Sampling Spokane: City Shaping Up as Culinary Destination
When I left the suburbs of Minnesota at the age of 18 for the mountains of Western Montana, I knew I had my life figured out. Who didn’t their first three months of officially becoming an adult? I was going to get a degree in journalism, do sports talk radio and live out my days casting flies in the Bitterroot Valley in summer and riding snow-capped peaks all winter long. Then along came a girl from small town, Idaho. Things started looking serious and after four years of dating, she informed me she was going to pursue a graduate degree at Gonzaga University in Spokane. I’d only been to the Lilac City for a couple of concerts and to use the airport, and the idea of leaving Montana wasn’t my favorite at the time. She enrolled and I stayed put for a year, pouting mostly about leaving what I’d come to call my new home. When it eventually became clear that to make the relationship work I would need to move, I reluctantly packed up my few belongings, rented a U-Haul and committed to living in a state I had never spent more than a day in.
Eleven years later I find myself loving my life as a Spokanite and have a hard time seeing myself living anywhere else. Over the past two decades the city has transformed and flourished, and the energy around town is nearing an all-time high. Since Gonzaga’s improbable run to the Elite 8 in 1999, the University has more than doubled its enrollment, and the recent addition of a University of Washington Medical School has given the city a youthful feel. In a downtown where entire blocks were abandoned not long ago, hotels, apartments, boutiques and eateries now dominate the old brick buildings.
With investment in downtown, new small business owners and professional opportunities comes demand for more dining and entertainment options, and this is where Spokane is really starting to become its own destination. When I found myself here in the mid-2000s, there were just three breweries in town; only one distributed while the other two were nano operations inside of restaurants that only served on site. Today there are more than two dozen, a thriving wine tasting scene, locally roasted coffee and an ever-evolving restaurant scene that is attracting James Beard nominees and Top Chef contestants to plant their roots in this ever-growing community.
If you want a true taste of what the Spokane region has to offer in the way of incredible foods, look no further than the second annual CRAVE! Food and Drink Celebration, held July 12 through 15. While Spokane has no shortage of dining and tasting festivals, CRAVE! truly stands alone in the quality of the presentations, opportunities to learn from some of the top chefs in the region and from across the country, and the variety of tasting opportunities during the event.
CRAVE! is the brainchild of one of the Spokane area’s most iconic chefs and restaurant owners—Adam Hegsted. A Pacific Northwest native, Hegsted graduated from Northwest Culinary Academy and Art Institute of Seattle. He is a James Beard regional semi-finalist and was invited to cook at the annual Beard Foundation Dinner, an honor that chefs from around the country strive for. He is owner of the Eat Good Group which has restaurants in Spokane that include the wildly popular Wandering Table and Gilded Unicorn and has also recently branched into North Idaho with the openings of Farmhouse Kitchen and Silo Bar in Sandpoint and Republic Kitchen and Tap House in Post Falls. The group’s newest endeavor, Incrediburger & Eggs, offers very reasonably priced quick-serve burgers and breakfast sandwiches with unique twists on the classics.
Having built connections with the restaurant community regionally and from his travels nationally, Hegsted knew it was time for Spokane to put its name out there and celebrate the great cooks and regional ingredients the area has to offer. On any day throughout CRAVE! you’ll find the most talented local chefs as well as others from across the border in Idaho and Montana. Hegsted has even invited guest chefs from as far away as San Francisco, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Vancouver.
As CRAVE! is a four-day event, you can expect variety and something different with each session. You can purchase tickets to a single event, multiple events or all-access VIP which gets you into every tasting and special post-event celebrations. CRAVE! kicks off Thursday, July 12 with a Seafood Bash. Dozens of stations will be set up both indoors and out at the CenterPlace Regional Events Center in Spokane Valley. Guests can wander from booth to booth and can sample from as many chefs as they so please, as often as they please. Once inside, your ticket gets you unlimited sampling during the event of both food and drink, so there’s nothing additional to purchase during your session. Chefs prepare a dazzling array of tastes using fresh seafood as well as local trout and even sturgeon.
Friday evening’s theme is Foods Around the World as chefs utilize regionally sourced ingredients in popular dishes from Europe, Asia and other far-off destinations. Grand Tasting events Friday and Saturday allow chefs the freedom to present their favorite bites, and locally made wine, beer and spirits are also available to pair with your delicious dishes. There are demonstrations you can attend, and live music will keep the energy up all weekend long.
While the majority of the events are for those 21 and older, Sunday morning is a family friendly brunch theme, so if you are still hungry, bring the kids for a delicious finish to a great weekend of culinary celebration.
Tickets to all events are on sale now with early bird rates currently available. Packages include individual sessions, multiple sessions or all-inclusive all weekend access. You can purchase tickets, find out more about lodging partners and see a list of participating restaurants at CraveNW.com.
CRAVE! is a prime example of a town on the rise. Spokane is drawing its growing population from all walks of life. Young adults are checking out the multiple schools, young families are finding professional opportunities with affordable housing and empty nesters are leaving larger metropolitan areas for a more relaxed pace that still offers much of the entertainment, food and drink they are accustomed to. With rivers, lakes, parks and trails in and around town and mountains not far off in the distance, outdoor recreationalists are finding ample opportunity to explore while driving less than 90 minutes from their home.
Being part of a citywide revitalization is exciting and something that should be celebrated. If you haven’t seen Spokane in some time, make CRAVE! your reason to see all that’s happening. You’ll be treated to incredible food and drink, beautiful summer weather and an opportunity to explore all the area has to offer. You’ll see why so many are making Spokane their new home.
By Colin Anderson. Photo by Lauren Denos.