shouldn't just be a walk in the park. — Joel Smith
2nd: Qualchan; 3rd: Hangman; North Idaho's Best: The Coeur d'Alene Resort Golf Course
Best Bike Shop
Wheel Sport has been a haven for Spokane's two-wheeled community since the 1970s, when it first opened shop on North Division. Thirty years and two new locations later, they credit their success to a big inventory (around 1,000 bikes) and a welcoming attitude toward all kinds of bikes and bikers. Wheel Sport grease monkey Vince Poff says, "we like to cater to everybody," not just the high-end titanium alloy crew. Long-time riders in need of a tune-up, first-time buyers looking for the perfect fit, little kids eyeing their first rig — they all come to Wheel Sport.
Aside from sales and repair, the shop also organizes a couple of rides a year and sponsors the occasional racer. With springtime coming, cyclists ought to check out their upcoming mountain and comfort bike sale and their renowned midnight bike sale in late July — the "busiest two hours we ever have here," says Poff. — Joel Smith
2nd: Columbia Cycle; 3rd: Two Wheel Transit; North Idaho's Best: Shull's Cycling and Fitness, Coeur d'Alene
Best Place to Ski or Snowboard
Named for the Swiss hermit who for years holed up in the Selkirk Mountains near Sandpoint, Schweitzer has been the biggest name in Inland Northwest skiing practically since it opened in 1963. With eight lifts servicing 2,500 acres of luscious powder (some years, at least), the resort has put the city of Sandpoint on the map of vibrant, viable ski towns and amplified the buzz over winter sports in the Inland Northwest in general. And once this freaky El Nino, or La Nina, or Los Nunez or whatever the hell it is finally blows out of here, things are only going to get better. — Joel Smith
2nd: Mount Spokane; 3rd: 49 Degrees North
Best Outdoor Rec Supplies
Seattle-based REI has been edging out the locals in this category for years, and it will probably continue to do so. The company inspires almost rabid loyalty among its fans and customers, who are drawn in by its whole down-home, adventurous, outdoorsy, friendly Northwestern vibe and stay for the cooperative membership and discounts — including an annual refund on purchases at the store and online.
While some smaller outfitters suspect REI has gotten a little too big for its sturdy, breathable cotton canvas britches (with double-needle construction and gusseted crotch, or course), the well-monied outdoor juggernaut continues to wow with its massive inventory, green-minded philanthropy, out-there adventure tours and in-store perks, like climbing walls and bike test trails. It's a Goliath alright, but it's just so damned nice and friendly. — Joel Smith
2nd: Mountain Gear; 3rd: Mountain Goat; North Idaho's Best: The Black Sheep, Coeur d'Alene
Best Stretch of the Centennial Trail
Riverfront Park to GU
That this short, mostly urban stretch of the trail beat out its longer, woodsier, more scenic competitors suggests to us that its fans see it as more than just a pretty walk — it's functional, too. Aside from the visual attractions of the park — the Carousel, the reflection of the Opera House on the water and the almost English countryside look of the river east of Division —— this stretch of the trail also serves as the fastest, most direct way for non-motorists to get from the Gonzaga campus to downtown and back. We clocked in at around 10 minutes on a recent bicycle spin from City Hall to the McCarthey Center. Taking the lights and dodging traffic on Spokane Falls Boulevard would have taken twice as long and been only a fraction as lovely. — Joel Smith
2nd: Sullivan Road to Stateline, Idaho; 3rd: through Riverside State Park
Best Health Club
24 Hour Fitness
What's nice about 24 Hour Fitness is that you can find one even if you if you move, travel or simply want a change of venue. With more than 300 U.S. locations, and clubs across Europe and Asia, the company is the largest privately owned fitness center in the world, boasting 2.7 million members. So there's really no excuse for not hitting the treadmill even during your next business trip.
