Friday, May 25, 2007

American Diner Museum

American Diner Museum

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Where I would eat if I lived in a TV. Pt. 1

Diner's have a long history with television. And I have a long history with television. So today I am going to write about one of my favorite tv show diners-
Mel's Diner (not THE Mel's Diner in Los Angeles which will be the subject of a future review)

Mel's Diner was the main vocation location for the sitcom "Alice". It was owned and operated by the cantankerous Mel (played by Vic Tayback). Mel's was a truck stop diner in Arizona which saw a parade of wacky characters over the show's nine year run. 9 years! Holy crap! Andy Richter can't even squeeze out a full season and Alice got my whole childhood! (My childhood ended at 10 when I found my dad's stash of Playboys. True story! Thanks to Hef's view of womanhood, I didn't know girls had openings down there for like 4 years.)

For me, "Alice" was that show that came on TBS after Andy Griffith, which I hated except for Barney Fife, and before "Good Times" which I loved, except for Florida Evans, she was soooo preachy. I'd largely tune "Alice" out and focus on my GI Joes or "He-Mans", but as soon as I'd hear that deep, gruff grizzly bear voice of Vic Tayback, I'd perk right up. Mel typifies how I want every diner cook to look. Vaguely fifty-ish, an ex-Marine probably, a cigar hanging from his lips and most importantly, a little white stocking cap.
Look at that guy! He's gonna go pave the hurt road that leads to your house!

Mel was a meanie with a heart choked by cholesterol but plated in gold. He might have been quick to temper with his sassy waitress' ("Kiss my grits!" was known to send him into a gamma-rage) but as evidenced in the series finale (upon selling the diner, Mel gave each waitress 5,000 dollars) he always took care of his girls. He's like me, really.
Vic will be recognizable to geeks from his part as Krako on the classic Star Trek episode "A Piece of the Action" and by girls in their later20s/early30s as one of the vengeful husbands in "Loverboy" with Patrick Dempsey.

Watch some episodes of "Alice" right now thanks to AOL Video. Why am I not getting paid for all these awesome plugs!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Joe's Diner- Dirty sounding dessert!

Having to take an unexpected trip out to Santa Monica on this past Monday led me to quickly search out a diner to review. Why squander a trip outside my usual neighborhood when there are diners aplenty to seek out? A quick google search later, I found Joe’s Diner. How about that! It actually has ‘diner’ in the name. That might be a first for the diner blog.

On this trip, I took along my friend Greg who is visiting from Washington state. He's a clown who does birthday parties and burlesque shows... I hate his life because I covet it. Anyway...

Joe’s Diner is located in the middle of an old storefront block in Santa Monica that has been thoroughly gentrified. It is nestled between a sushi restaurant and trendy clothing boutique. We entered Joe’s through a rickety screen door and took a booth right inside. I noticed something immediately that makes me have to disagree with Joe’s website- "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place". The lighting was down low to near-romantic levels, this, as well as the soft music playing, gave the diner an out of place “date” atmosphere. The dining area itself reminded me of an old apartment I once had. A fresh coat of white paint and a mopped floor but it still looked dirty. Please don’t think that this is a place with cockroaches on the floor or rats using butter pats to skate on the griddle, that’s not it at all. Sometimes old buildings are just always old. And old equals dirty.

Our waitress hit us up quickly for drinks. We both got the coffee. She apologized for being a bit frazzled, apparently that soft music we were listening to had been the same soft music playing in the restaurant for some time. The cd player had been stuck on repeat and “High Life” was starting to drive her bonkers. She left us menus and retreated to the back to try to fix the problem. After a moment she returned with our coffees and the new Amy Winehouse started to play. The coffee had a smoky flavor, it reminded me of a bonfire at the beach for some reason. I’m ashamed to say that it wasn’t until later that I realized that that meant the coffee was probably burnt.

