Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Harbor House Cafe - A tale of two visits.

Finally, Dinerwood has come back to Long Beach. I just don't make it down there often enough. For months my friends Tony and Victoria had been singing the praises of the Harbor House Cafe. Life finally worked out and one night and I made a special trip down just for it.

Harbor House is covered in movie posters and movie memorabilia. Being this far from Hollywood, this design theme seems out of place and unnecessary. There's no residual shine from the glamour of "Hollywood" all the way down in the LBC. I would have, however, accepted a nautical theme since it does overlook the ocean.

The main building is a little place that more closely resembles a bar than a diner. At some point in the building's lifetime, an enclosed patio was built to expand the dining area. We were led through the patio and back to an area that looked more like the entrance. It had dark wood with real tables and chairs, unlike the patio that housed plastic lawn furniture. For some reason we were placed right next to the only other people in the area. I estimated that this couple was only on their second date or perhaps they were just coworkers testing the waters. Their conversation was awkward but earnest, and we got to hear all of it.

It wasn't all that interesting.

The Harbor House menu didn't seem deep at the time, but when I think back on it, it really covered a solid range. Breakfasts, burgers, sandwiches, Mexican and oddly, Chinese are all given their own section with several items listed under each of them. I definitely felt like a late night breakfast so that's where I focused my attention.

I am always iffy on omelets. I've had a lot of bad ones in my life. So I surprised myself with how quickly I honed in on the Hawaiian Omelet with pineapple and ham. It sounded like such a risk; would it be worth it? I was also given the option of subbing in biscuits and gravy in place of my toast choice for a nominal fee. I decided to go for it. Let's hear it for diner dinner risks!

While we waited for our food, we tried to figure out what this item in the picture above was. The wall was covered in them. I had vague childhood memories of being given these to play with as a child while in bars in Montana. Yes, childhood memories in bars. It's not odd, trust me. My parents aren't bad people, we're just from Montana.

The awkward girl in the awkward couple on the awkward date was telling an anecdote about being ripped off by a male friend for a large sum of money, while the awkward boy sat and nodded. A large family in both number and stature then joined our small seating section, leaving the patio still mostly empty. I do not understand the seating thought process here at Harbor House.

After trying to arrange themselves around one of the small round tables, they crowded too close to the couple and broke any air of passion that had been fostered. The awkward couple left awkwardly. I never found out if she got her money back from her friend.

When our food came, it looked delicious right from the start. If Charlie had been with us, he'd have had captured that. As is, the food just looks okay in these pictures.

The omelet was quite possibly the best omelet I have had in a very long time. (The best omelet ever was a smoked salmon omelet in a Sheraton hotel restaurant in Ellensburg, Washington). The eggs were wonderfully layered, almost like tamago, but without the sliminess. The mix of sweet from the pineapple and the salty of the cheese and ham worked amazingly well. Unfortunately the "hobo potatoes" as they call them failed to impress me as much. The unique addition of mushrooms to the mix of tomato, onions and peppers didn't add anything for me as the tomatoes were too overpowering.

I really enjoyed the biscuits and gravy. The biscuits were a bit dry, but the gravy was so good it made up for that default. That plate of biscuits and gravy was only an additional 65 cents.

Victoria got the cheese and potato soup. It was soup. Mmmm, soup.

Tony ordered the hot crab sandwich with onion rings. As good as my omelet was, Tony won this food battle. The sandwich was amazing. Real, high quality crab and not even the questionable placement of avocado on the sandwich could take away from it. The onion rings reminded me of more monstrous versions of the onion rings you can get at A&W fast food restaurants. The breading wasn't oily; it was nice and crusty.

Victoria faked us out with her paltry soup order. She ended her meal by ordering a scoop of ice cream. I failed to capture the scale of this "scoop" in the picture. It was a bear-paw sized scoop of ice cream in an otter sized world.

Our bill came out to only a hair over $32.

Harbor House had lived up to what Tony and Victoria had built it up to be. It was good food at a good price. I liked it so much that a few weeks later, when my parents were visiting and we happened to be in the area, #1DC Antoinette and I took them there. Could it stand up in the harsh light of day?

Sadly, it did not.

I went with the pecan pancakes, thinking that the genius of the Hawaiian omelet would transfer across the breakfast section. I was wrong. The pecan pancakes were regular spongy restaurant pancakes with bits of pecans poured over them. Meh. Even IHOP would do something like have a special syrup or even blend pecans into the batter. This was sorely disappointing. My side of bacon was adequate.

I didn't even bother to take pictures of what my dad got, since it was basically what I got minus the $2.00 of pecan bits.

My mom got the crab sandwich, and luckily that was as good as it was on the previous visit.

#1DC Antoinette ordered the cheesesteak sandwich. It was more like a hot roast beef sandwich with slices of meat, and not that great. The fries were mushy and gross.

I really oversold this place to my family. This wasn't quite as bad as when I chose "4 Rooms" as our Christmas Day movie (note: I do not get to pick Christmas Day movies anymore), but it was supremely disappointing. What I can conclude from my two visits is that Harbor House is a mixed bag. (2nd) Best omelet of my life one visit, disappointing pancakes the next.

And... it turns out, it's not even in Long Beach!

Harbor House Cafe
16341 Pacific Coast Hwy
Sunset Beach, CA 90742
(562) 592-5404

Food: Mixed but mostly good.
Service: Friendly.
Price: $8-$12
Pie: Case of homemade pie.

It does have this outside the front door, so that's pretty cool.


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Paul said...

Those are pulltabs! A staple of small town Midwestern bars everywhere.

Mike Tanner said...

Hi Vincent! Thanks for spamming my blog!

Anonymous said...

Have a DYNAMITE day my friend!

Anonymous said...

I googled the Harbor House menu and found your blog. Good blog post but you should give HHC another shot. I love the place, my Mom and I have breakfast there every other week or so. I remember going there when I was a kid with my cousins -- good memories. I believe they have three locations.