Monday, December 20, 2010

Stray Cat Cafe--No Rush



I'm going to complain about the newly opened Stray Cat Cafe. It will not be the usual track of complaining that comes about by LA bloggers over it. There's a whole controversy involving the wine bar The Must and Weenez (the hot dog joint that used to reside in this space) and shady business dealings. I'm going to complain because my lunch here cost me over $50. Let me tell the story.

I met my friend Marsha for lunch during the week. It is always kind of a hassle to go out for lunch, but it really does perk you up when you get to hang with friends in the middle of a workday. The worst is when you are on a tight schedule and you end having to wait for your friend to arrive. I parked just across the street of Stray Cat, in front of Bolt Barbers and walked in to find Marsha already waiting for me. I was the one holding up the show.

Stray Cat has only been open for a short while, but certainly long enough to not look like it is either still under construction or already going through a remodel. About half of the restaurant looks unfinished. Adorning the finished walls are oodles of cat art.



We looked over the menu and lamented that we had missed breakfast service; almost immediately our waitress came by and let us know that they were still serving breakfast. That was welcome news. We both eyed the Lemon-Scented Cottage Cheese Pancakes. I ended up deciding to go off my normal ordering routine and went with Marie's Frittata.



Our waitress took our orders and disappeared down that dark hallway.

She'd return from time to time, refill our drinks, bring other people's food. Marsha and I just chatted. Eventually, I started to get a little antsy. This was taking a very long time.



Marsha's Lemon-Scented Cottage Cheese Pancakes arrived. They were very good. They didn't even need any syrup. You could really taste how the addition of the cottage cheese had positively affected the batter. I've gotten cottage cheese pancakes before and they were plain and too tart compared to these.

But then we waited some more. In the meantime, Marsha decided she did need some protein and ordered a side of bacon.




After a bit more waiting, my fritatta came out. I didn't know it came with a toasted hoagie roll. I had asked for an English muffin for my choice of toast. The waitress assured me that the muffin was on its way, too. The frittata was also good. I love the Parmesan and egg combination.

At this point, I decided that I should go check the parking meter. I knew we had to be close to an hour by now.



As I was getting up, the bacon arrived. I paused to try some. It was good.

I went outside and sure enough: parking ticket. $50.00.

I went back inside to find my English muffin had finally arrived. My camera was already packed, so forgive the lack of the picture. You know what one looks like, come on.

Stray Cat Cafe's food was good and reasonably priced. They clearly have some issues with food prep. It took over a half an hour to get two relatively simple breakfasts. The fact that the food came out so staggered means their kitchen may be understaffed and/or in a far off location? I recommend holding off on your visit until the construction is complete and they don't have to disappear down dark hallways to get your food.

Food: Good.
Price: $6-$10
Service: Okay.
Pie: No, but a lot of cakes on the menu.

Stray Cat Cafe
500 S. Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 891-1144

Added:
They do change the art on the walls and as some of you might know when I'm not stuffng myself with breakfast foods, I am a roller derby referee. I was very pleased to see this new piece of art up on the wall.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blue Star--Downtown LA - Closed



Blue Star is located in a sketchy-ass industrial zone just south of downtown Los Angeles. On this particular day getting from my work to the restaurant--which should have just been a straight shot down Alameda and then left on 15th--took forever due to the insane number of 18- wheelers and scrap metal pick-ups seemingly patrolling the streets.

I knew they closed at 3pm and I arrived at 2:45. After going through the harrowing ordeal of traffic, construction detours and double parked semis, when I saw the "CLOSED" sign in the window, I was livid.

"I'm going in!" I said to myself...out loud. That's how mad I was--I was talking to myself. Have I mentioned how much I hate traffic and driving in general?

I looked at the hours posted next to the door--yep, 3pm. It was not yet 3pm, what was up with the giant closed sign in the window? Did they even know what I went through to get here? I pulled open the door and was ready to tear it up. The two women at the table near the door looked up at me, like they knew I was about to unleash hell. Then a dude told me to sit anywhere I wanted. My ire now taken away, I quietly skulked to a table. At least they were willing to honor the posted hours.



