Saturday, April 5, 2008

Down The Street

Down the Street
1613 E. Sherman,
Coeur d’Alene.

The Many Personalities Of Down The Street

TV’s Food Network airs an entertainingly watchable program called “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” in which porcupine-haired host Guy Fieri hams his way around the country checking out those down-home eating establishments that over the years have become wildly popular and even legendary in their respective localities. Fieri visits greasy hot kitchen after greasy hot kitchen, stuffing his face full of their decadently caloric output and getting in the way of busy kitchen staff. He surprise-attacks diners, joining their table and even digging right into their food, feigning interest when they say things like “I been comin’ here purt near every Saturday for 27 years for the best darned pigs-in-a-blanket on the East Coast!”

The restaurants featured on the show always seem to have some sort of shtick going on, like being located inside an old cable car or in a building shaped like a giant bagel with lox, or maybe serving a trademark novelty item like deep-fried macaroni and cheese (yes doctor, there really is such a thing). Some of them have simply been open 24-hours a day and flipping flapjacks since the early Taft administration. However, some diners and dives deserve recognition even though they’re completely novelty-free and void of visible eccentricities. Places that might come across a little too unpretentious and plain to make good television, but hold something intangible that might not come across well onscreen. I call it “the passion”. It’s that passion for serving up consistently tummy-pleasing food and for friendly, attentive service that keeps happy regulars coming back again and again to a classic eatery like Down the Street Restaurant on East Sherman Avenue in Coeur d’Alene.

Miss M and I were desperate for a heavy dose of some good old Down the Street passion on a recent Sunday morning. M was at home feeling the cruel aftereffects of a night full of disco and Tuaca shots and I was across town struggling to think of a legitimate reason to bother getting out of my warm bed on a frozen March morning when we had an odd moment of serendipity. Half-asleep, I reached for my phone to call her up and suggest breakfast when it suddenly began ringing in my hand, startling me awake. It was M: “Are you hungry? I need some Down the Street now before I start eating my couch. The cushions are starting to look really tasty.” “I’ll pick you up in 20 minutes” I replied, my tummy rumbling in agreement, too famished to care about the uncanny psychic moment.

We have a few regular breakfast haunts, but Down the Street always feels a little like coming home. It’s the kind of place where I always meet friends in from out-of-town because it’s just tradition. It’s the kind of place I can meander into any day of the week and run into at least a few familiar faces. From the time the sun crawls up over the purple hills in the morn until the last fry is frenched at 2 p.m. sharp, tables and booths percolate with a wildly diverse lot of regulars, each drawn back in for some more of the passion. On our recent visit alone, we ran into random folks including a local R&B singer and her bandmates, a friend who specializes in exotic body piercings, an old teacher from NIC, even the neighborhood Avon lady. Emo rockers were seated in booths next to Mennonites. Yoga ladies in unitards shared the Sunday paper with grizzled and grouchy veterans. We even took in a Tammy Faye lookalike, loudly chatting on the phone in her southern drawl over the din of the breakfast rush.

Down the Street seems to have a simple philosophy; treat the customer well with fast, memorable service and have no inconsistencies food wise. Décor and ambience are spare and somewhat grandma-esque, including a series of what M calls “ratty Shopko blankets” depicting puppy dogs, deer and pheasants hung on white walls like rare expensive tapestries. The vinyl tablecloth’s dark, murky floral pattern caused M’s hangover to flare and a vase filled with fake orange and hot pink daisies was suffering from years of abuse and neglect, but our booth was spacious and comfortable like an old Cadillac.

Anyway, we come here to experience the passion, not to pick up interior design tips. The Down the Street passion is in the chop-chop pace of the wait staff, whose sky blue uniforms make them seem like nurses in a breakfast emergency room, speeding around and giving tender loving care to victims of severe morning hunger and caffeine withdrawal. I watched in astonishment as a waitress made a tall chocolate milk the old-fashioned way, squirting in heaps of Hershey’s syrup then stirring a hundred times to perfection. I delighted in how my cup of Pike Street tea never fell below the halfway mark before it was given a freshen-up. I amazed at the fast reaction of our waitress when after overhearing M mention the possible discovery of a mystery hair in her side of gravy, she instantly swooped in with a hot fresh cup of the stuff and an apology.

The passion is an important ingredient every bit of hash they sling, lending the food an assuring predictability. I know that when I order the Chicken Fried Steak, it’s going to be golden-brown perfect, the beef tender enough to cut with a fork and the cracker-crumb coating crisp and satisfying. I know I’ll have to let the seasoned breakfast potatoes cool down a few minutes or the hot molten chunks will burn my mouth, even with ketchup. I know the eggs will be scrambled how I like them, not overly fluffy but with a bit of weight to them, some heartiness. The pancake will be so steamy and griddle-fresh that I can watch the poor scoop of butter ooze away, its life brought to a final, merciful end by a splash of warm maple syrup.

Between breakfast and lunch fare, the Down the Street menu offers whatever you’ve got in mind and a few surprises. An egg and potato scramble with smoked salmon, cream cheese and chives seems right for those particularly experimental mornings. Corned beef hash is always a tempting idea, and it’s hard to beat a spicy, overstuffed breakfast burrito as a cure for wild-night-itis. If that doesn’t do the trick, the DTS Green Chili Spuds will make you feel human again, pronto. Lunch highlights include my perennial favorite, the Blue Cheese Burger, along with a dozen more burger varieties. There’s a Parmesan Crusted Chicken, some incredible Fish and Chips, a full assortment of sandwiches and salads, and if you time it right, you could score a slice of homemade pie. Lastly, they offer a selection of beer and wine, so if you’re one of those folks who enjoys a nice glass of morning burgundy with their strawberries-and-whipped-cream topped Belgian waffles, you’re in luck. A few of those and you’ll really be feeling the Down the Street passion.


Anonymous said...

Down the Street has been Jimmy's Down the Street for 2 years now. No more ratty blankets hanging on the wall...but better than ever food AND service! New owners Jim and Anna Purtee demonstrate their extensive restaurant experience. I'm a fan for good and don't mind tellin everyone I know.

Anonymous said...

Restrooms need deep cleaning, dirt build up in corners, boogers and dried snot in men's restroom walls is the kitchen as clean?