Let’s begin with the lay of the land. Spokane is a border town, only a short drive to the Idaho border.
It’s a city sliced in half by a river known for its dramatic waterfalls right downtown. It has four distinct seasons, plenty of outdoor public spaces, and is populated with folks who have to drive five hours to get to Seattle. That last point drives Spokane’s fierce sense of independence. It lives in no other city’s shadow. It does things its own way and is better for it.
When it comes to food, fierce independence and creativity have transformed Spokane from a city of diners and steak houses into one of modem cuisine and gastropubs. It’s flashy at times and dive-y at times-with a no-nonsense approach that sheds all pretense. In Spokane, it’s all about the food.
A delicious way to gain an introduction to Spokane’s food and beverage scene is by attending CRAVE! (cravenw.com), an annual summertime food and beverage celebration that takes place in Spokane Valley (in 2019, it will run July 11-14). CRAVE!’s Culinary Director is Chef Adam Hegsted, a regional semi-finalist for the James Beard Award and owner of Eat Good Group with several restaurants in the Spokane area and the Idaho Panhandle. CRAVE! gathers creative personalities from the Spokane food and beverage community into one place, and festivalgoers get to sample dishes from local and visiting chefs and sip a variety of beers, wines and spirits. Guests leave with a solid sense of what the Spokane food scene is all about. With appetites whetted, it’s time to sally forth.
Start simple with the basics at downtown Spokane’s Incrediburger & Eggs (incrediburgerandeggs. com), one ofHegsted’s eateries, serving comfort food for breakfast, lunch, dinner and any time in between. Can you get a sense of the menu offerings from the restaurant’s name? What makes Hegsted’s workaday American fare so special is the care he takes to source local ingredients and the special touches he uses in preparation (beef fat French fries, anyone?). Hegsted’s inspiration for the food at Incrediburger & Eggs comes, in part, from the nostalgic foods of his past.
Across the river and up the food chain of restaurants is Wandering Table (thewanderingtable. com), situated in the new Kendall Yards district. Here, Hegsted’s crew plays with foods that appeal to contemporary palates that can appreciate a culinary mashup. Ingredients travel across boundaries of international cuisines, like fried com cobs with lime, cotija cheese, kewpie mayo, togarashi and bonito flakes (Mexico meets Japan) and duck carnitas with tortillas, watermelon kimchi, gochujang, cilantro and pickled onion (Mexico meets Korea).
For more familiar fare, head downtown to the casual yet stylish Table 13 in the Davenport Grand Hotel (davenporthotelcollection.com). Chef Evan Tewel takes a shared-plates approach (so it’s permissible to snatch a bite of your companion’s plate without asking), using locally sourced ingredients. Detect a theme? Fortunate for Spokane’s chefs, the city happens to be surrounded by independent farms that supply local kitchens. Many of Tewel’s dishes appeal to a broader audience than more cutting edge fare would, but a grilled prime filet mignon, especially adorned with foie gras and a red wine veal reduction, is nothing to scoff at. The portions are more than ample, and the preparations and presentations flawless.
Three restaurateurs with broad national experience came together more than a decade ago to open Wild Sage Bistro ( wildsagebistro.com), and the restaurant has been a fine-dining mainstay that has remained at the top of critics’ lists ever since. What’s the secret? Contemporary, casually elegant surroundings and food that showcases the best locally sourced ingredients. The menu is a crowd pleasermeat-and-potatoes guests will be happy, as will the more adventuresome diner.
Sometimes you just want a great pizza and a craft beer, right? The Flying Goat (theflyinggoat.com) is your answer, and with a name like that you have to check it out. Choosing from their out-of-the-box menu might be the toughest decision of the day. (I like the Fairview, topped with heavy cream, their house cheese blend, in-house back bacon, pears, gorgonzola cheese crumbles and white balsamic reduction.)
The people of Spokane know never to start a day without breakfast. Join them at Bruncheonette ( coupleofcheft.com) for well-imagined and-executed comfort food that pops with flavor and plated up in stick-to-your-ribs portions. The chicken and waffles, the bacon sticky-bun and the chilaquiles are all winners. And vegans need not despair-to borrow a cliche, there’s something for everyone.
This just scratches the surface. Over the last decade Sante, Mizuna, Clover and so many other restaurants and their visionary chefs have elevated the Spokane culinary scene and made it worthy of national attention.
To select a hotel and plan your Spokane foodie getaway, go to visitspokane.com.
By Allen Cox, Northwest Travel Magazine