Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Du-Pars: Sub-par?

I get a lot of recommendations for places to go, especially for places that are considered standards of the Los Angeles diner "scene." Usually these come in the form of emails or a grab of the elbow at a get together or party. Delores' came from an elbow grab at a party and Jouni's Cafe came from an email. I really appreciate these tips; they let me know people are reading Dinerwood, and that's a good thing to know.

I've gotten a lot of double or triple recommendations from folks. I know I need to go to the Apple Pan on Pico, and I've been trying to plan a trip to Chip's Restaurant in Hawthorne since forever. These are places that a lot of people tell me to try out. (Occasionally, I get recommendations for places I've already reviewed and I lament Blogger's lack of an index function.) However, one place that no one has ever recommended to me, but is pretty much as old school as you can get in L.A., is Du-Par's.

Du-Par's has three locations; the newly restored original is located at 3rd and Fairfax, part of the Grove/Farmer's Market complex. I really dislike that area because of the sheer awfulness of the general population of the Grove, and I also had a really bad date there once and it's just too painful to return. So because of these feelings and to further serve my Valley readership, I decided to hit up the one in Studio City.

This Du-Par's is located not too far from the 101 off of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Blvd. #1DC Antoinette and I strolled in for a late breakfast two weeks ago. I was impressed by the size of the place--it was much larger than it looked from the outside. A giant counter and close to two dozen booths make for a spacious dining experience. I imagine only at peak times would you have to wait for a spot.

Du-Par's feels old without looking it. It seems more well-maintained than comfy, and it appears that this location was probably the object of renovation as well. The chandeliers and stained wood seem faux-classic, not authentic.

The waitresses wear some truly wonderful old fashioned outfits, complete with hats! I wasn't going to ask one to pose for me because that would have been creepy.

Loving pie as much as I do, I appreciated that the walls were decorated by pie-themed posters. This, the display case at the front, and the on-site bakery, clued me in that this place takes pie very seriously, which I completely respect.

Then, when we sat down and looked at the menu and I saw that there were roughly twenty pies on the menu, including a "pie of the month," I knew I might be in heaven.

#1DC Antoinette, however, may have been developing a different feeling. The first crack in the golden facade appeared in the menu as we looked at the prices. It seemed a bit much. A second crack appeared with the coffee. I did find it bitter, but not overly so. Antoinette thought it was awful.

Antoinette started with a cup of pea soup, made from yellow peas. I can see why they wouldn't have it listed as "Yellow Pea Soup" on the menu because the giggles of everyone inside would be deafening.

Antoinette noted that yellow peas have more of a garden, earthy flavor, whereas green peas taste more salty.

I ordered the short stack of pancakes. I thought it was pretty damn cool that they supplied melted butter--yes, real butter--for the pancakes. I had never seen that before. The pancakes themselves were pretty good: fluffy with a hint of batter taste, which I liked. These hadn't been stirred too long or cooked to a tough consistency.

For her entree, Antoinette ordered the chicken salad sandwich on raisin bread with a side of fries. The chicken salad was sorely lacking in chicken and was way too liquidy. The raisin bread was a nice touch but was toasted a tad too long and had started to burn. Looking around at the other tables, we discovered that all the bread seemed this way. The fries were greasy and had a strong oily aftertaste.

So far, I was still really enjoying my Du-Par's experience. Antoinette, not so much.

But I thought that perhaps the pie would win her over.

I asked our waitress for a slice of the pie of the month ("french pear with walnut crumb topping" according to the Du-Par's website) but was informed that it was sold out. You must have to get there pretty early in the morning to get the pie of the month. I ordered their regular pear pie instead.

I thought it was delicious. It had sliced pears with a cinnamon glaze served over a custard type filling. Antoinette was, in fact, not impressed.

In the end, our breakfast cost $37.81, which I'll admit was steep. Still, I was enamored with Du-Par's. Was I just blinded by the waitress uniforms and number of pies? Or was Antoinette right, her meal, with the exception of the soup, was not very good, especially for the price. Plus, she said the bathroom was pretty gross.

