Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dinah-wood.

In Los Angeles, taking a friend to LAX is the equivalent of donating a kidney in just about any other city. It means a lot. Picking them up there may mean even more. That’s like being a sexual surrogate. Me? I don’t mind doing either, for one simple reason—-going to LAX means I am minutes away from Dinah’s Family Restaurant.




On this particular day, I wasn’t taking anyone to, or picking anyone up at the airport. This was a special trip just for Dinah’s. Arriving mid-afternoon, I was surprised that the main dining room, with its retro booths and Formica flooring, was full. I was regulated to the annex at the back of the restaurant. I’m not a fan of the annex since it tends to be noisier (larger parties are seated back there) and the room has a large television, usually playing soccer.

My dining companions, Antoinette and Janice would be meeting me within a few minutes; I took the opportunity to let my waitress know that I would be having the banana walnut oven baked pancake. Having already had the apple version, (and loved it to no end) I wanted to try the other option. I ordered early since the oven pancakes take roughly twenty minutes.

The coffee at Dinah’s is nothing special, a hint of roasted flavor and not too strong. I will, however, recommend it for the simple reason that they give you your own pot. Refill to your heart’s content, my little caffeine lovers. This of course works best when only one person at the table is drinking coffee. You can get 4 or 5 refills from one pot.

When Antoinette and Janice arrived, they needed some extra time with the menu. I almost regretted ordering my oven pancake early. The menu at Dinah’s is quite large and covers just about everything you can imagine. They are famous for their fried chicken, which even has its own outlets around the LA area. [I was quite pleased when I unexpectedly found one located in Los Feliz on San Fernando Rd.] Antoinette ordered the chicken salad sandwich with a side of fruit and Janice ordered the Cobb salad with dressing on the side.

I took the opportunity right then to order the chocolate cream pie and Antoinette ordered the pumpkin cream pie for dessert. Janice went pie-less.

After a short time, our waitress brought out a plate with a (warmed) roll, a slice of carrot bread and a bowl of something oily and reddish. “Who got soup?” we all wondered. The waitress assessing our confusion quickly explained, “That’s the dressing. I’ll be right back with the salad.” Which she did.



Janice enjoyed her salad. Not much more to say about that. It’s a Cobb salad. Can you screw that up?



Antoinette found her sandwich bland. Too much mayonnaise and not enough chicken.



I wish I could speak better of my banana walnut oven baked pancake. The outer most edges were perfect. They had crispiness to them with just a bit of banana and perfect bits of toasted walnut. Even the occasional burned walnut piece added to the overall flavor very well. As I got closer to the center though, it became a mush of too much banana and not enough pancake. I gave up halfway through to insure that I had room for pie.



When the pie came, I was delighted. The chocolate cream was better than any I had ever had. The cream was freshly whipped giving it a lighter and airy taste you just don’t expect. It was rich without being guilt-inducing.



Antoinette was disappointed in her pumpkin cream pie because--really, she had wanted just regular pumpkin pie and found this too creamy. So you can’t really call that a bad review.



Despite the food being a tad on the disappointing side, the pie more than made up for it.

Price: $5-$16
Food: Varies
Service: Friendly
Pie: Delicious Creams and Fruits.

6521 S Sepulveda Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
90045-1592
Phone: (310) 645-0456


* * *

As a bonus I will include two pics from a previous trip to Dinah's. This was early one morning after taking my friend Greg to the airport. I was in my biscuits and gravy phase and had a delightful breakfast. The coconut cream pie was once again the best coconut cream pie I had ever tasted. It was like ice cream almost.



UPDATE: Dinah's switched to a mini-pie instead of a slice of pie. I don't like it as much.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Dolores. "We never clos"

“You just go to diners?” the stranger at the party asked.
“Pretty much,” I replied. “I write reviews. Y’know, for the internets.”
“Have you been to Dolores? It’s awful!”

When someone tells me a place is awful, this is supposed put me off that place. Tell me that Mexican place on Sunset next to the barbershop is ‘for shit’, I’m not going to go—but tell me a diner is awful. It’s my job* to find out for myself.

Then the stranger added.
“Every waitress there is over 70.”

Is it creepy that it was THAT claim that sold me on HAVING to go as soon as possible to this place? Since Paul was present, I roped him into yet another diner adventure while he’d probably much rather be sleeping.