Like pretty much all gyms (and cell phone plans), there are a slew of start-up fees and contract plans that flirt with the borders of "reasonable," but once you're on board, things are breezy. Depending on the kind of plan you have and which 24 Hour gym you're in, you can do much more than lift weights and watch C-Span while on the treadmill; there are yoga, spinning, aerobic and dance classes. In some locations, there are pools and racquetball courts. There are also plenty of personal trainers to help you get the perfect workout for your fitness goals. Though the clubs in the Spokane area aren't quite open 24 hours a day, if you show up during the hours they are open, you'll be fit 24/7. — Cara Gardner
2nd Place: Spokane Athletic Club; 3rd Place: Gold's Gym
Best Neighborhood Walk in North Idaho
I'm reluctant to compare Tubbs Hill to Central Park in New York City; Coeur d'Alene is no metropolis. Still, the two parks invoke a similar sense of wonder as, with only a few steps, you cross over effortlessly from a concrete world of noise and right angles into a new dimension of stillness and earth, and it's as if the former just ceased to exist. If the central business district is the pumping heart of any city, a well-maintained urban park is that quiet place in its head where it goes, zen-like, to escape.
And while Coeur d'Alene is hardly the Big Apple, Tubbs Hill itself is one of the finest urban parks around. A solid, 135-acre knob of Precambrian mica schist and gneiss jutting out into Coeur d'Alene Lake, Tubbs takes you from the urban to the natural very quickly. From the trailhead at the south end of the parking lot between McEuen Park and the Coeur d'Alene Resort (or, on the other side, at the south end of 11th Street), the trail punches steeply upward through tight-packed pines, eventually opening up to somewhat thinner forest and a few broad grassy areas.
If you're trying not to get lost, follow the numbered signs, posted sporadically on ponderosas and Doug firs. They can be confusing — particularly if you begin on the backside — but they should get you where you want to go. If you don't care about getting lost, take one of the many informally blazed trails and see where it leads (taking note that hiking off-trail can cause harmful soil erosion). Views from all sides and the top of the hill are impressive, but the real money shot on Tubbs is its outer perimeter (pictured above), which skirts the lake, at varying elevations, for almost two miles. This is the kind of trail that begs you not to follow it, suggesting instead that you take a break on a rocky, lichen-encrusted outcrop and just enjoy the view. Or scramble down to the rocky beach and skip a few stones.
And it's this view especially — so broad and blue and calming — that lulls you into the feeling that you're far from home, far from civilization, in the wild. And that's what makes it so shocking when, in the last few steps of the trail, you see a fire hydrant, a sidewalk, the resort, traffic. And you cross back over that threshold. — Joel Smith
Best Way to Get Rec Street Cred
The Great Outdoors Museum
It's become clear in the last few years that the Inland Northwest is interested in making a name for itself in the field of outdoor recreation. And why not? We already have a history of athleticism, with big events like Bloomsday, Hoopfest and now the Ironman Triathlon in Coeur d'Alene. It's tough to match the wealth of outdoor opportunities we have just in the immediate area — rocks to climb, trails to run, mountains to ski, hills to bike, rivers to raft. And, as a lot of civic boosters never fail to remind us, we're central to even more: summiting in the Cascades, hunting in Montana, spelunking in B.C., fishing in Oregon. And we're urban enough to make for a good base camp. When you think about it that way, you have a pretty good foundation for boasting that Spokane is already the Outdoors Capital of the Northwest.
And in that light, some of the measures the area's already started taking to capitalize on its outdoor wealth — Spokane's "Near Nature, Near Perfect" slogan, the Friends of the Falls' exciting plans for the gorge area, the push to clean up the Spokane River — seem less like paradigm-shifting ideas and more like no-brainers.
But let's say all these things happen and the Inland Northwest becomes a Mecca for outdoor pursuits. We think it needs a center, a hub, something tying it all together. That's where the Great Outdoors Museum comes in. Granted, museums and the outdoors seem like an unlikely match. But you stack this place with climbing walls, bike trails, an archery range, a swimming pool for practicing your Eskimo roll, a little stream where you can practice your fly casting. Then you pack in a lot of interactive exhibits on outdoorsmanship, collect a lot of artifacts — Norgay's mittens, LeMond's bike tires, Roskelley's ice pick — and then fill the remaining space with offices for local outdoors-related nonprofits, like adventure tour companies, a community bike program (with repair shop), and enviros like the Sierra Club or the Friends of the Falls/Aquifer/Centennial Trail. And perhaps most important, stuff the museum with information on what's available to the outdoors enthusiast living in, or visiting, Spokane. Make it a gateway to the outdoors.
The museum attracts field trips from school kiddies, newbies who want to learn to climb or shoot or paddle, hobbyists who need a place to train and tourists who want to get out there but don't know where to start. It's genius, we think.
