Monday, October 20, 2014

North Idaho Time Machine: Coeur d'Alene in 1887

Caucasians first crawled over the Great Rocky Mountains into the Inland Northwest in the early decades of the 1800's. Fur traders and land explorers, along with their faithful French-speaking Iroquois scouts, wandered onto the homeland of a native tribe who called themselves "Schitsu'umsh".

The Schitsu'umsh (bless you) called home a beautiful spot of minty green land where a river met a lake. As soon as the traders and the tribe got down to the business of trading and tribing, the white men quickly realized they were dealing with a bunch of shrewd-as-serpents kinda cats, not unlike Thomas Edison, or the late, great QVC huckster Joan Rivers. So they nicknamed the tribe "Coeur d'Alene", meaning "heart of an awl" or "pointy hearts". The name stuck.

Cut to a hot mess of white boys flooding onto the land. With with them came a bunch of icky white boy diseases that were significantly worse than just catching boy cooties. Having lived for hundreds of years in blissful harmony with nature, the Coeur d'Alene people's naturally healthy bodies weren't able to kick some of these nasty microbial funks. and by the middle of the 19th century, the tribal people's population had been decimated by almost eighty percent.

Father Pierre-Jean Desmet

Coeur d'Alene Chief Circling Raven had a vision, possibly induced by some killer Purple Vanilla Kush, of men in black robes showing up someday soon to heal their broken spirits. Right on cue, page-boy haired Father Pierre-Jean Desmet and his tap-dancing troupe of kooky Catholics showed up and arranged to meet with the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. The natives picked a hot little meeting spot they referred to as Yap-Kheen-um ("the gathering place") for some little getting-to-now-you time and maybe a cocktail or two, just to see if there was any electricity between them.

They hit it off so well that DeSmet decided to bring the show east, over to the Coeur d'Alene River, where they built what is now Idaho's oldest standing building, the Cataldo Mission. The Catholic clique began teaching the natives some white man lessons, like "what's this Jesus business all about" and "how to mix the perfect Peach Appletini".

Everything was going swimmingly up until the 1850's when the tribe was getting a little pissed because too many people from the east began coming out of the woodwork and harshing their mellow by crashing the party. So the US Government decided it was necessary once again to do that very not-so-nice thing and round up the "crazy Indians" onto a reservation so they wouldn't upset the oh-so-delicate sensibilities of the uptight whites who were moving onto lands that didn't really belong to them in the first place.

General William T. Sherman
General William T. Sherman, who was by all accounts kind of a jackass, came to Yap-Keehn-um from back east in 1877 and threw down some serious shade on the tribe, telling them to stay on their new little reservation or they would be killed to death by loud, smelly American guns. He brought over a bunch of his military homies and they built Fort Coeur d'Alene (it was later named after Sherman, probably by Sherman himself - he was just that kind of insufferable ego tripper), which consisted of 52 military buildings and a throbbing discotheque.

Soon, the soldiers' families and other various stragglers began showing up. People from Spokane and all over the area began taking the train to the nearest drop-off station up in Rathdrum, then would catch a horse-and-carriage down to Coeur d'Alene for some lake time fun. Before long, people got tired of the long bumpy horse trip. So in 1886, train tracks were built that led directly to Coeur d'Alene Lake near what is now Independence Point.

Coeur d'Alene's first year as an official city was 1887, and according to the first Cd'A City Directory (which was all of six pages long), only around 40 people resided within city limits. That year saw the construction some important new buildings. CdA's first church was the uber quaint Fort Sherman Chapel, which still stands today and is now used mainly for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and must-do historical tours by noted local historian Robert Singletary . In the back of the chapel, which is already tiny to begin with, they somehow managed to squeeze in a classroom, which served as the town's first school.

The area's first sawmill wa also constructed that year, in a prime location where the Coeur d'Alene Resort now sits. Unfortunately, the Saginaw Mill burned to the ground after only two years and was soon replaced by the Coeur d'Alene Mill, which also burned down after two years, and that was replaced by another mill which also went up in flames, and so on and so forth for several decades to come. Steamboats were built, not only for the purpose of transporting necessary objects to the other side of the lake, but so that visitors could catch a little r-n-r and sunshine while experiencing the untouched beauty of the scenery. The Coeur d'Alene Tourism Industry was born.

Around the same time, Mr. V.W.Sander, who had already been appointed as one of the newly birthed city's first city trustees, became Postmaster General, and was also a "dealer in general merchandise" (dry goods, boots, hardware, groceries, porn) at his shop on the northwest corner of Sherman Avenue and 3rd Street, current home of the Painter's Chair Art Gallery. He must have been one hot postmaster, because he eventually had the best beach in town named after him (Sanders Beach, of course).

Downtown CdA, 1890s (MONI)
In 1887, you could slip into a druggist or pharmacy and put down the cash you had earned logging or mining for all varieties of crazy concoctions that were sold as "beneficial to health", but were comprised of at least 50% alcohol and usually fortified with nutrient rich supplements such as cocaine and opium. Mr. Silas Smith was the town druggist, whose shop was located on the north side of Sherman Avenue, near the fort. His motto: "A Full Line of Fresh, Pure Drugs Always on Hand". A little headache? Period pains? Feeling a tad bit under the weather? Mr. Smith would hook you up with something that, if taken at the correct dosage, would make you so blotto you'd forget what a damn headache even was

Research has made it apparent that the entire population of Coeur d'Alene at the time (outside of the fort) had nothing better to do than get totally crocked and squander away their cash on gambling, hookers, and blow. And if that wasn't giving them their jollies, some robbery and murder might have done the trick. With all the stress that came with nearly dying on the job every day in the pre-OSHA days of the logging and mining industries, who could blame them for needing a constant flow of booze, hookers, and bloodshed?

Carroll's Variety was an establishment that sat on the northeast corner of Mullan and 4th, at the foot of Tubbs Hill (back when Mullan Ave apparently ran through what is now McEuen Park). Along with proprietor James "Fatty" Carroll, the place was staffed by bartender A.J. Coffman and pianist James C Smythe. Smythe was basically the 1887 equivalent of a superstar DJ, but with ivory tickling instead of record spinning and beat dropping.

Fatty Carroll was a notorious figure in the early Wild West days of Coeur d'Alene. He possessed a ripe combination of an entrepreneurial spirit and a depraved mind. Carroll's Variety served up a sinful smorgasbord of gambling, prostitution, and alcohol in one handy location, not to mention the heavy use of cocaine, heroin, and other mood altering goodies that were omnipresent back then in establishments such as Fatty's.

Even more intense was Fatty's habit of disposing of people he didn't take much of a liking to, or who flaunted money he fancied should belong to him. He resided in a room over the Spokane River, and if he invited you over for tea, you may have wanted to think twice about going; rumor had it that some folks never made it out alive. Anyone who was giving Fatty trouble or had overly deep pockets was taken to the river room and dropped through a trap door into the water, never to be seen again.

