Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sherman Junction

Sherman Junction
819 E. Sherman Ave., Coeur d’Alene
(208) 664-3287

It seems like the choo-choo train from Flavortown took its own sweet time to arrive at downtown Coeur d’Alene’s newly-opened Sherman Junction restaurant. Rumors began swirling about the return of a diner to the former Rustlers Roost/Apple Barrel/Sambos building not long after the travel agency that had occupied the building disappeared a few summers ago. Late last year, clues gradually began to appear; some visible remodeling, the addition of booths and tables, a blurb in the newspaper.

A flyer thrust in my hand at the 4th of July Parade made it seem like the place was almost ready to swing open its doors, but the expiration date on the attached coupon came and went and still, no action. After nearly 14 months on the long railroad track to openness, the slow locomotive finally rolled quietly into Sherman Junction earlier this month.

Owner Leisa Wagner, also responsible for Post Falls’ Corner Café, couldn’t have chosen a better location for her second entry into the world of comfort-food dining. When Rustler’s Roost (now in Hayden) occupied the place back in the nineties, it was a lively hub of activity fueled on Pike Street tea, tangy BBQ Sauce, and a set of loveably sassy waitresses, the kind of place where people went every single day to meet friends, family and business associates, a place that was near and dear to the hearts of anyone who was around town at the time.

Naturally, a new restaurant opening up in the former shell of a diner that’s remembered so fondly by the general public has a lot to live up to and it’s easy to want to compare the two establishments. My two recent visits provided little of the high-octane buzz and personality of the old Roost, but the potential for the place to grow into something more dynamic was encouraging, and the overall food and service level was good enough to warrant many happy returns.

The atmosphere in the main dining area of Sherman Junction is generally comfortable but glaringly sparse and rather in need of a bit more style. My lunch partner described it as “Grandma didn’t really know how to decorate her new house so she went to Big Lots and just found a couple of things to throw on the walls so they didn’t seem completely bare.” The color scheme seems beiger than beige, and the lack of any background music makes the space seem even more stark than it is.

Wait staff and management hover around the place almost robotically, clad in all-black uniforms, adding to the ultra-efficient, somewhat clinical vibe. Still, that’s not to say they weren’t friendly and accommodating, in fact Bunny, the waitress on my first visit, nearly overwhelmed me with her sunshiny attitude and seeming obsession with the fullness of my coffee cup on an otherwise rainy, gloomy morning.

Sherman Junction’s menu is where most of their personality can be found. Creative breakfast offerings include the massive Sherman Burrito (a tomato basil tortilla. filled with chorizo, potatoes, scrambled eggs, and covered in chili verde and shredded cheese), the thigh-bulging Stuffed French Toast (sourdough slices stuffed with sweetened cream cheese, deep fried, and topped with whipped cream and strawberries or triple berries) and the Cardinal Skillet (handmade chicken fried steak strips, potatoes, onions, peppers, and a sprinkle of cheese, topped with two eggs)

The latter sounded guilt-inducing to the max, so of course I had to give it a whirl. It was a fine and tasty breakfast, with a layer of eggs hiding chunky seasoned potatoes and crunchy double-fried breaded cube steak bits swirled in molten cheddar and served with a fresh-baked biscuit and sausage gravy. It was just enough food to be filling, and a great value at only $6.99

Meat loaf, liver and onions, pork tenderloin medallions and macaroni & cheese are a few of the classic comfort foods available post-noontime, but perhaps their most memorable item is the “Tubbs Hill Challenge”. For ten bucks you get a full pound of ground beef (in three patties), ham, bacon and three cheeses which are held together, most outrageously, not by boring old buns, but by two thick grilled cheese sandwiches. They do acknowledge the potential deadliness of this behemoth with a disclaimer: “If you take this challenge, we are not responsible for any medical emergencies resulting from consuming this burger, including a ride to KMC.”

On my second trip to Sherman Junction, I wasn’t really in the mood to risk meeting my maker, so I opted for the Woolworth’s Fire Burger instead, which with its deep fried jalapenos, pepper-jack cheese and chipotle mayo still managed to nearly kill me to death with fire. However, I can handle the heat, and it was a tall, delicious treat and the accompanying garlic fries were utterly habit-forming.

Welcome Sherman Junction, and thanks for providing the chance to return to an old favorite place so we can once again enjoy a relaxing meal and take in that iconic, comforting old view of Sherman Avenue from behind those enormous picture windows.

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