On our latest dining excursion in Spokane, Geo and I went wondering the South Hill area. We drove around some of the familiar streets looking around to see what might catch our eye as a place to dine, not knowing exactly what we were looking for. After driving around for a while and considering a few possibilities, we thought about revisiting and old favorite, (Kim's Korean Restaurant) but instead we ultimately decided to venture into completely new and unchartered territory and kept looking around. The whole South Hill Experience is a little foriegn to us and there was a lot to see and explore..
IT wasn't long until our attention was on a little restaurant we saw on the side of the main road, however, as we were looking for parking, another little restaurant caught our eye. I think it must have actually caught our nose, for the smell in the air was what really got out attention as did the name of the type of food, Sichuan. It was a new word to us, but it seemed oriental and since oriental food is something we enjoy, we decided to investigate the dining experience by inquiring of some passerbys who were just coming out from the restaurant.
They were smiling and happy and delighted in the food experience, at least those who were the guests of the one man who happened to be one of the cooks. With their hearty recommendation and their explanation that Sichuan is a type of Chinese food, we parked the car and entered the door of Gordy's Sichuan Cafe.
Gordy's is a small and very busy dining establishment. We did not have to wait very long and we looked at the menu while we waited. One group was waiting for seating and one person was waiting for take out when we arrived. People were definitely enjoying their food and when we took out seats, so did we. Mapo Tofu, Hot and Sour Soup and a Spicy Tangy Chicken was on our table in no time, as well as rice, lemon flavored water and hot tea.
The food and service was speedy and friendly and tasted delicious, though there were some unique flavors, even in some of our more familiar oriental dishes like Hot and Sour Soup.
I inquired about the special ingredient and the waitress told me that these were "wood ears" in my hot and sour soup. Wood ears, I thought, were a mushroom, but the item did not taste like a mushroom, nor was it shaped like one. More research makes me think that the item in my soup was a tiger lily bud, which I understand is one of the more traditional ingredients used in making this particular soup. Gordy's. though not run by Chinese people, is both delicious and authentic.
Gordy's is located at 501 E 30th Ave, in what seems to be an old shopping center, but it has the feel of a neighborhood restaurant, or cafe. I thought that part was great.
There is something special about small business owners serving others in the community and making a living that is just cool, and while people make a living in large restaurant chains, often these chains are not so much to serve the community as they are to make a profit. The waitress informed us that this restaurant had been there 12 years and they did no advertising. She said that most people hear about the place via word of mouth. Of course, maybe she didn't know that some people, like us, simply just follow their nose.
We actually went to the South Hill to try another restaurant but when we got there they were closed, so taking a detour we found ourselves near Gordy's. As we were anticipating some kind of Asian food, it seemed appropriate to try this place again. We did.
I love the atmosphere at Gordy's. It's just a little neighborhood place, friendly and clean, busy too, and this all makes it rather fun. Not only that, it's Chinese foods, prepared nicely, even "China" style, (albeit by Americans who do not look the least bit Chinese!) It's kinda like having he best of both worlds, which is a very American thing... you know, the blending of cultures. You cannot go wrong with good food and happy people. We loved having chopsticks greet us on the table and not having to ASK for them.
As we looked over the menu, Geo was tempted with Ma Po Tofu... but we also wanted to try something new to us here, especially since we had been here before,, so we did. He ordered Ants Climbing the Trees and I ordered the Basil Chicken. We began with an appetizer- the soup of the day, Hot and Sour Soup.
The soup was tasty. Soup as an appetizer is actually quite nice. Hot and Sour soup is tangy and spicy. Sometimes it is kinda vinegary which is not too desirable... however if the flavor is just right.. it's unusually good. Gordy's put cilantro on top of our soup which made it quite unique to us and we liked it. It seemed like when the got to the bottom of the bowl it was loaded with flavor too. Typically, Hot and Sour Soup kinda grows on you, so to speak, as you eat it. The flavors of this soup was only the beginning though because tonight would be a night of flavors!
Let's talk about this Ants Climbing the Trees thing...
As you read the menu and it tells you what the dish is made of. Amidst the many ingredients listed, you see it has sichuan peppercorns listed and you think nothing of it... you may even think "Peppercorns?" or (knowing it is intended to be a spicy dish, you skip right over that to see if it has ell peppers or something you do not like. You may even think, "So what?" If you are like me, you think it is just one of many other ingredients like tasty bits of pork or onions or garlic. Be aware, the sichuan peppercorns are the secret ingredient of this dish!
