Blog entries

We pit three Olympians against two Seattleites against one Spokanite

Posted in our über-incorrigible libation guide: Coffee.

Team OlyCOOL recently undertook the first few steps of a Fact Finding Mission™ in Olympia, Spokane, and Seattle, where we pitted the cities’ finest coffee spots against each other. After countless meetings and seminars filled with deliberation and soul-searching, we are finally ready to reveal our findings.


Obsidian (414 4th Ave E)

There’s something kind of interesting about a family-friendly, quasi black metal spot with an awesome selection of waffles. Yes, Obsidian is different, and their coffee is something Count Grishnackh would approve of. (I mean, he might be a convicted murderer and all, but he’s also Norwegian, so I assume he has an impeccable taste in coffee.)

The beans of choice here are from Stumptown, and the Americanos were surprisingly good. Again: a family friendly, quasi black metal spot with an awesome selection of waffles. Obsidian is just not somewhere I’d expect to get a good espresso based drink, yet the shots were well pulled, and the temperature of the Americano was just right.

It makes sense in retrospect, I suppose, what with the darker Nordic theme. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised the coffee here is reminiscent of what one finds in Scandinavia, currently the epicenter of the hipper than thou coffee scene.

Olympia Coffee Roasting (108 Cherry St)

We have previously posted about Olympia (as we affectionately refer to it as), but with its new downtown location and all, we see no reason why we wouldn’t mention them again.

Their new spot is quite enjoyable. It has a Scandinavian meets Northwest look to it, with a decent (though probably not large enough) seating capacity. Everything here seems customized and automated, from the «Olympia Coffee» branded espresso machine to the Poursteady. The latter made our Honduras pour-over, which was about as good as non-human-made coffee can be. Flavor wise, Olympia’s beans were great as always, and here they were slowly and automatically poured. Perfect timing and perfect temperature—humanity was overrated in the first place.

We’ve had the good fortune of trying many great coffee spots over the last few years, Olympia is right up there with the best of them. It doesn’t take much to figure out why they won Roast Magazine’s «Micro Roaster» of the year in 2013. Currently they’re our favorite of the Mission™, and we’re just fine with that..

Bar Francis (110 Franklin St NE)

Located within Dumpster Values’ bourgeoning vintage-mall is Bar Francis, and a good spot it is. Granted, our coffee was served in paper cups, so make sure you specify you want a mug should you decide to hang out.

Our shots were properly pulled, and the Americanos tasted great. The interiors are, somewhat (but probably not) interestingly, kind of in-between that of Obsidian and Olympia. Think Obsidian’s colors inverted, and you get the idea. A little grungy, yet inviting—a black metal fan who doesn’t like black.

I don’t know, there’s really not that much more to be said about Francis. They do a good job in a good space, and really, while that might sound sort of uninteresting, it’s what a coffee spot should be.


Indaba (210 N Howard St)

One could probably argue that Indaba is not Spokane’s premiere coffee-spot, though then again, one could probably argue that it is, too. Either way, Indaba is quite excellent, and their espresso maker on tap system is pretty impressive looking in its own right.

As for the coffee, my Americano was great. Excellent, in fact. It was served at a lower temperature than most of the others we tried during this test, which certainly helped kick up the flavors. The beans—from Indaba’s own roaster—were light, not exactly to Scandinavian levels, but still to the point where the more delicate details were easy to pick up on.

The space is comfortable, and the baristi friendly, all adding up to a great experience.


Milstead & Co (770 N 34th St)

This was quite possibly the biggest let-down of the Mission™. Milstead has quite the reputation to live up to, but fell flat during our visit. This largely came down to an overeager barista who pretty much punched the AeroPress plunger through the filter-cap in the span of three seconds, jumping on top of it to literally squeeze grounds through the filter. (That might be a hyperbole, but you get the picture.)

OK, the end-result wasn’t actually that bad, but it had a bit of a bitter aftertaste to it, something I attribute to the overzealous press. Still, one should expect a bit more from a spot of Milstead’s reputation.

Vif (4401 Fremont Ave N)

The surprise hit of the Mission™ was Vif, located in the Fremont district. Their pour-over, using light-roasted beans from Olympia Coffee, came out perfectly, highlighting the Ethiopian beans’ acidity, and the currants slapped our faces in a stern but loving fashion. (I know it gets a bit old to point out a coffee’s currant flavors, but you know what… It’s a good litmus test, the fruit-flavor.)

Vif holds a good café feel, with a wine selection, good food, and excellent background music. Kinda French in other words, just with good coffee.


In this first part of the Coffe. Fact Finding Mission™, five of the six spots held high enough of a quality to live up to Washington’s coffee culture reputation. The last one was a disappointment. And for good measure, we threw in Batdorf & Bronson, which we visited a while back, too.

