Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dinerwood on the Road: Clayton's Coffee Shop - San Diego

Original Dinerwood Friend Greg and I went down to San Diego for San Diego Comic Con this past weekend. On our first day we neglected to eat anything. By the end of the day, we had gone beyond starving and into a dull ache in our tummies. We shambled back to the car with our swag bags and headed out to Coronado island. Last year #1DC Antoinette and I had a bizarre and awkward experience at the Night and Day Cafe; located just down the street from there is Clayton's Coffee Shop.

My biggest concern with doing a Dinerwood review on such an empty stomach was that we'd be so hungry that everything and anything would taste good. That ended up not being the case. That sounds ominous, but it's not.

Clayton's Coffee Shop is how you do a 50's diner right. It's not over the top. It really feels like a place you could have eaten at back in the 1950s.

A jukebox is about as garish as Clayton's gets. It doesn't need pictures of Marilyn and Elvis on the wall to capture the feel. It does so with colors and textures.

It was 9pm on Thursday, so things were starting to slow down. There were a few singles at the counter and a few couples at the booths. There were still about four waitresses working and we never wanted for refills on water or coffee (The coffee was only okay).

When our waitress came to take our order, I asked what she recommended. This is always an interesting question to ask. If they say "everything," it's not at all helpful and tells you a lot about the waitress. If they say "nothing," WHOA--That's an honest waitress and you should listen to her. If they ask for more specifics, you know she's taking your question seriously. She asked what we were in the mood for. I wanted breakfast, Greg was more open. We just told her we were starving.

She began a litany of menu items and before long the ladies at the table behind us joined in and started listing their favorites. The daily special was a turkey pot pie, which one of the ladies was currently eating and said it was delicious. Ultimately, I went with corned beef hash and eggs and Greg got the baked turkey dinner.

Greg was also sold on the soup-of-the-day, which was chicken tortilla. Apparently, the owner of Clayton's also owns the Mexican take-out place next door and a lot of their Mexican dishes are actually made there and then brought over t0 the coffee shop.

The soup was really good. It was hearty--each spoonful had some tomato, some chicken, some tortilla and some cheese. It was just a little spicy, giving a little tweak to your taste buds.

Our waitress then brought out Greg's baked turkey dinner. It was a giant mound of turkey and a giant scoop of potato, flanked by a medley of steamed fresh vegetables and a dish of cranberry. Here's how I know I wasn't so hungry that my opinion would be off--I did not care for the gravy. It needed more salt. You could tell it was made with real pan drippings, but it just wasn't salty enough for me. Greg liked it, though. Everything else was great, but I couldn't get behind the gravy.

My breakfast-for-dinner came out looking a little cramped on the plate. There was a lot more corned beef hash on the plate than the picture shows. I ordered my eggs over medium and two of them were right, but one was cooked through. Not a huge deal, since they all tasted good. The hash browns were standard and tasty. The corned beef hash was outstanding. In fact, it was the second best corned beef hash I have had in California. The best is at Nick's in Los Angeles.

I'm not sure what they did with my biscuit, but the bottom was a little soggy (maybe they put it on a freshly washed plate that wasn't dry yet?). Otherwise, it was good. I tore it in half and used one half to sop up some egg yolk and the other to just have with jam.

One of the women who had been sitting behind us stopped by our table to see how we were enjoying the food. Although we didn't take her advice about the turkey pot pie or french toast, she was very sweet. She asked why we were in town and when we told her it was for Comic-Con she got a little sad. It was her first year not going. She and her husband had enjoyed going every year. She was Mrs. Dick Durock. She was Mrs. Swamp-Thing.

I almost wanted to thank her for her husband's service, but that would have been weird.

She wished us well and told us to have fun at the Con.

This was my favorite piece of decor at Clayton's. They take delicious pie so seriously, they painted it on their wall. Here was my odd conundrum--I wasn't totally in the mood for pie. Shock! Horror! I was craving a milkshake. I thought I might have to order both and then explode like the guy from that Monty Python movie.

