by Ben Cater

There are many determining factors involved when choosing a breakfast destination. Location, quality, atmosphere and value usually are included in discussions leading up to the final decision. But even using these factors as the criteria, we are still left with many credible choices. Spokane is simply chock-full of outstanding breakfast options. With such a dizzying menu of diners and restaurants, I decided to find one more distinguishing factor that will help put an end to our indecision and light the trail to breakfast goodness.

Breakfast, unlike its counterparts -- lunch and dinner -- is pretty hard to get wrong. There are only so many ways to cook an egg or to make hash browns. While prices and atmosphere vary, the menus at most places are pretty similar. The one variable that can really distinguish one breakfast from another is gravy.

Good gravy can yield supernatural powers. Conversely, bad gravy can weaken you the way kryptonite cripples Superman. All things considered, ordering gravy is often a gamble -- and as good gamblers know, it is unwise to bet on uncertainties. Speculating about gravy can be an especially unrewarding experience. That being said, I nevertheless decided to volunteer myself as a guinea pig for gravy research. I chose popular restaurants Knight's Diner, Ferguson's, Satellite Diner, Dolly's and the Pear Tree as the unwitting contestants to be judged solely on the merits of their gravy.

People are as loyal to their choice of gravy (brown or country) as they are to their school or favorite professional sports team. One would think that this bias would reside primarily in the consumer market. However, many restaurants seem to treat gravy like the decision between Pepsi and Coke -- offering just one or the other, but not both. There shouldn't be any kind of rivalry between the two gravies. It's a matter of place and purpose. Country gravy is for biscuits, and brown gravy is for hash browns.

You can't find better brown gravy in Spokane than the stuff served at Knight's Diner. Their onion-latent gravy is served so hot that steam rolls off your plate for more than a minute. Country gravy, however, is not on the menu. Sad news for the biscuit and gravy troupe, but credence to the ethos that "whatever you do, do it well." I for one would rather see country gravy left off the menu if it is not to be homemade.

Dolly's and Ferguson's are the antithesis to Knight's -- both offering a country gravy but not brown. Most of my misgivings for having to eat gravy-less hash browns were compensated for by the tasty country gravy that smothered my country-fried steak at these two breakfast institutions. I knew that I was into the good gravy by the way my fork and knife delved so deftly towards the plate. There was none of the poking or prodding that one might associate with one's elementary school cafeteria food. Rest assured that the scary cafeteria woman with pink lipstick, glowing red hair and hairnet, does not work in these kitchens.

The Satellite Diner and the Pear Tree proudly serve both brown and country gravy. Both restaurants' country gravy is exemplary. Biscuits and gravy have been a standby for loyal patrons of the Satellite since the diner's opening in 1998. Whether trying to sober up late at night, or to kill a hangover the next morning, the Satellite Diner is an invaluable resource available to Spokane's nightlifers.

The Pear Tree's biscuits and gravy are so good that they possess the extraordinary ability to convert even the most stubborn brown gravy supporters into country gravy believers. Homemade biscuits -- and their "no skimpin' on the sausage" ethic -- makes their version of biscuits and gravy the most compelling in Spokane.

After visiting all five restaurants, I realized that my original plan of rating the gravies against each other was indeed fruitless, and that my tour of duty would prove little more than an affirmation of my original premise that Spokane has a bunch of great breakfast destinations. (Note to self: if you want a sharper gravy gradient, don't pick Spokane's breakfast superpowers as the contestants.)

But that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. I am still in search of the magical place whose gravies are both homemade. I have heard rumors that Casey's on North Monroe makes both gravies from scratch, but I cannot substantiate the claim at this time. So if you think you have the right constitution to be a gravy guinea pig, go forth and find the good gravy.

Publication date: 09/23/04

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