And speaking of coffee culture, why not end on this Anthony Bourdain quote? There is no culture around coffee. Coffee is a beverage, not a culture.

The standings so far…

  1. Olympia Coffee Roasting
  2. Caffé Vita
  3. Obsidian
  4. Indaba
  5. Vif
  6. Bar Francis & Co
  7. Milstead & Co
  8. Batdorf & Bronson

The Blackbird

SpoCOOL, often considered by myself to be Spokane’s finest blog, lives on, right here.

The thing, or rather one of the things, we really like about Blackbird is not so much what it is, but rather what it isn’t. Here they could have opened Manito Tap House, Jr, and they would pretty much have been guaranteed success. Instead we got something just a little bit more high-end, a tiny bit less beer-y, and just vaguely different feeling. Go in knowing it’s Manito’s sibling, and you’ll likely see the resembalence, but those who don’t will rather see a spot with good food, good beer, and a great patio.

We tried the Moroccan lamb special during our visit, and an excellent dish it was. It definitely had the flavor profile of its namesake—plenty of depth through a good mix of spices—yet with just a bit of a… I don’t know… Northwestern twist to it? I’m not entirely sure how to qualify the latter, but I suppose what I’m saying is you can take a look at certain dishes, and you know exactly where it was prepared. (Shut up, it makes sense to me!) And I digress: The lamb was perfectly tender, and the mix of classic flavors and local presentation took me to somewhere halfway from Spokane to Tangier. (Which by my approximation is right in the middle of the Atlantic.)

The Argentine, too, was enjoyable—flank steak cooked perfectly medium-raw with coal-roasted potatoes is a perfect late-summer meal.

Thankfully the beer selection holds parity with what we have come to expect from Manito. During our visit the Abyss '13 was on tap, and hella well had it aged, too. Sampling Avery’s Samael is always fun as a chaser, and with 30-ish taps to choose from, you’d pretty much be a terrorist not to approve of Blackbird’s selection.

(One minus, mind you: The «Manito Head» exists here, too, so make sure your beer has been poured properly.)

With a great view of the downtown skyline and the park, it’s hard to argue with what Blackbird has going for it. It’s the whole upscale-casual thing done well, something I feel the downtown area always needs more of. Thumbs up, then: we’re definitely fans.


SpoCOOL, often considered by myself to be Spokane’s finest blog, lives on, right here.

How are you? It’s been a while, hasn’t it? And here we are, ready to shill another site, and we’re quite shameless about it too. (I don’t see any need to apologize for that. ¯\\_(ツ)_/¯)

The newest site in the sprawling SpoCOOL conglomerate is OlyCOOL, which, surprisingly enough, is like SpoCOOL, just set in Olympia. I mean, pretty simple, right? OlyCOOL: A site that should be part of your daily reading habits.

“But, what’s in it for me?!”, you may ask. “Obviously OlyCOOL is the greatest site I have ever seen, but I’m not going to Olympia this week, and I prefer reading about Olympia spots next week instead!”

That’s a fair question, and one many (probably) will ask.

We are also merging another entity into the über site: One Star Classics, a site that digs into the murkier side of Netflix movies, will post its reviews on regular basis. OlyCOOL is informative and entertaining!

(Oh, and it’s running on SSL, too, so it’s super secure.)

In summation: OlyCOOL. Visit. You will enjoy. We guarantee-ish it.

The Wandering Table

SpoCOOL, often considered by myself to be Spokane’s finest blog, lives on, right here.

I will admit to feeling many sorts of trepidation when I first heard the mention of «American-style tapas». There are those of us who have a very set definition of what tapas should be, and just having small sharable plates isn't enough to fit that bill. At least not for me.

Subsequently, the word «small plates» has increasingly been used in marketing and media for the Wandering Table, and… Look, I realize most of the world is tomato/tomahto on these kind of things, but I just can't apologize for how I feel about that. I can't! I won't!

All of that aside… The Wandering Table is really quite an excellent addition to the KY. Is it a competitor for the best restaurant in Spokane award, like many already have suggested? It's too early to say, of course, but our first impression was very positive. It'll be interesting to see how the spot will fare on our Best of… later this year.

And let it be said: the Wandering Table has the best deals you will find in Spokane, at least as far as casual-high-end food goes.

You can order a la carte, but really, the chef's choice is how you'll experience proper Wandering Table-style dining. Simply pick your price, and the plates will come raining down on you, family-style.

