Friday, December 21, 2007

Get Out! Best of North Idaho 2007

It seems like 2007 disappeared faster than a fresh tray of Kung Pao Chicken at the Top of China Buffet. It’s already that time of year again when we all look back and reflect a bit on the last twelve months: the good and the hard times, the gourmet meals and the rotten corn dogs, the nights out and the days spent recovering from them. It’s a good time to take note of some of the highlights of the past year in the local food, music and arts scene. So without further ado, I present to you my completely arbitrary, random list of things that made it tolerable to live in North Idaho during 2007.

Most Creative Local Rock Band: Coeur d’Alene’s Kite have been amazing Inland Northwest audiences for over ten years with a sound that is distinctly soaring and melodic with an intriguingly artsy air. I caught them earlier this year at a benefit gig and was awed by the urgency and intense display of creative energy these guys seem to effortlessly conjure up. The band is currently in the studio working on the follow-up to 2006’s brilliant Sleeping in Thunder album, which will see release early in 2008.

Naughtiest Onion Rings: There are some pretty decadent deep fried goodies out there in the culinary scene, but none will send you to the cardiologist faster than the clumpy, crumbly onion rings at the Paul Bunyan Drive In on Northwest Blvd. They have to double bag these babies so the hot grease doesn’t soak through and ruin your car interiors. Must be consumed with surreal amounts of dip.

Most Smartest Torch Lounge Dancer of the Year: Violet truly knows how to wriggle and writhe her way around a silver pole wearing nothing but a tiny thong bikini and six-inch platform heels, yet she also holds a degree in Child Development from North Idaho College. Naturally, she's a Gemini, her double nature reflected not only in her bipolar career paths, but also in her bisexuality and her ability to do long division whilst dramatically reinterpreting the music of Marilyn Manson and simultaneously thrusting her ladybusiness into the faces of drooling, horny men. Quel génie!

Coolest Concept That Could Use A Little Work: I really liked what the organizers of the first Coeur d’Alene film festival were trying to do, screening indie films that would have otherwise never been seen by local moviegoers. Problem was, many people were reluctant to spend the $125 for all access tickets (or the $9 for individual tickets) – to me, not a realistic price for low-budget amateur films. Also, the films were scattered all over town with not enough time to make it from one venue to the next between films and causing much confusion for the out-of-towners. If they can keep things more centrally located and make the entry fees more affordable they might be on to something special.

Tastiest Local Microbrew: I had the pleasure of touring the Laughing Dog Brewery up in Ponderay last summer and was schooled by owner Fred Colby on the intricacies of crushing the grain, sparging the mash, and boiling the wort. I’d never really thought about the process, and it was amazing to learn that beer doesn’t just magically appear on the shelf in the grocery store cooler. Even more amazing was their wonderful Huckleberry Cream Ale, a light and sweet but hearty brew they let me repeatedly sample on site. Good stuff.

Best Lunch On A Very Tight Budget: It’s lunchtime but you’re totally broke. Dig in your couch cushions and you’ll likely come up with enough funds for the totally satisfying 3 for $1.19 hot dog special at Gittel’s Grocery at Gov’t Way and Harrison. These dogs are perfectly plumped in an old-fashioned wiener-rotating machine and the buns are steamed. What more do you need?

Wildest Karaoke Night: Marj Hopkins is the Karaoke Queen of the Corner Bar on 4th Street in Cd’A. Four nights a week, she’s the calm in the center of the hurricane of tipsy warblers that pack the fusty former Fran’s Regina. Everyone from frat boys to chain-smoking old broads sign up to sing here, and you’re likely to witness mind-warping performances of everything from “Amazing Grace” to “Sweet Transvestite.” The more people that sing, the more people need a drink to deal with it. The more people drink, the more likely they are to sing. It’s a depraved spiral into the karaoke abyss.

Freakiest Breakfast Waitresses: Not to be too unkind, but a few of the juicier descriptive terms that pop into mind when pondering the gals who sling plates up at CdA's northside breakfast mecca the Rockin' Robin include fried, grizzled, sizzled, smoked out, coked out and choked out. The food is always incredibly dank, stick-to-your-ribs good and you have to love a place that refers to the pancakes as Pips (as in Gladys Night) and features an omelet called "The Supremes". The waitresses are equally as retro, apparently suspended in a world where it's okay to wear Christmas balls as earrings and eye makeup that would make even the late, great Tammy Faye blanch. Plus, their you'll-get-your-maple-syrup-when-I-damn-well-feel-like-it attitude and sassy coffee-buzz wit will either leave you in stitches or leave them needing stitches after you lose your cool and attack them with your fork. You'll love them anyway and they'll keep you coming back.