According to local folklore, a few of his doomed customers also turned up years later beneath another one of his former cathouses at 4th and Sherman Ave., when construction workers were preparing the foundation for Wilson's Pharmacy. Supposedly found behind an obscure basement doorway which led to a long unused tunnel were the decomposed corpses of three unnamed Indians, plus five soldiers from Ft. Sherman that had long been listed as deserters. To this day, visitors to that basement say they feel an unearthly chill down their spines when they explore the rock-walled room.

Not folklore is the actual fact that skeletons were found in the early 1900's near Tubbs Hill where Carroll's Variety sat, buried underneath the lumberyard. Bones were also found while grading an area in preparation for a train station, only a foot or two deep (without the courtesy of even a pine box) in the dirt underneath Sherman Avenue.  Although he was clearly a man for whom gratuitous murder was a trifling pastime, we can't pinpoint the killings directly on Mr. Fatty since these types of incidents were commonplace in the gun filled, booze fueled early days of Idaho.

Part of the reason why Fort Sherman was eventually closed, along with the fact that it wasn't needed to protect the settlers from the basically peaceful Indians after all, was that soldiers kept disappearing in the night, met by an untimely death at the hands of a Fatty henchman or other Wild West hooligan.

The newly formed government of Coeur d'Alene was none too happy about the wild bawdiness that was going on down at Fatty's and the other rowdy saloons that peppered the downtown area. A large section of the incorporation charter for the city of Coeur d'Alene was devoted to provisions and clauses meant to tackle what the early city trustees referred to as "nuisances."

They resolved to "prevent, restrain, and suppress bawdy houses, gambling houses, opium dens and other disorderly houses; to preregulate and prohibit gambling; and to provide licensing and regulating dram houses, tippling houses, saloons, gambling houses, theatrical and other amusements, travelling shows, circuses, and other exhibitions and shows." In other words, they were a bunch of fun-hating fuddy duds who even looked down their snotty noses at actors and circus performers, putting them in the same category as drunks and druggies.

They had some work ahead of them. For such a small town, Coeur d'Alene was plump with drinking establishments and dens of iniquity. Among the other places serving Old Crow whiskey by the wagon load was the Transfer Saloon ("The Most Popular Resort in the City"), found at the southwest corner of Sherman Ave. and 3rd St. (now Resort Plaza Shops), which was established by Fort Sherman Major D.E. Ballard, with Stephen G. Whitman serving as bartender. Further west on Sherman Ave. between 1st and 2nd Streets was the Exchange Saloon, opened by John Dingwell and with whiskey mixologist extraordinaire Henry Farley behind the bar.

Located further south, between 1st and 2nd, was the Dividend Saloon on the north side of Lake View Dr. (not sure exactly where that street was, but it no longer exists), John H. Brown, proprietor and Samuel Barlow, bartender. All the way in the northern part of town on Coeur d'Alene Avenue between 2nd and 3rd was the Rathdrum Branch Brewery, owned and operated by W.A. Reininger. Maybe Reininger was the annoying craft beer hipster of his time, droning on for hours about aeration and fermentation and infusion mash. A stronger possibility was that he made watered-down nasty swill to serve to the gambling addicts, train robbers, and patrons of prostitution. In other words, everyone in town.

The Arcade, which sat at the corner 3rd and Sherman, is listed in the city directory as selling wines and liquors, which seems to indicate that proprietor C.S. Claflin and his bartender Theodore Link were operating something a little classier than the rest. So in other words, in addition to serving fine wines and absinthe, the whores at the Arcade bathed more than once a week and wore silk camisoles instead of burlap.

In the Pioneer days of the 1880's, dining out usually meant a menu filled with items like roast beef and potatoes, boiled cabbage, fried fish, bread and butter, porridges and puddings, and of course a pig's head with all the trimmings. This is most likely the type of stick-to-the-ribs fare that would land on your table at the Palace Restaurant, on the north side Sherman between 2nd and 3rd, J.C. Chamberlain, proprietor. It appears the only other eatery at the time was the Coeur d'Alene Bakery and Restaurant on the south side Sherman between 3rd and 4th, established by William Wagner.

Bender & Dillard Market (proprietors William H. Bender and William Dillard), which sat on 4th Street between Sherman and Front, had a butcher named William Hooper, and you have to wonder about the confusion in the air when someone would walk into the building and yell "William!" Back then, meat was most likely raised and slaughtered only a few blocks away, and you had to have a very strong appetite to still be hungry for steak after walking into the butcher shop and getting an eyeful of a dozen fresh half-cows hanging behind the counter dripping with blood and gore. Neatly wrapped in disassociative styrofoam and plastic it was not.

A.L. Davis ran a livery stable, also located on 4th St. between Sherman and Front where you could keep your horse for the night or rent a horse-and-buggy kind of situation if you needed to go on an out of town trip. Kind of an old-timey cross between a pet hotel and an Avis car rental office, but with a lot more poop. Those horses needed fancy footwear, naturally, and R.R. Mann was just the blacksmith to do it, there at his store on the southeast corner of 4th and Sherman (now Sports Cellar/Dingle Building).

Let's hear it for the ladies, actually the only two listed in the city directory at the time. Miss Tilla Ellis and Mrs. Owen Russie combined their dressmaking powers and opened a shop on Sherman Avenue right at the end where it turned into Fort Sherman. In 1890's America they used bolts and bolts of thick, wooly fabric for dresses with draping and layers and folds for days. Bustles around the waist were popular and gave modern gals some serious booty. The hot colors were black, grey, and black-grey, shirts were buttoned all the way to the nose, and collars were starchy white and looked like the doily on Granny Franny's tea table. It's no wonder their men were haunting whorehouses.

W. Morris made clunky chunky shoes and boots in his shop on the southwest corner of 1st and Sherman, and if you needed to get your hair did, you would need to drop in to see barber J.C. Scott, who worked out of his shop on the east side of 3rd St. between Front and Sherman.

Once the ladies and gents were looking sharp, they might have wanted want to be wed in holy matrimony, so they would go to see J.E. Russell, who was the Justice of the Peace (north side of Front Ave between 3rd and 4th, currently Quicksilver Photography). Speaking of photography, the happy couple would want someone to capture the moment on sepia daguerreotype, and they had at least two photographers available to handle it. Henry Purcell's studio was located next to the dressmaking ladies of Sherman Ave., and W.N. Hall took pictures up at his place on Coeur d'Alene Ave. between 2nd and 3rd Streets.

While it was quite rare in 1887, our married couple might have eventually wanted a divorce. Maybe the husband got caught cheating on his wife with one of Fatty's hos. Or maybe the gentleman would get tired of having to dig though nineteen layers of fabric to get busy with his lady. Either way, as the only lawyer in town, Issac S. Daly would be the man to help file the paperwork and arrange the settlement. That is, if you could squeeze in an appointment between all the murder, robbery, druggery, and prostitution cases flying across his desk.

