501 N. Fourth St.,
"Eat to please thyself, but dress to please others." ~ Benjamin Franklin
I might not ever get accused of being exactly trendy, but openness to all things new and exciting is just built into my Aries nature. I’ve learned to control my impulses a bit over the years, but I always used to make sure I was the first kid on the block with the latest electro-polka records, the first to buy the latest copy of Mad magazine, the first in line to try the experimental new menu items served up by the lunch ladies of Harding Elementary. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned that there’s a lot of comfort to be found in the magic of the old school, things that remain reliably solid and unchanged over the years, like Ron Edinger’s spot on the Coeur d’Alene city council.
Franklin’s Hoagies falls squarely into the latter category. On my recent lunchtime visit to the iconic sandwich shop, I asked co-owner Pauline Anderson how many years had come and gone since her and her husband Larry took proprietorship of the place. “23 years last Sturday,” she told me as she buzzed by to drop off my glass of lemonade. “We’ll probably die here,” she said with a chuckle. “You’ll probably come by here in ten years and I’ll be in a wheelchair and have Larry tied to the grill.”
I thought, “23 years is all?” It seems like the Franklin’s has held presence on the corner of Fourth Street and Wallace Avenue for as long as my memory stretches back, in fact I can vaguely recall when the concept of the Philly Cheese Steak sandwich was a new arrival on the North Idaho food landscape. Of course, I’m sure I was the first kid on my block to try one, but I couldn’t have been too far grown out of my Aquaman Underoos at that point in time. Franklin’s has seemingly changed nary a hair since, with basically the Andersons themselves and the rising cost of a meal the only evidence of the passage of time.
The husband and wife team comes across as chatty and down to earth, and they’ve obviously got a great sarcastic sense of humor, as evidenced by the various slogans posted on signs hanging in and around the restaurant. “Come in and eat something, before we both starve!” is more apropos than ever in these wobbly economic times. “Hippies Use Back Door” reads another sign, but if one tried to, I think they’d end up bursting into the back kitchen. On the wall above the grill is posted “This is not Burger King, you get it our way or you don’t get it” and my personal favorite is “If our service does not meet your standards, lower your standards.”
The irony in that last one is that the service and everything else at Franklin’s is quite up to par. Pauline was pretty much running the whole show herself, taking orders, commandeering the hot grill, and keeping the handful of vintage regulars sitting up at the counter entertained with conversation and banter.
I picked a table in the itty-bitty dining area and she showed up right away to drop off a menu and fill me in on the daily special and the soup of the day. There aren’t any major revelations or gourmet curiosities on the list of comestibles, simply reliable old gems like the Pepper Steak (noted on the menu as “Larry’s favorite”) along with the Pizza Steak, and the classic meatball, both made using their terrific homemade tomato sauce.
Burgers and grilled fare are also possibilities and the Philly Burger, with its “deluxe” addition of grilled ham and melted cheese would probably be my first pick, although the Chili Burger and the Tuna Melt with grilled onions on rye would be fighting for second place. I told Pauline to do what she does best and whip me up the very thing that started it all, an Original Cheese Steak hoagie. I watched with some amazement as she tossed the sizzling chip steak around on the grill, wielding the spatulas like they were extensions of her tiny arms, showing how second nature the act had become to her over the years.
Her experience came through also in the sandwich itself, which was presented to me with a wee bag of Lays potato chips, a dill pickle spear, a pepperoncini and squeeze bottle of red horseradish sauce. All my expectations were lived up to; the hoagie roll was wonderfully soft and chewy, the Provolone hot and gooey and the grilled meat and onions surging with good flavor. The addition of the piquant red sauce lent a wonderful unexpected dimension to the experience. Finishing the last bite, I sat back and relaxed in a mild stupor, content in the affirmation that newness and innovation aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be.