Gazing over the menu we noticed a vegetarian section which should please a lot of folks. This and the fact that they had an item called “Zone Diet Salad”, lead me to conclude that this place was a nouveau diner with way too much avocado and healthy alternatives. This conclusion was blasted away when I saw the “John Wayne’s Eggs”. This was a MEAL, a man’s meal, a “don’t call during Ninja Master on G4” meal. Chilli on top of two eggs, on top of home fries, on top of a flour tortilla with sausage-Like I said, “a man’s meal.” I imagined this would be similar to the Devil’s Mess I got at Millie’s. Greg was willing to take one for the team and let me order for him. That way I could get a closer look at another item. The Santa Fe Melt sounded like a good choice- Jack cheese, turkey, green peppers, tomato and avocado served on sourdough bread.

My confidence in our food was bolstered when I noticed it would be an aged man in a paper hat preparing our meals. C'mon, a paper hat!

We inquired about desserts. I saw that they had apple pie as the sole representative from the Pie food group. Greg asked about a massive ice cream dish that was described as having 10 scoops of ice cream. Our waitress admitted she was completely unfamiliar with the desserts. I asked if she knew if the pie was made in house. She said it was made somewhere else but baked at the diner. Greg then ordered the second most pornographic sounding dessert I have heard of-the first being the fudgeanna at Frankie Doodle’s in Spokane Washington- Greg ordered a Frosty Brown Cow with a Vanilla Sidecar. Our waitress also admitted she had no idea what that was. We broke it down and figured it was a blended root beer float served with a glass of vanilla syrup and soda water. We adjourned our dessert conference and she went off.

After only a short wait, she brought out our meals.
Greg commented that it was refreshing that the turkey had been heated all the way through. Normally a hot sandwich (one not served open face of course) suffers from the fact that most places heat the sandwich all at once on the grill or toaster or (heaven help us) the microwave. This usually means the core of the sandwich doesn’t get as hot as the rest of the sandwich. Joe’s had clearly heated the meat separately guaranteeing a even temperature throughout. The fries, which were surprisingly curly, were good. Not crunchy but not soggy either. The pickle still retained some semblance of a cucumber flavor.

The John Wayne’s Eggs did not disappoint. The chilli, worked great with the eggs and the eggs worked great with the home fries. Originally I dismissed the inclusion of the tortilla at the bottom, but found that it helped mop up the leftovers from the top layers. The sausages were basic breakfast links, more crispy than you usually get but really plain. This was such a man’s meal I, a man, couldn’t even finish it all.

We did have to remind our waitress of the desserts after we were done with our meals. She quickly brought out the pie and left to get retrieve Greg's ensemble. The pie was straight-up good apple pie. A nice flaky top and a strong cinnamon taste to the apples that I enjoyed. She returned with the three glasses that made up Greg’s dessert. One for the frosted brown cow, one metal cup from the milkshake machine, and one glass with the vanilla sidecar. After some deliberation we decided that sipping through two straws, both the brown cow and the sidecar, was the most reasonable and delicious way to drink it.

We left Joe’s with full tummies and some leftovers. Definitely check it out.

Price: $10-14 for most entrees
Food: Tasty.
Service: Personable but not necessarily on-the-ball.
Atmosphere: Old.
Pie: Apple and definitely good.
2917 Main St, Santa Monica - (310) 392-5804
UPDATE: Joe's has changed. It has become more trendy and added a wine menu. I drove past it and didn't even recognize it. It has a totally different feel now.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Ronnie's Diner... I think K-Fed was our waiter. (updated with more pics!)

While seeking out a way to promote the Dinerwood blog, I stumbled across a handy website for restaurant listings. Why don’t I post the link? Because I want you to come here to Dinerwood to find your information, not to some soulless mega website devoted to Los Angeles eateries in general. Okay maybe if I’m nice I’ll post a link in the links section.

On this website I found Ronnie’s Diner in Culver City. My comedy group works out of Culver so I am getting to know the area well. I suggested we have our Saturday brunch meeting at Ronnie's and surprisingly everyone agreed. Or if they didn’t agree they kept their big mouths shut.

