Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Diner 101- Never Run Out of Hashbrowns

Going to 101 is like stumbling into a limbo (which according to Popezenberger no longer exists) - nearly everyone inside is of this modern era but the place itself is captured by the year 1977. Part of this is an artificial put-on of 70s nostalgia. For example, the walls are decorated with framed personal photographs from the time. Lots of large Chevy pick-ups and kids with messy hair. The other part has genuine trappings of 70s d├ęcor. A wall is made up of exposed rock, the floor looks like the Formica in my great aunt’s old kitchen and amazingly wonderful globe light fixtures hang above the booths. (You will soon learn I have a thing for globe lighting fixtures.) It also harkens back to the day when diners were attached to other businesses. Usually they would sort of fit the locale, bus stations and bowling alleys for example. Growing up, my local Kmart had a diner in the back with magical looking jello parfaits in a glass case. The 101 Coffee shop is in a Best Western hotel, this leads to an often eclectic mix of hipsters, burgeoning rock stars and people who actually remember the 70s- and are in their 70s.

I went in on an overcast Sunday afternoon. This would be after the church rush and before the dinner boom, so I expected to find it near empty. To my surprise, it was busy and I had to settle for a small table. No booth with totally awesome hanging globe light for me. I ordered coffee which came promptly. Silverware proved elusive for a time. The coffee itself was hard to gauge. I added some creamer and a splenda packet but was unable to mix it short of taking matters into my own hands, or rather finger. After the spoon arrived, I can say they have perfectly adequate coffee. Not too bad and not noteworthy- despite the fact that I just made note of it.

Looking over the menu, it breaks down into three categories: breakfast fare (served all day) sandwiches (tend to be on the frou frou side) and pastas. It was too far from morning for me to be craving breakfast and I’m never in the mood for pasta. I perused the sandwiches for awhile. I couldn’t resist the pull of the fried egg sandwich. My dad used to have me make him these. Mom would usually make dinner but when she was working late, dad, sister or I would pony up and do it. When it was my turn to cook, pancakes and eggs were always on the menu. My dad liked his fried egg sandwiches a certain way, so to me that way is the only legit way to do it. Toasted bread, buttered and the egg fried all the way through with a thin slice of American cheese.

When my sandwich from the 101 came, it was plain toasted bread, a tomato, red leaf lettuce and the egg with cheese. ‘Close enough’ I thought. A few bites in I got quite the unexpected surprise. Apparently, another completely valid way of doing a fried egg sandwich is to leave the yolk runny. In England a fried egg sandwich is called an Eggs Banjo. It gets that name from that first bite into the yolk and the messy explosion that ensues. You pull the sandwich out and away from your body so as not to spill on yourself and it looks like you are running your hand up the fingerboard of a banjo. I was not expecting this and got slimy yellow all over my hands. Eating the rest of it became a bit of a chore. If I put the sandwich down it meant knifing and forking it which was not the kind of sandwich I was looking for. Flavor wise it was a perfectly fine sandwich. The tomato, which I hold in low regard when it is presented by itself, really worked well with the egg and bread. The lettuce was unnecessary. The toast could have used some butter on at least one slice, since the expectation seems to be there that you will be sopping up the yolk.

Normally this meal comes with hash browns, on this day however there was no more hash browned potatoes to be had. They offered me french-fries instead. I love french-fries. Some might see that as a negative that the 101 had run out of a diner staple, and really it is, regardless of my love for the fries. What if I were jonesing for hash browns? This would have been totes uncool. How could they possibly make it up to me? I’ll tell you how- Sweet Potato fries mixed in with the regular ones. Oh man, that was delicious.

The service was sketchy at best throughout. From the lack of silverware to the lack of refills on the coffee, I seemed mostly invisible. I can understand that if I were in some dark corner booth but I was at a table literally within ten feet of the register. My waitress, who was also the hostess seemed to be spread just a bit too thin. She wasn’t the only waitress there though. Another girl seemed to do nothing except walk up and down the nearly empty counter with a snotty look on her face (plus, she wore one of those Red China olive drab caps which is just annoying).

When it came time for dessert I asked my waitress what pies they had. “Cherry and Apple but I wouldn’t recommend them.” She steered me toward a fruit cobbler. I passed. Although I did not partake this time, the 101 is known for its delicious and eclectic milkshakes. You won’t find the industry standard three flavors here. Instead you will see peanut butter and honey (my favorite) or blackberry or the black and white concoction with a shot of espresso. Do these make up for the pie that is apparently so bad the staff dissuades you from ordering it? Not at all but they are tasty.

Price: $7-12 for most entrees
Food: Good enough.
Service: Lacking.
Atmosphere: Retro Fun.
Pie: Yes, but don’t do it.
101 Cofee Shop
6145 Franklin Ave
Los Angeles CA
(323) 467-1175

1 comment:

lisat said...

Hola Mike!

Very accurate review. The service is usually mediocre, because I get the feeling the surly waitresses are more concerned with their floundering acting careers, or those of their indie-rock band boyfriends, I'm assuming. If you go on a slow day, they tend to be a bit nicer.

However, I must add that for anyone who loves a good chai latte, their chai latte milkshake is, to be quite frank, off the chain.

Nice work! :)

Lisa T.