Friday, November 23, 2007

Back in LA: Astro Family Restaurant and Coffee Shop- It's not out of this world. HA. Ha. ha.

Back in Los Angeles with a quick review.

To Los Angeles residents Astro Burgers are a mainstay of our homegrown fast food chains. Not as beloved as the over-hyped In-n-Out Burger or name-checked by rappers as much as Fatburger, it is probably #4 right behind the famous Tommy's.

I had no idea that Astro had branched out into the Coffee Shop/Family restaurant world. Taking an unfamiliar route to the Doll Factory one day before practice (I'm a roller derby referee in my other-other life), I found this place.

It's not like it's hidden away; it is right off a main street in Silver Lake, just a street I never need to take anywhere. After maneuvering into the parking lot, which can be a hassle with traffic and one way streets, I found a great parking spot right behind the building. Not knowing which side the entrance was on, I took a chance and chose left. I chose poorly. I ended up having to walk around to the complete opposite of the building.

The decor inside was a wonderful wash of 70's kitsch with oranges and browns and other ugly design choices. It oddly reminded me of the house I grew up in.

What is with turquoise seat covers? I swear, 7 out of 10 of the places I go have these. Harry's Family Restaurant did, Dolly's in Spokane did, and now this place. Turquoise and orange and brown don't seem like they go together. Then again what do I know? #1DC Antoinette thinks my green sweater and milk chocolate colored slacks make me look like an Andes Mint, and I think my socks should match my shirt not my shoes.

The menu was hard to chose from, not because it all sounded so good but rather it all sounded so mediocre and even boring. Even Denny's or an IHOP can pull off a surprising menu item. Rootie Tootie Fresh and Fruity anyone? It sounds like something you should order regardless of taste.

The menu was also shockingly expensive and lacked any sort of combination to make a full meal without popping over to the double digits.

I ordered the pancakes. I was so unimpressed by them that I nearly forgot to take a picture until I was finished.

The coffee was especially weak. It tasted like coffee that had been made from the grounds that had been run through the machines twice already.

The only positive thing I can say is that they have a massive orange juicer at the front of the restaurant that looks wicked industrial.

They also offer a patio for outside dining. Cancer up, my smoking friends.

Sitting at the booth in front of mine were two cops. They were talking about getting drunk and riding their bikes home from parties. After all, they are smart enough to know not to drink and drive...bikes must be okay then.

Food: Meh. I just got the pancakes.
Service: She was good until it came time to get my check.
Price- 8-15
Pie: Yes

2300 Fletcher Drive
Los Angeles, CA
Their Website

UPDATE- 11/19/2010
I've been back to Astro a few times since this review and I have softened on the food a bit. It's okay, but still too pricey for what you get quantity and quality-wise.

I also have never been in there where there wasn't a table of cops also eating. I think I've seen more LAPD here than when I ate at the diner at the police academy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

On the Road: Olympia's Black Bear Diner.

Okay, I know I said I'd return to Los Angeles to do a quick review of another Dinerwood home base place, but I'm having some issues with pictures right now. Therefore, we shall continue on our Northwest adventure for a just a bit longer.

I went to college in Olympia, Washington. I lived there for four years and for several years afterward, I made nearly weekly return trips there to perform with my improv troupe.

The location that is now the Black Bear Diner used to be a Coco's. A Coco's I had never once visited. I don't think I had ever actually eaten at a Coco's until I went to Japan. Yes, Japan, but that's a story for another time....

If you've never been to a Black Bear Diner, you are really missing out. It's a chain of diners in the greater Northwest that is not run like a chain. The first one I ate at was, I believe, in Bend, Oregon. The menu stated that each Black Bear Diner prepares things a little differently so don't go expecting the same thing at another Black Bear somewhere else.

Black Bear Diners are going for a rustic atmosphere. In fact, if it weren't for the fact they call themselves a "Diner," I might dismiss it for just the surface elements. It's nice. It's cozy. It feels like know, if you lived in a restaurant.

Part of this homey-ness is that the menu is presented to you like a newspaper. The place mat gives you the history of the chain and its establishment in 1969.

On this day, I was treated to just how unchain-like a Black Bear Diner can be. The heater was broken in the restaurant and it was getting quite a bit chilly in there. I heard someone order a fresh squeezed orange juice and be informed that the juicer was broken and they only had regular juice. When it came my time to order, I was debating between the Beary Crunch French Toast or the Praline Pecan Sauce French Toast. I asked my waitress which one was better. She replied "We don't have any pecans so you have to get the crunchy." Yes, she said I "HAD" to. I wasn't going to argue. She clearly knew her stuff.