Ronnie’s is in a strip mall. Well, it’s not really a ‘strip’, it is more of a courtyard. Parking was a bit difficult since the courtyard consisted of several other restaurants and a bar having a private party… at noon. Seriously. We did manage to snag street parking nearby, right in front of “Shady Dan’s Mafia Front Garage and Murder Den” (name changed as to not offend) Ronnie’s was busy, it being lunchtime and all, but we luckily managed to snag a table. Ronnie’s does offer patio seating if you are so inclined. I am usually not inclined considering I hate the sun.

Our waiter was a young man with a cocked baseball cap and baggy clothes. He spoke in an amazing out of place drawl. His accent was similar to my brother-in-law’s Louisiana accent. Apparently part of that accent is calling everyone “man”. My sister's husband will say “Hey man, you go see any shows in LA?” or “I just got me a Playstation, it’s cool man.” It’s really disconcerting when he calls my nieces by that. “Breanna put down the sugar, man.”
So K-Fed- that’s what I’m calling our guy. I don’t mean it as an insult. Honestly! - took our drink orders and brought them back quick as you please. I got the coffee, of course, which was adequate. The mugs were the good, heavy kind you buy your dad for Father's Day. When I found grounds at the bottom of my mug, one of my friends said "That means it's good." I think it means they need a new filter on the coffee maker.

Two things about Ronnie’s reminded me of the 101 Coffeeshop. First of all, the globe light fixtures, for which I am a sucker, and the bizarre out of place photograph that adorns their menu. Much like the pictures that adorn the walls of the 101, we are left without any context to the image below. The poor Cowboys kid surrounded by Rams fans, he seems lost and despondent.

Looking over the menu, I settled on the Louisiana Royale. How could I not? Not only would it be homage to our waiter but also it also sounded delicious! Check it- eggs scrambled with hot links and tomatoes, served over Spanish rice. Doesn’t that sound so crazy it just might work? It did! Like the Devil’s Mess at Millie’s, this was a surprising (not surprisingly, note the difference) delicious meal. My one critique of it would be that by the time it got to me it was not as piping hot as I’d have liked it. I just chalk this up to K-Fed having to bring our whole table’s dishes out at once.

Everyone enjoyed their meals. They will vouch for their sandwiches being tasty, their fries long and crispy and their french toast with marmalade being "good, actually".

I asked K-Fed about pie. He said they might have some chocolate cake left. “Left” really threw me. Like ‘left’ over from Jose’s birthday party last week? Do they usually have cake that they burn through by 12:30 on Saturday? And really, if you break it down, nobody really likes cake that much. It's like an obligation. People will say "I love cake!" but if you press the issue, it is soon revealed that cake takes a back seat to pie, milkshakes, cobbler(the kind with fruit), milkduds, and cobblers (the kind with shoes).

Overall, we enjoyed Ronnie’s. It lacks atmosphere (except for those sweet globe lights!) but the food is good. As a diner experience, it is middle of the road. If you are in the neighborhood and you’re hungry, or you are getting your car serviced/meeting the guy who knows the guy who can kill your wife for less than two grand, stop in.

Food: Good.
Service: Decent bordering on Good.

Price: $7-$12P
ie: No. Left over cake though.

Ronnie's Diner
12740 Culver Blvd #J,
Los Angeles 90066
At Braddock Dr

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Spy in the House of Pies

Let me say one thing first- I love House of Pies. This is my favorite establishment in all of Los Angeles. I dare say my favorite establishment since the establishment of democracy in Greece. Let me say a second thing second- I do not go to House of Pies for the food. I go for the pie.
The food at House of Pies can be good, don’t get me wrong. It can also be awful. It can be a great patty melt with delicious crispy french fries. It can also be a hair fried into a Monte Cristo sandwich. I’ve had breakfast lunch and dinner, morning, noon and night and you never know exactly how it’s going to be.

These are the things you can always count on at House of Pies-
Coffee. This coffee comes from God’s own South America. It’s always good. Strong and never burnt. The staff is always there to fill your cup. If I lived closer to the House of Pies, I would come in everyday just for the coffee.
Pie. The best pie this side of the Hollywood sign to be sure and possibly the whole state. I've never had a disappointing slice of pie here. The fruit pies are heavenly. The cream pies are devilishly good. They recently added a peanut butter cream pie that is so wonderful I often wish I could abandon my human form and become a slice of it. Why would I do this? Sounds strange doesn’t it? The reason- I know that I could never bring as much joy to another person as I’d give if I were that pie. That’s how fucking good this pie is.