Most Interesting Popular Dance Craze: Robin Campbell spends Tuesday evenings upstairs at the old VFW Hall on 4th Street in Coeur d’Alene teaching Argentine tango dancing to people presumably far more energetic and coordinated than myself. It’s an hour of lessons, then another hour of hardcore tangoing. When you get really good at it, you might want to mambo down to the Shore Lounge in the Cd’A Resort on Wednesdays and check out their Salsa night with DJ Brentano. Olé!

Most Beloved C-Store Clerk: Old Joe has been sitting behind the register at the Zips Stop on 7th and Sherman peering out from behind those glasses that make his eyes all googly and big since before anyone can remember. He knows pretty much everything about everyone who've come into the store more than twice and will chat for hours in that gritty, gravelly voice of his. He's seen it all before and is completely unflappable, not even flinching when you come in to purchase eight 40's of Old E, a box of condoms and a fresh can of WD-40. Trust me, I know.

Most Addictive Jamba Juice Flavor: Alright, it isn’t exclusively a local thing, but I couldn’t imagine life without a power size Matcha Green Tea Smoothie with a Green Caffeine Blast at least three mornings a week. It tastes exactly like my favorite sweet green tea ice cream they serve at Japanese Restaurants and provides a clean caffeine wallop smoother and stronger than coffee or soda. Problem is, my desk sits empty half the day – green tea is a natural and very strong diuretic.

Best Kept Local Radio Secret: Have you ever been driving in downtown Coeur d’Alene, scanning the radio and you’re surprised to suddenly hear some left-of-center music like Pixies or the Meat Puppets? Try to find the station again later and it’s gone or maybe moved somewhere else on the dial. If you’ve experienced this phenomenon, you’ve stumbled upon Coeur d’Alene’s ultra cool pirate radio station. It’s an utter mystery who runs it, but word is if you leave CDs on a certain spot atop a certain c-store sign, they’ll fetch them and play them on the air no matter what the content. By the way, if you work for the FCC, you never saw this.

Bravest Theater Production: Stodgier season ticket holders and manly men worried about exactly how far Cd’A Summer Theatre would take their production of “The Full Monty”, which is famous for it’s depiction of average working men getting naked and dancing for money. Our own Dave Oliveria nervously wondered on Huckleberries Online “Is ‘The Full Monty’ too edgy for Cd’A?” The quick answer was no, it was a huge hit and a rollicking good time, complete with Ellen Travolta’s unforgettably grand performance as jaded showbiz vet Jeanette.

Coolest Vinyl-Only Record Store: OK, the ONLY vinyl-only record store in town actually. Unified Groove Merchants' Cd'A store magically appeared this year across the way from the fairgrounds after the owner ran out of space in the original Spokane location. Looking for a rare Velvet Underground bootleg or a pristine copy of the Beatles' Revolver album? Bingo! Plus thousands of other LP collector's goodies from all eras of music. I lost six hours here one day digging through box after endless box of random, unorganized 45's and still never saw them all. Come with lots of cash and prepare to leave exhausted.

Most Delicious Donuts and Pastries: Somehow when I did my infamous write-up of the deli at Peterson’s Family Foods (formerly Sherman IGA), I forgot to mention their luscious baked goods. The maple bars, apple fritter and French crullers are made fresh daily in small, exclusive batches and are worth getting up early for, because if you don’t they’ll be all gone.

Best Suggestion For A Get Out Column: I enjoy the emails I occasionally receive from local photographer extraordinaire George Goetzman. I was looking for something to inspire this week’s column and I found it in my inbox much thanks to George who wrote “I think you should have a ‘best of’ column sometime. It could include best bloody Mary, best porter on tap, etc. In other words, the best of your eating and drinking pleasures.” Good idea, eh? George goes on to offer his ideas for winners in a few sandwich categories, and they’re insightful enough to include here. He writes: Best tuna melt: Java on Sherman. Have it on whole wheat. Although my stepdaughter thinks the best tuna melt is at Bella Rose. It has lemony hints in it. Best French dip: Moon Time. Hands down. With caramelized onions, and creamy horseradish sauce. It's over the top. Best patty melt: Rustler's Roost. A patty melt, like a Reuben, has to be kind of greasy with a lot of dripping sauce. Woody does 'em good. I think they come on Rye. You need to add mustard. Best grilled cheese: Java on Sherman. Have it on sourdough. It's not called a grilled cheese on the menu, it's called Bill's Favorite.”


Idaho Dad said...

Thanks for all the hints and tips about this town.

Hey, I went over to iTunes to check out Kite's Sleeping In Thunder album. Nice. But I couldn't help but notice there seem to be at least four different bands using that name. You'd think these guys would get in touch with each other and work something out. Very confusing.

Anonymous said...

My name is John Watson and I have been playing Huckelberries, Borders Book Stores, Etc.. here in Spokane. I would like to migrate to Idaho with my show. I am a finger stylist and play classicle guitars.
My Email is
Response has been Scary Amazing!! No Kidding! I do alot of originals. 95% of my sets.
Thank You for any consideration.
John Watson
(509) 922-6588 Spo. Valley.