Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cindy's Coffee Shop--Two Visits, Two Years Apart UPDATED - Third Visit now years later

(new bits at the end)

Back in the summer of 2008, #1DC Antoinette and I went to Cindy's in Eagle Rock and took this picture. Somehow it has odd grain to it, which makes the picture look far older than it is.

In July of 2010, I took this much crisper picture. On this visit, my friends Chip and Marc came with me.

I've talked about it before--sometimes I go to a lot of places in a short period of time and the log of reviews and pictures gets backed up. Some stuff just has to be put on the shelf. That's what happened to Cindy's.

I just never got around to writing the review, and I needed to go back and refresh my memory. I also have a much better camera now and the difference between when the pictures were taken will be obvious.

Cindy's is a surprisingly small place. From the outside, it looks like a decent sized restaurant, but once you step in you realize that you can see the whole restaurant through the store-front windows. There is no "back" of the restaurant--it's all right there.

Cindy's had to close for a time back in 2007 when a drunk driver plowed into the restaurant and did pretty significant damage. You can see pictures of the destroyed Cindy's at the Boulevard Sentinel. (scroll down)

They definitely had redone the menu since my last visit. I think I would have remembered something so out of place. This was a slick, generic menu that could be used by any family restaurant. Dinosaurs decorate the kids' section of the menu. Dinosaurs, man! That's straight-up Dennys!

On both visits the coffee was a bit of a problem. Chip is a big coffee drinker and bad coffee can totally ruin a place for him. This coffee needed A LOT of help, it was thick and burnt. I am a "two sweeteners and it's good" kind of guy. For this, I was hitting the flavored creamers. Refills either came in close succession or with wide gaps in between.

On our first visit, I ordered the chili omelet and home fries. My notes say "It's alright. Chili is good. Potatoes lack flavor."

Antoinette ordered the waffle and eggs and bacon breakfast. My notes read as thus; "Waffle - EGGO? Squiggly bacon!" Wow. I'm amazing at documenting these experiences.

I really should have consulted my notes before going back because I had completely forgotten what I ordered the first time. I asked about the "biscuit sandwich" on the menu, hoping it was an actual sandwich, but suspecting it was just like a pancake sandwich (which is NOT sandwich). My suspicions were correct. I had to quickly choose something else.

Yep, you guessed it!

I ordered the same damn thing that Antoinette ordered two years before. The bacon was less squiggly and there was less of it, but it was good. The eggs were rubbery. The waffle was less EGGO this time. It wasn't toaster soggy and I swear it must have been incredibly porous since it seemed to absorb all the syrup I poured over it. Needless to say, it was very sweet by the time I took a bite.

Chip ordered the pancake and eggs and sausage breakfast. Chip liked the pancakes; they were fluffy and sweet. He recognized the sausage as being Farmer John brand. He's a man who knows his sausage.

Marc ordered the eggs, hash browns and ham. The hash browns were undercooked and mushy. I'm pretty sure I saw an Ore-Ida bag in the kitchen. The ham was thin and fatty.
In fact, we all agreed that everything seemed "thin." Not just because of a thin pancake or waffle or ham steak, but portion-wise everything seemed thin and kind of skimpy.

We did sit and talk for a good hour after our meal was finished. It was only in the last twenty or so minutes that the wait staff stopped checking in with us or refilling our waters and coffees. We weren't taking up a table that they needed at the time but the lunch rush was presumably coming soon. I think they were using siege warfare to drive us out by thirst.

Cindy's is a place that I really wished was better. It has everything going for it in terms of location and aesthetic; it's just that the food isn't all that interesting or good. It took me two years to come back here and I could easily go two or more before coming back.

Food: Okay.
Service: Okay.
Price: $6-$8
Pie: Supermarket pie.

Someone at Cindy's loves turtles.

UPDATE 9.10.14

New owners recently took over Cindy's and gave it a much needed revamp.

LA Eater.com article about it.

#1DinerWife Antoinette and I returned recently to try it out.