I needed to give Du-Par's another shot. Antoinette would not go again, so who could I take with me?

Enter: The Parents.

Mom and Dad, who last appeared in the Pancake Circus review, came to town last weekend and I brought them with me.

We got there early, right at breakfast time, and there was still no wait. This place should be more popular at the time, unless more people are on Antoinette's side than mine, which wouldn't be the first time.

Getting there so early meant we could order from the Blue Plate Special menu, which lightened the dollar load a bit. The blue plate specials include coffee, which is a nice touch.

My mom got a pancake, egg and bacon special. She ordered the bacon crisp, and by God she got it. She agreed that the pancakes were better than at most places.

My dad got the same thing, but with turkey sausage instead of bacon. It's interesting to note that turkey sausage is the only option; they do not have regular sausage at Du-Par's.

I ordered the french toast and turkey sausage. The french toast was pretty basic. The turkey sausage was just okay.

I do really love that the blue plate specials are not served on blue plates but rather regular plates that say Blue Plate. That's some subversive stuff right there.

I once again tried to order the pie of the month and was denied; our waitress wasn't even sure if they had had any that morning. I think that whole enterprise might be a myth. I took a gamble and went with the gooseberry pie.

Gooseberry pie is tart--more tart than rhubarb. There's an interesting touch of grape to the taste as well, although that could be psychological because gooseberries look like tiny green grapes. The crust was flaky, but dense, so it didn't turn to dust in my mouth. The waitress recommended ice cream with it which I imagine would be very good.

The total for the three of us was only $33.56.

The conclusion my parents and I came to is that Du-Par's is good, but over-priced. You will probably want to go there for breakfast and get the blue plate specials so you aren't dropping a tank of gas worth on one meal. They also have a neat gimmick of the Beat the Clock menu. From 4 to 6pm, selected menu items are whatever price the time is when you order them.

The criticisms Antoinette had are totally justified, but a place that has twenty something pies cannot be all bad. It just can't be.

Food: Overall, decent. Breakfast seems safe.
Service: Friendly...and wearing hats!
Price: High for the portions and quality.
Pie: A LOT.

12036 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City
(818) 766-4437

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Twain's: The Price and the Pie-per

Deciding it was time to take Dinerwood away from eastern Los Angeles and western San Bernardino counties, I hit the mental filing cabinet for “places to review.”

"To the beach or to the north?" I pondered. On that late, lazy Sunday night, I settled on the north. Number One Diner Companion Antoinette and I ventured to the valley to eat at Twain’s.

Nestled just south of the 101, Twain’s is a spectacular piece of retro dining. Its bright yellow sign is like a beacon above the palm trees and sushi bars and storefront boutiques, Twain's is classic 70s diner in every way. Oh yes, the sign rotates.

We stepped inside the mostly empty restaurant and were greeted by a friendly waiter who told us to sit anywhere. We chose a booth near the back, since it is much easier to take pictures while not in the center of it all.

After a moment, an even friendlier waiter came by and took our drink orders. Faithful readers will understand my joy that table was already stocked with coffee mugs and as soon as I turned the waiting coffee cup over, my cup was filled with fragrant hot coffee: strong enough to feel but weak enough to drink straight.

Looking at the menu, I experienced some sticker shock. A grilled cheese was $7.50 while most of the items hovered around $10.00. I thought it was a little pricey, but kept perusing. I always love a place that has surprises on the menu and Twain's has several. I was debating between the Ukraine Omelet or the Warsaw Pact Omelet. The Ukraine had sour cream, mushrooms and olives, while the Warsaw had polish sausage and cheese. The Ukraine was tempting, but the Warsaw won out.

Antoinette ordered a cup of chili and a grilled cheese sandwich. The bread had perfect crispness and the cheese was melted, but not to the point of seeping out. It crunched when bit into and had none of the greasy or soggy qualities that a sandwich overdone can exhibit. Even though I am predisposed to loving crinkle fries, because they remind me of elementary school, these were rather dry and flavorless: not that great.