"What makes it crunchy?" Don't get ahead of yourself, Turbo. Let me first add that these are three slices of sourdough bread, battered and then rolled in crushed cornflakes. My god! This was delicious. It's probably one of my favorite things that I'd had on this entire trip.

Food: Great.

Price: 6-11

Service: Friendly.

Pie: Technically no, but look at all this cobbler!

PS- the menu does suffer from a little too much "bear" cuteness, like my Beary Crunchy French Toast or the Beary Nice to Meet You Eggs Benedict (okay I made that one up).

955 Black Lake Blvd SW

Olympia, WA 98502

(360) 352-1219

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

On the Road: Spokane's Diners Pt. 5- Hogan's. Nostalgia and broken glasses.

One of the first questions I asked when I found out we'd be going to my old neighborhood in Spokane was if Hogan's was still open. Hogan's was the closest thing to a Peach Pit or The Max my high school friends and I had. Well, that's not true; we hung out more at Senor Froggy's and Baskin Robbins, but that was because half of us worked at one of those places. Hogan's was special, though. It was our kitsch.

Various groupings of us would head there after school on Friday and get Green River sodas and an order of french fries with a side of hollandaise sauce. And without fail, every time we were there, we'd hear the shattering of a glass. Someone in the back had butter fingers. Jon said that even the last time he was there a few months prior, a glass had broken. Could the streak still be alive?

Bill, Jon and I went to the grand old spot in the South Hill Shopping Center, and for me the only things there that hadn't changed were Hogan's and 2nd Look Books, where Bill worked in high school. Everything had remodeled or moved out or closed down.

We sat down and I immediately asked our young, yet familiar looking* waitress if they still served Green River soda. She had no idea what I was talking about. I then spontaneously grew a three foot long beard that tapered off to a point at the end. One of the bus boys happened by at that moment and I asked him if he remembered Green River. He said that he did and that Hogan's had stopped serving it years ago. My beard then shrunk down to a tasteful Sam Elliot style mustache.

When our waitress came by again, I tried to sound as creepy as possible. "This is weird but you look really familiar. Did you have an older sister who went to Ferris [High School]?"
"Oh, what was her name?"
"Shelby blah blah."
Jon, Bill and I looked at each other. No bell's rung.
"Yeah. That's not familiar at all. Sorry for sounding creepy."
"Oh no problem!"

Jon ordered the biscuits and gravy. This kid must be going through his own B&G phase. The plate was smothered with greasy goodness.

I ordered the meat loaf sandwich because I was hankering for some brown gravy. The gravy was thick but edged on too salty, but the meat loaf was perfectly moist. I asked for french fries instead of mashed potatoes, as mashed potatoes are a side dish I'm never in the mood for.

Yes, the keen the observer will note, those are mashed potatoes on my plate and not french fries. When our waitress realized the mistake, she brought out a jumbo basket of fries. We also inquired if we could get Hollandaise sauce for our fries. It was missing from the menu, but the waitress had no problem bringing us out a little dish. You can tell from the picture that it wasn't of the highest quality, but it was still good enough to assuage our sense of nostalgia.

The real star of the meal was Bill's order of the "Big Bopper." It's a load of food. Three pieces of toast (Why three? Simple math. Three is better than two), hash browns (unfortunately not the Spokane-style I was hoping for), two eggs and some bacon. Toss a couple of pancakes on there and you get...well...a LOAD of food.

It was fun being in this old haunt again. Oddly, a lot of the places that held significance for me in Spokane aren't around anymore. The Denny's on Sprague is now some Mongolian Grill. The place where we had dinner before prom has burned down. It was good to see old Horace Hogan depicted on the interior wall, greeting me with a burger.

There was only one disappointment during this little trip down memory lane: Nobody dropped a glass.

Food: Good
Price: 6-9
Service: Friendly.
Pie: Yes.

2977 E 29TH Ave,
Spokane, WA 99223-4811
Tel: (509) 535-7567

This bring us to the end of the Spokane portion of the "On the Road" journey. I'm making a quick sojourn back to Los Angeles to review a place and then I'll continue with my Northwest reviews. Look for Wenatchee Washington's Prospector Pies soon.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

On the Road: Spokane's Diners pt. 3 and 4- Dolly's Cafe and the Milk Bottle

I literally have 10 places to write about for this On the Road series. Expect more succinct but hopefully still fun and informative reviews from here on out until I get back to reviewing the SOCAL area.

