Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lancers--Where the "Greatest Generation" Eats.

I went to Lancers a couple of times, many years ago--before I had even started Dinerwood. I had forgotten about it until just recently, and at that time it became an, "Oh yeah, I should go there again" place. It was pretty low on my priority list but then I found myself in Burbank a couple of times and in a position to grab a quick dinner, so this review covers two trips.

Lancers is a traditional family restaurant/coffee shop. Pastel colors cover the plush booths and the walls are adorned with awful motel room art. The restaurant is very large with a long counter and two full size dining rooms, not to mention the cocktail lounge (accessible through it's own entrance or through a door from the dining room).

On both visits, I was surprised at how packed it was. I was there at 6pm on weekdays and if I hadn't just been by myself, I would have had to wait a few minutes to be seated.

I noticed two distinct kinds of people at Lancers: old people and the not-quite-as-old people dining with the young people. There were quite a few families enjoying together time. There were greasy teenagers having awkward, stilted conversations with their parents over pancakes and patty melts seated right next to blue haired biddies talking about artificial hips and what a looker Roosevelt was...TEDDY Roosevelt. Heyoohhh!

One gray panther regular looked a little peeved when he saw me seated in the tiny booth. The waitress buzzed by him and said "We didn't think you were coming tonight." I guess I took his spot, so he sat down at the booth next to me. I'd like to say he glared at me or mumbled threats, but he didn't. He just hassled the waitress about tea and what soups they had.

Speaking of soups, I was able to look into the kitchen from my seat and I saw that they microwave their soups. I found this really odd. Most places have their soups in big heated pots or tubs or I'm not sure what they are called. I watched several times as a waiter would appear with a bowl of soup and pop it in the microwave for a minute or two and then take it to a table.

On both visits, the wait staff was just amazing. They were always there with a refill and a friendly smile. I think I was asked three times by three different waiters in the span of a minute if I needed anything to drink.

As the cover (seen above) demonstrates, Lancers has a traditional menu that covers everything anyone would have wanted to order in 1985.

Although I didn't think of this at the time, I guess I am commemorating the 3 year anniversary of Dinerwood in this review as well. I ordered a fried egg sandwich, something I hadn't ordered since the 101 Coffeeshop review three years ago. I was very surprised because this was literally just a fried egg on toast. No mayonnaise, no tomato, no cheese, no nothing. It was good, but obviously really dry. The coleslaw I got with it was very good, not too sweet and not at all soggy.

The next week I tried to be a little more adventurous. I tried the Liver and Onions dinner. I figured this was an old person kind of restaurant, I'd order an old person's of dinner.

My salad was good.

What? It's a salad. I'm not going to wax poetic about it.

The liver and onions came with a choice of sides. I went with rice and steamed vegetables. The veggies were very good: large chunk of carrot, large chunk of zucchini, large chunk of cauliflower, little bite of broccoli. The rice was tasty as it was obviously cooked in butter and chicken broth. The onions were good and caramelized. The liver...well, the liver was weird. It had the taste and texture of venison. I can take or leave venison. I've had good and I've had overly gamey. I ended up only eating about half of it. This experiment did not pay off.

I will note, that while I was leaving, I saw that, at two separate tables, people had also ordered the liver and onions. They seemed fine with it.

Now, I didn't get pie on either trip, but I have had their pie before and it was good. I remember really liking their chocolate cream pie. They also have a decent variety of cakes and muffins.

Lancers isn't exciting. In fact, it's the opposite. It's very safe and comfortable, which makes sense since after all, this is what we call "comfort food."

Food: Decent
Service: Excellent
Price: $5-$16
Pie: Yes

Lancers Family Restaurant
697 North Victory Boulevard
Burbank, CA 91502-1628
(818) 843-3433

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nat's Early Bite --For You, Not Me.

If you remember, Nat's Early Bite was one of the choices in the poll for where to go to celebrate the 3rd Anniversary of Dinerwood (Leroy's won). #1DC Antoinette and I happened to be in the Valley on Saturday and decided to go.