The chili came with a slice of American cheese draped over the top and, as you can tell from the picture, we had dug in pretty deep before I remembered to take a picture. This wasn't chili that would blow your mind; it was restaurant chili--safe and good enough.

My Warsaw Pact omelet also came with a slice of American cheese over it. This was odd, since Swiss cheese was inside. I was really pleased with the omelet. I didn't expect much, but my expectations were surpassed. The cheese flowed out like lava when I cut into it, carrying the slices of polish sausage out like the ill-fated residents of
Pompeii. The hash browns were soggy, and I had the feeling that they had been frozen but not really thawed before hitting the griddle.
So it seems that Twain's can't do potatoes.

While sitting there, two regulars sauntered in and sat at the counter. The gentleman of the pair commented that he couldn't NOT get a slice of pie, and that he, in fact, had come in this evening specifically to get the pie. So although I was full of egg and sausage, I had to get a slice. The ringing endorsement of this stranger sold me.

I ordered a slice of apple to go. It lasted until the next morning when I devoured it for breakfast. By then the crust was a bit soggy, but the filling was decent. The apples still had a bit of "apple" to them that hadn't completely been taken over by the cinnamon.

Twain's was a fun experience. It has a good neighborhood vibe with a strong sense of history, where often the valley seems to have none.

It's not great food, but it's good comforting food, and in that aim, it succeeds.

Food: Good.
Service: Friendly and attentive.
Price: A smidge much: $7-$12 for most dishes
Pie: Several.

Twain's Restaurant
12905 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA

Monday, December 8, 2008

Red Hill Coffee Shop

Once again out on Route 66, Number One Diner Companion Antoinette and I finally hit a place we had been meaning to go for a long while: the Red Hill Coffee Shop. Located in a tiny building on a nondescript stretch of road, it's easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled.

That's a bold claim to have etched into a mirror hung in your window. Not just the "best" but the "GREATEST." This must be epic breakfast.

Inside, you'll discover that the Red Hill Coffee Shop is even tinier than it looks on the outside. Only eight tables and room for ten at the counter makes for an elbows deep dining experience at meal time. The waitresses really have to squeeze through to make their rounds.

See those people at that table? They pulled up the same time we did. They rushed in and took the last table. They then proceeded to stall and stall because they were waiting for another person. Douche move right? Total douche. We showed them, though. We were seated within a couple of minutes and at a sweet booth by the window while they languished in the ass-to-the-face zone.

I was feeling a bit under the weather that morning, but I still gave the coffee a shot. It gave me a good pick me up and tasted pretty good. However, I wasn't convinced that I was having 'the greatest' breakfast yet and it was nowhere near epic. It was somewhere closer to "thought provoking character piece."

The walls of Red Hill are plastered with signed headshots and candid photographs of celebrities, spanning several decades, which really shows how long this place has been around. A lot of the pictures feature a tall, white haired, mustachioed man. I assumed he was the owner and when the man later appeared behind the counter chatting up customers, it was pretty clear this was the case.

The headshot I was the most impressed by was of Lee Horsely. Nobody remembers Lee Horsely do they? He was the perfect mix of Burt Reynolds and Tom Selleck without any of that uncomfortable sexiness. Where Burt would drive a trans-am and Tom would drive a corvette, Lee would drive a Wagoneer.

The menu at Red Hill is simple: all pancakes, eggs, and omelets. Antoinette ordered the hash brown, bacon, and egg plate.

The eggs were good. The heaping amount of hash browns needed some salt but had a good crispy to soft ratio. The bacon was also good, crispy without being too dry.

Instead of toast, she opted for a side of biscuits and gravy. The biscuit was unimpressive, but the gravy was peppery and had large chunks of sausage in it.

I ordered the french toast breakfast. I found it far too buttery. You can tell from the picture that the bread is refusing to soak up any more. Other than that, the french toast was good. It was like the french toast you make at home--thin sliced bread, basic egg yolk batter. I often don't feel like making french toast at home so this is convenient, I suppose.