These are things you might experience when you go to House of Pies-
Service of various quality. Your service at the House of Pies depends entirely on your waitress. This isn’t like the 101 Coffeshop where you can count on bad service because that’s how they do it. At House of Pies I’ve had good service and I’ve had lacking service. I hesitate to use ‘bad" to describe it. I’ve had times where getting the check was an ordeal. It tends to be very consistent with specific waitresses. There’s the older lady with the bum leg who is great up until its time to get the check or order another slice of pie (Yes, I said ANOTHER slice of pie). There’s the obese woman who reminds me of an unhealthy version of my mom who is sweet and never forgets about you. There’s the young Latina with the tight curls pulled back in a severe ponytail who always seems just two steps behind.

Closed for health code violations. A few months ago it was unexpectedly closed for a few days. If that isn’t hardcore diner eating I don’t know what is.
And finally, Captain Pimp. He is an elderly black man with a sweet leather jacket with small chains hanging off it and a captain’s hat and large sunglasses.

This particular morning I sat at the counter. I don’t do that but today was a day for counter service I believe. I was there early enough for the Early Bird special. These are meals for old people. Usually an egg, an english muffin, plain omelet, etc. Light stuff and cheap at under five dollars. I got the diced ham and egg and english muffin. The eggs were a little slimy as usual but certainly edible and enjoyable.

When it came for pie, I had to figure out what kind of mood I was in. Fruit of cream? I’m most often squarely in the cream pie camp. I thought about a chocolate cream pie, which I had not had in some time. The pull of the peanut butter cream was too much and I had to have it.

They serve the peanut butter cream pie with two pecans on top. Why? No clue. Am I curious enough to ask? Nope. This is an incredibly rich pie. The peanut butter flavor might be too much for some but those people are weak so disregard them. If you are one, I have disregarded you. The crusts on the cream pies are crumbly, not flaky. This is how I prefer my pie crusts. Without a tall glass of milk I just can’t do a flaky crust. I have been known to leave the crust uneaten if that’s the case.

Two interesting things from this particular time at House of Pies- An old man put pepper on his cottage cheese. I had never seen that before. I'm sure that man was CRAZY.
A woman sent back her chicken fried steak because she ordered it well done. Which is completely her prerogative, however she also thought her chicken-fried steak was actually chicken, so there you go.

UPDATE: 7-15-2010

I went to House of Pies with my friend Skylar last night. I had not been there in a couple of months and I recieved quite a shock.

What the hell was this? They completely redid the counter. They added two flat-screen tvs and lights and silver. It looks incredibly out of place and bizarre. I can't tell if this is just an odd design choice or if this is the first step in a slow conversion of House of Pies into Ten-Forward from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The pie was as good as ever. We had the fresh peach and the german chocolate cream pie. The peach was amazing. It had thin slices of fresh layered peaches and was naturally sweet. I always forget that the cream pies they serve you are basically a fourth of a pie. It was rich and I only ate about 3/4 of it.

I am starting to dislike the whipped cream tops on the cream pies though. It's too dense and I often find myself scraping most of it off to get to the good stuff beneath it.

Price: $6-14 for most entrees
Food: Hey, it's your call dude.
Service: You take the good, you take the bad.
Pie: Well, yeah!