Another busier-than-busy man about town was Dr. J. McGrail. As was custom at the time, Dr. McGrail had no clinic to speak of, but made house calls to all the locals afflicted with some type of pox or dropsy or syphilis or whatever ailments were in vogue at the time. He would show up at your sickbed up with a frightening bag of penetrative tools and a nice mercury cream or bottle of alcohol-rich opium elixir, and you would hopefully be cured of your sickness (probably not).

And where exactly was Dr. McGrail showing up to? There were very few private residences listed in the city directory, although there were plenty outside of city limits near Fort Sherman and on the farmland that existed north of Coeur d'Alene Avenue. For the most part, city residents lived in boarding houses and hotels.

The Lake View Hotel was the main residence house, located right on the lake next to the area that is now the 3rd Street Boat launch in McEuen Park. The Cochrane House was on the north side of Sherman Ave. between 2nd and 3rd, and must have been where the party people resided, since the directory lists a bartender (Michael Martin) as the only staff member besides the fabulous "paper hanger" who went simply by "Ford" (the only gay in the village?). This commands the question: what were they doing at the Cochrane House to go through so much wallpaper that they needed a full time staff member to handle it? Maybe we're better off not knowing.

Sources Used:
In All the West No Place Like This by Dorothy Dahlgren and Simone Carbonneau Kincaid, 1996 Museum of North Idaho Publications.
Coeur d'Alene City Directory, 1887 (Hayden Library)
Coeur d'Alene Press, Idaho Centennial Special Edition, 1990.
Coeur d'Alene Press, Coeur d'Alene 100 Years.
Coeur d'Alene Press, "Coeur d'Alene Was a Dangerous Place in the Old Days", Syd Albright, April 20, 2014
The Spokesman-Review, "Lake City’s Murder Mystery Unearthed Bones Bring Coeur d’Alene’s Violent Past To Light", Susan Drumheller, December 31, 1995

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Guest Review: Owl Cafe

Owl Cafe
9178 Government Way. Hayden
(208) 772-4912

(review by Gary Schultze)

We decided to have a Sunday lunch at The Owl Café in Hayden on Sunday afternoon. When we arrived close to 12:30 the place was quite full, but we were able to find a table immediately. The couple that came in before us reviewed the menu, and then left after about 10 minutes.

It did take a little while for our server to come and ask us what we wanted to drink. She was an interesting woman with an orange fake tan and dark lipstick, I thought at first that maybe Lil' Kim was getting some side work in Hayden Idaho.

After taking our order for drinks, our waitress was pretty much all business (let's say she had the personality of a brick). It took a while, maybe 10 to 15 minutes to take our order.While it was busy in there, there wasn't a line out the door to get in, so the wait was a little irritating.  I ordered the Belt Buster burger with onion rings. This consisted of a 1/3 lb. patty with ham, turkey and bacon on it.

After another 10 to 15 minute wait, our food was served. This burger was worth the wait. Lettuce, tomato, pickles and a red onion adorned this delicious treat. It had just enough mayo and I added a little mustard and catsup to finish it off. Every bite was wonderful. The onion rings were tasty too, with just enough breading and dipped in oil to perfection.

If you can handle the wait and you don't care about friendly banter from your server, this quaint café on Government Way in Hayden may be just the place for you. Excellent meal with ample servings for about $10 and it is locally owned and operated.

Monday, October 6, 2014


180 W Hayden Ave, Hayden

Hmm, how ever shall I dress up my wiener? Ketchup? As blah and boring as a beige basement. Mustard? Dull as dust. Sweet pickle relish? Even Grandma thinks that old fashioned stuff is played out. What can be done about this yawn-inducing condiment crisis? Hayden's Lavadog Hawaiian Hot Dog restaurant has come to the rescue, with a battalion of unique, unusual, and just plain odd mustards, sauces, and relishes.

Lavadog had their signs up and Facebook page all ready to go about a year before they actually opened for business, so there was a lot of wonder and anticipation leading up to it. It's not actually that easy to get a gourmet or unusual hot dog in our neck of the woods, and with the much beloved Dangerous Dogs shuttering suddenly a few years back, people were ready to wrap their mouths around some serious surreal sausage.

Downtowners know about white-haired Bernie and his Bernie Dogs at his cart behind the Iron Horse, but his presence there is unpredictable, and Sonic's "gourmet" dogs look a lot better in the ads than they hot mess they are in real life. We love Gittel's Grocery 3 for $1.69 dogs, but with only plain ketchup and mustard as condiment options, they are the exact opposite of gourmet.

So when Lavadog finally announced their opening, the excitement among local hot doggers was palpable. Do they live up to the hype? Well, yes and no. One recent afternoon, I met my friend Gary there, in the little building on the east side of the Super 1 parking lot in Hayden, for a spontaneous lunch date. I walked in and my first impression was "OH THE YELLOWNESS!"

The walls are an almost disturbingly bright canary yellow, but the scenic photos of Hawaiian palm trees and sandy beaches do temper the effect slightly. The nouveau retro plastic chairs and linoleum tabletops come off as more cold classroom than beachy lounge. Overall, the decor is quite minimal and the place feels a little cavernous, more function than fab.

So Gary and I adjusted our eyes to the shock of the yellow and saddled up to the counter to place our orders. One of the best things about Lavadogs is the affordability of their combos. Just a dog alone is $3.50, which seems a tad bit high to myself and others who I've mentioned it to. But throw in a cold can of Coca-Cola and a handful of Hawaiian style potato chips for another measly buck seventy-five, and for $5,25, you've got yourself a reasonably priced lunch situation.

The menu itself is economical in its scope, with only nine main choices, and a kids dog. Of course, one of those options is the "Naked Beach Dog", which is a bare dog you can then dress up with whichever two specialty condiments you'd like. These house made relishes and mustards are mainly fruit based and are really the main reason for Lavadog's existence. They inject the Hawaii into the core of its heart. Without these flavorful fruity sauces, they would just be some strip-mall joint slinging boring basic dogs.

Speaking of "naked beach", I have a sidetrack story. I've been to a nude beach once and only once. Years ago when I was living on Spokane's South Hill, my friend Grace and I decided it would simply be a riot to get dressed to the nines and visit Spokane's nude beach at the infamous People's Park. So I went and rented a tux for the day (it was a fairly cheap thing to do twenty years ago) and she put on a fabulous forest green velvet formal dress, donned diamond earrings and a pearl necklace, and put her gorgeous red hair in a beautiful updo. We packed a picnic basket full of brie, caviar and champagne and headed off to the park.