If Spokane becomes the Outdoors Capital of the Northwest, then the Great Outdoors Museum would be its capitol building. — Joel Smith
Best Park and Neighborhood Walk
No surprises here. In a city that prides itself on an exemplary parks system, Manito (Algonquin for "spirit of nature") has been, and probably always will be, the centerpiece. Ninety acres in the heart of the South Hill, it's both a hub for the surrounding community and one of those must-see spots for visitors. And, as our readers pointed out elsewhere in this issue, it's lovely enough to be the best local backdrop for a movie.
Manito, which celebrated its centennial last year, got its start in 1904 as a public recreational area and the terminus to a municipal streetcar line. Where today kids feed (and get chased by) ducks and geese, in the earliest part of the last century you could watch a movie by the pond, or waltz the night away at the big dance hall. With the Olmsteds' survey of Spokane's park system in the early 1910s, Manito started looking a little more park-like. Between 1910 and 1913, the newly formed independent parks commission added flower gardens, playgrounds, tennis courts, greenhouses, a ball field, year-round flower displays and built the three-acre, Euro-Renaissance-style Duncan Garden, complete with concrete fountain.
Since then, Manito has become a gardener's paradise. Rose Hill, a cooperative project between the Parks Department and the Spokane Rose Society, features informal beds with more than 1,500 rose bushes, including 150 different varieties. Manito boosters say it's one of the primary horticultural attractions in the Inland Northwest, whatever that means.
The list of attractions for floraphiles goes on and on: The tropical plants at the Gaiser Conservatory; the year-round displays in the Joel E. Ferris Perennial Garden; the intricate Nishinomoya Japanese Garden designed by Nagao Sakurai, the former headman at Japan's Imperial Gardens.
How much time our readers actually spend smelling the roses is questionable, however. We suspect that your overwhelmingly perennial support of Manito Park has more to do with its subtler, quotidian features. The rolling hills and open grassy areas, the courts and fields. Roses, schmoses. For our money, the best thing to do at Manito Park is just to meet up with a couple of friends on a warm summer evening and throw a Frisbee around. It might make a boring movie location, but it makes a beautiful backdrop for ordinary life. — Joel Smith
BEST PARK 2nd: Riverfront Park; 3rd: Riverside State Park; North Idaho's Best: Coeur d'Alene City Park
BEST NEIGHBORHOOD WALK 2nd: Browne's Addition; 3rd: High Drive; North Idaho's Best: Tubbs Hill
BEST OF THE INLAND NORTHWEST — NIGHTLIFE
The casino closest to Spokane, Northern Quest is just a short drive from the city center, and it has everything you might want in a gambling establishment. You know — the buffet. From what I hear, the Quest's dining experience is a true diamond in the Spokane culinary rough. With a consistently packed schedule of entertainers that we can all remember from some time or another, Northern Quest is your one-stop entertainment shop. It's a fully loaded recreation center - for adults. — Leah Sottile
2nd: Coeur d'Alene Tribal Casino; 3rd: Two Rivers Casino
Best Movie Theater
AMC River Park Square 20
It's a death-defying trip for anyone who suffers from vertigo, but avert your eyes — it's worth the risk to ascend all those escalators to see a movie at Spokane's only downtown theater. What isn't cool about AMC? Well, nothing. They have that neato ticket time board up front, arena seating and great sound. Besides, the AMC 20 is the only theater in town that brings more than just mainstream films. — Leah Sottile
2nd: The Garland; 3rd: Northtown Regal Cinemas; North Idaho's Best: The Showboat
Best Cocktail Lounge
The Peacock Room at the Davenport Hotel
No matter the price of the drinks, there's always something that can be said for swank. There's always that one night every year when you might get all dolled up, hit the town and then want to top it off with a nightcap worthy of your apparel. Enter, stage right, the Peacock Room. Located in Spokane's capital of swankiness, the Davenport Hotel, the Peacock allows you to enjoy a strong drink at the bar or at one of the candlelit tables. With its stained glass accoutrements, the Peacock Room is a regular Gatsby-esque hangout — but please, no dancing in the fountain. — Leah Sottile
2nd: Cavallino Lounge; 3rd: Dempsey's Brass Rail
Best Place to Drink Beer
