by Mike Corrigan

It's all because of the beer. The Coeur d'Alene Brewing Co., on the corner of Second and Lakeside in downtown CdA, draws its name and inspiration from the micro-brewed product that put the Lake City on the Northwest brewing map. Did I say Northwest? Make that the national brewing map. The ales of the Coeur d'Alene Brewing Company (all of which are brewed on-site here and at the brewery's other plant in Spokane's Steam Plant Grill) are award-winning and deservedly so. They are distinctive, clean-tasting and delicious -- and they come in at least a dozen varieties.

Though the brewery dates back to the late 1980s (when it was called T.W. Fischer's), the restaurant portion of the brewpub (as it is known today) opened under the Coeur d'Alene banner in 2002 after undergoing an update. Today, dark hardwood tables and trim, along with eye-catching wall candy consisting of fishing tackle, boating paraphernalia and an extensive beer stein collection give the place an atmosphere that falls neatly between rustic and sophisticated. It's a popular weekday lunch spot with 9-to-5'ers, as another fully qualified Inlander taster and myself discovered recently during a mid-week trip out to assess the brewpub's solid -- as opposed to liquid -- wares. The place was packed that rainy noontime as we ducked in, shook ourselves off and dropped down into a window-side spot that represented the only available table.

The menu's offerings are pretty much what you'd expect from a brewpub's kitchen -- though with quite a few exceptions. In addition to the mozzarella sticks, nachos, chili, burgers and Reuben sandwich, there are more intriguing choices, such as the Chicken Balsamico Salad ($6 for a half, $9 for a whole) with spring greens, charbroiled chicken, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, feta cheese and pine nuts in a balsamic dressing. The extensive "Sandwich and Specialties" list holds surprises as well, including the $7.50 Maui Chicken Wrap (tomato-basil tortilla filled with pineapple chicken salad and romaine lettuce), the $9 Halibut Fish Tacos (flour tortillas filled with sauteed halibut, cilantro-lime coleslaw and pepper jack cheese), and the $10 Basil Cream Ravioli (ricotta ravioli in garlic and cream over a tomato-herb sauce). Additionally, several of the recipes make liberal use of the brewery's handcrafted ales, which turn up in soups, batters and marinades.

With so many options, it was difficult for us to narrow it down to anything approaching a representative sample. But narrow it down we did, selecting a few items that we felt fell loosely into the "traditional pub grub" category, namely, the $8.50 Alehouse Sandwich (sliced oven-roasted turkey breast, bacon, provolone, lettuce, red onion and roasted pepper aioli on sourdough), the $11 Lakeside Fish and Chips (halibut in Lakeside British Ale-spiked tempura batter deep-fried and served with fries) and a $6 order of corn fritters from the appetizer menu. Our beverage of choice? Why, a CdA Brewing Co. ale of course -- in my case, the Lakeside British, one of my favorites.

The corn fritters were first up. For such a humble snack, they were quite lovely to behold, arranged artfully on the plate with a dusting of herb garnish and a side of honey butter. The dark, crunchy fried coating on these little nuggets surrendered to a fluffy, slightly sweet interior (oddly reminiscent of cake doughnut) and the chewy texture of yellow corn kernels. Not bad, but somewhat bland even with a liberal application of the accompanying honey butter.

The Alehouse Sandwich contained a hefty load of high quality sliced turkey (thankfully, none of that "loaf" stuff here) topped with provolone and two slices of bacon. We could have used quite a bit more of that highly touted, tasty aioli and the thin-sliced sourdough bread was just barely enough to contain the considerable load of internal ingredients (Kaiser roll, maybe?). Yet overall it was very satisfying -- especially with a cool Lakeside to wash it down. The accompanying fries were delicate, crispy and lightly golden, cut shoestring-style and dusted with dried herbs. Nice. As for the ale-battered halibut and fries -- well, we were a bit disappointed. Tasting less of beer and rather more of dill and oil, the three fish portions were passable, but really not the English fish and chips experience we had expected. The halibut itself was right where it should be (delicate, tender, firm) but the fried coating encasing it was rather thick and papery and left an odd aftertaste on the palate - almost like someone spilled unintentional and unnecessary spices and peppers in the batter.

Our server, though seemingly the only one on the floor, was very attentive and friendly. And the food arrived quickly -- a definite plus for business types on a short lunch leash. For those on no leash at all, the brewpub runs a happy hour every day from 3-6 pm when you can score fresh CdA Brewing Co. ales for a mere $2 a pint.

Publication date: 04/07/05

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