Greg saved me from such a fate and ordered the apple pie and let me have a few bites. It was very good. It tasted fresh and was made with granny smith apples, which gave it some tart flavor. The crust was dry but not "dusty."

I asked our waitress what kind of milkshake she recommended. I knew which one I wanted and I was hoping she'd list it early to confirm my craving. She went down what seemed like the whole list before I finally stopped her. "What about peanut butter and chocolate?" "Oh, I haven't tried that one."

I went with it. Some sips were more peanut butter, some sips were more chocolate. Each one was heaven.

Clayton's Coffee Shop just became my go-to spot in San Diego. I will drive over that giant bridge to get to the island any time. It was pleasant and absolutely a classic.

Food: Good.
Service: Very good.
Price: $6-$10
Pie: Various. And good shakes!

Clayton's Coffee Shop
979 Orange Avenue
Coronado, CA 92118
619) 435-5425

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Goody's 2-- The New Digs

You may remember Goody's from my stellar-nearly journalistic quality-review of the last night of service at its original location. It certainly took long enough, but Dinerwood finally made it to the new Goody's location in El Monte.

Goody's now resides in what was formally called the "News Cafe" next to El Monte City Hall. I'm pleased that they kept the original font for the sign. It may not be as grandiose at the original Googie sign,but it works. That font is one of the few familiar things they were able bring to the new location.

Another is the sad-sack chef fixture on the wall. I love this guy: his lazy eye--or is it a wink? I don't know; the plate of buns or coffee beans or moon pies; the shovel. He's a schlub. I love him.

The News Cafe was a more modern, more shiny coffee shop. It was next to City Hall for crying out loud. It needed to be a beacon of progress for people looking for a cup of coffee after filing a property lease permit or getting a cheapy wedding. The old Goody's was like your grampa's den.

#1 Diner Companion Antoinette, my folks, and I came in last Saturday morning for breakfast. We were seated and then kind of forgotten about for a little while. I was just getting to the point of flagging someone down to at least take our drink orders when the waitress finally came back to us.

She was nice and chatted with us a bit. In fact, she chatted with everybody a bit, which is why it took so long to get drinks. We asked how things were working out in the new location. She said "fine," and then looked at us a little oddly and asked if we used to come in at night. She's worked at Goody's for 17 years and didn't recognize us. We explained that our first time was actually the last night. She then left to get our coffees.

The coffee was good. The cup and saucer were adorable. It looks like they also took the dishes with them to the new space.

On one hand, I was a little disappointed that they kept the old menus. Our waitress had let me take one when we left the original restaurant and I thought I taking home a priceless artifact. On the other hand, I see that it provides a safe continuity for those old regulars coming to the new location. The same sweet message of "To serve you is a real pleasure" greets you on the cover, and you know that although you drove a different way to get there, it's still the same ol' Goody's.

Before our food arrived, our waitress brought us each a small dish of peaches. These were certainly not from a can; they actually still tasted like peaches and not syrup. I'm not saying Goody's jarred them themselves, but at least there was an effort made for quality.

They also brought all of our bread out in one basket that we then had to sort out. I should mention now that in the morning they do not have the small loaves of fresh baked bread that Antoinette fell in love with at the old location. They only have those at dinner time.

My parents ordered basically the same thing, so I only took one picture. My dad ordered the hash browns "extra, extra, extra crispy." The tops and bottoms were fine but he said they were a little too mushy in the center. The eggs were good, but the ham was a little dry. Overall, good though.

Antoinette ordered the bacon and eggs with a side of home fries. Everything was good except she became really worried about the bacon. "It tastes weird. Like, maybe rancid?" No one wants rancid bacon and nobody wants bacon to go to waste. I tried a bite. It wasn't rancid. It tasted like a crispy pork chop. I think it was just maybe overcooked a bit.

I ordered the Creamed Chipped Beef on Biscuits. I had never ordered it before anywhere. It's something that you see written on placards of restaurants in old movies. Depression era food, is how I see it.