Blue Star has been around for a few years now, but it seems like a design concept never coalesced. It's sparsely decorated; in fact, I think the only thing hanging on the walls that isn't a neon sign or a flatscreen tv, are some hubcaps. It's like a decorator said, "Hey these will look cool here" and called it a day.

They also serve beer and wine, which I found very strange for a place that closes at 3pm. What's the point--unless they are going for a hardcore mid-day drinker base?

I ordered a coffee, which was disgusting and tepid. They were closing and had clearly given up on this product sometime ago. I would have said something, but both employees disappeared into the back and by the time they returned, I was over it.

The menu was sort of torture for me. Some of the breakfasts sounded delicious, but they stop serving them at 11am. The lunch and dinner menu (again, they close at 3pm. "Dinner?") is pretty uninspiring. I asked my waitress which sandwich she recommended between the BBQ Chicken and the Chicken Pesto. She said the BBQ, so I went with that.



I was not expecting much. The coffee had set such an awful precedent that if they had brought me a chicken neck drenched in Heinz 57 on two slices of store-brand bread, I would have not been surprised. Ultimately, this sandwich was really, really good. The BBQ sauce was a good mix of tangy and sweet and the fried onions were a nice touch. My only critique would be that the chicken was a little thin. The french fries were like the best non-greasy fast-food style fries I've had in awhile. Worth $10.50? No.

I finished my meal and left. I was the last person inside who didn't work there. After I walked out, the waiter flipped the sign in the window over to "Open." He just hadn't paid attention to which way the sign was facing.

It all seemed very lackluster and I can see no reason to go back to Blue Star. There was no experience to be had and the price and the hours would definitely keep me away.

Food: Good.
Price: $9-$16.
Service: Okay.
Pie: None.

Blue Star Diner
2200 E 15th St
Los Angeles
213-627-2022
www.bluestarrocks.com

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Byways Cafe--Portland OR.


Located just up the street from the world-famous Powell's Books in Portland is Byways Cafe. The chef/owner of Blueplate recommended it for breakfast.

We actually didn't roll up until way into lunchtime. Luckily we got there about a half an hour before they closed. Byways is only open until 3pm most days and 2pm on Sundays.

We could tell it was pretty packed inside as we drove by looking for parking. Once we did park, we raced a group of nerdy teenagers to the door. Their youth and acne beat us to the last open booth, but they raced for nothing! A table opened up immediately.


Byways celebrates the classic American road trip and the "home-style cooking" you'd encounter along the way. The interior is decorated with vintage travel souvenirs: plates, mugs, maps, teaspoons--don't quote me on the teaspoons, though. I'm assuming. I know my mom collected souvenir teaspoons from locations we visited on family road trips.

Above the booths are display cases overflowing with souvenirs and knick-knacks--neat little pieces of Americana, placemats featuring cartoon cowboys riding jackalopes and offensive portrayals of Native Americans on just about everything else. I wish I had gotten a picture of some of these items...stupid teenagers.

The menu hits the high points of road food and diner breakfasts and since this is Portland, there had to be some homemade granola. Maybe we had been in Portland too long, because that granola sounded really good. We knew they were closing soon so we rushed through ordering. Looking at their menu online, there's a lot of stuff that just sounds amazing.


I ordered the blue corn pancakes, which were served with honey pecan butter. I've been craving good corn pancakes for a long while and I have been disappointed so often. This dish did not disappoint. The addition of the honey pecan butter really made these special.

I ordered only the pancakes so I would be sure to have plenty of room for the pie. As we took our seats, I spied a pie plate on the counter with only two slices left. Next to it a little sign said "Tart Pear Pie" (or was is Pear Tart Pie?). I told our waitress to set a piece aside for me.