Dolores is on Santa Monica Blvd in that odd wasteland between West Hollywood and Santa Monica, the beachy place. I went through a Nuart theater phase and am shocked that I never ventured the simple four or so blocks west to the restaurant.



Pulling up to Dolores, I was instantly struck by the decrepit sign that towered above the place. This to me was a good (forgive me for saying) sign. The sign was so weathered I could believe no seventy year old waitress had been up there to spruce it up.




For this pic I offer special thanks to: http://www.latimemachines.com/new_page_3.htm

Walking inside I instantly fell in love. The homey d├ęcor mixes an odd sense of the 1970s with brown and golds with the pastels of the early 80s. After I instantly fell in love, I also instantly knew I had been lied to. Our greeter might have been rocking an outfit way too young for her but she was not a near octogenarian. We briefly breezed past display case full of giant pastries and muffins on our way to the booth. This booth gave us a great view of the counter and the nearby dessert cabinet. Delicious looking pies and cakes were found inside. Delicious cakes my friends! You know cakes aren’t my thing but these looked delicious.

The menu at Dolores is concise and simple. The largest extravagance I found is the cheese blintzes. Oddly, where you usually find a collection of Mexican dishes on an LA diner menu, Dolores has Italian choices. That’s how old school this place is.

Our waitress came by quickly and sweetly put up with my silly questions.

“What’s a ‘Cherry Lime Ricky’”
“It’s like a Shirley Temple. It’s really sweet.”
“What do you recommend?”
“What are you in the mood for?”
“…Breakfast.”
“Our omelets are good.”
“Do those come with bread? Like a muffin?”
“Yeah.”
“If I get the muffin, is it one of those giant muffins in the display case?”
“Yes.”
“I’ll get that!”

I ordered the omelet with Parmesan cheese and Italian sausage. Paul ordered the eggs and bacon with a cinnamon roll. From my seat, I could lean back and stare longingly at the dessert case. Paul left to pee, which gave me more desert ogling time. He returned shortly and informed me of the old timey baseball game machine by the bathrooms.



By then, our food come out bursting out of the kitchen. The omelet was a little light on the Parmesan cheese but the Italian sausage was tasty. The egg of the omelet was perfect--not wet or sloppy but cooked evenly throughout. Unfortunately, Paul found his eggs runny, but liked the amount of bacon they gave him. The potatoes were thinly sliced and greasy. They did maintain a good potato flavor, though.



Our muffin and cinnamon bun were in fact-- HUGE. Too big, in my opinion. My blueberry muffin was too much like an oddly shaped piece of cake. The raisins in the cinnamon bun seemed as big as prunes. Paul and I working together couldn’t finish it. I did appreciate that the butter pats that they served had been warmed. For once, I could actually spread butter on my bread.




I had warned our waitress that I may indeed still order pie even with the muffin and cinnamon roll, so be sure to drop by before bringing the check. And like every other time that I have made this request, the waitress brought the check without stopping by. I had to get her attention to order a slice of apple to go. She then of course had to pick up our check and redo the whole thing. She did give me the largest slice of pie from the case though. That was sweet of her.

Later that evening I enjoyed the pie. The crust really weirded me out, I must say. It was perfect, I am not talking about in terms of taste but structurally perfect. Like this pie had come out of God’s own pie pan. Flavor-wise it was a perfectly good slice of apple pie.





Price: $6-$14
Food: Good
Service: Very Good
Pie: Creams and Fruits.


11407 Santa Monica Blvd- At Purdue Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90025
310 477-1061


(*yes, this isn’t my job job-type job, but it should be.)


UPDATE-Feb 2009!

Dolores recently got a new owner. He invited me back to try out the new menu.
#1DC Antoinette and I took him up on the offer a few weekends ago.

There’s definitely a new coat of fancy on Delores. It has shifted away from the roughshod style that made it endearing. That’s no sin, just a little sad if you like the rundown aesthetic.





Being there for dinner, we decided upon classic dinner entrees. Antoinette ordered the Turkey Dinner and I ordered the Meatloaf.

We were both so incredibly impressed. The food was amazing. The turkey was nice and juicy thick cuts, the stuffing was made in a delicious chicken stock that gave it a uniquely home cooked taste. The meatloaf rivaled my mother's in its flavor and presentation. Rarely do you find the melted cheese in the center of the loaf. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had it anywhere other than at my mom’s house.




The corn bread was the best we had ever tasted. Amazingly soft and sweet, bordering on cake consistency, but staying safely within the bread family.



