Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Pantry is for drunks.

I can rise early in the morning if I need to. I’m long past the days of being droggy when I wake up. I know everyone else says groggy, but droggy is worse. It’s like being drugged and groggy you’re so out of it. It’s easy waking up, stumbling around looking for shoes or my first tender cigarette of the day. I don’t actually smoke but the phrase “my first tender cigarette” just popped into my head and I wanted to use it. Nobody wants to wake up earlier than they have to though.
Co-worker Erin proposed getting together for breakfast to occupy her time between yoga class and work. I think she just wanted to be featured in a Dinerwood update as she is routinely mentioned on my personal blog. This all meant getting up extra early and trekking downtown while the sun was still rising. I took a preemptive shower the night before to cut down on the wake up time. Even at 7:30am in this town traffic sucks.
Erin and I decided on The Pantry for breakfast.

I neglected to get a picture of the sign so I've swiped this from the Pantry website. I thank them for it.

The Pantry’s slogan is “Always open, always a customer”. I would add to that “that one customer is always a drunk.” The Pantry is one of those places that I think you really need to be drunk to fully enjoy. Any place that gives you a little bowl of coleslaw when you sit at the counter is clearly a place for drunks. “Free coleslaw? *hic-cup* I loves it!” [It’s like the White Horse on Western where they give out free hot dogs. Why!] Although we didn't get any this time, I can say the coleslaw at the Pantry is pretty decent.

I work on the north end of downtown where the skyscrapers and art installations dwell- The clean and shiny downtown Los Angeles. The Pantry is at the other end- The homeless and brown recluse spider bitten downtown Los Angeles. It’s been there since 1924. Okay, not THERE there, they moved to this location in 1950. You can still visit the original location every time you use the nearby freeway on-ramp. The Pantry, like any good diner, holds to an older time. Forminca table tops, sweet globe light fixtures and a bird cage cashier. Until I had been to The Pantry, I thought that only existed in Robert Altman’s Popeye. Erin recalled that when she was a kid, that space used to be a cigar stand and her father would always get a stinky cigar each time they ate there.

Erin beat me there by a few minutes. When I sat down she noted that the waiter had delivered her coffee right away without even asking if she wanted any. She did of course but that is some gumption on Mr. Waiter man's part. He was also very flirtatious with her. That elderly diner waiter was nothing but gumption. I also ordered the coffee which I can honestly describe as having a robust flavor.

Perusing the walls where the menu is detailed-that’s right no actual menus for your hands, only for your eyes. We settled on some easy breakfast fare. I got the pancakes, two eggs and potatoes. Despite all the breakfasts I’ve been eating since I started the reviews, I don’t think I have ordered pancakes once. The food arrived right away which was nice for a breakfast rush. Unfortunately, butter did not arrive until about 5 minutes later. This left my pancakes wanting with only syrup to wear. When it did arrive we were treated to those ice cold pats of Darigold brand butter spread, which doesn’t spread because they are ice cold. Erin's toast was cold and burnt so there was little a bit of butter spread could do for her.

The late Mitch Hedberg observed that pancakes always seem like a good idea, but halfway through the first one you’ve had enough. My potatoes were bland and basically room temperature. My eggs were the only decent thing about my breakfast. But you know what? If I had been drunk I wouldn't have cared. So go drunk is my advice.

They do offer apple pie as well as an assortment of cakes. One time I was there they had a peach cobbler that was delicious. That was a special so don't count on it being there.

Price: $4-$15 (our breakfasts together totalled only 11 dollars)
Food: Not good.
Service: Gumptive.
Pie: Apple.

877 S Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA
Phone: (213) 972-9279

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Want to have a triple bypass someday? You should- Eat At Joe's.

Eat At Joe’s is a shack. I’m not saying that as a bad thing. Hey, I’ve eaten in shacks before. My favorite BBQ place in Seattle is a shack. I just want you to be prepared to go into a building that looks like a large and slightly refurbished lean-to. It’s in a structure that could not survive any form of inclement weather you’d come across in another part of the country (a wind storm or even, say, a light snowfall). That’s part of the charm of this Redondo Beach mainstay. Also part of Eat at Joe’s charm, is that in lieu of individual tables, the majority of the seating is done at long tables, ‘picnic in the park’ style. You’ll find yourself seated intimately with complete strangers at busier times. This makes sense once you find out that it’s a hamburger stand that just kept growing. Like a shoddy Winchester Mystery House, it’s addition after addition.

Another dare I say, charming, thing about Eat at Joe’s is that they weigh down the tables with just abut every condiment you may want. Soy sauce? Mustard? Check.. A-1? Check. Spicy Thai Pepper Sauce?…Maybe, I forgot to check, but probably. When you order the coffee you get a basket of different creamers. Now of course everyone wants fresh cream or milk but you have to expect that you aren’t getting that at most places. Eat At Joe’s does give you a selection of different flavored creamers. It’s like having coffee at my mom’s house- French vanilla, hazelnut, Irish cream. The coffee is served in a heavy mug. in a cruel contrast to the coffee itself which is rather weak.

