Spokane, like the rest of America's cities, has undergone a foodie revolution. Business is booming, with 17 percent more restaurants since 2007, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue. We had planned to go to what is supposed to be the city's best restaurant, Ruins on North Monroe Street, but its small dining room didn't have the capacity to handle a larger party, the line was already long at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday, and Sean Nelson was hangry.
While we stood on the sidewalk and debated whether to wait it out or join Heidi Groover and Rich Smith at Durkin's Liquor Bar downtown, a group of people left Ruins, clearly upset. "This place is trash," said a man with long blond hair. "The food is trash, the service is trash. Don't go there."
Our stomachs rumbled, we still had a 20-minute wait, and a decision was made: We were going to Durkin's, located on West Main Avenue, across the street from Auntie's Bookstore. Named after liquor tycoon Jimmy Durkin and located in one of his pre-Prohibition establishments, there was ample room for our large group. The place looked like a million other speakeasy-style bars you'd find in Seattle, New York, or Chicago: dark leather booths, tin ceiling, cocktails served in those adorable, petite cocktail glasses. Rich and Heidi were already halfway through their drinks, and we proceeded to order.
One of our guests explained that Durkin's had opened a few years before and was briefly the area's hot restaurant before it fizzled because the food wasn't so great. Several years later and with a new chef, Shaun Chambers, it had restored its reputation. We were able to order nearly everything on the menu, including the Durkin's meat and cheese board, the butcher's cut strip steak served with duck butter, an assortment of salads and sides, and, most importantly, a fried bologna sandwich, which Sean, no longer hangry, proclaimed to be perfect. (TRICIA ROMANO)
Yesterday Today Amaro:
First of all: great pun. Second of all: Though I cannot afford to drink this herby, earthy take on a black manhattan ($9) three days in a row, as its name suggests, I would certainly want to. It was nicely balanced but still powerful. Though only one of its ingredients boasts much authority, one coupe made me—six foot two, 175 pounds, medium-heavy drinker—tipsy for the whole dinner. (Rich Smith)
I guess we've reached a point in our civilization where we can put "activated charcoal" in our cocktails and that's okay. In fact, it's more than okay; the charcoal adds a gritty, earthy texture to this tall, dark, and handsome vodka drink ($11). Also infused with lime, ginger, and honey, the real winner in this drink is the splash of beet syrup—naturally sweet and not too overpowering. (AMBER CORTES)
Butcher's Cut of the Night, House Fries, Duck Butter:It was a steak. The thing about steaks is that you might be able to prepare yours better at home for far less money ($34). The piece of strip was enormous (eight ounces) and a perfectly cooked medium-rare, which is more difficult to achieve than you'd think—charred on the outside and just the right amount of pink on the inside. However, it was strangely lacking in flavor. Maybe it wasn't salted enough, but the duck butter didn't add much to the experience, other than the knowledge that I would have to put in several extra hours at Orangetheory Fitness over the weekend. (TR)
Durkin's Board, House Smoked and Cured Charcuterie, Cheese, Fruit, Madeleine's Baguette:
You can't reinvent the wheel with a meat and cheese board, but you do expect it to meet a certain standard: Give me enough bread to pair with the cheese, meat, and accouterments, or I will be disappointed. In this, they succeeded: The bread came from Madeleine's, a bakery that is also run by Durkin's owners, and was lightly grilled. The rest of it—save for roasted red peppers that paired nicely with the bread—was serviceable but not amazing. (TR)
Fish and Chips:
Finding myself in a landlocked river town and looking for something I just couldn't find at home, I went for the Rainier-battered fish and chips ($16). The batter was light but crispy; the inside perfectly moist. Served on a plate of just-right house cut fries (see below) with a side of rémoulade, it was—I'm sorry, Seattle—as good as anything you'll find at Pike Place. (HEIDI GROOVER)
Roasted and served with too much sauce, the first taste of these brussels sprouts ($8) was surprising. In addition to brown sugar and bourbon, the sauce also contained sriracha, which gave the sprouts a much spicier bite than I was anticipating. A little less of the sauce and the spice would have done more for the green. (TR)
House Cut Fries with Garlic Aioli:
These were good fries ($6). The perfect size and not too oily. But the garlic aioli made me burp garlic all night. Not great for my Tinder date later. (TR)
Diced and fried purple sweet potato provided a nice contrast to the tender oxtail ($25), while oyster mushrooms soaked in oxtail jus delicately reinforced the slightly gamey meat. I bristle when asked to pay double digits for cheap cuts I can toss in the crock pot myself, but after a long day walking all around Spokane, this big warm bowl of something satisfied. (RS)
There's a decadence to scallops that few other shellfish can match. Of course, there are oysters, but my heart has always been with the heavenly tenderness of scallops. In this dish ($27), they were given their proper due—set atop a mild smoked cauliflower puree, served with steamed Swiss chard, and sprinkled with delightful diced bacon bits and crushed pistachios to balance out the softness with some crunch. (AC)
This salad ($12) was the best thing I put in my mouth all night. The sweetness of the thinly sliced beets paired well with the creamy-smoky blue cheese and the peppery arugula. Pickled onions and a horseradish vinaigrette kept the dish bright and peppy. (RS)
Fried Bologna Sandwich:
Some people's palates refine with age. As I inch ever closer to the death I know is now approaching me at a gallop, I find that the gustatory delights of childhood are the only foods that bring any comfort at all. The indisputable fact that these treats only hasten the approach of the grim reaper is an irony that isn't lost on me. It only makes savoring the empty calories all the more important. You can always have some salutary greens when you feel your body running down. But you didn't come to Spokane to eat a fucking salad. When confronted with the existence on a menu of a fried bologna sandwich on white bread with yellow cheese and yellow mustard ($16), it would feel perverse not to order it, and revel in the obvious envy of your tablemates, even as you are transported backward through history—fruit rolls and cans of SpaghettiOs (with sliced franks) hurtling past you, en route to that eternal kitchen table of the unconscious, where eating disorders sprout like dandelions on a freshly mowed front lawn. To its credit, this restaurant made no effort to modernize the sandwich, piling the weird, delicious meat high and frying it up good. (Small note: The edges could have been crispier. Second small note: Spelling it "bologna" is a just little rococo, n'est-ce pas? Let baloney be baloney.) No Dijon mustard, no aioli, no hard crust or weird bits in the bread. In its small, hard-to-defend way, this is a perfect sandwich and a pure source of pleasure, both despite and because it catalyzes the hardening of your wizened arteries. P.S. It comes with tater tots, as all entrées should. (SEAN NELSON)