Thursday, September 27, 2007

Square One: Dining In The Shadow Of Xenu

At the same party that brought Delores’ to my attention, I was also told about a nouveau diner in my own neighborhood. It took a while to make it there but I finally did. I dragged Paul and Jeff, the gentleman who told us about it, along with me to Square One.

Paul lives down the street from Square One and had never really noticed it before. I had driven past it multiple times and had no idea where it was. This is easy to do since the front of this nouveau diner is pretty nondescript. On my second pass that day, I finally saw it. I realized another reason why I always missed it- I’m always looking at the other side of the street. Square One is in the shadow of a sprawling Scientology complex. You can’t help but stare at this thing as you drive by. The Scientologists own a lot of property here in Hollywood and this particular building reminds me of the apartment building in “Ghost Busters”, just painted blue. It looms ominously over everything.

I parked down the street and was the first to arrive. Square One is tiny. It’s your living room. Most of the tables are two tops but one long table rests in the middle. I told the host that there were would be three of us. She looked at me downright suspiciously before sending me to one side of the long table. It wasn’t more than a minute later that Paul arrived dissuading the host from thinking I was running some kind of seating scam on her.

We looked over the menu and Paul ordered an orange juice and I a coffee. The juice was the regular much too small for what you pay size that is restaurant standard. My coffee was served in a mug large enough to choke a bear. The coffee itself had a slight burnt taste.

Paul and I looked over the limited but dynamic menu. After the initial sticker shock- Square One is priced for ultimate hipness- I was delighted to find that everything on the menu sounded ridiculously good. It was insanely difficult to decide. Fortunately, Jeff had yet to show, giving us more time.

"Well, let me know when Elijah arrives" quipped our waiter.

After changing my mind about a half dozen times on what to order, Jeff finally arrived. Our waiter quickly got down to business.

Jeff ordered one of their signature baked egg dishes. Chorizo, gruyere cheese, salsa roja and bell peppers. He also got a side of bacon and a a slice of their Saturday only coffee cake.

The coffee cake came out first. All three of us dug in. I found it too bready.

He also liked his baked egg dish. Having been there several times he confidently can say he's never been disappointed by his food.

I should also mention that Jeff, a Jew, loves their bacon!

In fact if he could chose one way to die, it would be by eating their bacon.

And somewhere his foreskin is weeping.

Paul opted for an omelet including garlic/lemon thyme chicken sausage with gruyere cheese. Square One loves gruyere cheese I guess. Paul displayed his unsophisticated palate by lamenting the lack of ketchup for his eggs and potatoes.

Paul let me try some of those sweet looking potatoes . They were nice and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Delicious.

Jeff's love for the bacon inspired me to try what in my opinion was the most interesting soundings dish. 3 buttermilk pancakes served with a bacon enriched caramel sauce.

I was delighted when this beautiful dish hit the table. Bacon on pancakes is nothing groundbreaking to be sure but chunks of this premium bacon and a bacon "enriched" sauce- not a syrup mind you, but a sauce-was something new at least for me.

The best way to describe the bacon is to imagine the texture of one of those gross slabs of individual jerky strips you get at a 7-11, a little firm on the outside but squishy on the inside. Now remove the disgusting flavor and add a savory flavor from an actual pig. There's your Square One bacon.

It was fabulously rich and flavorful. I do advise you to pour that sauce onto the pancakes as soon as you can. It turns into a thick gravy sludge once it cools down.

Overall, Square One was a great experience. I would highly recommend it for any small group of people who like splurge a little on a interesting new take on breakfast standards. Large groups of spendthrifts, I suggest you stay away. Square One is similar to Doughboys except NOT closed down due to a major cockroach infestation.

Price: 8-15
Food: Very Good.
Service: Attentive and speedy since they want to get you out as soon as possible to make room for more diners.
Pie: Sadly, no.

Square One
4854 Fountain Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90029

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cirque de Pancake' or Pancake Circus in Sacramento

Another "On the Road" edition.

