Familiar, Yet Different

by LAUREN McALLISTER & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he Two-Seven Public House occupies one of those locations where others have gone before and failed. The original inspiration to turn the location into a restaurant must have caused a few puzzled looks, since it is situated in the daylight lower level of a strip mall. A trendy-in-the-'80s smoked-glass sunroom didn't help matters. So the Two-Seven faced some tough odds in transforming the location into an appealing eatery complete with outdoor seating. But the deed has been done. Gone is the sunroom. A new entrance, combined with the addition of rustic corrugated metal siding and stained wood timbers, gives the place the feel of a modern mountain lodge. Add some planter boxes overflowing with colorful flowers around a pleasant patio to shield the view of the adjacent parking lot, and voila, the Two-Seven is an inviting pub with a perfectly serviceable al fresco dining area.

When our party of six arrived on a Friday evening, we were happy to score one of those patio tables, as the interior, with its brown booths, carpet and walls, seemed more suited to cold weather and muted sunshine.

The Two-Seven is a sister to the Elk in Spokane, to Coeur d'Alene's Moon Time and to the Porch in Hayden. All the restaurants feature hearty, unpretentious food in casual settings. The menu reflects what diners have come to expect from this local chain of pubs.

We opted for the Manila clams ($13) as a starter on the advice of our server. A big bowl with a fragrant beer-based broth with garlic, butter and fresh ginger was good enough to soak into the accompanying toasted French bread. The clams were tender and delicious, and the ginger added a clean finish to the dish.

Next up were salads. I couldn't resist the creamy curry salad ($4.25 half, $7.50 whole). This was a perfect salad for a warm summer evening. The creamy sweet curry dressing was liberally applied and complemented the crisp red grape halves, crunchy candied walnuts and celery. Kudos to the chef for venturing out of the now-ubiquitous baby greens/Craisins/candied walnuts/bleu cheese salad craze. Yet a companion tried the sweet pear and spinach salad ($4.25 half, $7.50 whole) with red onions and Gorgonzola and was surprised to find chunks of canned pears in the otherwise pleasant salad.

Entr & eacute;es feature comfortable foods prepared in appealing combinations. The Italian meatloaf sandwich ($8) sports a pesto mayonnaise, caramelized onions, melted mozzarella and tomato sauce. I chose one of the more exotic dishes, salpicon ($10.50), described as a traditional Texan beef taco with chipotle peppers, jack cheese, red onions and roasted poblano peppers. Served with lightly grilled flour tortillas, these tacos were superb. The shredded beef was falling-apart tender and flavorful, and the accompaniments added a mild spice to the creamy cheese.

A companion's grilled lamb sandwich was tasty but needed more of the flavorful tzatziki. And it was a little skimpy on the meat, which was unfortunate because the marinated, thinly sliced lamb was terrific. The choice to serve the sandwich on a bready French roll was a puzzle as well. A lighter flatbread would have allowed the lamb's flavor to shine. The accompanying roasted corn pasta salad was heavy and lacked contrasting textures. Much more of the tasty roasted corn would have improved its appeal.

We also tested the Caribbean pork sandwich ($9). The sandwich was marred occasionally by tough and fibrous meat, but the rich pork flavor went well with the sweet orange-ginger sauce, highlighted by fresh cilantro and sweet caramelized onions.

Also on the menu are the 74th Street gumbo ($7.50 bowl, $3.75 cup), which will be familiar to patrons of the other locations, along with the chicken Caesar soft taco ($8.25) and the Anasazi bean burger ($6.50).

The kid's cheese quesadillas ($4) were a hit with two of our young guests, while the third was woefully disappointed in his grilled cheese sandwich ($4), with dry, butter-free grilled bread and a meager slice of American cheese. Next time, he'll try one of the heaping bowls of noodles with butter and cheese.

But not to worry -- dessert was just around the corner. The only dessert offered was a gem: the warm fudgy brownie and two big scoops of vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of chocolate sauce ($4) was a home run with our crowd.

Service throughout the evening was efficient and pleasant. All in all, the Two-Seven is a happy addition to the growing community of locally owned neighborhood restaurants on Spokane's South Hill. Maybe, at last, 2727 S. Mount Vernon will be the home of a restaurant that's here to stay.

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