We went with $35 a head, and, frankly, that might have been an overkill. From beginning to end, the dishes just would not stop coming in rapid succession. Somewhere along the two hour meal, I lost count of how many dishes we were served, and, somewhat miraculously, only one of them received a thumbs down from the table. (The tuna left a bit to be desired.) Each and every one of the other dishes ranged from good to stellar.

Again, that is pretty incredible, the amount of dishes tried taken into consideration.

Some favorites included the «General Tso Sweetbreads» -- the sauce was fantastic -- and the garden salad. Trust me, neither are what you might imagine, both featuring creative twists.

Something as simple as deviled eggs was notches above what one could even begin to imagine, and even the popcorn -- popcorn! -- is worth a special mention.

Ending the meal with olive oil gelato, and a sea salt chocolate chip cookie just seemed right. (Though, subjectively, we prefer the softer take on the cookie.)

I guess that is all a roundabout way of saying that we were in a downright euphoric food-coma by the end of the meal. That is something we rarely say.

The interiors are simple and inviting; a perfect echo of the casual, yet classy vibe the food presents. The service? Super professional, but never stuffy.

If the Wandering Table can keep this up, there is no reason why they wouldn't or shouldn't become a Spokane institution.

$35 per head might be an overkill, unless you want to get really stuffed. (Which, hey, why not?) $25, should probably cover it, just fine.

We're fans, and we think you will be too. The Wandering Table really is quite fantastic, and you should probably put it on top of your places-to-check-out list, right now.

SpoCOOL changes, people either cheer or weep in the streets

SpoCOOL, often considered by myself to be Spokane’s finest blog, lives on, right here.

«So what the hell is going on here?», you may ask. «Why am I reading this at instead of Why is there a restaurant guide where my favorite blog in the whole wide world used to be? What is this thing?!»

Let's start with what.

SpoCOOL, the main site, has changed from your favorite blog to your favorite local restaurant guide. Well, maybe neither is your favorite, but let's just say they are, for the sake of argument.

The new guide is a bit different than many. Instead of listing every restaurant in and around Spokane, we have created a curated directory. Three criteria come into play for a spot to be included:

  1. It could be a buzzworthy spot. Buzz can, of course, be either positive or negative. A typical restaurant that would be included would be one opened by a local chef, or one that is centrally located.
  2. It could be a place a traveler or tourist would consider trying. Think a traveling consultant going to a town, not knowing where to go. Often they settle for a chain -- like Red Robin -- or pick blindly from something near-by their hotel. With SpoCOOL, you now have a paired down list of places you really should try, or really should avoid. All places voted for by you; no chains included.
  3. It could be a place your self-proclaimed foodie friend -- the type who uses the word foodie -- really wants you to check out. We all know the type, the ones who went ga-ga when MacKenzie opened downtown. Now you can see what other people think about it, people who hopefully are a bit more invested in the local food scene than those who frequent Yelp.

In a sense, the site is aimed at two people: locals who want to check out, or rediscover places in Spokane, who have no interest wading through the Cathay Inns of the world. And the person who comes to town, expecting something better than what the hotel clerk suggests.

Curation is done by our esteemed editorial board, and we will always accept suggestions through mail and Twitter. The list will be updated as needed.

We've tried to make the site easy to navigate, with easy to use filters and a free-search. And, as one would expect, you can rate spots with thumbs up or down. Just log in with either your Twitter or Facebook account and go crazy. Votes that were cast here at the blog have all been carried over.

Consider the site to still be in beta. Kinks are still being worked out.

We think it's a good concept ourselves, and as an earlier version of the site has been used by traveling consultants for multiple institutions in town, we've seen real-life proof that something like this is needed.

Run and enjoy the new SpoCOOL! Browse! Vote! Be safe in the knowledge that each thumb you throw will help a fellow human being!

Now, for the why…

We have been running this little blog for a while now, and a great time it's been. I mean…SpoBREW? Spiceavore? All those silly little community events, all while writing our equally silly little site… Good times!

Now we're leaving Spokane, and, indeed, the country for a while. Could be years; could be months; could be forever. We don't know, but we hope it isn't the latter.

The blog will remain here, browsable as ever, and this will not be the end of it. You'll still see Notes from all over covering current going-ons. We'll follow your voting on the new SpoCOOL, and post your monthly top 20 picks as we always have. Liquor License Stalker is updated automatically. @spocool isn't going anywhere, and will remain active. We'll post about dumb things, because that's what we do. The RSS feed stays in place.

But, restaurant reviews will, of course, be gone. We don't think that's a bad thing: we're putting your opinion in the limelight as a replacement. We hope the new SpoCOOL will be a better restaurant guide than this site ever was, and with thousands of votes already cast, we don't see how it couldn't be.

Spokane, you were fantastic. And you know what? So were we.