by Susan Hamilton

Anyone can make a sandwich, right? After all, it's just two slices of bread filled with cooked, sliced meat, cheese and veggies.

"At Picnic Company, making sandwiches is an art form," says Harmony Storms, one of the owners of the new caf & eacute; on the North Side, not far from Whitworth College. "It's very specific how our sandwiches are built. The meat is cut thin, then fluffed, and the sprouts are level so the sandwich doesn't slant."

"We set a high standard," adds Andrew Storms, another owner and the quality-control guy. "At Picnic Company, it's more personal and less of a conveyor belt."

Just opened this month, Picnic Company Gourmet Caf & eacute; is the first of its kind in the Inland Northwest. The family-owned business features gourmet sandwiches and soups made with fresh produce, meats and cheeses, as well as custom-made bread by Genova Bakery.

So what goes into these gourmet sandwiches? There are 19 "unique sandwiches" to choose from. I tasted the Milan picnic and the Oregon picnic. The Milan's marinated artichoke hearts, tomato, mushrooms, feta cheese and balsamic vinaigrette on toasted nine-grain bread is a savory m & eacute;lange of flavors that wasn't the least bit mushy. The Oregon's turkey, Swiss and cream cheeses, red onions, pickles and cranberry sauce on sourdough was a satisfying blend of tastes and flavors, with the cranberries adding an interesting tang. Other sandwiches include a French picnic with two scrambled eggs, ham, dofino and cheddar cheese on a croissant (sounds like a great breakfast item), and a Kansas picnic with rare roast beef stacked high on a roll and served au jus. The seven "picnic sandwiches" range from almond chicken to albacore tuna.

Fresh salads are also offered at Picnic Company -- from chef and spinach to tortellini artichoke and mustard potato. Soups are prepared daily, with fresh produce and meat adding heartiness. The day I stopped by, the soups were veggie beef and Italian wedding. The caf & eacute; also has frozen yogurt shakes, floats, sundaes and cups, as well as a full selection of beverages -- from raspberry iced tea or lemonade to espresso and cappuccino. Picnic Company specializes in catering and delivery, and even rents picnic baskets. Its picnic for two includes sandwiches, salads, chips, fresh-baked cookies and drinks tucked in a picnic basket for less than $20.

The caf & eacute;'s expansive dining room in tones of avocado, merlot, pumpkin and nautical blue has soft lighting and is decorated with homey touches of high shelves filled with flowers and picnic baskets. Watercolors of flowers painted by Harmony's grandmother adorn the walls, as well as paintings and poems by Suzy Toronto. The open design includes a display kitchen. In keeping with the picnic theme, blue and white checked tablecloths cover all the interior tables. For those who are picnic purists, there is outdoor dining as well.

Picnic Company Gourmet Caf & eacute;, at 9326 N. Division, is open Monday-Saturday from 10 am-5 pm. Call: 467-0123

What's Old Is New -- The Inland Northwest may have more Chinese restaurants than restaurants of any other nationality, which probably reflects our penchant for its varied and complex cuisine. Many of these Asian eateries have lived relatively long lives (in restaurant years) along Division Street. One of these establishments, however, has recently changed hands.

Songhay has kept its name but the owner, menu and d & eacute;cor have changed. New owner and chef Simon Huang is no stranger to the restaurant world, having recently owned the Dragon Inn outside of Sandpoint and worked in restaurants in Hong Kong for 20 years.

"Many of my customers in Sandpoint came from Spokane," Huang reveals. "They always asked me to move to Spokane, so when I saw this business for sale, I bought it."

The new menu features flavorful Hong Kong, Szechuan and Cantonese-style cuisine, "not American/Chinese," Huang says. From the Po Po platter appetizer -- with its paper-wrapped chicken, fried shrimp, egg roll, fried wonton, spareribs and beef stick arranged around a flame for roasting -- to the orange flower shrimp entr & eacute;e -- saut & eacute;ed in hot, sweet orange sauce -- Songhay offers something out of the ordinary. Menu items include soups as well as chicken, pork, beef, seafood, moo shu and vegetable dishes.

Songhay Restaurant, at 2435 N. Division, is open daily from 11:30 am-10 am. Call: 326-4893

"We Bake, You Bake" -- Two recently opened pizza places are offering a new option for those hungry for this staple of the American diet. Most pizza places have either hot pizza or the take-and-bake variety, but don't offer both at the same place. At Figaro's and The Village Gourmet Take-Out, you can get your pizza piping hot or take it to bake at home.

Figaro's Italian Pizza on the East Side specializes in freshly made dough, sauce and ingredients, including custom cheeses, meats and produce. Owner Rob Michaelson draws on five years of pizza-industry experience to craft quality pizzas like his 12-topping classic. Lasagna, calzone, salad and breadsticks are also menu items.

Figaro's Pizza, at 3907 N. Market (at Garland), is open Sunday-Thursday from 11 am-9 pm, and Friday-Saturday from 11 am-10 pm. Call: 847-1222

Sarah and Jim Lloyd have had a candy business for many years in Washington state. Jim's love of cooking led them to open The Village Gourmet Take-Out in Newman Lake and to offer pizza, sandwiches, salads and homemade apple pie. The Village Supreme pizza features Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, green peppers and black olives, while the Meat Lovers' has meatballs, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon and pepperoni. Sandwiches range from Hawaiian ham to turkey with cream cheese and cranberry sauce. Salads are dressed with house-made huckleberry vinaigrette, paprika French, bleu cheese or ranch. Do try the Lloyd's toffees, brittles and fudge, or have a milkshake while you're there.

The Village Gourmet Take-Out, at 25011 E. Trent Ave., is open Monday-Saturday from 11 am-8 pm. Call: 226-2400

New Wine Bar -- With a North Bank location and award-winning wines, it only took the addition of some music and food to start a wine bar at Caterina Winery. But how did it come about?

"It was a combination of our customers wishing we were open longer and employees finding ourselves hanging out on the patio, wishing we had some music to listen to," says Monica Meglasson, Caterina's winemaker.

Caterina's wine bar, opened earlier this month, features library and unreleased wines by the glass, including 2002 Sauvignon blanc, 1999 Du Brul merlot and 2001 Willard Sangiovese. Bryce Ahrens of Twigs and Bella Union Bistro designs European cheese trays, olive boats, and bread with dipping sauces to accompany the wines. On Friday and Saturday evenings, there's live music; this weekend, Jeff Sirek and the Slidewater Trio will play.

Caterina Wine Bar, at 905 N. Washington St., is open Wednesday-Saturday from noon-9:30 pm. Call: 328-5069

For Coffee Connoisseurs -- You might have seen the new sign on the north side of Lindaman's and wondered if it was a new mural or an ad. Actually, it's both. Artist Rebecca Patano crafted the sign and (with her husband Terry) roasts the beans that are known as Doma. The Patanos have been roasting coffee beans since 1983 in various parts of the West and now just east of Post Falls.

Kirk Hahn, who's been a barista at Lindaman's for nine years, brought what he calls Doma's "sexy espresso blends" to Lindaman's a month ago.

"The coffee speaks for itself," Hahn says. "It's refined and complex."

Lindaman's, at 1235 S. Grand Blvd., is open Monday-Saturday from 10:30 am-8:30 pm. Call: 838-3000

Publication date: 08/28/03

American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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