Let that name sink in. Pancake Circus.

Pancake. Circus.

There is a restaurant out there in the world named Pancake Circus. Not just out in the world, a scant 5 hour drive north in Sacramento. Of course they have pancakes, that’s not even worth asking. Where, oh where, is the circus? The Studio Diner in Sand Diego is NEXT to a studio. Joe’s Diner was started by a guy named Joe. The House of Pies is next to houses. The first IHOP was located down the street from the UN building in New York… sometimes I LIE.

There is no circus here. No circus nearby, even. The only connection I can find is that there is a respected clown college located in Sacramento. This is a pretty close connection considering the interior of Pancake Circus is jam packed with clowns.

You walk into Pancake Circus and you understand it is not just a name, it is a decorative theme. Clowns and large autumnal colored animals heads….that look suspiciously like trademarked characters belonging to the Walt Disney Company.

I’m not from Sacramento, my family has just settled there. So now for holidays and birthdays I find myself travelling to the state capitol to see them. On my last trip up there I took my parents to Pancake Circus. I had eaten there years ago and was anxious to go back and review it for a Dinerwood "On the Road". Pancake Circus is actually one of the reasons I started this blog. Attention must be paid.

The place was busy as could be expected for a Saturday morning. We didn’t have to wait long thankfully but gave me just enough time to sneak some of these interior pictures.
Once seated we turned over our coffee mugs indicating that we did indeed want coffee with our breakfast. I love places that do this—almost as much as I love the places that give you your own coffeepot. The simple turning over of a cup makes me feel more involved in the whole process. I just wish the coffee was something special. Our waitress quickly filled our cups. She was no-nonsense without being pushy. With a "Let’s do this," she took our orders.

Looking over the menus I was surprised at how cheap everything was. The average hearty breakfast was less than six dollars. Only the full-sized dinners (things like T-Bone steak and lasagna) are more than ten. Most of the breakfasts default to "two circus pancakes" with a bread or hash browns being the substitutions. Thankfully, other than the "circus pancakes" there is little shoe-horning of the circus theme into the menu. Although my dad and I did both order the Big Top Breakfast. The one difference between our orders were that I ordered my eggs scrambled. Yes... look at the picture. That's an over medium set of huevos. They got my order wrong. That's okay. I didn't care how I got my eggs really. I would be remiss if I didn't let you guys know the truth though. I did copy my dad and ordered the hash browns "extra extra crispy". For as long as I've known my dad, which is to say, my whole life, he's ordered his hash browns this way. They are never crispy enough, but he did appreciate the effort Pancake Circus put into these. The sausage was a little soggy. My dad let me try some of his ham. He liked it well enough, while I thought it was fatty.

Now for the pancakes! The waitress brought them on a second trip to the table and they were already cooled down. Pancake Circus doesn't have warming lamps so this may more often than not be the case if the place is busy and your waitress can't get the food to your table fast enough. I was also displeased when I lifted my top pancake and saw the twerpy haggard pancake hidden beneath.

Clearly they were trying to hide this malformed creature. A creature that proved to be quite delicious. Pancake Circus does pancakes right. Light and fluffy without the feeling of swallowing a pillow.

My mom ordered the Country Fried Steak breakfast. I can't eat country fried steak. It used to be served at my elementary school for lunch. I couldn't eat it then and it has ruined it for me now. My mom liked it. Maybe you will to.

Pancake Circus is just such so kitchy and odd that you have to try it. The food is good but that's entirely secondary to the surreal environment in which you eat it.
It's not too far off I-5 making it possible to just to a quick pit stop on your way north.

Price: $5-$10
Food: Good.
Service: Good, but did get my order wrong.
Pie: Yes. Apple, Boysenberry and Cherry

Pancake Circus
2101 Broadway
Sacramento, CA 95818-2535

Friday, September 7, 2007

Hungry like a fox! The Hungry Fox

We first saw it on television. Only a brief establishing shot of the exterior before we cut inside to Pam and Roy sharing a cup of coffee. Would they get back together? What about Jim? He’s with Karen now! But Roy’s really changed! Or has he? We’d soon learn that he hadn’t really. For that brief moment inside the “Hungry Fox” we were unsure of where things might be going for our favorite receptionist.

