by Leah Sottile

Who said the restaurant business is tough? And that guy who said it was a bad idea to go into business with family - he had it all wrong, too. They'd obviously never been introduced to Spokane's amorphous, unpredictable culinary scene. Some restaurants flop here; others, which everyone expects to die off, never do.

So siblings Jane Edwards and John Fletcher shouldn't have been surprised a few weeks ago when they saw four elderly women standing at the doors of their new caf & eacute;, the Picabu Neighborhood Bistro, waiting for 11 o'clock to strike. Apparently Edwards wasn't fast enough welcoming them inside.

"They turned our closed sign around right at 11 o'clock, walked in and sat down," Edwards said between laughs. "By five after 11, there wasn't an empty seat in here."

How'd they do it?

"I will be honest: I have no clue," she says.

Whatever it is -- the bright atmosphere, the smiles you get from familiar servers, the wide-ranging menu -- it has kept Picabu ticking from day one.

In late February, Edwards and Fletcher bought the Picabu property (located in the space that formerly housed Mi Casa in the shopping center next to Rosauers). They threw the space into a spin cycle -- gutting it, painting it and investing every ounce of hard work they had into changing the spot into their own.

"We did so much of it ourselves," says Edwards, who is a longtime owner of a jewelry business. "We built all the tables -- built the bar, the metalwork -- we did the ceiling. Everything here, we've touched. The only things we really bought were the chairs."

For two months, they primed and painted, sanded and hammered. Today the midday sun shines through Picabu's tall windows onto the walls, tinted varying shades of eggplant, sage, lemongrass and summer-sky blue. A U-shaped bar is crowded with customers shoveling down noodles from out of hefty sunshine colored bowls. Pendant lights hang from bulky chains above, local artwork dots the walls and there's not an empty seat in the house.

"It's usually quiet for 45 minutes a day, and then it's busy the rest of the day. That lasts until 8 o'clock," Edwards says, quickly correcting herself: "Actually it lasts until we run out of food."

With 10 years of notches in his restaurant belt, Fletcher wanted to put his own spin on dishes that he loved by placing them in a friendly, comfortable atmosphere. After helping the Catacombs Pub get off the ground for the past three years, Fletcher and Edwards jumped on the Mi Casa space and decided to start their own restaurant. Picabu was born running, quickly pulling alongside small boutique restaurants and cafes in the area.

The menu is sprinkled with Fletcher's favorites. There's a pad Thai dish for $10 that you can get with chicken, shrimp or tofu. The curry bowl is $9 and comes with either chicken or tofu. The chicken pot stickers are another favorite so far, at only $8. There are hefty salads -- traditional Caesar or chicken Caesar and a spinach salad -- and a selection of sandwiches. The Smashed Reuben is another popular lunch choice, as are the four varieties of hamburgers on the menu: straight up, with cheese, with teriyaki and Swiss, or the "Cactus burger" - yummilicious with fresh peppers. A handful of entrees complete the menu, though Edwards says that pad Thai is, to their surprise, one of the most popular lunch choices.

The menu is the same for both lunch and dinner, and Fletcher has only created one dessert so far -- but customers aren't complaining. You can scarf down slices of Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie for now, but in a few weeks, says Edwards, Picabu will have added Ginger Cr & Euml;me Brule to their sweet offerings.

And Picabu is great for a drink, too. We Inlander cronies were surprised at Picabu's on-tap offerings: Alley Cat, Flying Dog Hefeweizen, Rattlesnake Mountain Smoked Porter and Lane Creek Brewery's London Ale. Facing inward, seated at the U-bar with a pint and a slice of chocolate-p.b. pie, you'd never know from the bustling, hustling laughter and midday playground atmosphere of this place that your back was to tiny Spokane outside. Picabu feels big-city, with groups of South Hill grey-hairs dotting one table, a pigtailed toddler padding past the legs of rushing waiters and solo hipsters abounding. It's a cozy spot for everyone.

"We just wanted to be a warm, friendly neighborhood hangout," Edwards says. "That's our niche: where people in the neighborhood can feel comfortable and get a great meal at a reasonable price."

And she apologizes if you can't find a seat. She guarantees that they'll help everyone as soon as possible -- after all, being crowded isn't something that they ever expected.

Gourmet To Go -- I've always wanted to start a restaurant called "House," where you can go mid-workday and get good food that you'd make at home. Salads would be made just the way you make them, grilled cheese sandwiches would be flat and goopy and served with Campbell's Tomato, not any gourmet stuff. Because there's a true lack of fast, tasty food when you're on the go -- health always seems to be the first thing compromised when you're in a hurry. The next to go is taste.

Until now.

Justin White, a former employee of Mizuna and the man behind Dream Delivery Service, hits his wheels everyday around 11 am delivering some of Spokane's best cuisines all around town. He'll bring you the health-conscious dishes of Mizuna, an enchilada from Fiesta Mexicana, a hefty slice of lasagna from Europa and a double crunchy roll from Aki's. And he's available to deliver dinner, too. White's zone extends north to Boone Avenue, south to 57th Avenue, east to Freya and no further west than Browne's Addition. That means all you downtowners, Courthouse folk and Oprah-watchin' South Hill agoraphobics can get your eat on without ever leaving the confines of your comfort zone. White tacks on an additional $3 at lunch and $4 at dinner, with an automatic 12 percent gratuity for orders over $100.

Get your orders to go by calling the following restaurants from 11:30 am-2 pm or from 5-9 pm. Call Mizuna at 747-2004, Fiesta Mexicana at 455-7117, Europa at 455-4051 and Aki's at 747-4266.

Publication date: 05/12/05

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About The Author

Leah Sottile

Leah Sottile is a Spokane-based freelance writer who formerly served as music editor, culture editor and a staff writer at the Inlander. She has written about everything from nuns and Elvis impersonators, to jailhouse murders and mental health...