The new owner is definitely trying new things. He and his staff are exploring and innovating the standbys, and from what I can tell, it is successful. These things do take Delores away from its roots, but sometimes it's time to move on. So if you are looking for that old LA classic feeling, you can probably skip Delores now, but if you want a straight-up good dinner, you should definitely check out Delores. They still never clos.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Brandon's Diner- Far far away.

Brandon’s is a sweet little place out in Rancho Cucamonga (just try saying that word without smiling). Located discreetly in a strip mall, it might be easy to miss if it weren’t for the usual scads of people found there during the day. Don’t worry though, turn over is quick here due to its ample seating and full staff.


A few weeks ago, my diner companion, Antoinette, and I hit Brandon’s on a Sunday at about 11am. We were worried when the night before Antoinette had seen fire and smoke coming from the general location of Brandon’s. Did one of the few diners in the area burn down? As we pulled in to the parking lot we passed first the partially charred remains of a paper store (a likely culprit and/or truly unfortunate victim of the fire), bakery (again a likely culprit), and a massage therapy office. Luckily Brandon’s was safe. We soon learned that the fire had started at the massage office when a relaxation candle had been left burning.

There were several parties hanging out around the front of the diner and a few waiting patiently at the entrance. We saw that several seats at the counter remained opened, so we breezed through the line of people and sat there. Grabbing our menus from their holders at the edge of the counter, we got down to work. The large amount of diner comfort favorites and a great selection of Mexican breakfasts can be almost overwhelming. Sitting there at the counter, we were treated to a parade of dishes making their way out of the kitchen. Several times, we stopped each other mid-sentence with “Look at that!” One in particular we discovered was the strawberry lemonade which looked more like a desert than a drink. I was amazed at a gravy boat of peach compote being delivered to a nearby table. We also were able to see that unfortunately the muffins come from packages and that they put a lot of ice in their drinks. It’s that great crushed ice, though, that reminds me of Taco Treat in my home town.

The menu claimed that their plate sized flap jacks were famous. This made my decision easy. I am a fame whore. Antoinette ordered the Cinnamon French Toast breakfast. A refreshingly unconventional thing to note about Brandon’s is that they allow you to “opt” out of elements of their breakfast combos and will accordingly adjust the price. Say you want the Two Eggs and Sausage combo. It comes with potatoes and toast. Don’t need the toast? Tell them to hold the toast and they’ll hold the toast and the price of it off the bill. It seems an easier and cheaper system than ordering a la carte.

Our food came out quickly even with the throng of people populating the place. I counted no less than five servers for a place roughly half the size of House of Pies.

Antoinette especially loved the french toast. It was like a cinnamon bun with frosting cooked into the center of the bread. After reading the original posting, she insisted I gush more about how amazing it was. She REALLY liked this french toast.



I especially like the home fries, chopped up and buttery flavored rather than being greasy, although they could have used a bit of seasoning to make them really stand out. The eggs, we both ordered scrambled, were moist, but not wet, in the middle. They were browned nicely on the tops and bottoms.



My flapjack was what makes an American style flapjack what it is: extremely large. This made buttering the bottom jack a bit of a problem. I slathered the butter on the top and poked holes with my fork into to the two layers hoping the butter would seep through. I then poured a generous helping of syrup all around. Brandon’s famous flapjacks didn’t necessarily blow me away, but they were good—nice and light.



For those of you who do not know, flapjacks in England are more like a large cookie. In the states they are a larger than normal pancake and seek to be a bit crispier and less like a dough pillow. This usually staves off the “pancake regret” I mentioned in an earlier review.

You may never find yourself all the way out in Racho Cucamonga, but if you do, come check out Brandon's. If you are on your way out to Vegas or on your back, it's not too far off the freeway, just take the Carnelian exit and head down to Baseline.

Final notes: Even though they grind their own beans at Brandon's, I did find the coffee a bit weak. They also have their liquor license so feel free to booze up while here.

Price: $6-$10

Food: Good.

Service: Good. (A note behind the counter reads "Don't forget- Customers Come First"

Pie: Apple. (and churros!)



8609 Baseline Rd.
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
(909) 989-2256 Fax: (909) 944-9806.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Nick's Coffee Shop- A cloud over my coffee.