Overall, the Red hill Coffee Shop was a nice experience, but certainly not the "greatest." There's nothing fancy at the Red Hill Coffee Shop, just basic home-cooked breakfasts. I wasn't wowed, but I would go there again should the opportunity present itself. Although, its limited hours (6:30 am to 1:00 pm on most days) makes a return visit less than likely. Maybe next time it could be the greatest. Could be right? Right?

Food: Good.
Service: Good.
Price: Cheap $5-$8
Pie: None.

Red Hill Coffee Shop
8111 Foothill Blvd
Upland, CA 91730

Side note: The Red Hill Coffee Shop sits in front of the, I assume, affiliated Red Hill BBQ, which is a great little bbq shack that I've eaten at several times. If you ever find yourself a bit too late to eat at the Coffee Shop, you might want to give the bbq a try. The prices are low, the food is cooked on a huge, wood-fired grill out front, and they even serve pie.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Flappy Jack's Pancake House: Get your kicks and your pancakes on Route 66.

Route 66 is the most iconic roadway in the country, maybe the world. It has a long time feud going with a very jealous Autobahn. Numerous songs have been written about Route 66 and it even starred in its own tv show. The Autobahn only has one song. And although Route 66 probably runs over its fair share of ancient Indian burial grounds, it still holds the moral high ground over its Germanic foe. And somewhere a punch-drunk Silk Road is wondering 'what happened?'
Number One Diner Companion Antoinette and I went for a drive down historic Route 66 looking for a breakfast joint. Once the bloodline of travel through the southwest, the 66 is now bypassed by most in favor of the freeways. The closer you are to civilization, the more common it becomes with strip malls, Jiffy Lubes and other trappings of the suburbs. Although traffic has changed, we knew that a classic eatery must be along this legendary road.

When I saw the sign for Flappy Jack’s, I knew we need not travel farther. This felt good. This felt right. Then when I saw the crowd of people outside, about 20 to 30 strong, I felt really annoyed.

Lots of people waiting could mean a few things: maybe the food is really good; maybe the service sucks or they are overwhelmed; maybe the after-church crowd is just really lazy and doesn't want to eat that far away after visiting God's House.
I ducked inside while #1DC Antoinette parked the car. I asked about the wait and was told 30 minutes. I put my name in and was handed a restaurant beeper.

I am not a fan of restaurant beepers. Ingenious idea for an Outback or a Red Lobster, it's practical but impersonal. I want someone to have to shout out my name and look anxiously around for a minute to see if anyone responds. I want someone to then look annoyed and peer around after shouting out my name a second time before I respond. This is what I like.

After waiting the full thirty minutes and looking over the window menu time and time again, I went back inside. Just as I was about to ask how much longer it would be, the beeper—which did not beep—flashed its red LED lights and vibrated in my hand. I felt like I had just won something. I had just won not having to wait anymore.

The walls of Flappy Jack’s are painted with scenes of the high points of Route 66: woody station wagons, car hops and...Al Capone.

Having had more than enough time to look over the menu, ordering was easy. At the window menu, my mind might have changed a dozen times, but one thing was for sure: I knew I had to get pancakes. It's a pancake house, after all. The only problem was, what kind? I thought the strawberry stuffed pancakes would be a winner. Or maybe the bacon pancakes? Then when we sat down I saw the placard for the seasonal Pumpkin Nut pancakes! Seasonal pancakes always win out.

The pancakes had a nice subtle pumpkin flavor. It's hard to get pumpkin just right. The walnuts added a nice crunch to the pancake in almost every bite. I had been hoping for something a little special with the syrup, but it's just not that kind of place. The eggs were decent and the bacon was crispy without crumbling into bits.

#1DC Antoinette ordered the french onion soup and the turkey avocado melt. Our waitress brought out a gang of packaged crackers, including rye crisps, my favorite restaurant crackers ever. I promptly made Antoinette load up her purse with them. The soup also came with a large thick slice of bread to sop the soup with. She thought the soup was good; not earth-shattering, but good.