It was probably a hundred degrees out so every hippie in Peaceful Valley had decided to come down to the nude beach that day. Because of all the brush surrounding the beach, you don't actually see it until you get right to it, and as soon as we came through the bushes our eyeballs were assaulted with enough saggy old lady boobies and bouncing hippie balls to last for more than one lifetime. Still, we were determined, and although we were getting tilted heads, side glances, and shady looks from every direction, we laid our picnic blanket down bravely near the volleyball court, sat down and poured the champagne.

We were as hot and sweaty as gorillas wrapped in Tyvek, but overall it was quite a lovely experience once we got used to it and learned how to tune out the deflated genitalia flapping about around us. That is, until a rogue volleyball careened over from the volleyball court, knocked the champagne right out of Grace's hand and landed right in our caviar! Well, we were kinda okay with the caviar part because both of us realized that day that we don't much care for caviar, or at least the el cheapo version of it we had purchased at Rosauers for the occasion.

Anyway, you won't find caviar of any caliber on the menu at Lavadog. But you will find these sorts of things: lemon garlic sauce (spicy and regular), guava mustard, pineapple relish, guava relish, passionfruit mustard, and etc. Gary, my lunch partner, decided he wanted to go for sincerely spicy, so he chose the Naked Beach dog with hot chili sauce and jalapeno mustard.

As we were eating, I could see major tears welling up in the lower part of his eyeballs, and unless he was just extremely sensitive regarding the subject of our conversation (the weather), I knew the spice must have been flowing hard. "That's pretty hot", he said, shoving the final bite into his mouth. I was in the mood for a sweeter option, so I had chosen The Surfer Dog, with lemon garlic sauce, banana relish, and mango mustard.

We both agreed that our Lavadogs were generally quite tasty, with a couple of minor flaws. For one thing, there's almost too much going on in the bread department. The buns are fresh and lovely, but they are different than a regular bun you'd pick up in a package at Safeway. They're closest relative is a bagel bun in that it envelops the entire dog, with no slit or opening at all, except the hole at the the bottom end where the wiener slides in (sometimes it's hard to write a hot dog review without sounding a little dirty, isn't it?) It's a puffy, fluffy bun and it does throw off the meat-to-bread ration in a slightly noticeable way.

Also, they only gave us a few wee teaspoons each of the mustard and relish. They come on the side, served in those little 2 oz plastic cups, and each one was a little less than halfway full. Their dogs are pretty significant in size, and this was really not at all enough condiment quotient to work with.

Plus, with the bun being sealed, there was no way to really get the mustard and relish onto the hot dog in an efficient way. You either have to just smear it on top of the bun, which is way impractical and makes for messy eating, or attempt to dump what little there is inside the small bun opening, which doesn't really work because with such a little amount to work with, it would never get deep in there enough to become involved with every bite.

Similarly, the lemon garlic sauce seems to be piped into the bun before the dog is even inserted, so there's a huge glop of it on one end of the thing, but none on the end where the opening is, and no way to remedy this. INEFFICIENT! The Hawaiian chips were crispy and delicious (although there weren't a lot of them to speak of), and overall Lavadog made for a good, affordable lunch.

If they could just work out the minor glitches, they could be a real hot spot for Hayden. Not as hot as the nude beach in formal clothing on a hundred degree day, although with all of Lavadog's semi-beachy decor maybe I should show up there naked for lunch sometime soon. OKAY, I promise I won't.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Panhandle Health Hit List

There's been some talk recently about the city of Coeur d'Alene developing stronger regulations regarding food trucks and mobile kitchens. I perused the list of eateries who have received marks against them in the last three years while undergoing inspections from Panhandle Health District health and safety inspectors. 

As far as food trucks, the violations were extremely minimal, with just a few of them listed as having one violation, but nothing more dramatic than that. However, there were plenty of brick-and-mortar restaurants with three or more violations. I've saved you the work and have compiled these particular eateries below.

Please bear in mind, many of these violations are likely for minor offenses that were most likely easily remedied in fast fashion, so take this list with a certain amount of levity. But, as the PHD website explains, "such public reporting reinforces positive practices in eating establishments."

It is interesting that some of the most "fancy" local restaurants have a lot of boo-boos. And what's up with all the golf courses? And how is Harvest Foods in Wallace even still open?

The entire list of food inspections can be viewed here.
PHD's explanation of their food inspection process can be read here.

Aebleskivers, CdA (3)
Beverlys, CdA (3)
Blue Heron Cafe, Sandpoint (5)
Broken Wheel Restaurant (3)
Brooks Restaurant, Wallace (3)
Canton, CdA (3)
Captain's Table, Sagle (3)
CJ's Restaurant, Rathrdum (5)
Country Nook, Rathdrum (4)
Dish at Dover Bay, Dover (3)
Doc Holidays, Hayden (3)
Dos Amigos Taqueria, Plummer (3)
Eddie's Bar & Grill, Harrison (3)
Eichardt's, Sandpoint (3)
El Paisa, CdA (3)
Fork at Lakeside, CdA (3)
Gateway Cafe, Plummer (3)
Gem State Grill, St. Maries (3)
Golf Club at Black Rock, CdA (3)
Gozzer Clubhouse, Harrison (3)
Harvest Foods Market & Deli, Wallace (9)
Hayden Lake Country Club, Hayden (5)
Hayden Quik Stop, Hayden (Hayden & Ramsey) (3)
Highlands Grill & Tap House, Post Falls (3)
Jalapenos, Sandpoint (3)
Jimmy's Down the Street, CdA (5)
Kelly's Irish Pub & Grill, CdA (3)
Kootenai Coffee, CdA (3)
Kynrede Cafe, Hayden (3)
Links Golf Course, Post Falls (3)
Nosworthy's Hall of Fame , CdA (4)
O'Malley's Sports Pub & Grill, Rathdrum (4)
Paul Bunyan, Hayden (3)
Pizza Factory, Wallace (3)
Silver Rapids, Wallace (3)
Spragpole Steak & Ribhouse, Murray (3)
Stein's Market, Osburn (3)
Susie's Home Kitchen (4)
Taco Time, Silver Lake Mall, CdA (3)
Top of China, CdA (3)
Toro Viejo, Hayden (3)
Waterfront Restaurant, Priest Lake (3)
Well-Read Moose, CdA (3)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Guest Mini-Review: Fleur de Sel

Fleur d Sel
4365 Inverness Dr., Post Falls


(review by Jay Carkhuff) 

Last night Jake and I went to Fleur De Sel with our friends, Mark and 
Jason. We had a great time and the food was terrific. The view from the Highlands at dusk was accented by a thin crescent moon as we arrived. The menu was a bit daunting but the waitress spent lots of time with us explaining the various dishes. 