The same day that we hit Frank's Diner, Jon truly surprised me by taking me to a place I had never even seen before. A quaint neighborhood diner called Dolly's Cafe. You can't miss this little shack of griddled goodness, the building is bright pink. And really part of the what I found charming about this place was the "shacky"ness of it. It was an old building. So old it would always looks just a little dirty and rough no matter what.

Jon, Stephanie and I sat down and made friends with a sweet and chatty waitress. She brought us water in giant coca cola classes and then disappeared. We then and ordered from our laidback "heeeyyy, maaann" waiter. He looked at my ancient digital camera (vintage '98 my friends) and marveled at how cool it was. I think he thought it was cool in a "Wow, technology!" way and not a "Wow! That's like walking in with an 8-track player." way.

He was honest when I asked for a recommendation. He asked if I was in the mood for a breakfast or a burger. I told him "Whichever you think you guys do the best." He straight up said "Eggs Benedict" So that's what I got. And lo and behold I think I may have discovered that Spokane has their own style of hashbrowns. These potatoes were just like the ones I got at Frank's. The eggs benedict was also delicious. The eggs were poached well enough that they didn't gush yolk everywhere when cut into.

(edited for correction) Stephanie got the country-fried steak. I don't have a taste for the country-fried steak since it was first inflicted upon me in elementary school. That can be very hard for a child. Oddly enough though I don't eat tostadas because the ones I had in elementary school were soooo good the real thing is always a disappointment.

Jon had a simple grilled turkey melt. He enjoyed it. I tried some of the fries and found them perfectly decent diner fries. Not too greasy but nothing to rave about.

The coffee was also pretty durn good. Not strong but smooth.

Price: $6-$9
Food: Good.
Service: Very friendly and chatty.
[Honestly, I forgot to make note of if they served pie or not, so I called them this morning;
Guy at Dolly's: Uhhh... good morning.. Dah-ummm... Dolly's Cafe.
Me: Hey, this is kind of an odd question. Do you guys have pie?
Guy at Dolly's: Ummm What?
Me: Do you guys serve pie?
Guy at Dolly's: Pot?
Me: Pie.
Guy at Dolly's: Uhhhhhhh.......let me check to see what we have.
Me: .............
Guy At Dolly's: It looks like.... umm... Chocolate?
Me: Great. That's all I needed to know.]
Pie: "umm... Chocolate?"
1825 N Washington St,
Spokane, WA 99205-4758
I'd give the phone number but.... you don't want to do that.

Now jumping forward to my last day in Spokane, before Jon took me to the airport we stopped at a cozy little place fans of Johnny Depp and/or quirky romantic comedies should recognise.

As seen in the movie Benny and Joon

(That's me on the right.)

Although the Milk Bottle offers a full menu of burger diner favorites, Jon and I were only in the mood for one thing; milkshakes. I got the peanut butter he got something with chocolate. In this picture you can't really tell them apart. They were good though.

The milk bottle is a cute neighborhood place, as well as being an historical landmark. Done up in an maltshop style, including a working jukebox and stainless steel everywhere, it's one of those places that just makes you feel happy. I don't feel like it's the kind of place I could ever be a regular at even if I didn't live 960 miles away. It feels like a vacation place and not a place to hang my hat.

Price: 3-7
Food: n/a
Service: Fine.
Pie: Tons of desserts to chose from including pie. Get a milkshake though.

802 W Garland Ave
Spokane, WA 99205
(509) 325-1772

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

On the Road: Spokane's Diners Pt.1 and 2- Frank's Diner and Pioneer Pies

I lived in Spokane, Washington, for only 6 years. Those were middle school and high school years, though--years that really shape you as person. I graduated from Joel E. Ferris High School in 1997. I've been back periodically over the years, but this trip was for a thing that some people dread: The 10 Year Reunion.

