4055 N. Government Way,
Hours: Mon-Fri 10-3
For the most part, my spring head cold had faded away but my ears remained stubbornly plugged, rendering everything in my range of hearing muffled and distant. Even still, as I sat poring over the lunch menu at Herbie’s Deli Shop in Coeur d’Alene, I could hear a hopelessly cheesy saxophone riff rip through the air from the overhead speakers. Lou and I looked at each other and laughed. “Oh boy, I haven’t heard this in years” he chuckled and wondered “who did this song anyway?” Now, I like to consider myself quite knowledgeable about pop music, new and old. Having worked in a series of record shops when I was younger forced me to know a lot of obscure junk that usually only comes in handy for getting the high score on the music trivia video game down at the pub. But what was this darned song? I’d heard it a million times, but frustratingly, I just couldn’t place the title or artist, some soft-rock one-hit-wonder from the seventies. It was hard to focus on the menu until the song finally faded out, and I vowed to keep that wince-inducing sax riff stored in my frontal lobe until I could somehow identify it.
We spent the rest of lunch trying to figure it out. “Paul McCartney and Wings”, suggested Lou. I rolled my eyes. “No, that’s not it, obviously.” My tummy suddenly growling louder than the sax, I concentrated my attention to the menu. We were both Herbie’s newbies and weren’t really expecting much more than average assembly-line style subs and status-quo soups of the day, but the menu is full of unexpected possibilities. Signature sandwiches include Smoked Turkey and Cranberry, Herbie’s Triple Decker Club and the Black Forest Ham and Egg. “Haut Dogs” of the Chicago and Coney Island variety and grilled Panini sandwiches are what’s hot, and of course you can create your own stacked Dagwood on a variety of breads, including 3-cheese focaccia, nine-grain and marble rye. Herbie’s serves some especially creative salads as well, including the Chicken CranApple, the Asian Chicken with Mandarin oranges and sesame dressing, and a giant Taco Salad with black beans and cilantro. Amazingly, like the chili and all the soups, salad dressings are made fresh from scratch.
The atmosphere at Herbie’s is warm, open and cheery with crisp yellow and red walls, forest green carpeting and a few minimal touches of wall art along with an impressively large mirrored wall clock and a giant collection of baskets. A few easily identifiable Herbie’s regulars were sidled up to the counter, laughing and gossiping with the friendly older couple who seemed to be running the show (Herbie and his wife maybe?). The sole waitress on duty was notably unruffled by the lunch rush, attending to each guest with equally personable service, her announcement of the daily specials and professional demeanor more reminiscent of a gourmet bistro than a strip-mall sub shop.
“Mighty salubrious” is Herbie’s motto. It’s painted on the front door and printed on the front on the menu directly under their name. “Salubrious” is basically the ten-dollar word for “healthful” and certainly Herbie’s offers plenty of fare that fits that description. We started off with a cup each of their incredible pepper steak soup, made from scratch with whole grain rice, fresh mushroom slices, red and green peppers and big, tender chunks of beef. “Little River Band? Supertramp?” I could hear Lou say through my wonky ears as the waitress cleared away our soup dishes and refilled our sodas. “No, no, no”, I sniffled, ”I’d totally know if it was those bands, and it’s not.”
Of course, I managed to find probably the least salubrious item on the menu, a grilled Panini sandwich called “Mel’s Melt” which consists of juicy roast beef and smoked bacon, a thick layer of melted cheddar cheese, rich grilled onions and tangy barbecue sauce constructed on a fresh baguette, grilled to greasy hot perfection and served with a side of creamy horseradish. This delicious, decadent beauty was incredibly messy to eat, so much so that I had to ask for extra napkins twice, but it was so incredibly good it was easily worth the risk of embarrassment. Lou ordered the Hot Philly Dip, and I can always tell when he really enjoys something because he actually shuts up for the two minutes it takes him to finish any given food item. “Mmm…the au jus is so could I could drink it like soup,” which he then actually did.
“I wanna say Bertie Higgins but that was ‘Key Largo’ and I don’t remember any sax in that,” I thought aloud, finishing my last bite of Panini. “Rupert Holmes!” he shot back. “No, that was ‘Escape’ aka ‘the Pina Colada Song’, but that was a darn good guess.” The waitress cleared our messy table and returned with our check along with an invitation to return soon and a couple of silver peppermint patties. Nice touch. As soon as we arrived home, I hit Google. “Cheesy 70’s soft rock sax riff” I typed into the search window and as soon as I saw it I wanted to kick myself. “Of course!” I groaned, “It’s ‘Baker Street’ by Gerry Rafferty.” I dialed the song up on Rhapsody to make sure and moments later that amusingly mad 70’s saxophone was polluting my home. Next time I hear that song, I may not remember the artist or title, but I know it’ll remind me to return to Herbie’s Deli Shop for another dose of delicious salubriousness.