Antoinette did go full-tilt Portland and ordered the granola. It was a freshly made batch and was quite good. It's hard for granola to really be awe-inspiring or to knock your socks off. This granola had a lot of nuts, which was nice. The biscuit was delicious. It completely blew away the biscuits we later had at Pine State Biscuits.


When we were done eating our breakfasts-for-lunch, I asked our waitress to bring me my slice of pie. "Oh, right. I hope we have some left." I almost FREAKED. OUT. I told you woman!
I didn't eat a lot of pie on Dinerwood Honeymoon because my belly was full of other sweets a lot of the time (taffy and salt licorice). I wanted my pie! My tart pear pie!

Lucky for me and our waitress there was a slice left. It was a good pie. It delivered what it promised--a tart pie made out of pears. Or a pie-sized pear tart. Either way, it was good.

Even though the food was good, it didn't overly impress us (save for the biscuit), but the feeling of the place really made it a highlight. We were on a road trip of sorts and were at a place celebrating the road trip, so maybe we were biased. We'll end up in Portland again someday and we'll definitely end up back at Byways.

Food: Good.
Service: Good, but forgetful.
Price: $8-$10.
Pie: Yes.

Byways Cafe
1212 N. Glisan St.
Portland OR 97209


Interesting aside: After we returned from the honeymoon, a coworker asked where we went. When I told her about Portland she said "Oh, there's this cute little place my husband and I used to go every time we were in town. The food is so good. It's called Byways Cafe."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pig'N Pancake, Seaside OR--The Taste of Nostalgia

Pig'N Pancake is a chain of family restaurants in Oregon. In fact, on Diner-Honeymoon, #1DW Antoinette and I saw four out of the six locations. Each one is a little different and is really catered to fit into the town where it resides. For example, the one in Astoria, which is more of an industrial port-city, looks more rustic with a log cabin look, while the one in Cannon Beach, a more affluent beach town, looks much fancier with vaulted ceilings and large glass windows. The people in Astoria called the people in Cannon Beach yuppies. The people in Cannon Beach wouldn't talk to us so we have no idea what they call people in Astoria.



The Pig'n Pancake in Seaside, Oregon is a very special place for me. I can't remember the first time my family ate here, but chances are, I hadn't even started elementary school yet. There's pictures of us in Seaside where I still have blonde hair. Antoinette doesn't believe that that's me. She believes that I was switched in at some point with the skinny blonde kid that is in those Tanner family pictures.

Seaside is a classic tourist trap beach town. The main drag in town is just a stretch of salt-water taffy shops and gift stores that sell seashells and sweatshirts. The Pig'N Pancake always fit perfectly into the beach town atmosphere.



I hadn't been back to Seaside in over ten years, and I was afraid that the town itself might have changed and Pig'N Pancake might have changed with it. Luckily, neither had changed a bit. Well, the elephant ears places now sells gourmet cupcakes, but other than thatn nothing changed!

Now, although I have fond memories of Pig'N Pancake, I have no recollection of the food quality. Not to get too granola Oregon on you guys, but Pig'N Pancake is a feeling, man. I just hoped that the feeling was "tasty."



We started with some coffee and we were both impressed. This coffee was nearly as good as House of Pies coffee, which is our benchmark for good coffee.



I had to cover both pigs and pancakes with my breakfast. Anything less would have seemed wrong.

I ordered the Banana Pancakes. Mostly because I was intrigued by the pineapple orange sauce. Note--not a syrup, but a sauce. The pancakes on their own were very good and the sauce was excellent. It was a sweet sauce but not too sweet. I tried the huckleberry syrup (it's an Oregon thing) and the regular syrup and both were delicious. The ham steak I ordered as a side was decent, if not a little fatty.


Antoinette ordered the pecan waffle with bacon. We've been burned before so we asked if the pecans were just a topping or actually cooked into the waffle. We were assured that they were in the batter as well as on top. Antoinette was also asked how she wanted her bacon cooked. I can count on one hand the number of times I've been asked that. It seems like it should be asked more even if there are really only two ways to cook it--crispy or not crispy.


