by Mike Corrigan

The Porch Public House is tucked way back to the east of Government Way in Hayden Lake, on Miles Avenue near one corner of the Avondale Golf course. It's a new-ish (as of last summer) dining and drinking establishment brought to you by the very same team responsible for such fine area pubs as the Elk in Spokane and Moon Time in Coeur d'Alene. Like those other spots, the Porch is a mix of old and new; it's modern Old World, rustic sophisticated.

Whatever you might call it, you'd probably have to agree that the pub is comfortable and inviting. The welcoming neon sign out front, spacious faux log cabin decor with olive green and brick red accents, blonde hardwood tables and large, covered outdoor seating area (lovingly referred to as "the porch"), all contribute to the restaurant's homey feel. Fortunately, the Porch's "down home" comfort comes with all modern conveniences: a wide variety of potables that includes 15 tap beers (regional micros and imports), a decent wine selection and, yes, hard liquor. They even have unisex bathrooms and the ability to substitute tofu (from local producers Small Planet Tofu) for meat in many of the dishes.

Then there's the menu, which to my eyes greatly resembled that of the Elk. (The specials menu, typically featuring a soup, a pasta dish and an inventive entr & eacute;e, changes every week.) But that's perfectly fine by me, because most of my Elk favorites were also featured here at the Porch: the chicken Caesar soft taco ($7.50), the grilled lamb sandwich ($7.25), the 74th Street Gumbo ($6.50 a bowl) and the spinach, rice, grilled chicken and peanut sauce delight known as the Swimming Angel ($9.95). But there were some notable digressions as well, and these we sought to explore in detail. They're broken down into appetizers, salads, sandwiches and specialties. And one dessert, the Moon Unit, a chocolate brownie topped with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce ($2.95).

The Radiatore Verde ($9.50) might be off-limits to the woeful Atkins dieter, but there's no reason you should avoid it. We certainly didn't. It came served in a bowl loaded with melted ricotta and Parmesan cheeses and bits of spinach along with three chunks of untoasted French bread. It was an elegant if simple dish, with a taste to match -- though it didn't exactly explode with the signature tastes of garlic or herbs, as one might expect. Instead, the cream-coated pasta gently worked its way through every bite, providing a light, passive but ultimately pleasant -- and quite filling -- experience. One member of our group found that a little salt and a squeeze of lemon over the dish added just the right tang. The Radiatore pasta itself was appropriately al dente.

My Pork Burrita's ($8.95) roasted chunks of seasoned pork filled a large, crispy flour tortilla that had been folded once and grilled. It was topped with (in this order) shredded lettuce, tomato-onion salsa and sour cream. It was huge and came with a generous portion of ranch-style (cooked, not refried) black beans. The pork inside was exceptionally tender and very flavorful, nestled in its mildly spicy ranchero sauce. The dish was a chore to dispose of completely because there was just so much of it, making the Pork Burrita another good choice for those with hearty appetites.

Not quite so hearty on first impression were the Salmon Cakes ($9.25). From where I was sitting, the dish looked a tad skimpy. Not so, claimed another of my companions, who ordered them, ate them and found them to be not only filling but also delicious: moist on the inside, crispy outside, and topped with a light sour cream/dill sauce that really smoothed out the whole package. The side of cucumber salad was a crisp and refreshing contrast to the dense texture of the potatoes. The bacon and smoked cheddar potato cakes were sublime -- delicate in texture and mild with well-balanced flavors.

Our server was efficient and accurate, and the food arrived swiftly after we ordered. No complaints there. It was strangely quiet on the day we came out -- there was only one other group in the restaurant -- but with these winning offerings and great atmosphere, I would bet that we just visited the Porch on an off day (or off time). And in just a few months, look out, because all that open-air seating on the back "porch" has got to be a major hit on those deliciously warm summer nights.

And who isn't ready for that?

Publication date: 03/11/04

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