The Garnet Café, named for Idaho's state gem, really is precious. Remote as northern Idaho may be, proprietors Justin and Angeline McLane and chef Everett Fees are at the cutting edge of the farm-to-table locavore movement, making it their mission to serve food that is caught, raised, or grown locally. In fact, much of what is cooked here is sourced directly from the McLane family farm. Bacon, sausage, and ham come from McLane hogs. Yogurt is made in-house from farm milk. Duck and chicken eggs come from farm poultry. Seafood is wild-caught from Pacific waters. And while the McLanes don't raise mushrooms, the ones they use in the kitchen are foraged in the area by their mycological friends.
While all of the above might imply that the Garnet Cafe is a stylin', pricey sort of place, nothing could be further from the truth. The fare is high quality and handsome, no doubt about that, but there's nothing the least bit pretentious about the meals or the service. It's easy to eat well here for just $10. Open only for breakfast and lunch, it is the sort of restaurant where locals and visitors drop in and linger, especially if it's a nice warm day and there are open seats on the sun-dappled patio. When it's cold outside, as it is for much of the year in the Idaho panhandle, inside accommodations are warm and cozy. Walls are decorated with a rotating display of work by local artists, and the staff is casual and friendly; our waitress unabashedly rhapsodizes about her favorite items on the menu.
In particular, the waitress sings the praises of one dish we normally wouldn’t think of having for breakfast: spaghetti. What seems like an odd concept in fact turns out to be brilliant, and while perhaps not quite the right meal for a 6 a.m. wake-up call, it is absolutely grand for late-morning brunch (or for visiting Easterners whose biological clocks are three hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time). Glistening al dente noodles are tossed with shreds of sundried tomato, roasted garlic, herbed goat cheese, parmesan cheese, and basil. The pretty medley is accompanied by a pair of those delicious McLane Farm eggs and a hefty slice of buttered toast – sourdough, rosemary, or whole wheat. To enhance the terrific toast, diners are presented with a ramekin of what looks like honey butter but turns out to be sunshiny lemon curd.
Another fine "any time" plate is Bristol Bay (Alaska) sockeye salmon. A thick slab, heavy with salmon's moist, nutty savor, is glazed with orange marmalade that becomes a sweet halo for the luxurious pink protein. The salmon is presented atop a mound of sautéed vegetables: mushrooms, peppers, squash, onions, leafy greens, and herbs. It, too, comes with a pair of eggs and choice of toast.
A few other morning house specialties: duck confit, which is a leg slowly cooked in duck fat until it’s fall-apart tender; green eggs and ham (pesto sauce provides the color); and French toast stuffed with Nutella and banana. Among the more familiar breakfasts are omelets with ingredients that range from ham, bacon, and all sorts of cheeses to smoked trout or a jumble of seasonal mushrooms. Corned beef hash is made with slow-smoked brisket. The house version of chicken fried steak is, in fact, pork-fried steak, veiled in panko breadcrumbs under a mantle of gravy. Oatmeal is made with extra-thick-cut Snoqualmie Falls oats, which pack a deep-roasted flavor. The oatmeal is served with brown sugar, butter and cream, blueberries and raisins. Perhaps the most curious dish available for breakfast, listed on the menu as "Everyone's Favorite," is Spam and eggs.
Other than mahi mahi tacos and a steak sandwich, nearly every item on the lunch menu takes advantage of the McLane Farm connection. A grilled cheese sandwich, made with four different cheeses, comes with McLane ham (and is grilled in truffle butter). Farm bacon in the BLT shares space with not only lettuce and tomato, but also avocado, sprouts, and garlic aioli. The Cuban sandwich is made with pulled pork shoulder and ham (both from farm hogs, of course), as well as house-made pickles. Even Garnet's gyro wrap is made with McLane farms seasoned lamb.
To accompany breakfast or lunch, there's hibiscus lavender tea or locally roasted Bumper Crop coffee. But if you don't need to drive anywhere or operate heavy machinery when you’re done, try the star of the drink menu: a Brass Monkey (rum and vodka with O.J.).
Garnet Café: 315 Walnut St., Coeur d’Alene, ID. 208-667-2729.