After finding street parking (the lot is very small), we went inside and put my name down on the list. It was crowded, as could be expected for a Saturday morning. From what I've found looking online and talking to people, Nat's Early Bite is pretty popular with the Valley crowd. It has been around for 30 years and now has two other locations.

They had a really nice looking pastry case near the front of the restaurant but it was always so crowded around there that I wasn't able to get a picture of it. They had a dry-erase board hung above it listing the different pies and cakes available.

Nat's is pretty cute inside. It's a a strip mall diner similar Corky's in Rancho Cucamonga. It has a nice homey decor. People are pretty densely packed in the main dining area and luckily we were seated near the back of the room. Some people don't like to be seated by the restroom or by the kitchen, but I actually prefer it because it usually means a waitress or busboy is going to have pass by your table sooner or later.

Our waitress checked in with us fairly early after we sat down. We weren't sure what we wanted yet so we asked for more time. Lesson learned; it was a good five minutes before she made it back to us. She was running ragged so I don't blame her. I think she got to us at her earliest opportunity.

I ordered the Salami and Eggs with a side of grits. The grits were watery, which I should have expected. I usually ask at a restaurant if they make their grits this way, but I just forgot this time. The salami wasn't that good; it tasted more like salty bologna. It reminded me of when I was living on my own and I would buy meat from the Everything 99 cents Store. That meat always tastes a little off. Halfway through I noticed that the bowl my grits were in had dried avocado along the side. It was not washed adequately.

Antoinette ordered the Apple Maple Turkey Sausage breakfast. The potatoes were quite good, they had a little bit of crust on them and a good flavor. She ordered her eggs "scrambled well," and they delivered. The sausage though was where her breakfast fell short. I could taste apple and I could taste maple but overall the sausage tasted cheap, like my salami, and it had the consistency of a dense hot dog.

This disappointment was particularly odd because they have a whole page of the menu devoted to their sausages, implying that they are kind of a specialty.

They do have a pretty good apricot-pineapple jam available (you can take home a jar for just $3.95).

I didn't even bother finding out what kind of pies they had--we were both ready to go once we finished our meals. We left Nat's very, very confused. It has such a good reputation and is clearly very popular, so why was our experience so lackluster? Maybe we just didn't order the right things to really see the best that Nat's has to offer?

If a place puts an emphasis on their baked goods, we should have at least tried a muffin or ordered pancakes (pancakes aren't baked, but you know what I mean). I won't go out of my way to try Nat's Early Bite again, but clearly they are doing something right for a lot of people.

Food: Okay
Service: Busy
Price: $6-$10
Pie: Yes.

14115 Burbank Blvd
Van Nuys, CA 91497

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New York landmark diner set to close on May 15th

"The Empire Diner was closed and nearly abandoned in 1976 when three young New Yorkers-Jack Doenias, Carl Laanes, and Richard Ruskay, renovated the former greasy spoon on then-grungy 10th Ave. and turned it into the landmark restaurant it has become. With its Chrome and Black interior, traveling marquee lights, outdoor cafĂ©, flashing “EAT” sign, and stainless steel Empire State building silhouette, the Empire Diner became a major force in the Chelsea Renaissance that allowed art galleries, hotels, and other restaurants to replace the machine shops, gas stations and auto parts stores that then dominated the landscape."

"After more than thirty years of serving Chelsea residents, actors, police commissioners, athletes, gangsters, such luminaries as Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, and anyone carrying a New York City Guide Book, the Empire Diner has lost its lease and is closing its doors May 15th, 2010."

"The search is on for appropriate real estate in and around New York City, as well as abroad, on which to develop both new Empire Diners and Burger Rebels eateries."

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Le Roy's, The Original--3 Year Anniversary poll winner!