I think we all enjoyed the artichoke soup. For appetizer I had snails with mushrooms and Mark had something quite complex with summer squash, sliced duck and a nearly raw egg on top. I'll stay with the snails.
The dinners were all very different and delicious. I think the best was the beef bourguignon. Tender and perfectly seasoned. I had the Hawaiian fish special and it was good but not special. Jake's chicken and truffles was pretty interesting and tasty. Other items were a sausage and potato dish and mac and cheese. The pasta was perfect.

We were too full for dessert. Overall a wonderful experience although I need to avoid butter and salt for a while now!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Soap You Want to Eat from Pheasant Creek Farms

A good friend of mine came into the bar I work at last weekend. She's always got something fabulous going on, so when I noticed her shuffling around objects in a big box at her table, I had to bop over and check out what she had. Oh. My. Golly. What were these delicious looking treats? Brownies? Different varieties of fudge? Oatmeal chocolate chip cookie bars? My sweet tooth was rabid and my salivary glands were starting to disco to the beat of the music emanating from the dancefloor in the other room.

"Mmmmm. Yummy. What do we have here?" I asked, with all seriousness. She laughed, "ummm, I don't think you want to take a bite. It's soap." And then I remembered. Ah, yes. Her family makes handcrafted soaps. Still craving sweetness, I stuck my nose in the box and sniffed deeply. The scents of the different soaps combined together to at least quash the sweet tooth in my nose. (The sweet tooth in my nose? I don't even know...)

Anyway, truth be told, she let me pick out a few bars in trade for a little free advertisement. So I guess this is a disclaimer: you are reading said free advertisement at this moment. But wait! These soaps are worth selling out for. In all honesty, after using the "Eucamint" soap for the last week, my morning shower life has improved so much! It has a "slap me awake" effect and an organic, fresh vibe that, along with my black coffee ritual, gets me all kinds of perky and ready for my day.

Pheasant Creek Farms offers over a dozen "flavors", including Peppermint Kiss, Orange Clove, Lemoncello,  Cucumber Mint, Urban Cowboy (loved that movie, btw), and Swank. Their soaps are made with goats milk (now that's different) and contain lots of vitamins, emollients, and triglycerides that are great for your skin and they do not contain nasty mysterious corporate satanic chemicals that dry you up and make you smell like the boys locker room at a suburban middle school from hell.

I know you're simply starving for suds now, so get on over to for more information and to order this delicious foodie-fab soap. Thanks for reading this commercial announcement and I promise an actual restaurant review by the end of the week! Hint: Lavadog.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Comments Roundup-o-Rama

My recent review of Uva Trattioria inspired some mild cattiness in the comments section regarding how authentically authentic their Italian cuisine is. Maybe I'm just a Scottish/Norwegian/Russian boy (no, I'm not Irish, contrary to popular belief) who has never traveled to Italy or Little Italy or any sort of Italy, who was born and bred in dear old Idaho, but it seems to me Uva's cuisine is as authentic as any other Italian eatery in the area (I'm not counting Olive Garden's cookie-cutter corporate "Italian"). It's about 32 times more authentic than the Lean Cuisine Spaghetti and Meatballs I had for lunch yesterday. Anyway, after a little back and forth, Uva's Chef Steve pops in to shut 'er down:

Giucchi said...
If you are talking about Californian Italian cuisine, maybe it is up to their standards but please DO NOT say it is an authentic Italian restaurant!!!
If you want to taste authentic lasagna or Tiramisu or any genuine Italian dish, please come to my house and I will gladly educate you. I will even bake fresh bread to go with your meal.
So far the closest I have found is Tony's by the lake or Angelo's...or my own cuisine...
Anonymous said...
@Giucchi: Angelo's might be close to authentic, and up until about three months ago I would have rated the place well despite the cost of his food. But last three months I've personally noted a decline in quality. Portions, while not huge at one time were adequate. They have gotten smaller, with the veal dishes being the ones that seemed to have shrank the most. The last time I ordered the smoked salmon pasta dish, the salmon was way oversmoked. Finally, a few weeks ago I ordered spaghetti with meatballs. They claimed to be out of meatballs (They don't make them to order?!?), so I let them switch it to sausage. To their credit, I got three sausages, two whole ones and one cut up within the sauce. But all of the sausages were overcooked and way too dry, the one in the sauce the worst. I don't know if the food caused this or if I picked up a stomach flu, but my stomach was in horrid shape for a long time after that meal as well.

So in short, I no longer wish to even consider Angelo's. Maybe my experience was unique, I've seen other recent reviews that did praise the place. But I don't wish to go there now.

And another point. Show me where in the blog that the reviewer says the food is authentic. Maybe I missed it, but I don't ever see said claim. Even if they do, so what? I do like trying the "authentic" versions of cuisine. But I am not such a food snob that I can't enjoy Americanized versions of various cuisines if it is done well and tastes good. Often the Americanized versions become their own cuisine as well, many would argue such for Americanized Chinese for instance. There seems to be this food snob attitude that if it isn't 100 percent authentic to the nation of origin, it's crap regardless of the truth. I guess I don't need to be such a snob.
Jim said...
"If you are talking about Californian Italian cuisine, maybe it is up to their standards but please DO NOT say it is an authentic Italian restaurant!!!"

Don't think that was ever said...

And I highly doubt your cooking is as good as you'd like to think.

Dunning-Kruger much?
Anonymous said...
I guess you have to define authentic Italian. If your definition of authentic means my recipes came from a man who immigrated from Puglia, Italy in 1966, opened his own restaurant in 1968 and has been running strong ever since, winning numerous awards along the way, is authentic than yes we are AUTHENTIC.

I also make some pretty darn good rosemary fennel focaccia house bread fresh every day. Maybe you should give us a try.

Chef Steve
Uva Trattoria

A lot of people lost their cool and their minds a few months ago when I revisited Mexican Food Factory and gave them a less-than-flattering write up. MFF has a very, VERY devoted following and I may have ended up on yet and other hit list or two after I hit the Blogger "publish" button. Ah, well. I can take the heat, and I always hope readers keep things in perspective and realize that I only represent one little person's point of view in a big, big world. If people don't enjoy my opinions, they can start their own food review blog and get whatever they need to get out of their system. 