The waffle was good, and although there were pecans cooked into the waffle, it just didn't have a strong pecan flavor to it. It was a decent waffle, but nothing to really make you sit up and take notice. The bacon was very good.



After our meal, we headed into the adjacent gift shop. There they sell the expected seashells and sweatshirts and the standard gift store junk--personalized license plates for kids, but never one that says "Antoinette." I'll be husband of the year if I ever find one for her.

They also sell stuffed pigs carrying plates of pancakes. I had to get one to take home with me. I also bought a Pig'N Pancake t-shirt. This is like my Disneyworld!

Up at the counter, I paid with my debit card and signed the receipt with a pink-capped Pig'N Pancake pen. Antoinette asked if we could buy a pen and the waitress just told us to keep it.

Pig'N Pancake was a pretty big dose of nostalgia for me. I loved the whole experience but it didn't blind me to the quality of the food. It was perfectly good, but nothing special. I wouldn't make a trip to Seaside (or Astoria or Cannon Beach, etc) just for it, but if you are there, Pig'N Pancake helps complete your experience.

Food: Good.
Service: Good.
Price: $7-$10
Pie: They make their own!



It's like a stained-glass window at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Porcine Flapjack.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Blueplate, Portland OR.



One of the places I desperately wanted to go while we were in Portland was Blueplate in downtown. The problem was that its normal hours weren't going to coincide with when were available to go eat. The Diner Gods smiled on us and made the weekend we were there the first weekend Blueplate was open for dinner service.



I knew it was a small place and I actually thought we might need reservations. It was only the second night of dinner service--I thought that was a big deal--but when we walked in things were very low-key. Then I remembered that this is Portland and Portland is a laid-back town. It was silly to think we would need reservations.

There were a few tables occupied and the counter was completely open. Antoinette and I took seats at the counter. Antoinette appreciated that each had its own step-stool to get up onto the seats. My wife is short.




It's almost a gimmick the way things are cooked at Blueplate. It's a tiny place without an actual kitchen. It's all done on this tiny cook top (supplemented by electric griddles during peak times). Out of necessity, the menu is about as small as the restaurant. It's all modern gourmet takes on classic comfort food: things like shepherds pie, sliders and meatloaf.

The special that night was a chicken and waffle sandwich.

Okay, this is going to sound just a little snobby but--I'm from LA, trick! Chicken and waffles is kind of played out, but I wanted to give it a shot.




Okay, this sandwich was bomb. Yep, I called it BOMB! It actually worked as a sandwich. I assumed it was going to be like a pancake sandwich which is never actually a sandwich. This had two savory waffles holding a delicious piece of chicken breast, lightly battered and fried--it could not have worked if it had been the least bit greasy--with shredded apple and a honey mustard sauce. Bomb, right?
The sandwich and the candied carrot side were phenomenal tasting.




Blueplate is known for its meatloaf so Antoinette had to order that. If she hadn't, I would have had to order that to take back to the hotel for later. Now, for the dinner that night, they were only serving the meatloaf sandwich as they didn't have any gravy. Antoinette didn't mind, she just wanted mashed potatoes and meatloaf. The meatloaf was very moist and delicious, and the potatoes were creamy and perfectly seasoned.



Along with the delicious food, Blueplate serves up homemade sodas and milkshakes. I ordered the R.P. McMurphy, named for Jack Nicholson's character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.




I have a deep love for butterscotch and when you add to that some honey roasted peanuts and toffee covered cashews, it becomes heavenly.


We talked with the owner--who was also our cook--after we finished eating. We asked him to recommend some other places to eat in town. He said where he goes for breakfast was a little place called Byways Cafe. A review of this place is coming soon.


Blueplate completely lived up to my expectations. I do wish we had been able to make it there during the day, I would have loved to see it at the height of business at lunch. A full counter and tables I think would have made the atmosphere really pop. The next time we are in Portland, we'll make that happen.

