Saturday, March 31, 2007

The High Nooner

The High Nooner
3510 N. Government Way
Coeur d’Alene, ID

Ah, the glorious sandwich. It’s a simple concept, yet it can be so difficult to master. Everyone has a different viewpoint on the subject, from the mundane (Mayonnaise vs. Miracle Whip) to the controversial and bizarre (my mother’s love for Peanut Butter and Pickles with Mayo on Rye.) A good sandwich is more than just a few slices of mystery meat between two gluey slices of white bread, although I hear that is considered a gourmet treat in the Kootenai County Jail cafeteria. A good sandwich is a memorable, well-crafted experience, a blend of flavors coming together as a full, convenient meal.

There’s a fine art to getting the sweet tang of the tuna salad just right, or knowing how to pile on enough ham to counterbalance the bite of the sliced onions. Certain types of breads work better with certain fillings. Condiments should be generous and varied – there’s nothing harder to choke down than a bone dry sandwich. I can’t think of a reason to be shy when lubricating your food – mayonnaise and yellow mustard, sweet pickle relish and spicy horseradish – spread it on thick and treat yourself.

In the lunch industry, the sandwich is obviously a behemoth and those who master the many facets of their creation and construction are highly respected artists. Even at your local neighborhood Subway, it’s clear some of those seventeen-year-olds have a gift and will have a long future in sandwich engineering. Between cigarette breaks, they pour their heart and soul into each squirt of dijonnaise. In all seriousness, Subway has created a consistently satisfying and affordable product and has set the standard for take-out sandwich freshness in the public consciousness.

The High Nooner offers a local alternative to national chain sandwich places, having just added a Coeur d’Alene location to its four existing Spokane stores earlier this month. I visited the new lunch spot with my co-conspirator Q. this week, not really knowing what to expect. We went a little early, hoping to beat the lunch rush. It was mid-morning and cars already filled the lot, the air abuzz with the anticipation of trying a new restaurant.

The first thing that struck me as we walked in was the multitude of Jo Jonas’ Indian Chief drawings hanging on the walls. I was delighted to see these rare works – Jonas is a legendary local artist and the man who made all those huge bronze sculptures down on the North Idaho College campus. I was lucky enough to have him as an instructor there as well many years ago. Kudos to the High Nooner for creating a virtual Jo Jonas museum on their walls, although I could live without the ugly ‘80’s Santa Fe tapestries and Wild West furniture his drawings are displayed with.

We approached the counter and were handed a couple of paper menus to look over. The vibe here at the High Nooner was not at all relaxed, but busy go-go-go. I looked into the semi-open kitchen in amazement at the literally dozens of young kitchen workers running around in street clothes in a crazy panic to the tune of blaring hip-hop music. What were they all doing back there – are they already getting that much business? Between the intricate dance of the sandwich makers and the loud thump of the bass, it genuinely seemed like there was a full-blown nightclub happening back there at 11 in the morning. It was like they were getting ready to audition for a touring company of the musical “Rent” or something. Wild.

Meanwhile, I felt a little angst from the counter girl for me to instantly decide on my order, pronto. People were behind us in line, but there was only one register and I was looking at a menu I’d never seen. Feeling pressured to order, I picked the “Sundowner,” which had caught my eye with the word ‘cranberries” in the description, reminding me of my favorite sandwich in town: the Hobbit at Sunshine Trader. I asked if I could get a half-sandwich and a cup of soup and was told they had no such combo. No soup and sandwich combo at a lunch deli? Just out of principle, I couldn’t bring myself to order them separately so I opted for a side of Asian Noodle salad. Q. ordered a Veggie Nooner and before we even had a chance to pick a table a woman came round the corner waving two brown paper bags and calling my name. I grabbed the lunch sacks, realizing that the place was obviously set up more for fast to-go orders rather than a sit-and-relax dining experience. The High Nooner also does catering and delivery, and that seems to be a large focus of the business.

We pulled our sandwiches out of their brown bags and unwrapped them. My Sundowner was nearly $6.50, so I had pictured something with a bit of elevation, plentiful toppings piled high between soft slices of bread. What I got was some scant, thin bits of dry turkey and lettuce, a teaspoon of Stove-Top stuffing, spread thin as paper, two cranberries with the remotest smear of accompanying cranberry sauce, and half-a-trace of mayo between the halves of an enormous white hoagie roll. It was tear-jerkingly dry and I couldn’t really taste any of the ingredients in all that bread. Needless to say, I was not overly enthused as I picked out and ate what small bits of meat I could excavate, returning the half-eaten hoagie roll to the bag. The side dish fared no better – it seemed like they just marinated some cooked noodles in plain soy sauce and sprinkled on a few sesame seeds. This “salad” was overly salty and would have benefited greatly from the simple addition of an actual veggie or two. Q. was also less-than ecstatic about his veggie sandwich, calling it “bland and uninspired” before rewrapping the other half to take to his granny, who normally loves foods fitting that description, but who reportedly was also unable to find any joy in the thing. The addition of free chocolate chip cookies was a nice touch, but they tasted store-bought and stale.

Color me unimpressed. However, I’m not willing to totally cross the High Nooner off my list yet. I’d like to hope they’re still working out the bugs and I’ve heard that the Spokane locations are known for having great food. Further examination of the menu leads to some promising notions, like the “High Nooner” with egg salad, cream cheese, bacon, and tomato; the “Afternooner” with juicy ham and turkey and melted cheese on a hot parmesan French roll; The “Buff Chick” with grilled chicken, blue cheese, and spicy buffalo sauce on foccacia bread. Hopefully they don’t skimp on the ingredients with these items. The dessert counter looked fantastic, huge slices of carrot cake, rum cake, brownies, and one thing I know they couldn’t possibly mess up: giant Rice Krispies treats. Service was fast and friendly, and they seemed sincere as they waved us bye-bye and asked us to come back soon. Q. said never again, but I’m a firm believer in second chances.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

kitty said...

My mom was Jo Jonas's protegee of sorts, back in her art school days! I used to go to his classes at the NIC when I was 8.
5:58 PM
Phil said...

I love a good sandwich, but so rarely see them done well. One of the best I've had is the Java Club down at Java On Sherman. I'm also partial to a couple of Schlotzsky's offerings. I'd love to see you do a "Top Ten Sandwiches in Coeur d'Alene"... I'm sure there are some hidden gems out there that I would never find.

A couple shops that I found to be disappointing: Daanen's Deli, and San Francisco Sourdough.
6:53 PM