To be sure, "Ant's Climbing a Trees," sounded more like haiku or art to me than food, and it definitely sounded intriguing...to say the least, if not downright poetic. We pressed for more information about the vision that this title of a dish evoked in our minds with our waitress who tried to give us further information by telling us that this dish is so called because the bits of ground meat clinging to the noodles are intended to evoke an image of ants walking on twigs. She also told us that all the foods here are quite authentic to what is served in China, especially this one and that she knew this personally having been over in China herself. She said she loved China and over there this dish is very popular... and she told us it was "spicy."
Now, let's examine this sichuan peppercorn thing...
I can only tell you that it is not like anything I have ever even had before.... and that the peppercorns do something besides simply make this dish "hot."
At first we thought perhaps it was nutmeg on top of the dish and scattered around the edges. Geo had accidentally inhaled some of it when he took the first bite and commented that it was unlike anything he had ever tasted. We asked the server what it was.
She said she thought it was the ground pepper, but instead of guessing, she got it straight from the chef... THIS was the Sichuan Peppercorns we were tasting.
It was, as Geo describes, "Wild." In fact it is so wild I had to investigate further into what EXACTLY this ingredient, "sichaun peppercorns" was.
I began by looking up more information about it on the internet when I came home where I discovered that these peppercorns are also called "flower peppers." I also learned that it is used in making what is called the traditional Chinese "Five Spice Powder." Another webpage with an article by food critic Rhonda Parkinson, describes the peppercorns saying that they are not peppers at all, rather they are berries of the prickly ash tree.
(Who would have thunk?)
What are they like? Well, they do something to your taste buds, that is for sure. Big Oven.com describes them this way..."their smell is something like lavender but are sharp and slightly numbing to the tongue, with a clean lemony wood-like fragrance." Let me just simply suggest to you that the flavor of the Sichuan peppercorns are unique and bizarre!
Another page said they are related to the citrus family, were even banned from US entry for a while because of a plant disease where they are grown. The citrus grower here didn't want it spreading to our citrus on American soil, so it could not be imported, but that lasted only for a couple of years and that they are now back on the market.
The dish itself was something I was glad I did not order. I do not think I could have eaten it. The only part I even liked was the intriguing spice itself. Geo spent the whole meal commenting that it was an "Interesting" dish, (never really saying it was "great" or even "good." He did give other opinions as well, other descriptions; he said things like, "crazy," "wild", "unusual", "unlike anything I have ever had before." ) I didn't like it; but I kept tasting his peppercorn.
Visually, I didn't really think it looked much like ants climbing trees, and I have a pretty good imagination. I did think of other things, Some quite descriptive possible titles for it, did come to mind, but certainly not "ant's climbing in the trees." Maybe, (as I am looking at pictures of this dish on the internet,) maybe it's simply a "red ant" versus "black ant" things. I mean, we tend to have black ants where I live, though I have seen red ones too. I also do not like the glass noodles they are just too weird to me in any dish.
Did Geo "like"it? I asked him, and he said
that he "sort of liked" it. He ate it all.
NOw for the BIG question: "Would he order it again?"
"No, probably not."
It was a notably experience though. We can now say we have eaten (or in my case tried) "ants climbing trees,"---and these were not even real ones, (although we have tasted real ants before.. and come to think of it, maybe that is where this dish gets it name!) In the course of human existence, tasting the "Sichuan peppercorn" was definitely worth trying. The experience of it can only be described as simply, "wild."
As for the Basil Chicken, it was good, mild and somewhat sweet, definitely "basil-y" in flavor. It was quite a contrast from the other dish I might add. It was good, but not one of my personal favorites in the long run. Next time I come to Gordy's I will have to try a new dish, that's for sure and there are a few interesting things on the menu as well as a lot of old favorites like Ma Po Tofu and Kung Pao Chicken.
Apparently a lot of people like this little tucked away Chinese Cafe. I see by reading about it on the internet that I am not the only one. The meals here are not what I would call "inexpensive" They range in price from $10.00-$30.00. If you are on the South Hill near 20th and Grand you are in the neighborhood but your gonna have to hunt for Gordy's. The actual address is 501 E 30th Ave and it's just a little tucked away neighborhood cafe, right there next to the shoe repair place and the take-out pizza parlor.