It used to be called Ahab's Whale: You might remember it if you've been around these parts for more than a decade. It's a long-time nautical joint, with female figureheads from the bows of ships dotting some walls, flags hanging from every corner and patch of ceiling. And with the sheer volume of ale on tap at the Viking, there is a whole lot of swashbuckling that goes on at the Viking every night. With over 20 beers on tap and a solid wall of bottled brews, our readers think it's the premier place to drink beer in town — making the jump over last year's winner, the Elk, to take the title this year. — Leah Sottile
2nd: The Elk; 3rd: Mootsy's; North Idaho's Best: Moon Time
Best Bowling Center
The art of bowling is one that I've never understood or had much luck with — I chalk it up to being uncoordinated and having a slight lazy eye. And bowling culture is something I may never understand. The shirts, the gloves, the multi-colored bowling one-sies? Any activity that calls itself a "sport" yet goes hand-in-hand with cups of Coors Light and packs of Kools is a mystery to me. At Lilac Lanes, however, pondering the mysteries of bowling isn't a useful pursuit. Unlike some of its dark-and-dingy counterparts, things are bright and cheery at the bowling haven on North Nevada. Tables glisten as groups from the avid leaguers to the young and awkward fill the lanes nightly, cocktail waitresses slinking in between. There's a bar, gambling and, of course, balls aplenty. Lilac Lanes is bowling Zen. — Leah Sottile
2nd: Big Daddy's; 3rd: Players and Spectators
Best Local Band
10 Minutes Down
Well, the kids are back, all right, and in a big way this year. The longtime skankers who first took this category back in 2002 were beat out the last two years, first by cover band Kidd Sister, and then by blues men Too Slim and the Taildraggers. But this year, their fans came out in full force, invading our racks and crayoning in enough votes to double those for the second-place band, Five Foot Thick.
Things have changed around 10MD Land since they last won - and even more has changed in the band's eight-year history. The Minute-men said goodbye to bassist Kyle Bradshaw and brassman Sean McKenzie last December. In fact, we're not sure that any member of the band is from the original, Gonzaga-bred lineup, but we do know that the kids in town love 'em. How can you not have a soft spot for the clean-cut, smiling members of 10MD? We do, tee hee. — Leah Sottile
2nd: Five Foot Thick; 3rd: Too Slim and the Taildraggers
Best Wine Bar
Niko's Greek Restaurant & Wine Bar
I had this write-up over half finished when I called Pauline Riley, wine specialist and general manager at Niko's. I told her I was from The Inlander, wanted to write about her wine bar, yadda yadda. But she stopped me.
"Have you been here, though?" she said.
"Uh, well, I've eaten there, but" I yammered.
"Come over, now. What are you doing? Come over," she said, and I could tell that she expected me to comply.
So I walked the three blocks, and Pauline recognized me from the get-go. It was probably the notepad.
She plunked me down at the bar, poured me a "blind wine tour" of three excellent red wines, then rattled off wine jargon that made me understand what I was tasting. I sipped, she talked, we laughed about Sideways, and suddenly I was chatting it up with other customers.
That's the thing about Niko's, and the reason that they've taken the crown in this category for as long as I can remember. Sure, they've got more than 1,000 bottles in their cellar — but at Niko's, you learn what you like, drink what you want and Pauline makes sure that you like it.
"There's nothing worse than having a glass of wine in front of you that you don't like," she says.
Because at Niko's, wine is something for everyone to enjoy, and there's something that will appeal to almost anyone's palate — without it mattering whether you're eating chicken or beef. Like every individual who has come through the doors of the restaurant for the last 19 years, each glass of wine is unique. And Pauline caters to that.
She says she loves nothing more than when people come in before going to a movie, and then end up staying, skipping the movie and relaxing with a glass of wine.
"I think people are sometimes intimidated by the verbiage," she says. "I don't impose my beliefs. You should be able to try anything you want. It's about drinking wine and having a forum to try that wine."
With Pauline's assistance, I savored my wine tour — learning and enjoying along the way. And when I was done, I even left with a bottle of wine. — Leah Sottile
2nd: Mizuna; 3rd: The Peacock Room at the Davenport; North Idaho's Best: The Wine Cellar
Best Place to Incite the Revolution
The Coeur d'Alene Tea House
Missoula has Rockin' Rudy's, Boise has the Record Exchange, Spokane's got Boo Radley's, and now Coeur d'Alene has its own little hotbed for political goodies and liberal counterculture. Doesn't every city need one?
