by Mike Corrigan

On a recent lazy summer day, the whole gang -- Buster, Skippy, Froggy, Lulu and Sid -- decided it was high time to pay Pete's Pizza plant #2 on Northwest Blvd. a visit (there are two more Pete's: one at 821 E. Sharp and one at 18219 E. Appleway). The impetus for this outing sprang from a notion planted by Sid, who had spent a number of his late formative years in the restaurant's Northwest Spokane neighborhood. "Pete's is the bomb, fully deserving of its reputation as Spokane's 'Calzone King,' " declared Sid. The others, aware of Sid's penchant for hyperbole, thought a verification might just be in order.

Pete's (a weathered brown little number on the north side of Northwest Blvd. at Nettleton) doesn't look like much from the outside. In fact, it doesn't look like much from the inside, either. The rustic interior features a red, green and brown color scheme with familiar Italian kitchen claptrap covering the walls. Over the years, customers have had a considerable hand in the evolution of the look of the place. The white landscaping stones that fill the plastic flower planters are covered with names, sayings and phone numbers scrawled in ink. Ceiling panels have been systematically removed, decorated by patrons and replaced. As you dine, casual glances upwards reveal a kaleidoscope of bizarre drawings, slogans and declarations of affection ("Lucy is cool," "Viva Panama," "I love golf" and so on). Frankly, it could use a little sprucing up. The dining room is functional, but that's about it. Skippy didn't like it at all ("This is a room in which you are condemned to endure your lunch, not enjoy it," he fumed.) There's a broom closet-sized video game room in the back (four games: two unplugged, one out of order, one working) and a jukebox filled with new wave, butt-rock and country hits that has a tendency to play the flipside of whatever you select.

Despite its lack of refinement, Pete's has been a neighborhood favorite for decades. Why? It's the calzones, dummy. Folks eat 'em here and take 'em to go (calling ahead with your order is a good idea, as calzones and pizzas take 20-25 minutes to bake). They are huge. They are flaky. They are delicious.

"Gosh," exclaimed Sid eyeing the menu. "The calzone choices have certainly expanded over the years." It was true. In addition to classics such as the Original (pepperoni, fresh mushroom and olive - $6.95) and the Number 2 (Italian sausage, onion and green pepper - $8.25), you can now opt for such specialized delights as the Pettet Drive (artichoke hearts, red peppers, red onions, roasted garlic, feta and mozzarella - $8.75) and the Greek (spinach, tomatoes, onions, kalamata olives and feta - $9.10).

Froggy took the low-cal route with the Cheeseless, which includes red sauce and your choice of any three filling items (she went with spinach, fresh mushrooms and kalamata olives) for $5.45. "Very tasty," Froggy remarked. "The kalamatas were nice and salty, and I didn't even miss the cheese."

Skippy chose the "Bite of Spokane Veggie." You can get as many as four vegetables included in this one for just $6.95. He dubbed it "an above-average calzone" and remarked that the flaky crust complemented the cheese and juiciness inside quite nicely.

Sid broke with tradition -- the calzone Number 1 with Italian sausage, fresh mushrooms and olives is his "usual" -- choosing the Roasted Garlic Chicken with chicken, pesto, fresh mushrooms, roasted garlic, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses for $8.95. This one comes with no red sauce. The melt-in-your-mouth crust nicely counteracted the very strong garlic and herb presence (garlic wussies: look out) that nearly overwhelmed the flavor of the calzones' other ingredients.

The Italian meatball sandwich with red sauce and melted mozzarella on a french roll ($5.45) seemed like just the ticket for Buster. Unfortunately, he found it far too salty ("As if it had been spiked with salt," he complained.)

Lulu ordered the $5.95 lunch special (served from 11 am-4 pm) which consists of a salad and a mini-calzone (with your choice of three regular toppings). She chose sausage, mushroom and olive. The iceberg lettuce salad was adequate, but the calzone was terrific. She pronounced it delicious and just the right size for lunch (Pete's full-size calzones are definitely designed for big appetites).

In the end, the gang was split over Pete's -- as only five people can be split -- three to two. Skippy and Buster were less than impressed. Lulu and Froggy, on the other hand, were quite satisfied with their experience. And Sid, enraptured as he has been for years with the restaurant's stellar calzones, fiercely defended the King throughout the land with the power of his pen.

Bloomsday 2020 @ Spokane

Through Sept. 27
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