by Mike Corrigan

On a recent trip to the northwest corner of Spokane, The Inlander food review team made a long overdue stop at one of the River Ridge neighborhood's most enduring dining institutions. Stadium Pizza Parlor is tucked into the Yoke's Market plaza on the corner of Wellesley Avenue and Northwest Boulevard, just across from the Veterans Hospital and just down the street from Joe Albi Stadium. The one Stadium is inexorably linked to the other Stadium, in fact, as generations of kids who attended high school football games at one frequently ended up at the other for some post-game revelry -- and, of course, pizza.

Stadium Pizza's dining room is about what you'd expect from a 25-year-old pizza parlor. The roomy, clean and non-smoking space has lots of booths and tables, a green and mauve color scheme and pictures of old Spokane on the walls. (There's also a rather impressive lounge next to the restaurant.) We chose a booth near the front window so we could suck up some rare winter sunshine.

The menu is more diverse and interesting than you'd expect from a "pizza" parlor. But hoo-mama, they do have the pizza. You can create your own pie starting with a cheese in small, medium and giant sizes ($6, $8.95 and $11.25, respectively) and utilizing a palette of 14 different toppings. Or you can go the specialty route. The Der Deutchen ($8.15, $13, $16.60) has a great name and is topped with salami, pepperoni, German sausage and sauerkraut. The Stadium Special ($8.80, $13.90, $17.25) has olives, mushrooms, onions, German sausage and Canadian bacon. Calzones come in two sizes -- small ($4.95) and large ($6.30) -- each with two toppings of your choice. Elsewhere you'll find burgers served with fries ($5.15-$6.95), hot heroes and specialty sandwiches served with soup or salad, chips and a pickle spear ($5.80-$6.70), an extensive selection of appetizers and even entrees like lasagna ($6.75) and chicken parmesan ($7.75).

We ordered a small two-topping pizza ($6.95) with Canadian bacon and pineapple, a large calzone ($6.30) filled with cheese, black olives and onion, something called "The Sampler" ($7.95) from the appetizer menu consisting of hot wings, mozzarella sticks, chicken strips and celery sticks, and the ever-popular Reuben sandwich ($6.20).

While we were waiting for our orders to arrive, we spied a group of adults on the other side of the dining room clearly relishing a selection of menu items. As I walked past them on my way over to the pizza parlor's "Bumpers II Fun Center" to scope out the video games -- which I noticed were all turned off -- one of the women at the table asked me if I'd like the games turned on. "We turn them off during the day sometimes," she explained. "They're right next to our office and they're pretty noisy." The woman was Jill Cogburn, co-owner (with her husband, Jeff) of Stadium Pizza. Hmmm. Apparently, the owners eat in their own restaurant -- and what's more, they enjoy it. Clearly, this was a portent of good things to come.

And it was. Our orders arrived cheerfully and in (relatively) rapid succession. "The Sampler" appetizer consisted of a half pound of hot chicken wings, three large mozzarella sticks, two large chicken strips, a handful of celery sticks and three sauces for dipping: marinara, tartar and blue cheese. "Half pound" doesn't translate into as much as you might imagine, but we were satisfied with the wing portions and more than pleased with their spicy flavor and tender finish. The mozzarella sticks were outstanding. They were heavily breaded ("fuzzy" said one reviewer), wonderfully crunchy on the outside yet very light on the oil. We could have devoured a whole order in nothing flat.

As a classic of sandwich design, the Reuben is one I often order during a review just to see how a restaurant will execute it. This one was a variant featuring mustard instead of the more traditional 1,000 Island dressing, and marble rye that was toasted rather than grilled. Good calls on both counts -- it resulted in a Reuben that was much lighter (both in heft and calories) and crispier than its grilled, dressing-smothered counterparts. It was also generously packed with tender corned beef, kraut and melted Swiss.

The crust on our small, two-topping pizza was handmade, medium-to-thin with a good amount of crunch and plenty of flavor. The Canadian bacon slices were large and plentiful. Our taster was ravenous, yet the four slices of the small pizza were more than enough to provide a satisfying lunch. (She actually ended up with two pieces left over to be microwaved later.) Its cousin, the calzone, was huge (more than our taster could manage), beautifully golden brown with a substantial rolled crust and lots of fresh fillings.

The Cogburns have owned, operated and lived Stadium Pizza for the last 25 years. It's a family operation all the way (the couple's niece works here as well). Owner involvement like that not only keeps a restaurant on a steady business course but also contributes the personal touch that turns first-time visitors into regular customers.

Publication date: 2/10/05

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