The Lake City spot is disguised, however, with all the political mumbo jumbo only being a part of the Tea House's charm. The Tea House is an all-ages music venue, an espresso joint, a tea lovers' paradise and, get this, the "world's largest living room" — though we think that might be a tad exaggerated.
Let's start with the store: Gateway Gardens. Owner Tyson Deering-Soth bought the longtime store and moved it to the Tea House. He saw a void in the North Idaho community for something that aligned with his political views.
With the recent closure of Moon Shadow in downtown Spokane, you can now make the short drive to Coeur d'Alene to restock your hippie toolbox: tapestries, incense, Buddha statues and Bob Marley T-shirts.
As a coffee shop, tea house and living room, Deering-Soth opens up the shop around 10 am, and allows patrons to hole up in one of the many recliners, couches and "mismatched '70s stuff" through 8 pm on weeknights.
"We carry really good coffee, but we have a vast selection of teas," he says — more than 75 varieties, in fact, from green to black, from loose to bag, and with every variety and flavor in between. Enjoy them in a cup or in your own personal pot.
And, very importantly to the region, the Tea House is the largest music venue in Coeur d'Alene. Bands like Coretta Scott, Five Foot Thick and the Uprite Dub Orchestra have already broken in the stage since its early February opening.
"We fall somewhere in between the B-Side and Fat Tuesday's," he says, noting that his current capacity is 150 but should be upped to nearly 300 (once he installs another toilet).
The tea, the culture and the music are all things Soth-Deering is happy to serve up to North Idaho — and he's hoping it's something that the community can learn to embrace:
"It's probably the most politically active dissident store I know of," he says. "It's kind of like a hippie store. It's just kind of a really progressive store in a really conservative community." — Leah Sottile
Best Hot New Nightspot, Place to Meet Single, Live Music Venue and Dance Club
The Big Easy
If you're suffering from a Spokane inferiority complex, just show the Big Easy to all your out-o-town friends. You know exactly which friends I'm talking about — the ones who lived here but got away, the ones who still pronounce it Spo-CANE, and the ones who ask you, "What the hell do you do on weekends?" as if they hadn't lived here for four years. Do I speak from personal experience? Why yes, I do.
Because after you hold your rent check under their upturned Seattle noses, you can take them to the Big Easy. That'll shut them up nice and good. All peeves about the place aside, remember the first time that you walked into the club itself? I do, and I about peed my pants, what with all the pretty lights, dancers and ear-shattering sound system. I was impressed, and my Seattle friends? Well, their jaws dropped.
And apparently our readers' jaws are dropping, too, all over the place, since they've selected the Big Easy as The Inlander's Best Of winner in four nightlife categories this year. Y'all think it's the best club to get crunk with your fellas, meet some hotties, flash some bling, lean back and drop it like it's hot, know what I'm saying? Ahem.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the Big Easy transforms into Club Mardi Gras and Club Fusion, respectively. DJ Decibel spins both nights, blasting everything from the raunchiest bump 'n' grind songs to heavy European techno and house music.
On the live music front, the Big Easy fills the size void between the B-Side and the Spokane Arena — providing a venue for mid-sized bands to play. And that's allowed acts like Liz Phair, Jewel, the Killers, Tegan & Sara and the Roots to rock the faces off of our fair city.
"I think what makes the Big Easy worthy of these honors is the great vibe, the extensive lights and sound system, the high number of national acts, top-notch DJs, great food and drink — and most importantly, the 100 plus members of our team whose number one priority is to show our guests a great time," says Greg Marchant, general manager of the Big Easy. "We are already on track to exceed the level of activity in ."
