by Susan Hamilton

I admit I was intrigued. Tubular sandwiches. How do you eat them? How are they filled? What happens to the bread in the middle of the loaf? More questions arose when I heard the name of the place serving these tubular sandwiches -- Staggering Ox. Where did that come from?

Stopping by the recently opened shop in the heart of the Valley, I got my questions answered -- and more. On the menu is a drawing of a hefty looking ox shouldering a huge, tubular sandwich labeled "The world's best sandwich! Period." The weight that is making the ox stagger is from those sandwiches stuffed with lots of goodies.

Opening up the menu, I notice everything is explained -- "what to do, things to know" about the sandwiches. First I have to choose a sandwich. Among the unusually named sandwiches, I opt for the "slam damn Saddam." Its name has gone through several incarnations, beginning with "up OPEC," moving to "slam the damn Taliban" and hopefully ending with "terror rest." World events aside, I'm attracted to its gyros meat, feta, Monterey jack, onions, green peppers, black olives, tomatoes and lettuce.

Now it's time to choose between French, whole wheat and dill bread -- all baked from scratch daily. Dill it is. As for sauces, all made in house, the management recommends "camel spit" with this "clubfoot sandwich." Don't get excited. It's a cucumber-and-dill sauce.

I watch as my sandwich is put together. The ingredients are carefully assembled on a small plastic mat, whose sides are rolled up and the contents dropped into the middle of the hollowed-out, tubular loaf. Now how am I going to eat this creation?

"It's easy," says manager Robert Ashwood. "Our sandwiches are even driver-friendly. You can eat them with one hand because they have a bottom."

OK, I'm game. After a few bites, I realize he's right. And this is also one tasty sandwich -- savory meat and cheeses, crunchy lettuce and onions, zingy peppers and tomatoes, not to mention the yummy "camel spit" sauce.

"We use the highest quality meat and cheese, and we fresh-prep everything," owner Jason Crippen reveals. "Using anything less detracts from what we do."

Of the 25 sandwiches on the menu, the clubhouse is the most popular, with bacon, turkey, ham, cheddar, Swiss, tomatoes and lettuce. The Mount St. Helens is another fave -- probably because of the array of five meats and five cheeses. Veggie lovers will appreciate the Swiss, provolone, cheddar, jack, sunflower seeds, sprouts and lettuce on the "mouse trap." Hot sandwiches include pastrami and in-house, slow-cooked French dip. Ox fingers, made with "bread guts" -- now you know what they do with the insides of the loaves -- and dipping sauces, salads (the salmagundi is a creation that includes the works) and soups (the chili is made from 40 ingredients) round out the menu. You can finish off your meal with an ox pie -- a giant homemade cookie.

Staggering Ox, at 14916 E. Sprague (just west of Sullivan), is open Monday-Saturday from 10 am-9 pm and Sunday from 11 am-7 pm. Call 924-3473.

Hawaiian Sweet Treats -- You can satisfy your sweet tooth just a few blocks down the road from the Staggering Ox at Hula Hut Creamery. Just opened last week, the ice cream shop at Sullivan Square features Lappert's super-premium ice cream -- an island treat. Made with fresh cream, milk and pure extracts from Hawaii, it's thick, smooth and has a creamy texture. The 32 flavors at Hula Hut include caramel coconut macadamia, Kona mocha chip and raspberry brownie fudge. Sorbet, sherbet and low-fat options are also offered.

The shop serves espresso and gourmet coffee from Kauai, as well as smoothies. Hawaiian shaved ice, guava and coconut cake, freshly baked cookies and candies are also featured.

Hula Hut Creamery, at 15412 E. Sprague, is open 7 am-10 pm on Monday-Friday, and 11 am-10 pm on Saturday-Sunday. Call 892-7331.

The Secret's Out -- Beginning September 23, you can dine at the restaurant many have called "Spokane's best-kept secret." At Orlando's, students from the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy prepare and serve a tantalizing a la carte lunch menu.

"Diners at Orlando's can expect a fine dining experience without the expensive price," says Janet Breedlove, spokeswoman for SCC's Hospitality Services & amp; Careers Department. "Menu prices range from $5.50 for a sandwich to $8 for a steak. Fine restaurant-style desserts are only $2.50."

The rotating menu offers entrees from medallions of pork loin topped with maple bourbon sauce to chicken satay with Thai peanut sauce. Sandwiches and salads of the week, like southwestern grilled cheese sandwich with chipotle peppers, avocado and fresh cilantro served with chilled gazpacho and grilled chicken Caesar salad, are also featured. Heart-healthy selections -- whether braised beef and black bean chili or pan-seared cod with fettuccine -- are also available.

Orlando's, at 1810 N. Greene St., is open Tuesday-Friday from 11:30 am-12:45 pm. Call 533-7283.

Calling All Gastronomes -- Whether you consider yourself a gourmet or just love to eat, next Saturday's Festival of Foodies is the ultimate gourmet food and kitchen show. Signature dishes from area restaurants will be available for tasting, as well as samples of wine, champagne and microbrews. Cooking demonstrations by local chefs take place throughout the afternoon and evening, with the likes of Center Stage's Kile Tansy, Luigi's David Bible, Prospector's Alexa Wilson and Fugazzi's Jason Rex.

Festivalgoers will learn about wine and food pairing as well as the latest culinary products. Live jazz and blues will play during the festival.

The Fall Festival of Foodies, on September 27 from 2-8 pm, takes place at Spokane Community College's Lair Building. Tickets are $10 in advance (at Vino!, Real Soda and White Box Pies) and $15 at the door. Call 242-2506.

It's Oktoberfest! -- The annual event that's been going on for about 20 years at Latah Creek Winery just continues to grow. This year's Oktoberfest, during the first weekend in October, is highlighted by Latah Creek's release of its first Sangiovese from 2002. The Spokane Valley winery will also offer tastes of the sugary fermenting juice of its chardonnay before it's made into wine.

And, like any Oktoberfest worth its wurst, there will be a German sausage barbecue, featuring different wursts, sauerkraut and German potato salad. Five tables with wine samples and complementing food will also be on hand, such as a Tuscan salad paired with Latah Creek's red wines and cheeses and pestos with chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.

"This is the opening of our holiday gift selection and packs," says co-owner Elena Conway. "We're releasing our popular five-bottle sampler wine pack in a wicker tray."

Latah Creek Oktoberfest, on October 4-5 from 10 am-5 pm, is at 13030 E. Indiana. Call 926-0164.

Leaving Downtown -- As summer ends, there's a migration from downtown by a few restaurants and a health-food store. Aracelia's has moved from the Schade Brewery and consolidated its business in its Valley location at 7905 E. Trent Ave., just 10 minutes east. The Mexican food restaurant that offers hand-rolled tortillas moved on August 28, along with other residents of Schade. Call 924-4304.

Lorien Herbs & amp; Natural Foods also moved from downtown's east side at the end of August. Owner Chris Bansemer relocated the shop in her own neighborhood of South Perry. She's condensed the food offerings but still has all the herbs and supplements in the windmill at 1102 S. Perry St. The shop is open Monday-Saturday from 10 am-6 pm. Call 456-0702.

Cucina! Cucina! closed its doors on Saturday after nine years downtown. Chevy's in River Park Square will also be closing within a few weeks, reportedly to make room for Rock City Grill to relocate there from its downtown location on Riverside. Times are tough, these days, and apparently some restaurants are feeling the pinch. Don't forget to dine out to support the local restaurant scene!

Publication date: 09/18/03

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