Food: Great.
Price: $10-ish.
Service: Great.
Pie: Sadly, no.

Blueplate
308 SW Washington St
Portland, OR 97204
(503) 295-2583

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Peggy Sue's and the Diner-saur Park



On my first trip to Vegas three years ago, I saw the signs for Peggy Sue's along the way. I wanted to stop, but when we drove by the giant dinosaur statues outside, I HAD to stop; however, the driver of the passenger van would have none of it. The next summer, former Dinerwood photog Charlie Chu and I had gorged on dim sum on our way out of town and were still bursting when we reached the exit. We declined to stop.

This year, I was going by hook or by crook. Fortunately, I did not need to use either of those tools as Burns was down for it. He's a good guy, I didn't want to hook him or crook him.




Peggy Sue's is definitely something you don't see a lot of in this day and age. It's as much a roadside attraction as it is a diner. It's an oasis for the weary traveler to have a respite, stretch his legs, munch a burger (or get some pizza at the adjacent pizza parlor), buy some junk in the gift store, and stand in the shade of a giant metal Brachiosaurus.




This phrase "eat to the beat" strikes me as really subversively dirty. On the surface it just means eat while listening to music, right? Hell, Disney even has a whole concert series at Epcot built around it. It's just too suggestive for me not to chuckle at it. Apparently, I am not alone in my way of thinking.



They have a handy history write-up of the diner. If you squint, you'll be able read it or you can go to the website. Spoiler alert: it's a love story.


The original diner portion of the restaurant is actually quite small. There is a row of booths on one side and the counter on the other. Our waitress led us through that crowded area and into the more expansive dining room...





...which unfortunately looks more like bar.





The menu isn't expansive--it's just that one sheet--but they put some effort into making it cute. It also looks like they printed it at a Kinkos in 1996.




I love Huell Howser. He has certainly been a huge influence on me and my blogging. That sentence I just typed kind of disturbed me. If you don't know Huell, let me educate you...nah, I'll just post a video.


video







Burns got the King Kong Monster Burger, which is just the Buddy Holly Bacon Cheeseburger with an extra patty and extra cheese. I feel like Buddy Holly would be offended by this were he alive.




I didn't really pay attention to the ingredients of the Mickey Mouse Club Sandwich. I just thought they had put a 50s name on the traditional club sandwich. Nay-nay! It arrived looking amazingly delicious just for the portions of bacon, ham and turkey. Then I saw it- cheddar cheese! "Ohhhh, now I get it." A little slow on the uptake sometimes' I'm not ashamed to admit it.


The addition of cheese and the thickness of the meats made this the best club sandwich ever. The curly fries were good, but the tiny side of coleslaw did taste like old cabbage and was kind of gross.



Peggy Sue's does have pie, but after both of our tremendous lunches, we couldn't even fathom trying to make that work.



In fact we wanted to walk off some of our meal, in the lovely dinosaur- er I mean DINER-SAUR park.




The Diner-Saur park is pretty fascinating. This handy sign helps you identify the different dinosaurs located around the park. It's also very educational. I had no idea that King Kong was a dinosaur.




Here's the majestic Brachiosaurus.



The mighty King Kong and the villainous Spinosaurus.



And finally, the playful Stegosaurus. Oh, there's also a pirate in that tree.


Peggy Sue's would be great just for the Diner-saur park alone, but you can see that from the highway. Now, when you add good food to equation, you gotta make a stop.

Food: Good.
Price: $7-$10
Service: Friendly.
Pie: Yes.




Peggy Sue's 50's Diner


35654 Yermo Road


Yermo, CA 92398




The park also has ducks. Ducks are not dinosaurs....well they were, but are not now.



Monday, November 1, 2010

NOVEMBER IS DINERWOOD ON THE ROAD MONTH!

Okay, okay, the Summer is almost always heavy with "On The Road" posts but I've been traveling quite a bit. November will be finishing up some of the summer adventures and detailing some of the stops on Dinerwood Honeymoon.

Here's a preview!