As you step inside and take a seat, it may begin to wash over you. All at once, time slows down. Although you haven’t left Spokane, you’re in a slice of the South where hospitality and well-crafted meals are meant to be slowly savored.
Venture in a little further, have a seat at the bar and you may feel that you should give a password to gain access to the stronger stuff in a cabinet marked “danger.” The lights are low, many of the drinks are reinterpreted vintage cocktails, and you just might mistake it for a speakeasy.
You’re in Casper Fry, a southern restaurant with a modern twist using local ingredients whenever possible. The restaurant is owned by Deb Greene, her son Ben Poffenroth, and daughter Megan Van Stone. Greene is great-granddaughter of Casper Fry, the restaurant’s namesake and Perry District Baptist pastor whose church still stands across the street.
Casper Fry, which opened early summer last year, is open for lunch, dinner and a Sunday brunch. Joshua Martin serves as executive chef, proving that his talents are not limited to one food tradition.
Many restaurants are embracing the treasures of the past when constructing a drink menu, and Casper Fry is no exception. While many of these concoctions are delicious, some are not for the faint of heart. Our waiter was descriptive and encouraging guiding us toward something to be indulged in, not endured.
An approachable favorite in our group was the Corpse Reviver ($9), adapted from a classic “hair of the dog” recipe listed in the Savoy Cocktail Book. Made with gin, lemon juice, dolin blanc and a dash of absinthe, it was complex and refreshing, suitable for an entry level drinker as well as an expert. For a bit more challenge, the Rusty Nail ($8) made with Scotch whisky and Drambuie, was simple and straightforward, very subtly sweet, in a way that showcased the whiskey and contributed to the warmth of the drink. It was just the thing for a cold night in Spokane.
As you would expect from any attempt to channel the South, hearty fare abounds on the menu. If you’re in the mood for a classic meal, try Jama’s Fried Chicken ($17). The dish comes with a generous serving of meat, liberally breaded with a salty-sweet spice mixture and baked crisp and flaky, accompanied by lightly seasoned braised collard greens, thick and chunky country gravy with house-made sausage and a moist, warm cheddar, buttermilk and chive biscuit. The menu suggests that guests allow 20 minutes for the preparation of the dish.
If you’d like to try something with more modern flair, consider the house-butchered Pork Belly ($15), pan-fried crispy and served with a poached egg, hollandaise, barbecue sauce and maple cider reduction over brioche, complemented by braised collard greens. The combination was both sweet and savory and felt a bit like a breakfast dish.
One favorite at our table was the Whole Idaho Trout ($18), which came beautifully presented and intact, was garnished with hazelnuts and flanked by smoked potatoes and lightly seasoned vegetables. The fish almost melted in your mouth. Another strong entry on the dinner menu is the Flat Iron Steak ($16). Ours’ arrived cooked according to our specifications, accompanied by a sweet potato hash. The entire meal was spicy, but not too spicy.
Should you wish to go for lunch, be sure to sample the Pimento and Pickles appetizer ($6), which showcases chunky house-made pimento cheese and pickled local vegetables, which bear no resemblance to those found in the grocery store.
The Low Country Shrimp and Grits ($15) has a place on both lunch and dinner menus The grits are thinner than expected but loaded with cheese and seasoning without overwhelming the fresh cooked shrimp, which were firm and flavorful. Chunks of tasso ham and roasted vegetables completed this hearty lunch.
If in doubt, ordering the Casper Plate ($14) allows you to choose three of kitchen’s substantial sides. These include spicy red beans and rice, homemade macaroni and cheese with a hint of spice, baked butter beans, braised greens, and more – each clearly labeled regarding vegetarian status.
Currently, Casper Fry offers three dessert options. After sampling them, I must say that I’d like to see the care given to the other menu offerings extended to the dessert selections.
Yet even without executing a flawless finish, Casper Fry is a fine experience. From the pictures of the eponymous Casper to the carefully crafted dining room with its mismatched silver cutlery and the beautifully presented plates, it is a place to sit with friends and family, and forget about time, just for a while.
Casper Fry is located at 928 South Perry Street, in Spokane, and is open Wednesday through Monday, 11:30 a.m. to close. (509) 535-0536, www.casperfry.com