Named for EJ Roberts, this garden bistro is the latest project in the Browne’s Addition Historic District. Located at the heart of the area in the former home of Fred and Mary Guse, the 1901 building, while nicely renovated, retains much of its historic architectural beauty and interior detailing. With its large exterior patio and comfortable porch seating, you will be transported during your unique and truly bistro dining experience.
The menu is a select combination of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, light fare and satisfying entrées for a classic American bistro feel and plenty of choices for everyone. Upon arrival, your first choice is whether to sit outside on the patio or porch, or sit inside, downstairs or upstairs in the bar area. Seating is a little confusing as the general rule is “seat yourself,” but you might want to make sure the wait staff knows where you are. The upstairs bar area has a casual feel.  It is beautifully finished to match the historical architecture, but a couple of televisions have been included to let you keep up with your sports. The bar has a combination of pub style (high) and traditional table seating for two, four or more. The outside patio is great for large groups, complete with a fire pit, and you almost feel like you could be dining in your own backyard.  Taking advantage of the gorgeous evening, my date and I preferred the porch, which provides a more intimate setting.
The house crafted cocktail menu is a nice complement to the historic home setting, with many drinks reminiscent of the 1920s. The Great Northwest cocktail ($8) was quite refreshing and went down way too easy, which is a good thing; a combination of vodka, huckleberries and lemon results in an easy drinking flavorful beverage. The “by the glass” wine list selections are adequate and the bottled and tap beer list will serve the beer drinkers in the group well. They have a great happy hour from 4-6:30 p.m. that includes $4 drafts, $4 well drinks, $4 Townshend wines, and 15% off all appetizers—which brings us to the food.
The appetizer selection is a good mix of simple to a little elevated, classic bistro fare. We started the evening with the Pan-Fried Oysters ($10), the most expensive appetizer on the menu. The serving portion was generous and easily shared. The flavor and the breading were perfect, as was the oyster inside: crunchy on the outside and creamy in the middle. I haven’t experienced as good of a fried oyster since my days along the Gulf Coast; even the simple plating took me back. The oysters were followed by the Pear Gorgonzola Crostini ($8), which again, was easily shared and no one in a party of four would feel left out. My inner chef had some issues with the knife cuts, but the plating presentation wasn’t off-putting. The dish was a nice balance of the cheese and pears over toasted bread and garnished with fresh herbs, walnuts and balsamic-honey drizzle; for the balsamic lovers, ask for a side of the drizzle. Another recommended appetizer are the Coconut Prawns ($6) with sweet chili dipping sauce; nicely coated and cooked just right.
Moving to our entrées, I had to go for the 50/50 Burger ($11); a hearty and juicy combination of ground beef and lamb. While garnished traditionally with tomatoes, red onions and a spring mix, the smoked cheddar and sweet paprika sauce are anything but traditional, an elevated surprise pairing nicely with the earthy lamb-influenced flavors. I asked for the sweet paprika sauce on the side, but found myself using almost all of it. The burger is served with house made potato chips that are dusted with chipotle cinnamon spice (also available as an appetizer for $3). The star of the evening was the Snake River Farms Wagyu Steak ($16) that my date ordered and was hesitant to share. The Wagyu (w?gyo?o) ribeye is grilled and then garnished with butter and fried shallots; served over garlic mashed potatoes, and, although not listed on the menu, it was accompanied by grilled asparagus. The flavor of the steak was fabulous and it was cooked perfectly to our medium-rare specifications; a real value for this flavorful breed and cut.
We ended the evening with a flourless chocolate dessert ($6), which is made locally by Just American Desserts. It was a dense chocolate tart served with huckleberries and a chocolate sauce. Other options included a lemon tart and cheesecake. Personally, I would opt for another glass of wine or something from the cocktail list until they better define their desserts to match the rest of the menu.
The only negative aspect of our experience was the service. The front of the house is still evolving and struggling to find its footing; while everyone was very nice, the service was very slow. That aside, it was exciting to experience true American bistro fare in a great location. As the weather warms, I anticipate more evenings on the patio and porch. I invite you to join me, whether it’s a group of friends sharing appetizers and trying fabulous cocktails or a quiet night out with that special someone.
EJ’s Garden Bistro is located at 1928 West Pacific Ave., in Spokane, and is open Tuesday-Thursday 11a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11a.m. to midnight; Sunday 11a.m. to 10 p.m., (509) 443-3544