Please, let me throw down on this. As a former employee and close personal friend of Dan Franks, (yes, the same Dan of the Franks family that has owned MFF since 1981)and Galen, (the same Galen that has worked in that kitchen for over 12 years and now manages MFF)I am more than slightly offended by your review. Let's be real, every single item you ordered was made in that kitchen from scratch. The cheese you get on those tacos? Comes in 40 pound blocks that they hand shred. The lettuce? Hand shredded. The shells? Trust me on this as I have HOURS of personal experience; they are fried daily in-house. You want a Taco Bell taco for $1.37? Be my guest. But comparing the two tacos is asinine to say the least. You enjoy the taco carts on 4th street? Then go hit those carts, ask to see their health report and food handlers permit (which Dan Franks has hanging on his wall) and enjoy a cheaper meal. Oh wait, quesadillas at those places run $5-$6 as well... To obviously exaggerate the shortcomings of your meal is petty and a disservice to Dan. Tell you what, get your ass out of bed at 5 am and run on down to MFF some weekday morning to get a breakfast burrito from Dan. He will go ahead and stop prepping food in the back to come out and make from scratch the bacon and scrambled egg burrito that you will get filled with cheese and tater tots that you can then drench in their signature salsa. And when you get your cup of fresh, hot coffee, and pay your $5, (which is less than you will spend at McD's for breakfast) then leave, Dan will go back into the back to shred more cheese, or cook another giant pot of refried beans, until the next tinkle that announces a customer has walked inside looking for that little slice of the Southwest. Please sir, keep your negative opinions to yourself unless you are willing to give Dan a chance to address your concerns. By the way, that $2 beer? You would be charged at least $4 if you bought it anywhere else. And what taco truck or Taco Bell has a beer license that you can buy a cold one at? That license right there could run into thousands of dollars yearly. When was the last time you could buy a bag of chips at the store for under $4? Cheese for under $6? It looks like you'll pay $10 for that chips and cheese right there. So yes. I am offended by this article that shows you obviously wielded your pen as if you were fighting some monstrous injustice. But it just as obviously shows that you have poor taste and could use some class. The problem with "food critics" such as yourself? Well, anyone can pop a blog online and write a review and call themselves a "critic." I've seen 5 year olds that can do that. Doesn't make you a better human being, and it sure as hell doesn't make you right in your review of MFF!
@Scott Cardwell: I am not the author of this blog, nor have I ever met him. But firing off a rant at a food critic/blogger over a negative review is NOT the way to drum up more business. It just makes you come off as angry and defensive. A critique of a place isn't an attack, it should not be taken personally. It is only a post about one person's experience with a place at that time. Ranting about it does nothing. What you SHOULD do if you are a former employee and friend of the owner is point out this review to the owner so he can THEN decide if 1) It may have merit, 2) It is just one bad review and has no merit.

Or to put it another way, if you want to see what happens when a restaurant review by a critic or blogger is taken as a personal attack? Go watch the "Amy's Baking Company" of Kitchen Nightmares.
The point is Mexican food factory is not what it used to be anymore!! The prices now would be okay if the quality of the food was what it used to be, that place did used to have a family quality that reminded you of home and love.

I love Dan and have known him since I was 14 as a customer there which was 21 years ago!!! I won't go there anymore. The restaurant has gone down hill, it's insulting to be expected to pay the money they charge for what's on the plate. I want the old Mexican food factory back! When the food they made wasn't just about the money, and throwing something on a plate quick style. When their food was made with love, passion, and inspiration!! Lortus was the cook back then and she was amazing. I would love Mexican food factory to come back to life and be that place again.

Anonymous said...
My husband and I went to that same location the other evening and the only flavor the shrimp had was the cocktail sauce! It was pretty bad.
Anonymous said...
My family went there and while waiting to be seated the hostess told us they didn't have any tables big enough to seat our family. (My family is a family of 6 skinny people!) Never will I go back there!

I cut my teeth for surviving life in CDA in the 80's. I had an apt above First interstate typewriter on 4th and Sherman. I loved rustler roost's fried potatoes. and when I was at the lowest point in life I was living in a tent up fernan.

Amazing to read about it all. 
William Jack said...
The Sheep House was my only taste of downtown. Didn't do the clubbing or the cruising. I lived in Dalton Gardens so there was lots of vacant land to party on. The woods up by Honeysuckle Beach which is now full of McMansions had many a party. We would grab pallets from various places and have big fires.

I remember the Bookseller and Hobbit Town (in the basement of the long-gone Interstate Typewriter building). Pre-Resort we would go to Cloud 9 for the Sunday chicken dinners.
patrick said...
in the late 70's, early 80's i lived in "the cabin" on 17th and young ave.
does anyone here know any of these people?
roger or terry ore, sherry adkins and mary jane maxwell or tan diane, queen of sanders beach.
john and madie, chuck and kathy, jack and fran,ray and jeanie.
so many people that come to mind when think of north idaho times.

i wonder if i could still live in a sleeping bag on tubbs hill for the summer?

how nice to run across this site … many wonderful thoughts come to mind of north idaho and the people of those north idaho years.
Anonymous said...
It was an easier life. I recall the sign outside of town stated 13600 population when I was here. Moved here in 1967 from Wallace ID. I was the lead bouncer at Peabody's for several year working for Terry and his associate . (Can't recall his name). It was an easy job as I knew most regulars as friends. One night my door bouncer Dan Worthington waved at me for help at the front door. He had a rowdy with a 45 and his buddy with a Bowie knife. These two were threatening Dan as he wouldn't let them in with these at their hip. I calmed this scene by stating I'd buy them their first drink after they take their toys to their rig. Those were the days TR

Monday, August 4, 2014

North Idaho Frankenfoods & Other Oddities

You'd be forgiven for thinking that every last possible freaky food-based reality show idea had already been used up, but SpikeTV recently debuted a new one which appears every Sunday evening at ten o'clock. It's called "Frankenfood" and it's billed like this:
America is hungry for the next great food sensation and superstar executive chef Josh Capon eats his way across the country to find the best “Frankenfood,” revolutionary creations that mix outrageous and unexpected ingredients in delicious and unique flavors.
The hosts travel from city to city and local home cooks and professional chefs compete to have their Bizzaro World creation featured on the menu of a local hot eatery. I am addicted to food-based reality shows like Joan Rivers is addicted to botox, and "Frankenfood" qualifies as one of my recent favorites.

So, I thought it would be a bit of fun to waste hours of my day away poring through webpage after webpage, closely examining local menus for culinary creations that are crazy collisions of flavor, the unexpected and unique, or things that we make you feel like how C& C Music Factory felt in 1990.

I'm sure there were others, but one genuine North Idaho frankenfood pioneer that comes to mind from a sadly long-gone establishment is Dangerous Dog's (CdA) #6, the P.B. Dog. This was a gag-inducing item for some, a beef hot dog smeared with Chunky Peanut Butter and honey, lined with sliced bananas and sprinkled with chopped peanuts. Jesi B had enough bazongas to order this the first time we went to the place. I had a bite, and the flavor combination was surprisingly divine! I highly recommend this for home consumption, especially if your little stoner cousin is in town visiting from Walla Walla.

The weird hot dog idea has recently been resurrected at Lavadog (180 W. Hayden Ave, Hayden), where you can get a 1/4 lb. all-beef frank topped with various combinations of these sorts of fruity mind-bending options: lemon garlic sauce, passion fruit mustard, banana relish, wasabi mustard, spicy lemon garlic sauce, coconut relish, you get the idea. Hawaiian hot dogs? I googled the concept and yes, there are similar style hot dog places scattered around the Hawaiian islands, apparently originating from American soldiers who first whipped out their wieners on the beaches of Hawaii during WWII. "Onolicious" is Lavadog's motto, and while I was hoping that was a reference to Yoko Ono's recipe for pickles, Google tells me it's simply Hawaiian slang for "totally frickin' tasty, dude!"