This is THE table that they sat at.

Thanks to NBC’s “The Office”, the Hungry Fox established itself on my radar. I had no idea it was even local until a google search revealed its North Hollywood location. The first time out there, I was surprised not only at the off-putting hotel pastel coloring of the interior but by the presence of Thai icons and art (and waitstaff- but it feels racist pointing out the ethnicity of a restaurant's employees, so keep that mum).
Hungry Fox looks like a Holiday Inn and your favorite Thai Bistro vomited on each other or had a baby-whichever scenario is more baffling to you. [This baby was born with an ill-placed claw machine in the middle of the rear dining room.]
The menu is pretty typical with a little bit of everything- not too many omelets, not too many types of bread. The thing that really shines at Hungry Fox are the homemade jams. The pumpkin jam is really spectacular and available for purchase at only 4.99. That is the best deal you’ll find there. I won’t say Hungry Fox is pricey-- it certainly isn't when compared to an Eat Well or Doughboys-- but you definitely feel it for what you get. The meals are well-proportioned but are priced in a way that I expect to be debating whether or not to force those last two bites of hash browns down or go for the second slice of toast that I haven’t even touched yet.

What can I say? I felt adventurous this morning. My eyes kept being drawn to the mysteriously named "Flipping Rice". Scrambled eggs with cheese and chunks of turkey served on a bed of rice. Sounds gross right? Sounds kind of good also though, right? Am I crazy? I went ahead and ordered. I ordered some flippin' rice.
Due to the proximity of the dish to the "Mexican Favorites" on the menu, I assumed the rice would be spainish style. I wasn't expecting white rice. That sort of killed it for me. I was having two different meals here-- A turkey scramble and a plate of plain rice. Neither really satisfied me.

Near the entrance is a poster, seemingly not specific to the Hungry Fox, extolling the deliciousness of the Belgian Waffle. I guess it was put out by the ABWAC (American Belgian Waffle Ad Council) because who else would make a poster for a waffle. The poster worked because Antoinette ordered the waffle breakfast.
The waffle didn't have much flavor and required a lot of jam to make it good. The bacon was decent, being more crispy than greasy. The eggs were "Eh-ggs".

We had been there a couple of times and the food was just never better than "decent". Here's some pictures from a previous visit.

Remember my biscuits and gravy phase?

It is kind of cute the way each tiny Pillsbury biscuit gets a dollop of gravy. The large round object at the bottom of the plate.... I can't even remember what that was- A sausage patty probably.. kind of looks like a really toasted english muffin.

Those hash browns were pretty crispy....or like dog food.... You decide!

I really want to like the Hungry Fox. It's one of those places you want to tell someone else about. The same way I heard about the Delores, I want to say to some stranger at a party, "Hey have you been to that diner in the valley that's run by Thais?" I don't think it deserves it though. Other than the pumpkin jam there's nothing there that I can recommend. The jam you can just walk in and buy and walk out. No reason to even sit. Well, you may want to sit. Sometimes it can take them awhile to fetch the jam from the back. Maybe they have to win it from the claw machine? God, I wish I had taken a picture of that damn claw machine. Seriously, it is right in the center of the rear dining room.

Funny tidbit- Our first time there, a crying baby could be heard from the back of the restaurant. One of the waitresses said fairly loudly "Will someone shut that baby up?"

Price: $7-$14
Food: Decent
Service: Attentive
Pie: Yes.

13359 Sherman Way
North Hollywood, CA, 91605
(818) 765-7111

Hungry Fox has another location in Arizona. If you are ever going to Tucson- and oh my lord, why would you?- try that location. Antoinette has actually eaten there and can recommend it a bit more than our local one.

Look at that second food picture... that's not a hearty bowl of cream o' something soup... that's the Arizona biscuits and gravy.