by Susan Hamilton

Unless you've been on Mars with the space rovers for the last few weeks, you've heard about the Big Easy and all the activity it's generating in downtown Spokane. But did you know it also has an upscale restaurant attached to its premises?

Bourbon Street Food & amp; Spirits showcases kickin' Cajun fare. The eatery has a clubby ambience, with a low ceiling in maroon and sunflower yellow walls decorated with photos of rock stars, signed guitars and TVs playing rockin' sounds. Hand-tiled tables salute bands like the Who, Pearl Jam, U2 and Santana.

"We want people to come in and meet other people, rub elbows and have a good time," says restaurant manager Matt Judge. "That's why we've placed the tables close together."

Just as in New Orleans, you'll find some of the best Cajun food at Bourbon Street. This robust, savory blend of French and Southern cuisines relies heavily on the "holy trinity" of green peppers, onions and celery combined with spices for many of its dishes.

"It's not about hot," Judge explains. "It's about the flavor. But we can kick it up a notch if people want it."

Bourbon Street dishes up some mighty flavorful fare, as I discovered. Head chef Clayton Neidigh's version of that N'awlins' mainstay, gumbo soup, is hearty and smooth as velvet. Its smoky roux base is accented with chicken and andouille sausage. Another traditional dish, jambalaya, is a house specialty. It's a savory combination of shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage, tomato, the "holy trinity" and rice with a spicy Cajun sauce.

What's a trip to the Big Easy without a Po' Boy-type sandwich? Bourbon Street's chicken grinder did not disappoint. A grilled chicken breast is topped with saut & eacute;ed onion, peppers, bacon and jack cheese and served on toasted French bread. Cajun specialties (like New Orleans tacos and crawfish & eacute;touf & eacute;e), seafood, pasta, steaks, pork dishes, salads and myriad sandwiches (including burgers) round out the menu. I was pleased to note that Bourbon Street's portions are sizeable and prices reasonable. Libations -- like the signature Hurricane, beer and well-rounded wine list -- perfectly complement the meals.

Guests who dine at Bourbon Street can get early passes for their tickets to that evening's show at the Big Easy before the general public is admitted. But be sure to get into the restaurant by at least 5:30 pm if you want to take advantage of this perk.

Bourbon Street, at 916 W. First Ave., is open from 11 am-10 pm Monday-Saturday. Call 244-3279, ext. 6.

Cozy Eats

For those who like their food without entertainment, the recently opened Bite Me Caf & eacute; fits the bill just fine, thank you. The unusual name makes sense when you see the sign outside the northside eatery -- a sizeable hamburger with a large bite taken out of it.

"We have killer lunches," says chef and owner Ernie Hodgin. "Our Bite Me Burger is a half-pound patty stuffed with our barbecue sauce and topped with the works."

Hodgin also offers 12 other burgers, hot and cold sandwiches, burritos and "baskets" of fish, chicken and shrimp. Breakfast is served all day. Build-your-own omelets can be accompanied by salsa, hash browns or biscuits and gravy -- all homemade. In true neighborhood caf & eacute; style, you'll find chicken fried steak with sausage gravy as well as breakfast burritos at Bite Me. It's all served in the homey atmosphere where red and white plastic tablecloths and long, red curtains complement the kitschy wall art.

Bite Me Caf & eacute;, at 113 W. Indiana Ave., is open from 8 am-4 pm on Monday-Friday, and currently from 9 am-2 pm on Saturday-Sunday. Call 326-0359.

Dream On

"It's bringing families back to their dinner tables," says owner Roger Williamson of his newly opened shop Dream Dinners. The Valley store offers those short on time and the culinarily impaired an easy way to prepare meals ahead of time.

Here's how it works: You check out the monthly menu, tell the Dream Dinners folks which meals you want and when you'll come in to prepare them. When you show up at DD, you'll find recipes and ingredients waiting for you to assemble. In less than two hours, you'll have main dishes for weeks to come that can be refrigerated or frozen for later use.

February's menu items include gorgonzola walnut pasta, pork chops in red chile apricot sauce and seafood cioppino. Traditional fare, like American pepper steak, pot roast, and chocolate chip cookies, are also featured.

"Our customers pay about $178 for 12 meals for four people," Williamson says. "That's not bad when you consider that they didn't have to take the time to plan and shop for those dinners."

Dream Dinners, at 128 N. Sullivan Rd., currently has sessions on Wednesdays-Saturdays at noon, 3 pm and 6 pm. Visit or call 924-4044.

Party for a Cause

This weekend and next, Inland Northwesterners can party while benefiting at-risk youth in our area. Saturday's mARTi gras benefit offers traditional Mardi Gras festivities--Cajun fare, live jazz music, libations and beads. A no-host bar begins at 6 pm at the Coeur d'Alene Eagles Club. A Cajun dinner catered by the Greenbriar Inn features stuffed chicken breast, crawdads, red beans and rice.

Revelers can dance the night away to music by Pat Coast and Out of the Blue. Silent auction items include original artwork by area artists, Coeur d'Alene Summer Theater season tickets and custom jewelry. Prizes will be awarded for king and queen of the mARTi gras, best outfit and most spirited reveler.

Proceeds from the sixth annual event on Feb. 21 benefit Art on the Edge, an organization operated through St. Vincent de Paul that offers free art classes to at-risk youth. Tickets are $25 per person. Call (208) 773-1725.

On Feb. 28, the Black Tie and Blue Jean Benefit dinner and auction aids at-risk youth in Spokane. Wear your best blue jeans or black tie to this sit-down dinner at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park. Executive Chef Don Rey will prepare chicken with shallot and mushroom cream sauce, garlic mashed potatoes and green bean saut & eacute;. Dessert is a chocolate raspberry torte. A no-host bar, dancing to Dusty Klink's sassy sounds and an auction highlight the evening, beginning at 5:30 pm.

The first annual event benefits Changing Our Lives Together (COLT), a youth substance-abuse prevention program. COLT uses horses in a three-phase program to prevent teen substance abuse, gang involvement and violence. Call 926-2276 for tickets, which are $25 per person.

Publication date: 02/19/04

Spokane Bike Swap @ Spokane County Fair & Expo Center

Sat., June 12, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
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