Personally, I'm not afraid of them because I love things that are soaked in briny vinegar water for days, months, and years, but for many people I know, the thought of eating a pickled egg is as frightening as seeing Lola Hagadone without her wig. And in these parts they're also as rare as a Lola Hagadone sighting, period.

Last year, I randomly found myself having an especially wild night involving, karaoke, my pal Q, and a big white cockatoo at the Kings Inn (43073 Riverview Dr, Kingston). The cockatoo belonged to the barmaid and this bird somehow decided we had the best shoulders to jump around on that he had seen in ages. We had pulled right up to the counter at the 120 year-old bar and eventually I noticed a big, weird jar filled with alien green fluid and mysterious white ova. Pickled eggs! I needed one. Wait, I needed two.

While the barmaid was fishing them out with giant tongs, she told me that they hadn't actually created a fully fresh brine since at some point during the Eisenhower administration. They just kept adding more hard boiled eggs, and occasionally a cup of vinegar and spices whenever the juice started to get a little low. I was served my eggs (50 cents each!) in a little boat with some pickled carrots, onions and peppers and they were gloriously raunchy, especially on the drive back home (Q couldn't roll down the windows far enough).

There's a famous scene, or should I say an infamous scene, at the end of John Waters cult classic 1972 film Pink Flamingos, where 300 lb. drag queen Divine bends over and pops in her mouth something very fresh that the doggie just dropped out of its south end onto the street, then gives the camera haunting s**t-eating grin and a wink.

Thanks to the Dog House (76607 Highway 3 S, Saint Maries), you can re-live this bad taste moment in cinematic history, minus the e-coli and intestinal parasites (well, one would hope). Dog House serves several variety of "Dog Turds", hot dogs wrapped in flour tortilla deep fried. There are four varieties, naked ($3), giant (18" German dog, $5),  and the especially appetizing sounding runny turd (chili/cheese, $5), and giant runny turd ($8). Let the coprophagia begin!

To me, sometimes all you need to create a frankenfood is a weird or disgusting body part. Believe it or not, I was once a vegetarian for six years, and I am still quite squeamish about the meat I put in my mouth (don't go there, gurl). I stick with the boring basics.

A dumb stupid chicken clucks around the barnyard eating bits of rock, gravel, and who knows what, so baby Jesus had to give it a damn gizzard to break that stuff up so it could actually digest that crap without croaking to death. Then, at some point in time, a desperately hungry fool thought "Oh yes, that creepy sac looks delicious, let me deep fry it and chew and chew and chew that chewy thing and then swallow it!" I'm sorry, I just can't, but I know there are gizzard freaks reading this, and the only local place I could find for you to get your fix is the White Horse Saloon (6248 W Maine St, Spirit Lake) where they serve their gravel sacs with celery and ranch ($5.95)

Anytime I hear about someone eating frogs legs, I think of the classic Looney Tunes cartoon starring the singing frog with a top hat and cane (real name Michigan J. Frog) who ends up stuck in the cornerstone of a building during construction and is re-discovered over 150 years later when the building is demolished. The image of poor Michigan as a wheelchair-bound paraplegic croaking "Hello ma baby hello ma honey hello ma ragtime gaaaal" would haunt me for the rest of my life, so again, I just can't.

"Tastes like chicken!" goes the cliche, but if I want chicken, I'll eat some damn chicken because chickens don't know how to sing old show tunes and dance. If the idea of slithering frogs legs down your gullet doesn't horrify/mystify you, you'll want to head to G.W. Hunters (615 N Spokane ST. Post Falls) for their Creek Bottom Frog Legs, "fried until crispy and served with a sweet mustard sauce ($12)".

Meltz Extreme Grilled Cheese (1735 W Kathleen Ave Suite 3, Coeur d'Alene) is well-known for coming up with concoctions that qualify as top of the heap in the frankenfood pantheon. In fact, the strip-mall giant won an award last year for a sandwich which fuses East, West, and acid flashbacks. Their Korean Krazy ($11.75 Full) was the 2013 National Grilled Cheese Invitational Winner and is made up of all this jazz: provolone cheese, pepper jack cheese, bulgogi BBQ beef, house made kim chi, crushed sesame sticks, scallions, hot pepper ketchup, cilantro and a cucumber-jalapeno dipper.

Also planned for this sandwich was grilled samgyeopsal, a tube of Aquafresh, three extra knobby beets, sprinkles of Margaret Cho's dandruff, the blood of a blind Siberian Wapiti, green maraschino cherries, a voodoo doll of Kim Jong Un, and lark's tongue in aspic, but they ultimately decided enough was enough.

And finally, a frankenfood dessert. Or...not. When one thinks of aebleskivers, variously flavored round Dutch pancakes, one thinks of something sweet for breakfast or dessert, or every single minute of the day between breakfast and dessert and beyond (they are delicious!). Aebleskivers is the easy name of the shop in CdA's Silver Lake Mall and normally they served them sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar or berry compote or a sweet glaze of some kind. They have chocolate ones too! They're kind of donutty, really.

But those crazy kids up there thought: why not make a savory variety. for dinner or lunch or every single minute of the day between lunch and dinner and beyond? So Aebleskivers invented aebleskivers with Sausage and Havarti Cheese and that sounds like something I could chow down on whenever and wherever with whomever. Finally, a real reason to visit the cavernous, echoing empty mall other than riding the coin operated kiddie carousel after a fifth of Fireball. Hurrah!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Uva Italian Trattoria

Uva Italian Trattoria
2605 N 4th St, Coeur d'Alene

People sometimes talk about this particular building at the corner of 4th and Appleway in CdA as if it's had a zillion occupants throughout its history, but the story is actually surprisngly brief. Built in 1984, it was Godfather's Pizza for 20 years (and OMG do I still miss a good taco pizza every day, always). Fast Mexi Los Sanchez lasted about two years until Fiesta Mexicana cha-cha'd in, where it stayed until last fall. So, unlike several other buildings in town, I don't believe this one has THE CURSE (*cough* 1801 Sherman).

After remodeling the interior to the point of being utterly unrecognizable, owners Steve Van Zeveren, his wife Crystal, and his sister Lisa opened Uva Trattoria to the public in May. Steve has an extensive background in Italian cuisine, having studied at the California Culinary Academy and residing as head chef for many years at Napoli Pizza in Vallejo, CA.

Uva is Steve's debut starring role as a restaurateur/owner, but after my recent lunch date at his place, I can see how his history and knowledge have made for a solid culinary point of view: food made fresh, using organic, locally sourced ingredients whenever possible to create an intimate, memorable dining experience.