1869 N Vermont Ave
Los Angeles in the Los Feliz - Silverlake District
(323) 666-9961

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Diner 101- Never Run Out of Hashbrowns

Going to 101 is like stumbling into a limbo (which according to Popezenberger no longer exists) - nearly everyone inside is of this modern era but the place itself is captured by the year 1977. Part of this is an artificial put-on of 70s nostalgia. For example, the walls are decorated with framed personal photographs from the time. Lots of large Chevy pick-ups and kids with messy hair. The other part has genuine trappings of 70s d├ęcor. A wall is made up of exposed rock, the floor looks like the Formica in my great aunt’s old kitchen and amazingly wonderful globe light fixtures hang above the booths. (You will soon learn I have a thing for globe lighting fixtures.) It also harkens back to the day when diners were attached to other businesses. Usually they would sort of fit the locale, bus stations and bowling alleys for example. Growing up, my local Kmart had a diner in the back with magical looking jello parfaits in a glass case. The 101 Coffee shop is in a Best Western hotel, this leads to an often eclectic mix of hipsters, burgeoning rock stars and people who actually remember the 70s- and are in their 70s.

I went in on an overcast Sunday afternoon. This would be after the church rush and before the dinner boom, so I expected to find it near empty. To my surprise, it was busy and I had to settle for a small table. No booth with totally awesome hanging globe light for me. I ordered coffee which came promptly. Silverware proved elusive for a time. The coffee itself was hard to gauge. I added some creamer and a splenda packet but was unable to mix it short of taking matters into my own hands, or rather finger. After the spoon arrived, I can say they have perfectly adequate coffee. Not too bad and not noteworthy- despite the fact that I just made note of it.

Looking over the menu, it breaks down into three categories: breakfast fare (served all day) sandwiches (tend to be on the frou frou side) and pastas. It was too far from morning for me to be craving breakfast and I’m never in the mood for pasta. I perused the sandwiches for awhile. I couldn’t resist the pull of the fried egg sandwich. My dad used to have me make him these. Mom would usually make dinner but when she was working late, dad, sister or I would pony up and do it. When it was my turn to cook, pancakes and eggs were always on the menu. My dad liked his fried egg sandwiches a certain way, so to me that way is the only legit way to do it. Toasted bread, buttered and the egg fried all the way through with a thin slice of American cheese.

When my sandwich from the 101 came, it was plain toasted bread, a tomato, red leaf lettuce and the egg with cheese. ‘Close enough’ I thought. A few bites in I got quite the unexpected surprise. Apparently, another completely valid way of doing a fried egg sandwich is to leave the yolk runny. In England a fried egg sandwich is called an Eggs Banjo. It gets that name from that first bite into the yolk and the messy explosion that ensues. You pull the sandwich out and away from your body so as not to spill on yourself and it looks like you are running your hand up the fingerboard of a banjo. I was not expecting this and got slimy yellow all over my hands. Eating the rest of it became a bit of a chore. If I put the sandwich down it meant knifing and forking it which was not the kind of sandwich I was looking for. Flavor wise it was a perfectly fine sandwich. The tomato, which I hold in low regard when it is presented by itself, really worked well with the egg and bread. The lettuce was unnecessary. The toast could have used some butter on at least one slice, since the expectation seems to be there that you will be sopping up the yolk.

Normally this meal comes with hash browns, on this day however there was no more hash browned potatoes to be had. They offered me french-fries instead. I love french-fries. Some might see that as a negative that the 101 had run out of a diner staple, and really it is, regardless of my love for the fries. What if I were jonesing for hash browns? This would have been totes uncool. How could they possibly make it up to me? I’ll tell you how- Sweet Potato fries mixed in with the regular ones. Oh man, that was delicious.

The service was sketchy at best throughout. From the lack of silverware to the lack of refills on the coffee, I seemed mostly invisible. I can understand that if I were in some dark corner booth but I was at a table literally within ten feet of the register. My waitress, who was also the hostess seemed to be spread just a bit too thin. She wasn’t the only waitress there though. Another girl seemed to do nothing except walk up and down the nearly empty counter with a snotty look on her face (plus, she wore one of those Red China olive drab caps which is just annoying).

When it came time for dessert I asked my waitress what pies they had. “Cherry and Apple but I wouldn’t recommend them.” She steered me toward a fruit cobbler. I passed. Although I did not partake this time, the 101 is known for its delicious and eclectic milkshakes. You won’t find the industry standard three flavors here. Instead you will see peanut butter and honey (my favorite) or blackberry or the black and white concoction with a shot of espresso. Do these make up for the pie that is apparently so bad the staff dissuades you from ordering it? Not at all but they are tasty.

