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.