But this this isn't a blog about that. This is not a blog about disappointment and failure. It's about those diners and greasy spoons we so love. During the Spokane leg of my vacation, I was able to hit three full-fledged diners as well as two other places worth mentioning. Without further ado...
Pt. 1 Frank's Diner

If you're from Spokane and you go out to breakfast at least once a month, you have intimate knowledge of Frank's Diner or its crosstown brother, Knights Diner. They were once both real, working railroad cars. This means they are often cramped and have limited seating. Unless you get real lucky, like Jon and I did on our trip there. You can expect a ten to fifteen minute wait, but it is always worth the wait. Unfortunately for Knights Diner, they are closed on Monday's and I didn't get to eat there on this trip; therefore, this is where it will exit the review.
Frank's Diner has been been voted the "Best Breakfast in Spokane" for ten years now. Spokane might have a lot of problems, but knowing where to get its first meal of the day is not one of them.

"Frank's serves 15,000 eggs and 2 1/2 tons of hash browns a meal at a time," boasts a sign in the interior. I know I lack elegance when I say, "That's a hell of a lot."

I ordered the coffee while Jon ordered the hot chocolate. I hate to say the coffee tasted a bit burnt and required actual sugar, not my beloved Splenda or the pink or blue stuff, to make it palatable enough for me to get through a cup. Jon's hot chocolate was something truly special to behold.

Jon said "the chocolate chips added to the bon vivantof the drink."
...Jon is not a writer. I'm barely one, but anyway...

I got into a habit on this trip of ordering things with a person's name in the them. Remember how every place with "Joe" in the name had a "Joe's Special?" Well, there sure are a lot of "Frank's _______" on this menu. So you know what I got? The "Joe's Special:" 3 eggs scrambled, spinach, ground beef with grated Parmesan cheese, served with hash browns and a bread. It sounded delicious with just a little bit of the unusual. I was pleasantly surprised at how well everything went together.

Jon, not being that big on breakfast breakfast, surprised me with a pretty hardcore meal of smothered hash browns and two crispy sausage links. Jon and I both agreed that the hash browns were fantastic. Very unique to me, they were slices of potato, almost like thin cut french fries. They were not greasy at all but definitely had that fried taste you hope for with a good plate of hash browns. Jon did think there was a bit too much gravy. You might want to order it-- not on the side really--just on half the plate and mix it all together yourself.

You can't beat a Frank's breakfast. If you are traveling through town it is a must for any diner lover. If you live in Spokane, eat there at least once or twice a month. Dinerwood commands it!
Food: Delicious
Service: Craig the counter guy was friendly and knowledgeable. Some of the waitresses can get a bit snippy because of the need for quick turnover.
Price: 6-10
Pie: No, pie. Only cobbler.

1516 W. 2nd Ave
Spokane, WA 99204
PART 2. Pioneer Pies
Pioneer Pies is still a mainstay in some parts of the country. Old timey, folksy decor and delicious pies made it a favorite for families and pie lovers everywhere. Or in my case, a mysterious wonderland: my family never went to Pioneer Pies for some reason. Sadly, the Pioneer Pies in Spokane shuttered it's pie-sills and the building became a casino, much like every closed down building around here nowadays. For Spokanites, the legend gets to live on as part of Conley's Place restaurant in the Spokane Valley. Conley's Place is an odd Irish-y restaurant with a lot of lattice work. I don't know what the connection between the two restaurants is but, Conley's Place serves Pioneer Pies' pies. It even has a Pioneer Pies sign on the building. And since the picture of the Conley's Place sign turned out even worse than this, all you get is the Pioneer Pies part of the sign.

Jon, his girlfriend Stephanie, my friend Bill's wife Lynn (Bill will be appearing later in the blog)and I, all went out for dinner. Well, originally it was to go roller skating, but SOMEBODY isn't so good at listening to phone recordings and got the hours of operation of the roller rink wrong. I won't review the food at Conley's because it's not a diner or a greasy spoon. I will however review the delicious piece of pie I had.
Meet the Almond Joy. With Halloween all up on it I have had the pleasure of rediscovering the...dare I say it? The JOY of the Almond Joy candy bar. This pie strives to recreate that candy combo in pie form. Here's the slice; bottom layer of chocolate cream, then a thin layer of slice almonds, then a layer of coconut cream, another layer of almonds, then whipped cream with a few chocolate chips on top. Now, it didn't taste just like he candy bar, which I didn't really expect it to, but it invoked the essence. The tasty, tasty essence.

Food: Tasty
Service: The restaurant was closing early because we were the only diners, but they didn't rush us or even mention it until we were out the door.
Price: Pie 3-4
Pie:...well, yeah.
12618 E Sprague Ave
Spokane, WA
Tel: (509) 924-5411