Price: $7-12 for most entrees
Food: Good enough.
Service: Lacking.
Atmosphere: Retro Fun.
Pie: Yes, but don’t do it.
101 Cofee Shop
6145 Franklin Ave
Los Angeles CA
(323) 467-1175

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Thoroughly Morning Millie's!

Millie’s opens at 7:30am according to the sign in the window. I walked in a shade before 8 and found the handful of staff still doing prep work. Shade umbrellas were going up for the outside tables, food was still being brought in from the delivery truck, and only half the tables had menus and utensils put out. For a solid minute, I was the only person actually inside the restaurant. I sat myself.
Millie’s is very small. No more than eight tables in the dining room, about six chairs at the counter and a few tables outside. It is cramped by modern standards. Now I have nothing to back this up, but I imagine that back in 1926, when Millie’s was founded, “intimate” diners and coffee shops like this were the norm. [From what I understand though Millie's has only been in this location since the 50s.] Another holdover from the grand old days of neighborhood diners, as seen in Hopper’s Nighthawks, is Millie’s massive storefront window. It faces out onto Sunset Blvd and only a quarter of it is covered by concert posters for local venues.
I was their first customer of the day, clearly. For this reason, I cannot speak about what the service would be later in the morning or around lunch. I will say that although I went through my meal largely invisible because of the kitchen prep, my coffee was refilled regularly, my check came without me asking and that’s really all that matters.
I had three cups of coffee. My first one had a solid smooth nutty flavor. My second cup did taste a little burnt. If you are used to Starbucks coffee you would probably find no problem with it. My third was back to the first flavor. I did like that cream was already on the table and it did not come in little plastic containers.
Millie’s specialty is the “mess”, think of a more precise “scramble”. Like an egg pancake in the proper round shape. Like a pancake you get at restaurants not the lopsided “Look it’s a dinosaur!” shape you make at home. I chose the “Devil’s Mess”- 3 eggs, spicy Cajun turkey sausage, cheddar cheese and topped with salsa, sour cream and guacamole. It comes with rosemary potatoes and a home made biscuit.

From where I sat I could see into the kitchen and noticed that a large tray of biscuits was already prepared. This lead me to believe that although these were “home made”, they were not “fresh.” I then saw that the rosemary potatoes were already warming on the griddle. I wanted to believe that whoever opens the restaurant in the morning immediately makes the biscuits and preps the potatoes.
When my food arrived after a very short wait- I was still the only patron in the restaurant- I checked out the biscuit. The biscuits at Millie’s are made in muffin tins giving them a muffin shape. I tore off the biscuit top and took a bite. It was cold but maintained the doughy moisture that I love in some breads. I love that hint of raw dough. Hell, I love raw dough period. I have been known to crack open a tube of Pillsbury and go to town. I now believe that Millie’s biscuits are probably made at the end of the day and fridged over night. The potatoes I have no theory about. They were simply tasty.
The mess was also thoroughly tasty. It was a giant of an egg pancake. It was light but not fluffy. I think sausage’s presence precluded “fluffy” from being part of the equation. The sausage had a kick to it without overpowering the cheese and egg. The salsa added a fresh, clean flavor overall. I was surprised at how well the guacamole-which I am usually cocking an eyebrow to when it’s included in a meal that doesn’t involve black beans or chips-worked with the flavors. It was a lot of good food. I even had to leave a few bites on the plate, it was so filling. I literally went all day without filling hungry again.
It was 8:30 before any more people showed up in the restaurant. From what I understand it is often packed to the gills later in the morning and for lunch. It closes in the mid-afternoon so it is a no-go for the dinner and pre/post bar scene.

I saw no desserts on the menu which of course means no pie, which in turns means I cannot fully endorse Millie’s. It was however a great diner experience. I highly recommend it.

Price: $10-14 for most entrees
Food: Healthy and Good
Service: Adequate
Pie: No pie.

3524 Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, 213-664-0404