Our readers say the Big Easy is the spot for nightlife in Spokane. It's a party all the time — and that's exactly what the Big Easy wants it to be. Your Seattle friends will be so jealous. — Leah Sottile
Best Hot New Nightspot 2nd: Trickshot Dixie's; 3rd: The Merq; North Idaho's Best: The Grail
Best Place to Meet Singles 2nd: Church; 3rd: Dempsey's; North Idaho's Best: The Iron Horse
Best Live Music Venue 2nd: Fat Tuesday's; 3rd: The Met; North Idaho's Best: Silver Mountain
Best Dance Club 2nd: Dempsey's; 3rd: Trickshot Dixie's; North Idaho's Best: The Grail
BEST OF THE INLAND NORTHWEST — FOOD & DRINK
Best Drive-Thru Espresso
There's a little bit more that goes into winning the Best Drive-Thru category here in Best Of Land. To take the trophy in this category, a drive-thru hut has to prove itself in more than just good foam. Think about it: Customers that hit up drive-thrus for their morning, afternoon or evening fix are in a hurry. They don't want long, slow lines. Baristas must be quick, efficient and deadly when hustling customers through the line of cars, serving quality coffee with a smile that will brighten up a morning commute. It's a risky venture, the coffee hut biz. But rest assured, you're guaranteed the best at Jacob's — readers tell us that every year. — Leah Sottile
2nd: Starbucks; 3rd: Jitterz; North Idaho's Best: Java the Hut
Best Espresso Drinks
Sigh. At this point, there's no use in my preaching to you about the evils of big corporations or the benefits of supporting local business. You guys love Starbucks — the last few years of the Best Of issue have proved that. And you know what, that's OK — we find ourselves blindly herding into line at the downtown Starbucks at least twice a week. We, too, are slaves to the mermaid/siren/lady/monster and her delicious beans. No other java hut whets your need for speed like Starbucks, and judging from the remnants in our office trashcans, we feel the same. — Leah Sottile
2nd: Jacob's Java; 3rd: The Rocket; North Idaho's Best: Cafe Doma
Best Bakery and Locally Owned Coffeehouse
It's probably the smart combination of two things — that warm, fresh-baked smell and the cozy, comfortable, everybody-is-a-regular-here coffeehouse feel — that easily deliver the crown of these two categories to the Rocket Bakeries each and every year. Those poor baristas probably have to wipe drool marks and nose smudges from the baked goods case each evening, because there's a treat for everyone here: the frosting-shellacked cinnamon buns for the self-indulgent, whole-wheat cookies for the wary, scones in every flavor for the tea drinkers. And like the desserts, there's a Rocket for everybody: the Main and Division spot for the daytime sippers, the one on First for Sunday breakfast, the Rocket Market for in-town escapees. With an army of smiling baristas, the Rocket keeps satisfying Spokane's sweet teeth and caffeine addictions year after year. And, on a personal note, they fulfill my insane pink cookie addiction week after week with some of the softest, sweetest batches in town. Hey, Rocket: These love handles are yours. — Leah Sottile
Best Bakery 2nd: Rockwood Bakery; 3rd: Great Harvest
Best Locally Owned Coffeehouse 2nd: Rockwood Bakery; 3rd: Four Seasons; North Idaho's Best: Cafe Doma
Inlander readers really stuck it to Frank's Diner last year — handing the title for the first time in 11 years to this year's second-place finisher, Old European. It was a painful blow, we know. Frank's took the vote seriously, it seems, and the Spokane standard is back. Things just seem better around the west downtown train car than we ever remember: The food's still great, but the improvement is in the waitstaff. The short-haired weekend greeter takes your name, asks how your day is and flips you some sh— if she thinks you need it. The line cooks are a two-man comedy routine, entertaining counter diners with their uncanny omelet skills and relentless pestering of rookie waitresses. It's less of a diner and more like a Sunday breakfast at home. Everyone's a "hon" or a "sweetie" at Frank's — hell, when you eat at Frank's, you're family. — Leah Sottile
2nd: Old European; 3rd: Cannon Street Grill; North Idaho's Best: Dockside
Just American Desserts
For almost two decades, sisters Eva Roberts and Tracy Hunter have served up tons of rich desserts: creamy cheesecakes, silky ganache and thick fudgy chocolate cakes. These are desserts that epitomize the best of what dessert should be — an exquisite out-of-the-ordinary treat that will lift an average day to the level of celebration. They are alchemists turning butter, sugar and chocolate into pure delight. Lord knows how many points they've contributed to our collective cholesterol counts, yet we have nothing but gratitude for the experience. — Ann M. Colford
2nd: Cyrus O'Leary's; 3rd: Clinkerdagger; North Idaho's Best: Beverly's
I'm a seafood snob — I'll admit it. In my coastal New England hometown, Fridays were incomplete without a trip to the local fish market to buy something that had probably been swimming on Thursday. Now that I live 300 miles from salt water, my fishmonger dreams were but wistful memories, refreshed only during occasional visits to Seattle. But now, Spokane, we have our own outlet of the West Side seafood emporium, with a knockout view of the falls to boot. Northwest specialties like salmon, crab and halibut