New retro interior suits Cindy's perfectly. 

I had the Brisket Hash and Antoinette had the BLT. Both were great. The side of fries was also good.

I tried the chocolate pecan pie and loved it. I think this was the first pecan pie I had had since judging in the pecan category at the America Pie Championships back in April. 

Antoinette had the chocolate cake. It was moist and rich without being off-putting. 

DEFINITELY give the new Cindy's a try. I think it will be well worth it.

The classic Cindy's sign is in disrepair and they are running a kickstarter to raise the funds to bring it back to its former glory. 

Kickstarter Campaign - Ends on September 16th! 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dinerwood on the Road: Another Tommy's Restaurant? San Clemente, CA

I go down to San Diego a couple of times a year. Along the 5 freeway, driving through San Clemente, I always see a large roadside sign for Tommy's Family Restaurant. I make a note to remember to make time for it on the next trip--I never do. A few weekends ago, as Dinerwood friend Greg and I were returning from Comic-Con, I was finally able to do it--and that's only because my GPS cocked-up the directions to the place that I was actually looking for.

Tommy's has a lot going on in the concept department: "Family Restaurant," "50's Diner," and "Hollywood at Tommy's" signage is located all over the building. It had to have started out as a regular roadside restaurant and then slowly over the years shifted into a hodge-podge 50's diner.

Do note that the sign by the door says "authentic." It's a pet peeve of mine--see, words have meanings. After experiencing, just a few days earlier, a coffee shop that really did seem authentic, Tommy's had a lot to live up to.

When Greg and I pulled into a parking spot facing the building, and I saw this staring back at me--I knew something was seriously wrong.

I would like to believe that the intention there was to do an "authentic" 50's diner. It seems that at some point the owner of Tommy's said "oh, what the hell" and it became a den for pop culture hoarding.

An explosion of Hollywood and mid-century history seems to have left its debris all over everything at Tommy's. It was all too much. Every inch was covered with a photo, movie poster or checker pattern. Every surface large enough had some knick-knack or statuary reflecting an area of pop culture that existed between 1950 and 1985.

I actually did like the embroidered names on the booth seats. They all seemed to be on theme for the 50's.

For example, we sat in the Clark Gable booth. He was past his prime by then, but it still worked.

Then I looked over to my left, toward the counter, and saw something kind of horrific.

No, it wasn't the pictures on the back of the counter stools that seemed cut out of magazines and then glued on, or the Elvis bust with the real leather jacket and life-like hair and SKIN!

It was Spiderman.

Give it a moment.

If you are a real comic nerd, give it an extra moment.

Then realize that it uses the new jagged Spiderman font they created in the 90s, and not the classic original curved font. If it had been the classic, I could have been on board. He did debut in the 60s, which is almost like the 50s but...you know...later.

They had a standard diner menu with additional Mexican (of course) and Greek sections. Greek is a type of food that I always like, but am never in the mood for. Although, I was curious to try it since, like I talked about in the other Tommy's Restaurant review, if a place puts a lot of effort into a whole different genre of food, that usually means that's what they really want to be serving. That, however, burned me last time and the Mexican breakfast there sucked.

We decided to order sandwiches and then split them.

Greg, inspired by a very gorgeous photo in the menu, ordered the pastrami sandwich with an order of chili cheese fries. I would not have expected to find good pastrami at Tommy's, maybe decent at best, but this ended up being really good. Not the quality of a deli or a place like The Hat, but definitely one of the best at a regular restaurant. It wasn't too dry and it wasn't greasy wet. I actually think they mixed little bits of actual bacon into it. The chili cheese fries were very good. They had an appropriate amount of chili smothering the steak fries, so you could still pick them up with your fingers, but could use a fork if you were inclined. I would have liked more chunks of meat in the chili, though.

I ordered the pork tenderloin sandwich, which I expected to be more of a Cuban-style sandwich. And I was wrong. Nowhere on the menu did it mention that the tenderloin was breaded and fried. I'm pretty sure it was not in the "Hot" sandwich section either. This really threw me off.