If you remember the (no Eat Ats) Joe’s Diner review, you’ll remember I got the John Wayne’s Eggs- chilli on top of two eggs, on top of home fries, on top of a flour tortilla with sausage circled around it like wagons. Well, Eat At Joes’s claims to be the originator of the dish with the tale that the Duke himself came in and ordered that dish. Eat At Joe’s variation features cheese, the eggs standardized with over medium, no chilli but with a “Spanish sauce”. I thought about ordering that and comparing the two, but there’s one thing that prevented me- I am over my recent chicken salad sandwich phase, but I am now going though a biscuits and gravy phase.

I ordered the Joe’s Special. It consists of biscuits and gravy served with sausage patties, two eggs and home fries. This meal should kill you. It should just come with a gun with a note that says “Aim at Heart”. With the caloric and fat intake this meal packs I wish it was better. Now, it is good, it’s just not great. The gravy was a refreshing brownish tinge which usually means that it is real gravy made from real grease. It was a tad too greasy for my tastes but still good. The biscuits, really just one biscuit halved, is soft but a tad small. The sausage patties were what they were, I’m not crazy about patties, I prefer links. The eggs I ordered over easy, came out perfectly. The home fries were the right amount of greasy and had just the right amount of seasoning.

My dining companion, Shannon, ordered the Hangover “Omelette” (their spelling, not mine). I guess the idea of this is that it’s the breakfast you try to make when you have a hangover and halfway through you screw it up and just say the hell with it. This isn’t an omelet, it’s a scramble with hamburger, onions, mozzarella, ortega chiles, and tomato. Normally the ensenada sauce is served on top but Shannon wisely ordered it on the side. It proved to be too spicy.

They do indeed have pie. I didn’t order any due to the large amount of sausage fat coursing through my body at the time. I don’t imagine the pie would be something special but you never know. They do also offer slices of cake, if you are one of those people.

Now two things I haven’t covered- the service and the menu. The menu has a wide variety of offerings. They have a healthy section with things like the Gobbler Scramble (ground turkey with egg whites served with brown rice). They also have night dinner specials. Wednesday it was Yankee Pot Roast, which nearly won out over the Biscuits and Gravy and/or the John Wayne. The service was kind of shoddy. I had to ask for several of my refills. I think this was more atypical. Our waiter didn’t seem like he was always the waiter. It seemed like he had another job there but was handling tables because it was close to closing.

They are pretty boastful on their sign though.

It could be true for all I know.

For the health conscious-

Price: $6-$15
Food: Good.
Service: Lacking.
Pie: Yes

400 North Pacific Coast HWY.
Redondo Beach CA
310 376 9570

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Harry's Family Restaurant- No clever title

It’s Valley week in Dinerwood. I will finally review Harry’s Family Restaurant in Burbank. This review should have been written a long time ago closer to the date I actually went. I just found my notes again and the pictures have been sitting on my hard drive at work for weeks now. Now is the time.

This is a place I had seen dozens of times since I moved to LA. I would always think "I need to go there" but I just never did. Maybe something shiny distracted me. Maybe it was the lure of the Asian Seafood Buffett just down the street. Maybe it was having just had or just about to have to manuever through the scores of people wandering out of IKEA, which is just down the street. No one wants to eat after experiencing that throng.

This review will focus on my second time coming to Harry’s. My first time, I came in on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The place was quiet, coming off a lunch rush. I ordered the chicken salad sandwich. I was going through a chicken salad phase, don’t ask me why. Harry’s chicken salad was okay. The chicken wasn’t very flavorful but it wasn’t bad. I was thrown by the large piece of iceberg lettuce on the sandwich. I LIKE iceberg lettuce. It’s crunchy! I had just never had a chicken salad sandwich crunch before. I couldn't help but imagine crunching chicken bones with each bite. Sorry no pictures.

A few weeks later, I went in the morning for breakfast with my friend Shannon. At 10am the place was hopping. We apparently got the last booth as parties began to bunch up at the front after us. Harry’s is a lovely throw back the 70s in a seeming more authentic way than the 101 Coffeeshop; rock walls and gorgeous groovy turquoise covers on the booths. Where the 101 seems more like a conscious decision, Harry's seems more like a "Why would we change it?"

The menu is extensive since it’s going for more than just ‘diner’ and braches off into full restaurant. Really though, who orders the salmon at a place like this? The wide variety means that prices can range from as little as 5 dollars all the way up to 20. I ordered the Waffle and Two Egg breakfast. Shannon ordered the French Toast breakfast. I got the coffee and she got the hot chocolate.