When it came out, Antoinette and I immediately saw the problem. I hate hard boiled eggs. They gross me out. This dish was covered in hard boiled eggs. She graciously offered to trade me her eggs and weird tasting bacon. I wanted to power through and try it....and if it came down to it, I could try to eat around the eggs. One thing I had to keep in mind was that this wasn't gravy over biscuits and dried beef and hard boiled eggs. It was a cream sauce with a very different flavor. Luckily it usually overpowered the egg taste. It was a nice experiment, but I don't think I will ever go down that road again.

I'd be really sad if the new Goody's just didn't feel right or if the food was bad. Luckily, it was basically the same as it was that first time; it was just in a new location--"old wine, new bottle," so to speak. It's a little too far for us to make it a regular stop, but I'm glad it's out there in the world. I hope it's there for a long, long time.

Food: Good.
Service: Friendly
Price: $6-$11
Pie: Yes.

Goody's Restaurant
11357 Valley Blvd.
El Monte, CA 91731-3227

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tommy's Restaurant--Everything to Everyone.

Tommy's Restaurant is one of the few non-chain breakfast joints in Monterey Park. It's located right next to a shopping complex with both an IHOP and a Carrow's nearby. As a supporter of local restaurants, I was glad to see that on a Saturday morning, it was very crowded.
And as a supporter of local restaurants, I just wished Tommy's had proven to be better.

#1 Diner Companion Antoinette and I luckily caught the eye of a waitress when we first walked in, before we could check in with the host. The waitress grabbed us and sat us down at a table that could easily seat 4 or 5. She said if anyone asked to just say we were waiting for more people. She proved very friendly and attentive throughout our meal, but a little spazzy. I think she sat us down there to keep a larger, more difficult to deal with party from being seated in her section.

We both ordered coffee. I found it a bit weak, but Antoinette really liked it. They only had sugar and sweet n low, but they did have real milk available on the table. The servers were very quick and very frequent when it came to refills, which was nice. A few times, I hadn't even taken a sip of my fresh cup when someone came around and poured just an eensy-weensy bit more into the cup.

Looking at the menu, I started to get worried. There was a full "family restaurant" menu AND a full Mexican restaurant menu. There was just too much going on there. There had to be some dilution in the quality of the food. Shortcuts like microwaves, canned goods and decidedly un-fresh ingredients had to come into play.

I gambled that any place that had put that much energy into having a Mexican menu was probably better at that then at regular diner fare. There are a lot of diners that are secretly Mexican restaurants but haven't made the changeover yet. Was this the case at Tommy's?

Antoinette ordered the polish sausage and eggs with a side of home fries. She liked her eggs and the home fries, even though the latter were room temperature by the time she got them. I thought they were a little uneven and some were underdone. The sausage was very good--it had a really robust flavor with some real char on it. She did say that the toast had too much butter on it.

I ordered the Chilaquiles breakfast and it was kind of a mess. The rice was bland--really bland. The beans were okay; I'm just not a fan of refried beans in general. The eggs were oily. The chilaquiles were drenched in a rather boring--I suspect canned--enchilada sauce.

So clearly Mexican was not the way to go with ordering. This was not their secret strong suit. This was more of a case of a place expanding their menu to appeal to the larger neighborhood. I always think of Monterey Park as being predominantly Asian but down near the 60 freeway, it becomes just as much a Latino neighborhood.

Antoinette liked Tommy's Restaurant far more than I did, but she concedes that my breakfast was bad. I'd be willing to give it another shot, but I can't imagine when I would ever go back. If I was ever in the mood for "diner or Mexican" food, I'd go to Bun n' Burger (if they ever get consistent with their hours) which is right in our neighborhood and has much better food of both varieties.

Food: Poor to Okay.
Service: Very Good.
Price: $6-$9 most items.
Pie: Yes.

Tommy's Restaurant
1150 W Riggin Street
Monterey Park, CA 91754

I have never ordered Albondigas because it sounds slightly dirty.
"Check out the albondigas on that one!"

Update to House of Pies review.

What did they do!?!