To assemble my sandwich, I had to cut the tenderloin, since as you can see from the picture, it wasn't the right shape for a french roll. I took a bite and tasted...Filet o' Fish? By god, the pork sandwich did taste like the fish sandwich from McDonalds. I like Filet o' Fish, but I like it when I order one...and it isn't made with pork. Just to make sure I wasn't walking around with some crazy taste buds, I gave Greg his half and encouraged him to try it.

He took a bite and thought for a moment. "Tastes, I don't know. Not bad...but-"

"Like a Fillet o' Fish?"

"What?...well... okay, I can see that."

It must have been the batter they used. It wasn't awful, but I wouldn't recommend it. The french fries, even not covered in chili, were good.

I'm glad I was finally able to sate my curiosity with this place. Unless someone I was with really needed to main-line some aging pop-culture, I don't think I'd go back anytime soon.

Food: Decent
Service: Attentive
Price: $9-$14. (Too much.)
Pie: None.

Tommy's Family Restaurant
1409 S El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92672

She has no hand!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dinerwood on the Road: Rose's Sugar Shack, San Clemente CA

Everything seemed so perfect. The sun was shining, a cool breeze was blowing off the ocean, official Dinerwood Photog Charlie Chu had returned for a weekend trip, and we were eating at a diner. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

And nothing did, for several hours.

I did a little bit of research for our trip down to Del Mar, California and found a cute little diner called Rose's Sugar Shack, just off the freeway. The waitress asked if we wanted to sit inside or on the patio. It being such a lovely day, we decided to sit outside.

It did seem to take way too long for the waitress to get to us initially. I have no clue how busy it was on the inside, but for the first ten minutes we were there, there was no on else sitting on the patio. She did apologize, which was nice.

This gave us a lot of time to peruse the menu. It's certainly not a dense menu, with nothing surprisingly or seemingly unique. The prices were about a dollar or two higher than I would have liked, but since it was a beach town, I just accepted it. I figure I'm paying for the luxury of a nice ocean breeze while I eat pancakes.

Which is what I did. I got a simple bacon, eggs, pancakes breakfast. Everything tasted okay, but just okay. There in that beautiful setting, I wanted something equally beautiful...or at least tasty.

Chu went with his default order of corned beef hash and eggs. The hash was slightly better than canned. The pieces of toast were nice, thick slices, which was good.

An easy summation is: We ordered, we ate it, we left. It was a rather disappointing but adequate place to eat. Everything was fine, until about two hours later.

Chu and I were at the fair in Del Mar. I was all set to go crazy with some fair food. A turkey leg was a must, but that's not really crazy. Deep-fried twinkie? Been there. Hash brown coated hot-dog? Done that. Apple fries? Nailed it shut. I wanted to try something new, something exciting! Would it be this deep-fried butter? I think yes!

It was while walking up and down the food lanes looking for this deep-fried butter that I started to feel it. It started as a low rumble and then a gurgling and then a wrenching and then... well, let's not get into it here in polite company.

Considering the only food in my stomach was from Rose's Sugar Shack, I knew the culprit. Fortunately for him, Chu went unscathed. Prior to this, I had felt rather indifferent toward Rose's Sugar Shack. This clearly tipped my opinion to the downhill side. I didn't feel right again until nearly twenty-four hours later. This severely impacted the rest of my weekend.

Food: I got sick. Chu didn't. So.. let's call it "risky?"
Price: $7-$10
Service: Okay.
Pie: None.

Rose's Sugar Shack Cafe
2319 S El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92672

It turns out the deep-fried butter is kind of crap. I imagined as something kind of like the cornmeal mush from Stox restaurant: frozen stick off butter, rolled in batter, and then fried just long enough to soften the butter. Instead, it's a stupid churro stuffed with butter. What the hell?

Our friend Jovi of the Rad Dudes podcast did try the deep-fried butter. A video of the aftermath can be found here.