The coffee was a little weak but our waitress was always there for a quick refill. The hot chocolate came with a mountain of whipped cream. Our food came out quickly, which was unexpected since, like I said, the place was packed. I had ordered my eggs over-easy, one yolk was runny and the other cooked solid. The sausage was a tad greasy but better than average. The waffle was very disappointing. It was like a giant Eggo waffle, soggy and not at all what I was hoping for. The chunk of orange was good. It peeled nicely and was juicy. I reviewed an orange! The French toast was “better than home” and the eggs were fine, according to Shannon. I do not recall what she thought of her orange.

The one thing I will gush about at Harry’s were the potatoes. I loved these potatoes. Similar to what I just got at Sitton’s, these were fried just a bit longer to give them some real crunch (as you will remember, I like crunchy) on the tops and the bottoms. They were perfectly buttered and salted.

I did order the pie… but sadly….I forgot to note what kind of pie and have since lost the picture to the internet ether. In my notes I just wrote “Pie- supermarket.” Not a ringing endorsement. The day I ordered the chicken salad sandwich, I also got the peach pie, and that I remember liking. It wasn’t spectacular but it was good.

Price: $5-$20
Food: Middling
Service: Good
Pie: Yes.

920 N San Fernando Blvd
Burbank, CA
Phone: (818) 842-8755

Monday, June 4, 2007

Sitton and shadup! Sitton's NO HO Diner

Late Saturday afternoon I sat around my dingy room and was hit with the pang of realization that I had not eaten anything since 8am. A bowl of off-brand cereal and just barely enough milk to dampen the wheat chex was all I had. I was hungry. It was time to eat. It was “DINER TIME”. That’s right, I used all caps. Feeling like heading to the wrong side of the Hollywood hills, I googled “Burbank, diner”. I found Sitton’s North Hollywood Diner. I mapped it, jotted down the address and headed out.

Located right off the freeway on the edge of a busy stretch of Magnolia Blvd, Sitton’s has something that is very rare in the LA area- ample parking. A “gang” of parking as the youths say. I parked, passed the two life-size waiter statues guarding the door and headed inside.

Décor-wise this place will confuse you the moment you walk in. “This is a diner?” Sure they have the counter right there and the stainless steel counter behind it with the coffee maker and glass case for pie but that is all they have to establish the diner-ness. Otherwise this looks like a bizarre blend of a Shakey’s and an East Coast Italian restaurant. Photographs of dead and dying film stars adorn the walls.

I was greeted, gruffly, by the waitress. “Just one?” I nodded and she made a noncommittal wave which I took to mean sit anywhere. I took a table near the counter and in the direct path of the waitress. In a drive-by wait on she asked what I wanted, “Coke, sprite, diet coke?” For some reason (low blood sugar?) I couldn’t speak clearly but was able to stammer out “Coffee” before she left earshot. She came back momentarily with a cup of coffee. A cute li’l cup of joe, about 4 regular gulps. Luckily my waitress was quick with the refills. She was literally there the moment I put down my empty cup, a bonus of sitting where she HAD to pass my table regularly. The coffee itself was serviceable. A little weak but with a smooth flavor.

I ordered a simple breakfast of two eggs, two pieces of pig, hash browned potatoes and toast. I got my eggs scrambled, the sausage link and an English muffin. I didn’t have to wait long of course, this is a five minute prep meal after all. My eggs were a tad slimy but still tasted good. The sausage links were basic Jimmy Dean. The potatoes were of the boiled potatoes quickly seared on the griddle variety. I prefer that over the crispy crispy spud shavings. The English muffin was ridiculously good. She brought it out already slathered in butter. I spied on the counter a gigantic dish piled high with a mound of butter. I put a little packet of jam on one half of the English muffin. The jam combined with the melted butter into a sweet messy ocean on tip of the cratered surface of the muffin.

Although I warned her that I would be ordering pie, my waitress brought my check halfway through my meal. As she came by to fill my coffee cup again, I ordered a slice of the Chocolate Cream pie. It looked amazing in the glass case behind the counter. I was sorely tempted to order one of the delicious frosted doughnuts they also had back there but I stuck to the pie. The pie looked good but was quite disappointing. Too much cream and not enough chocolate. It was a grocery store pie.

Final notes:
Sitton’s was a perfectly fine experience. The place is open 24 Hours so that must make it a pretty good scene after the valley bars close. They offer patio dining if you are into that. The staff was friendly and clearly has regulars.

Price: $5-$18 (my meal with coffee and pie only ran 10.83)
Food: Decent.
Service: Very Good
Pie: Basic Creams and Fruits.

Neighborhood: North Hollywood
11329 Magnolia Blvd
North Hollywood, CA 91601
(818) 761-3341