Creative Inland Northwest Ways to Launch the Day

Breakfast is serious business. Nutrition gurus crow that it is the most important meal of the day. Not that this provides much motivation for me to get out of bed. I eat breakfast because I love it, and I’m not alone. The eyes of most light up at the mention of breakfast.

 

This was true, I’d like to go on the record to note, even before bacon was elevated to an art form. People drive for miles for hash browns crisped to perfection. Eggs are ordered with nearly the precision of a latte: over-easy, basted, poached, Sunnyside up, scrambled. Arguments among friends about who has the best biscuits and gravy can span decades, and an iconic buttermilk pancake is treated with almost religious reverence.

 

Yet I’ve puzzled for years about the curious shortage of creativity and innovation on breakfast menus. Virtually everywhere you go, the menu is essentially the same. Breakfast fare in mainstream America is a bit like the line-up on the Oldies radio station… well-loved classics played again and again. And again.

 

Now I can be as much of a pancake fundamentalist as anyone, but classic Americana has remained so firmly entrenched before noon that I’m beginning to wonder if there is a powerful culinary cabal that is secretly controlling the most important meals of the day. New food trends regularly change lunch and dinner menus, and ethnic food choices have exploded across the country… except at breakfast.

 

Grand conspiracy or not, there is hope. A few local chefs and owners have started to play with the sacred breakfast lineup. I still haven’t seen the local equivalent of the amazing octopus hash that Tom Douglas served at Lola in Seattle a few years back, but here are some of the truly creative dishes you can find locally that are honestly delicious. (Rated on a five-K (Kevin) system.)

 

Chaps

Critic’s Pick: Baked Oatmeal

Overall Menu Creativity: KKK

Friday, Saturday and Sunday see streams of diners headed down 195 to Chaps for hearty country breakfast platters and some of the best pastries in town. Order what you like, but the surprise contender amidst all the expected bacon and sausage and eggs is Chaps Baked Oatmeal. Banish any self-righteous thoughts of health food, this custard-style oatmeal is breakfast in a bowl topped with blueberries. Also of note: Just about anything from the bakery. Try the rich but not overly sweet Buttercup.

 

The Garnet

Critic’s Pick: Duck Confit

Overall Menu Creativity: KKKKK

Owners Viljo and Autumn Basso have crafted one of the most creative breakfast menus, not just in the region, but in the country. If you’ve not been in for breakfast, rearrange your schedule this week and show up. It is a serious destination spot for anyone enamored with breakfast and not just for the Duck Confit served with two eggs, home-style potatoes and a thick slab of artisan bread. Inside Basso’s small converted house in Coeur d’Alene are a number of two and four-top tables. Don’t be surprised if there is a wait. The place is often packed and for good reason. There is no shortage of meat on the menu, but The Garnet also manages to be very vegetarian friendly. Also of note: Everything – Basso’s have a menu where nearly every dish is worthy of celebration. House-made lemon curd. Drinks with attitude. Salmon with orange marmalade. Green eggs and ham. Beans and eggs. Spaghetti (yep, for breakfast).

 

Central Food

Critic’s Pick: Terrine

Overall Menu Creativity: KKKK

Veteran Northwest chef owner David Blaine opened his first restaurant as an owner quietly this fall in the heart of Kendall Yards – the growing urban village on the north bank of the Spokane River. During Blaine’s long tenure as the executive chef at Latah Bistro, he distinguished himself as a passionate advocate for local food prepared with a balance of creativity and simplicity. Expect nothing less at Central Food, not just at breakfast but also at lunch and dinner. The view of downtown from the restaurant is spectacular and Blaine’s crew hasn’t missed a beat. You can find traditional comfort food on the menu, but the adventurous breakfast choice is the terrine. Blaine builds the dish around a creamy mushroom mousse studded with bacon (or not). On top is a poached egg and there are toast soldiers on the side for dipping and scooping the marvelous combination of egg yolk and mousse. Also of note: Breakfast pot pie and simple rustic scones.

 

 

Italia Trattoria

Critic’s Pick: Farmer’s Breakfast

Overall Menu Creativity: KKKK

Partners Anna Vogel and Bethe Bowman serve up inventive Italian food in their intimate Browne’s Addition restaurant all week long. For breakfast or brunch, you need to wait for the weekend. But it is worth the wait, particularly for the Farmer’s Breakfast that puts a big bowl of white bean and tomato ragu in front of you full of savory-sweet house-made Italian sausage and topped with two eggs. Also of note: It would be a culinary crime to not also order the Zeppole doughnut balls with orange chocolate cream.

 

Michael D’s Eatery

Critic’s Pick: Bagel Florentine

Overall Menu Creativity: KKK

Michael D’s (the “D” stands for “DePasquale”) has the feel of a great diner with the food and portions to match. The restaurant sits within eyeshot of the Interstate 90 off-ramp at Sherman in Coeur d’Alene, and just might become my required first stop on any road trip to Montana. The menu has plenty to offer anyone with their heart set on a traditional breakfast, but you need to try DePasquale’s unusual Bagel Florentine that tops a sliced and grilled bagel with two poached eggs, creamed spinach and Parmesan. This Popeye special will give you your greens and you’ll be tempted to lick the last of the sauce off your plate. Also of note: Several twists on the typical Eggs Benedict and an omelet list that includes the “Courageous” with fresh jalapeños, whipped cream cheese and a habanero hot sauce.

 

Casper Fry

Critic’s Pick: Shrimp and Grits

Overall Menu Creativity: KKKK

The Northwest is as far from the Deep South in the country as you can get without a trip to Alaska or Hawaii, but if you are hungry for the likes of what you’ll find below the Mason-Dixon line, head to the Perry District and ask for Shrimp and Grits. What comes out is a huge bowl of Red Mule grits topped with hefty shrimp, spicy Tasso ham cured in house, and two eggs cooked to your specifications. You might need a wingman to finish it off. Also of note: The maple glazed Pork Belly and the Sweet Potato and Pulled Pork Hash.

 

The Donut Parade

Critic’s Pick: Maple Bar

Overall Menu Creativity: KK

Creativity is not why I go to The Donut Parade. I go for one thing and one thing only: the best maple bar on the planet. And I should know. After working at a popular bakery in high school, I have made it a personal mission to hunt for the very best maple bars anywhere. It is something of a coup that the best just happens to be located in an ancient diner just north of Gonzaga University. Taste one still warm and tell me you don’t agree. Current owners Roy and Christian Reno took over from long-time Donut Parade owner Darrell Jones who turned out the iconic maple bars every weekday for forty years. Call ahead if you want to be sure there will be enough left when you arrive – especially if you want to take a dozen into the office. Also of note: To get a sense of the history of the Donut Parade, look at the worn floor under the stools at the counter.

 

Huckleberry’s 9th Street Bistro

Critic’s Pick: Bistro Tofu Scramble

Overall Menu Creativity: KKK

The bustle and tightly packed tables of this bistro tucked inside Huckleberry’s Natural Market on Spokane’s lower South Hill attests to its popularity with ethics-or-organics-first shoppers, but even if you aren’t on the hunt for premium produce or spices in bulk, you’ll want to try the bistro. I’ve tried to duplicate the savory simplicity of Huckleberry’s Tofu Scramble at home without success. I can make it into the ballpark, but theirs is always better. The tofu is grilled with zucchini, peppers, yellow squash, onions and mushrooms, and it has a slight Asian twist with a splash of soy sauce. Included is a 16-ounce cup of coffee and your choice of house potatoes, toast, sliced tomato or a whole grain blueberry pancake. My advice? Take the pancake. Also of note: The fresh juice bar in the Bistro.