Interestingly the pasta salad that came with the sandwich was made with orzo pasta and included pine nuts, which seemed very frou-frou for a place like this. The sandwich itself was decent with fresh tasting ingredients and thick cut bread. The fries were nicely golden and crispy.

Flappy Jack’s was good. It is clearly a popular place in Glendora. A lot of people eat there. A lot of people eat at Dennys and Chillis, too. I was only disappointed that it wasn't more homey. It really lacked charm. It seemed stuck in a weird middle place of classic family dining and trying to appeal to..well, to people who go places where they give you beepers.

Food: Good.
Service: Friendly.
Price: You are looking at $8-11 for most things. Beware the sides, which run around $4 to $5 each.
Pie: None.

640 West Route 66
Glendora, CA 91740

Note: Hours
M-Sat: 6am to 3pm
Sun: 7am to 3pm

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Local: Think global, eat elsewhere.

Local opened just a few months ago in the former location of an antique shop. The owner was once a cook at Cobras and Matadors and thought that, since the antique business wasn't doing too well, he might as well try his hand at a restaurant. I had actually been there when it was an antique store, and I have to say...

...it was better as an antique store

Local has an interesting set up, since it works basically like a fast food restaurant. You walk inside and order at the counter, then take your number and find a seat, which is offered on the side patio, or out in front on the sidewalk.

You may also get your own salad from the salad bar, but neither Number One Diner Companion Antoinette nor I ordered salads.

We both got coffee, though and were excited by the gargantuan mugs. We took our mugs to the coffee fixin's station and I was impressed to see real simple syrup available. We were sorely disappointed to find the coffee was bitter and had an odd chemical aftertaste.

I ordered a crepe with red bell pepper, sausage, jack cheese and onions. It came with home fries and toast. Now, the home fries were good and no one can ruin toast, short of burning. The crepe was uneven with the top half consisting of nothing but pepper and onions and the bottom being where the sausage and cheese was hiding. Overall it was decent--just decent.

Antoinette ordered the brioche french toast with yogurt and fruit. It was a nice blend of fruit, but terribly bland. Their local supplier definitely picked before the pique of ripeness. The yogurt was fine: unsweeetened and unflavored. The french toast, however, was nearly inedible. I like soggy french toast. I like the bread to have soaked up the batter like the military industrial complex soaks up our national budget. I'm not saying I can't enjoy it if isn't sopping wet, I just have a preference. This french toast was barely 'kissed' by the batter, and the batter it was kissed with was foul. After three bites, Antoinette felt nauseous and gave up.

I attempted to finish my meal, but it was hopeless. We couldn't even force ourselves to gulp down the remaining $3 coffee.

There is really nothing to make me recommend Local. Yes, the idea of local ingredients, farmers market goods, blahblahblah is all well and good, but there are a lot of places that do this already--and do it well. In a world with Auntie Em's, Madame Matisse, and Square 1, there is just no reason to dine Local.

Food: Not so great.
Service: You serve yourself, although they do come around with coffee refills. I doubt anyone takes them up on the offer, though.
Price: Far too expensive. $32.00 for two moderately portioned, barely edible breakfasts and bad coffee. No. Just no.
Pie: None.

2943 W. Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(323) 662-4740

Special thanks to our friend Dan Koeppel for the inside information on Local's back story. Visit his website: http://www.bananabook.org

Sunday, November 2, 2008

On the Road Update: We've lost a good one.

I just found out that Vancouver Washington's Stardust Diner closed at the begining of the month.

Read my review of it from last year and mourn the passing of one of the good ones.

Stardust Diner

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Stevie Dee's Cafe - Shake the Shack.

We found it by accident. Number One Diner Companion Antoinette says she's probably driven past it a hundred times. While looking for a place to get dinner, we searched "new Rancho Cucamonga restaurants" and stumbled upon this place, Stevie Dee's Cafe. Formerly known as
Chuck's Diner, the name change is, I'm sure, how it came up as a result for "new" restaurants.