My first run-in with Uva was at the Riverstone Street Fair, where I help my mother peddle her jewelry. The owner and several employees had set up a booth directly next door to us where they were handing out menus and coupons and giving out free samples of their homemade meatballs. "Meatball shots! Try 'em here", the guy barked repeatedly, "I've got the tastiest balls in town!"

Naturally, my ears perked up, and after telling him how much I was enjoying the scent of his balls wafting over, he handed me a sample cup, along with a hunk of their signature herbed bread. Delicious indeed, but just a tease. I knew I had to check out more Uva goodness, and soon. So, the timing was just right when I got a message from a fellow local food writer asking if I'd like to join her for a lunch date. She suggested Uva, and I answered her back: yes, yes, yes!

So far, the early reactions I've read about the Uva Trattoria experience have been mostly positive, but a couple of close friends recently visited and posted a very less-than-enthusiastic review on Facebook:

"Our server seemed disconnected and went through the motions without actually rising above a fast food mentality. When the food arrived it was presentable but after a few bites we realized that it was standard fare and overpriced. My pesto penne pasta with sundried tomato topping was actually penne bathed in marinara with cheese and herbs sprinkled on top. I hate marinara. My partner ordered chicken pasta with white sauce. They don't have a white sauce dish on the menu so that costs $3 extra. The server didn't ask what kind of pasta so it was just plain spaghetti. I had high hopes, but 40 bucks for Chef Boyardee is a little pretentious. I hope they up their game."

Ouchy mama! Well, bad nights happen to the best of places, so I when I arrived for my lunch date, I walked in with an open mind and an extremely robust appetite. As I sat waiting for my friend, I took a gander around and was quite impressed with what they've done to the place.

Colorful wine bottles line the half-walls that divide the place into several distinct sections.The walls are a serene slate blue, and the ratty carpeting has been replaced with contemporary faux wood laminate flooring. Lighting is comfortingly dim (we all look better in the dark, right?), and classic crooners like Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra blared through overhead speakers. Certainly, they've put a lot of effort into giving the place the feel of an authentic Italian eatery, and basically it works.

My lunch partner arrived and after perusing the menu for five seconds, we both agreed right away on a calamari appetizer. "Nobody ever wants to eat fried food with me!" she lamented and I was happy to oblige. A deeper look into Uva's somewhat minimalistic menu revealed a handful of classic pasta dishes (spaghetti of the marinara, bolognese, and primavera varieties, $8-12), entrees (chicken of the marsala and parmesan varieties, $14), pizzas of the build-your-own or specialty varieties ($10-15), as well as some lunch sandwiches ($8ish), and a smattering of soups, salads, and appetizers.

My accomplice decided on the meat lasagna ($12), saying that since it was a hundred degree day out side, she wanted something she could never muster the effort to make on such a hot day. Also, we found out later after our server brought the dish out that that day happened to be National Lasagna day, It was like kismet, meant to be.

My go-to favorite dish at an Italian joint is always seafood fettuccine, but since this does not feature on the Uva menu (nor do any other dishes with a white sauce unless you want to pay an extra $3 to convert a menu item), I picked the closest thing I could find. Steve's specialty Cave Bay pizza ($15).

Time flies when you're blah-blah-blah-ing happily away, but our calamari seemed to arrive in fast fashion. Served with a side of lemon aioli, as well as a ramekin of their sweet and tangy marinara sauce, Uva's calamari is dredged in a delicate rice flour and fried lightly. And perhaps that was the problem. The calamari just seemed like it wasn't able to enjoy its full due time in the deep fryer, and the coating was overly delicate to the point of near non-existence.

Still, we both agreed that the squid itself was very fresh and tasty, and not at all rubbery like calamari-gone-south can sometimes be. A liberal sprinkling of prosciutto shavings added a lot of helpful flavor, but the lemon wedge looked like it had been sunbathing by the lake too long: mushy and old. A thicker coating, a little more cooking time, and a fresher lemon wedge, and this would be a perfect dish.

Again, we were caught up gabbing, but our main courses showed up tout de suite. Or should I say, they showed up subito, as they say in Italia. My pizza was gigantic! For some reason, my dizzy brain was expecting a Fire-style pizza with a flat crust, more of a personal sized sort of thing. But what landed on our table was a glorious 15-inch beast, gleaming and beaming with cheesy joy.

Sometimes I like to go for the weirdest thing on the menu, and I think the Cave Bay pizza might be it. It's a traditional hand-tossed crust coated in a lemon cream sauce, shrimp, clams, prosciutto, fresh parsley, fried capers, and topped with a generous amount of fresh mozzarella. This glistening beauty, with gentle brown burn marks scattered across it like love bruises, was still so hot out of the oven and melty-fine, that I had to dig in with a fork instead of just shoving it into my mouth like a rabid raccoon.

It was as kind to my mouth as it had been to my eyes. Oh, mio dio! The shrimp and clams burst a rich, fresh seafood flavor onto my tongue, which mingled with the salty umami of the prosciutto, the tanginess of the capers, and the uber super duper cheesiness of the mozzarella to create a sensation my brain's pleasure center had never quite experienced.

In short, it was a remarkable pizza, and there was way more than I could tackle in one sitting, so I was able to re-live the glory later that evening at work. And unlike many more corporate-oriented pizzas, it was just as divine after a trip through the microwave.

My lunch date was nice enough to scoop out a slice of her lasagna onto a little plate for me to sample as well. Lasagna has never been something I have deep cravings for or really love much at all (sorry, mom), but the freshness and quality of Uva's version of the Italian staple was undeniable. She had commented that there was quite a bit of spicy bang to the sauce, and right she was.

We both agreed that one problem with a lot of lasagnas was imbalanced ingredients, but this had a perfect ratio of cheese to marinara to pasta to meat, and there was no way this dish had spent any time at all in Hotel Freezerburn, which is an increasingly rare thing to find. No, this thing had clearly just hopped off the tasty truck today, and as a non-fan of lasagna, I would actually return to Uva just to order this and eat it up yum.

Service was superb, by the way, and that's most likely always the case, but I think it was slightly enhanced after our server realized that she was dealing with a couple of semi-sell known foodie writers. That's okay, it good to be treated special once in a while, and with food as fab as Uva has, they would have gotten a kind review even if they thought we were just Joe Generic from Cincinnati.

Our server tried tempting us with their house-made tiramisu, but our full tummies couldn't bear such a delicious idea. I told her I would return one night just for that legendary dessert and a glass of wine, and I meant it (oh yeah, their wine list has about eleventy hundred options).

After hearing mixed or mediocre reviews about a place, it's always fantastic to investigate the situation myself and find that the restaurant is actually a treasure and we are lucky to have it around. Such is the case with Uva Trattoria. Chef Boyardee. go jump in the lake.