By Craig Hill The News TribuneOn football nights in Puyallup, it feels like the Sparks Firehouse Deli has been a part of the community forever.On a recent Wednesday night, as the Kalles Junior High School football team walked from its school to Sparks Stadium, somebody in the restaurant noticed the clacking of cleats on the sidewalk. Minutes later, everybody in the outdoor dining area was standing and clapping.When one of Puyallup’s high schools or Pacific Lutheran University is playing at Sparks Stadium, the deli flies the school flag. And when the Roughriders youth teams plays at the stadium, their flags are hoisted, too. After all, the owner, Chris Johnston, has two sons playing in the Roughrider program.
“On game nights this place has a great atmosphere,” said Eric Hobbs, the deli’s assistant manager. “That was the goal: To fit into the community.”
The Sparks Firehouse Deli has been doing just that since it opened Sept. 3.
The deli took on a firehouse theme in honor of the Puyallup Fire Department that merged with Central Pierce Fire and Rescue after the November 2008 election.
The deli is decorated entirely with donated firefighter memorabilia, including flashing fire engine lights hanging from the ceiling.A Sept. 11 banner purchased at Ground Zero hangs in the middle of the restaurant. Three boards on the east wall display patches donated by fire departments. Key Peninsula, Fort Lewis and Hampshire, Ill., fire departments are already represented.
Pictures and news clippings about the old Puyallup Fire Department are encased in the table tops of two long tables in the middle of the deli.
“Each little decoration has its own history,” Hobbs said.
Two garage doors on the west wall open on nice days and the atmosphere from Sparks Stadium seems to merge with that in the deli.“When the door is closed, it’s a tighter, homey feel,” Hobbs said. “When the doors are open, we almost double in size, and it’s a little more lively.”
And to think Johnston’s original plan for this corner, formerly Happy Grocery, was to build a Starbucks. Hobbs said Johnston changed his mind after a brainstorming session with friends.
“The response has been good so far,” Hobbs said. “People keep saying we’re a good addition to the neighborhood.”
Sparks Firehouse specializes in sandwiches and pizza. They’re cooked in a gas-fired pizza oven.Highlights: Hobbs says four sandwiches are battling it out for most popular on the menu. The All Hands Reuben ($8.95), The Halligan (a club-style sandwich with chipotle sauce, $10.95), the French Dip ($8.95) and The Hazmat (pulled pork on a hoagie roll, $9.95) are the early leaders.As for pizza, “everybody who tries the Smoke House ($12.95) falls in love with it,” Hobbs said. The Smoke House is topped with chicken, bacon, onions, green peppers, tomatoes and chipotle sauce.
I dropped by the deli a couple of times during its first month. On my first visit, a friend and I sampled The All Hands Reuben and The Halligan.The Reuben was prepared with corned beef and sauerkraut stuffed into a black-and-white rye roll.Hobbs says the deli roasts its own corned beef, chicken and turkey each morning. He says the bread has also been popular. He and other restaurant personnel spent three months searching for the right bread before deciding on bakeries in Montana and California. We also ordered the Halligan at the recommendation of one of the cooks. The Halligan is a hoagie roll packed with ham, turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, Swiss and cheddar cheese. Chipotle mayonnaise is added to give the sandwich a little kick.Each sandwich comes with a choice of four sides – coleslaw, pesto pasta salad, baked potato salad or baked beans. An extra side is $1.50.On my second visit I dropped by for dinner with my wife.This time, Sparks Firehouse felt more like a new restaurant still finding its stride. We ordered the Veggie Pizza ($12.95) and the two-alarm Ring the Alarm Wings ($8.95). Both were a tad undercooked. We also ordered the French Dip (with turkey instead of the usual prime rib). The sandwich, for reasons neither us nor our server could figure out, smelled like mothballs.Certainly a misfire like this is understandable in the first month of operation, and to the deli’s credit our server removed the sandwich from our bill, offered us a new one and gave us a coupon for a discount on our next visit.Cold food aside, we agreed Sparks Firehouse is definitely worth another visit.
DessertThere is no dessert on the menu at Sparks Firehouse yet, but you’re not completely out of luck if you need something sweet.The deli sells candy along with batteries and disposable cameras to cater to those heading to Sparks Stadium for a game after their meal.A dessert menu is on the way.“But because we have a firehouse theme, we really want to nail it,” he said. “We don’t just want to offer the stuff you can get at Denny’s.”Kid friendlyA small and simple kids’ menu includes one-topping pizza, macaroni and cheese, chicken strips and cheesy bread with marinara dipping sauce. Each item is $4.95.
The deli offers a breakfast menu that includes five entrees. The Chipotle Egg Sandwich ($7.95) is egg, bacon, cheese, spinach and chipotle sauce on a hoagie role. Customers get the bread of their choice when they order the Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich ($8.95), a simple ham, bacon, egg and cheese concoction.Healthier eaters can order a bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar and milk for $2.95. Those health nuts will probably miss out, however, on what’s been the most popular breakfast item: the Crème Brulee French Toast ($8.95). The breakfast is made with croissant bread and served with macadamia nut syrup.“It’s good,” Hobbs said. ‘It’s dessert for breakfast.”
Craig Hill: firstname.lastname@example.org