Nick’s Coffee Shop is a local institution if you live in the Pico/La Cienega area. Personally, I must have driven past it a dozen or so times and it never caught my eye. Coming here on a Sunday at noon, my friend Paul and I, were foolishly unprepared for a long line. I’m spoiled having hit some of the quieter places to dine lately. I can’t remember the last time I had to wait for a table.

We checked out the menu while we waited. You'd be hard pressed to find something you DIDN'T want on this menu. It has an extensive menu that features diner favorites as well as interesting new takes on classics. Regular french toast wasn't good enough. They had jazz it up a bit. I settled on the Apple Walnut Bread French Toast with a side of grits while Paul got the Chilliburger.

Waiting outside in the hot sun, we saw several people walk up and be greeted by first name. This began to clue us in to the neighborhood nature of Nick’s Coffee Shop. I consider myself a House of Pies regular but nobody has ever greeted me by name. After waiting a half an hour for a table, we finally were seated. The garish colors of the outside are contrasted with the classic interior. Large leather booths and an intimate counter make Nick’s inside cozy and friendly. Once again this is a diner covered in photographs. Headshots of “Hey, it’s that guy!” and group photos and pictures of the owner, as well as a picture of the incomparable Rip Taylor. Damn I love what that man does with confetti.



While we waited roughly fifteen more minutes for a server to stop by and take our order we took time to read the cover page of the menu. It details the heart breaking story of the owners. Nick's had been around for a long time and was in danger of closing up shop. A woman who had been a waitress there years ago found out about the closing. Her husband and she put their life savings into turning it around. It was their love and devotion to each other and the neighborhood that really cemented Nick's Coffee Shop's position in the community. The wife passed away some years ago of cancer leaving an odd cloud of mourning hovering over the place.

Don't get me wrong it's not like it's a wake in there. It's lively and children laughing and sass being dispensed and all that. It is just once you read that story on the menu, you just feel the grief and the love tied into the place. That makes it hard to write less than a glowing review.... Note I said "hard" not impossible.

Finally, the waitress took our order. I inquired about the pie “Apple or cherry." she replied, "Wait, maybe it’s peach” Having made my own peach pie the day before, I ordered the apple pie. A lady worked the counter giving everyone some aforementioned sass along with their coffee. And as the Uncle Ruthie review framed on the wall next to me so elegantly stated “A rainbow of races are found at Nick’s” So if a racially diverse dining experience is what you want, this is your place. It's right there in print.



After a waiting period just a bit longer than "acceptable" and just shy of "my 30th birthday", we got our food. The grits were bland and watery which was disappointing since I hadn’t had grits in years. Luckily, my Apple Walnut Bread French Toast was worth the wait. The danger with any specialty bread that is naturally going to be a bit sweeter than normal, putting it through the french toasting process may make it unbearably sweet. Add syrup on that and you might have a recipe for instant diabetes. What I got at Nick’s was sweet but not too sweet. A quick swirl of syrup and it was nearly perfect. It was served with a small bowl of apple compote. The compote should’ve been heated but came room temperature. This kept the meal from being absolutely perfect. On a swing by by the waitress, I cancelled my pie since really, that would have bee gut busting to try to cram a pie in there as well.




Paul was pleased with his meal. At first he wasn' sure if there was an actual patty underneath all that chilli, but he soon found it. The crispy crinkle fries can be rare to find and are alwasy delicious. They remind me of school lunch room fries.



Here’s where our ordeal began. After finishing our meals. Clearly being finished. There was nothing left to nibble on my plate and Paul had done a decent job killing his meal and had pushed it forward. We waited for about fifteen minutes for our waitress to bring the check. When she didn’t, we asked for it. We then examined more of the pictures on the wall. A promotional still ofAthena Demos from Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming. As every true Battlestar geek will know, BSG:SC was the ill-fated “made on spec” sequel series from the late 90s that is unable to be shown legally anywhere. At least ten more minutes passed before she brought it. Paul said that if he were alone he would have walked out. Luckily he respects my craft (yes diner reviewing is a craft!) not to get me banned from some place.
So in conclusion, the food was overall great (skip the grits). The service not so much, but considering the service is described as top notch everywhere else Nick's has been user-reviewed, maybe we just went on an off day. Oddly the sad love story of the place might make it an excellent date place. Cancer, life savings, "rainbow of races" all make for great date fodder.


Price: $9-$15
Food: Great.
Service: Lacking
Pie: "Apple or cherry. Wait, maybe peach."

8536 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(310) 652-3567