Stevie Dee's Cafe is a shack by the railroad tracks. It's a "50's Diner," which usually means enough kitsch to make you throw up your chotskies. As soon as you walk inside, ou know the place is going to be an experience; there are innumerable pictures of Elvis and Marilyn everywhere. Elvis as a cowboy, Elvis as a soldier, Elvis as your barber, Elvis as your mom. And Marilyn as...well, Marilyn.

Like in most--scratch that--ALL 50's diners, there is a collection of Coca-Cola merchandise for sale. Why is this a trope of this style of diner? If anything, Pepsi is more of a icon from the 50s. 50's diners are all about an odd nostalgia for the pop culture of the time. Coke's never left the consciousness of the culture so it can't be dated to a specific time. Never has the Pepsi brand been so heavily pushed as it was in the 1950s. PepsiCo had Joan Crawford and a giant monkey-man hawking it, for Pete's sake! Why does Coca-Cola have such a lock down on nostalgia?

I'll be the first to say; I like that 50's kitsch. I went through my rockabilly phase and have the pomade to prove it. Growing up, my older sister went through a phase where we actually redecorated her bedroom to look like a 1950's malt shop--black and white tile and all. I have my James Dean, Elvis, Marilyn, Brando in "The Wild One", 'Chantilly Lace,' and 'Pink Carnation and a Pickup Truck' pedigree. I can also see how that kind of environment might provide an annoying dining experience. What saves Stevie Dee's Cafe is that this building looks and feels really...old.

It's a folksy charm place, with a 'well-gosh-darn-it, we're going to make due with what we got attitude.' It's old without being decrepit. Its out of the way location (not being by an off ramp or a shopping center) makes me imagine it as a "locals only" establishment where a fella could just disappear into a new identity, forget all the wrong he's done, and start living right with God.

We sat down at our table and pulled our the menus from the little holder on the table. Glancing through them, we were surprised at how cheap everything was. The most expensive item on the menu was the T-bone and eggs, as $8.99. The cheapest, coffee at 99 cents. You don't get 99 cent coffee anywhere and it was better than I've had at most run of the mill joints.

Although our waitress recommended the french toast, I settled on an old fashioned pancake breakfast ($5.99) while Number One Diner Companion Antoinette went with the Breakfast Special ($3.99).

This is a spread of food, all for 4 bucks. The eggs, like mine, were dangerously close to 'too wet.' Antoinette thought they were good, and she's the discerning one. The home fries were thin cut slices of potato browned with just a hint of green pepper, and just greasy enough to be good. While the biscuit itself was unspectacular, the gravy was excellent: peppery and not too heavy, with large chunks of real sausage soaking in it. I wish the sausage they used in the gravy was what they served with the breakfast specials.

The whole ensemble was exactly what you'd expect. The pancakes were regular ol' restaurant pancakes. The eggs were eggs. The bacon was crispy like it should be. The breakfast links were fine, but I've finally come to terms with the sad reality; I have lost my taste for breakfast links. What are terrible state to be in for a diner reviewer! Alas, here I am.

The servers were all over us. I'd take two sips of my coffee and a guy would be there to refill it. Our waitress must have asked us a dozen times if we needed anything else and/or how we were doing. On our way out, we noticed a hand written sign by the door apologizing if the food took too long and for any other inconvenience, and that they phone orders were welcome, to speed up the lunchtime rush. Afterward, as I was looking at the Yelp review for Stevie Dee's, I noted that some had commented about the service being lack-luster. They were clearly trying to turn things around; our food arrived quickly, and the service was nothing less than solicitious.

You'll want to note that the parking lot is pretty small, and if the lot ever gets full, I have no idea where you could park nearby. Luckily, this is a hidden away place and I can't imagine it ever gets over-crowded.

On weekends they are only open until 3pm but during the week they stay open until 7:30pm for dinner.

Stevie Dee's Cafe was a nice find and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Food: Good.
Service: Very Attentive.
Price: $4-$8
Pie: No. They do have home-made cookies, cake, and serve frozen ice cream treatslike the ones the ice cream man sells.

Stevie Dee's Cafe
8890 8th St, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730-4304 (Map)
Phone: (909) 608-0260