Last month, in preparation for the third anniversary of Dinerwood, I put up a poll asking where I should go. Le Roy's The Original in Monrovia won (runner-up Pacific Diner will get done next month).

I am not often in Monrovia, but every time I am, I end up on Huntington Drive driving past Le Roy's Original. I had never seen it open and assumed it was closed down. I also assumed it was called King Le Roy's for no better reason than it has a lion wearing a crown on the sign.

I was overjoyed when I found out that it wasn't that they were closed down, it's just that they close at 3pm everyday. Apparently I am only ever in Monrovia in late afternoon or evening. Monrovia has an exciting nightlife, if you didn't know.

This morning, bright and early at 7:30 am, I met my friend, legitimate journalist David Allen. In complete contrast with the very first review three years ago, where I walked into Millie's also at 7:30 am and there was no one else there, Le Roy's was hopping.

Le Roy's is by no means tiny, but it doesn't have an abundance of tables. They require that everyone in your party be present before seating you. David was a few minutes late so I got to soak in some of the atmosphere. There's a short counter with about a dozen seats. Each was occupied by a man no younger than 60. More often than not, they were referred to by first name and/or didn't need to look at a menu before ordering.

The waitresses were the kind of waitresses you always want to have; I was called "sweetie" and "hon'" at least twice. They were attentive and friendly, and they were also relatively "with-it." One waitress told her elderly patron that he should go to Youtube and watch the video of the cat flushing the toilet. "It's the funniest thing," she insisted.

So two failures in the realm of photography that occurred during this visit were that I didn't get a good shot of the butterflies that adorn the ceiling and no picture of the etched lions on the glass in the background. The butterflies area bit of head-scratcher unless this is their "spring time" decoration. The lions (same mascot as on the sign) are pretty amazingly detailed in the glass.

Once David and I were seated, we looked over the menu. Even though Le Roy's is only doing breakfast and lunch, the menu was very concise. For breakfast, you basically had a few omelets, the pancake-french toast- waffle triumvirate, and eggs with a pig part. For lunch you had some basic sandwiches.

I asked our waitress what she recommended. She specifically said "Well, these are popular" (which is not exactly what I asked, but all right.) and then proceeded to point out the ham and eggs, the corned beef hash and eggs, and the pancakes.

After some negotiation between us, David ordered the corned beef hash and I ordered the pancake breakfast special. This way we got to sample a a wider variety of what Le Roy's had to offer, at least from the breakfast menu. I also ordered a side of the cottage fries and David ordered the tater-tots.

I get why people are REALLY excited for tater-tots. There are not a lot of restaurants that serve tater-tots, but Le Roy's does. It's pure lunchroom nostalgia. At every table this morning, at least one person ordered them for their potato side. I was more intrigued by the cottage fries, but David was definitely into the idea of the tots.

I also ordered a coffee and let me just say--this was the best coffee I've had in a very long time. It was strong, smooth and not at all bitter. I drank at least five cups while we were there. A waitress was always there each time I finished.

After a slightly longer time that I would have expected, our food arrived.

David's was a little disappointing. I've had worse corned beef hash but I've had way better as well. The tater-tots were as good as tater-tots get, but since I suspect all tater-tots are made in one central processing center in Idaho, I don't imagine there's much variance in flavor.

I fared a bit better. My pancakes were made with a bit of Cream of Wheat mixed into the batter. Usually this is mentioned on a menu as a sub-category of the Pancakes section, like a place might have buttermilk, whole-wheat, and Cream of Wheat. It's interesting that this is their default. It was very soft and tasty. The bacon was crispy but not brittle. The cottage fries were just like big ovoid french fries; they were decent.

The service and the coffee were outstanding at Le Roy's. The food was a bit of a mixed bag. I fully intend to go back since it's quaint places like this which really make doing Dinerwood fun.

Food: More Good than Meh.
Service: Excellent.
Price: $5.00-$9.00
Pie: No pie.

Le Roy's The Original
523 W. Huntington Drive
Monrovia, CA