Saturday, December 26, 2009

Toasted Bun--Everybody knows your name.

The Toasted Bun is a cozy neighborhood spot located right off Glendale Blvd. Its parking lot only hold about nine cars and each space was taken. We parked around the corner on the street. Walking up, #1DC Antoinette commented on how cute the building was and how nice the flowers were. We both noted the delicious toast smell wafting in the the air. Our hopes were up.

You know, for a place called "The Toasted Bun," you'd think there would be at least one homemade baked good. There was not. Packaged muffins and a supermarket pie were the only items in the display case that were not made by Snapple or the Coca-Cola company. This was a little bit disconcerting.

We sat down and ordered coffee and water. I don't know if you know this, but Glendale has a bit of a water shortage. For more information visit

The waitress brought two giant, heavy mugs filled to the brim with hot coffee. The presence of my beloved Splenda on the table was off-set by their disappointing use of non-dairy creamer. After preparing our coffees, we took our first sips and were horribly disappointed. It was bitter and slightly metallic. Bad coffee can ruin a whole experience for #1DC Antoinette, but I am a bit more forgiving. I wasn't convinced that it was a lost cause--well not yet, anyhow.

It was clear after just a few minutes that everyone in the whole restaurant knew each other. People sitting at different tables were calling not only the waitresses by name, but other patrons as well. A fellow named George had his power turned off and had no idea why. Another diner told him that he had probably reached his limit for the year and the Department of Water and Power had cut him off. Because there's a limit on the amount of electricity an old dude living in a modest apartment in north Glendale can use? Maybe it had something to do with the water shortage? George used up all the water so they cut off his power. That seems like a workable theory.

That's George's back as well as the offending coffee machine.

The menu of the Toasted Bun is small. It's only open for breakfast and lunch, but even then there's not a lot of depth or surprises. The most daring it gets is a scramble called the "Zucchini Delight" (only available on weekdays).

I had heard the corn pancakes were good, but I had made my own for breakfast yesterday so I decided against it. The Eggs Benedict were the "special" on the chalkboard, so I went with that. Antoinette ordered a simple bacon and egg breakfast.

There were more pleasantries exchanged by the staff and the patrons. One couple as they left said, "We'll see you tomorrow."

George asked if he could come over to one of the waitresses houses to watch television (she did not respond).

When the waitress came back to refill my coffee (sure it was bad, but it was early in the morning and I needed coffee), Antoinette took the gamble of sending her coffee back. She asked to exchange the coffee for a tea. The waitress obliged and returned with a cup of tea. A dirty cup with crud dried on the edge and something questionable sunken to the bottom.

There were two positive things I could say about the food. The hollandaise sauce wasn't oily and the bacon was very very thin and not too soggy or too crispy. Other than that, everything was "meh." The potatoes were bland. The eggs were serviceable. It was very disappointing overall.

Regular readers know that I have long sought that place that I can hang my hat at and not just call myself a regular, but be called a regular. I have never been able to do that. George and these other people have found that here at the Toasted Bun. I am a bit jealous, but I'd rather find some place where the food is good.

Food: It was there.
Service: Okay.
Price: Cheap.
Pie: Supermarket pie in a case.

Toasted Bun Restaurant
808 E. California Ave.
Glendale, CA 91206
(818) 244-6416

Friday, December 18, 2009

Flo's Aiport Cafe- Prisons, planes and pancakes.

Over a year ago, I received a recommendation to check out Flo's Airport Cafe in Chino. It's a diner by the airport and by the prison. It really should have been at the top of my list, but for whatever reason, I only just recently made it out to this little gem.

Photog Chu, Dinerpal Paul and I busted our way out of the city and into the barren wastes of Chino. We followed the banners hung on the chain link fences along the main road. We turned left at the prison and right at the airport. The thought process that went into putting a prison next to an airport is beyond me.

It was a busy morning at Flo's, but I imagine every morning is busy at Flo's. It's a local's place. Even with the signs on the main road, you really aren't going to stumble upon it. Even when you pull into the industrial park where it is located, it is not abundantly clear which of the nondescript buildings it is. You can only figure it out by the cluster of people waiting outside.

We waited for a few minutes outside. I flipped through the pages of an airplane parts magazine called Trade-A-Plane, which seems like the Penny Saver of airplane enthusiasts. Seriously, 100 pages of parts and planes for sale. Factory Refurbished Magnetos only $667!

Inside of Flo's deceptively large interior, the walls are decorated with a hodge-podge of pictures and posters, a lot of which are of horses and planes. I got the odd feeling that Vietnam vets eat here. There were also a lot of printed signs hung up with messages like "Ice Cold Water $1.00."

When asked what she thought was the best item of the menu, our waitress was thrown for a loop. "I couldn't even begin to answer! It's all good." Now, I am seasoned enough at this review game that I can tell a fibber. Her answer was just a variation of the stock answer I usually get. But, she was telling the truth; whether or not we would agree with her still remained to be seen.

We looked over the menu--which charmingly used a lot of clip-art--and it covered all the standard diner faire. We were intrigued by the "Red Cup Orange Juice," so along with our coffee (which was good by the way) Charlie ordered it. I predicted that it would come out in one of those Christmas Red Coke glasses you get at pizza parlors and lo and behold:

Check that out! I called it.

The food breakdown: Charlie ordered the Corned Beef Hash and Eggs. I ordered the French Toast Sandwich, which Flo calls the Fran Sam. And in a dramatic twist, Paul ordered the Paul's Platter.

The gigantic french toast had a pretty interesting feature. The top slice of bread had an indentation in it that the butter (well, margarine) had pooled into. It provided a delicious dipping area. The bacon was salty, fatty, and good.

The hash browns were really good. The potatoes were thin cut and just the edges were crispy. The gravy that covered them was a little thin. The ham was delicious. The breakfast sausage was decent.

The corned beef hash was oddly rectangular, but still tasted good. Shape doesn't really effect flavor. Just don't tell the Japanese, they have a big market for that kind of thing.

The crowd at Flo's was very chatty. There were dozens of boisterous family meal conversations going on. The most exciting one that we could hear was by the Chino prison guard and his family seated behind us. He shared a few fascinating stories with his family--delightful tales of tasering a dead prisoner and a recent suicide by a Chino cop. Fun times.

At the end of our meal, we were all stuffed and satisfied. It didn't blow us away, but it was good. I wouldn't make the trip all the way out for just the food, though.

When I went up to the counter to pay--$32.57 for the three of us, so not too shabby-- I noticed the dry-erase board that listed their pies. I counted over fifteen types of pie. I felt like Bowman in "2001." My god, it's full of pie. There was one kind of pie that I didn't recognize on the board: Millionaire Pie.

It's basically a layer of cream cheese over a pecan pie. Decadent and rich. Get it!

So if you are ever flying a small plane out of Chino or visiting your dad at the prison, go ahead and enjoy a fine meal at Flo's Airport Cafe.

Food: Good.
Service: Nice.
Price: Reasonable.
Pie: Lots!

Flo's Airport Cafe
7000 Merrill Ave
Chino Airport

Chino, CA 91710
(909) 597-3416

This is just a beautiful picture. I had to include it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Stewart's Busy Apron Coffee Shop - Concilation Prize

Sure, it looked a little sketchy on the outside. The building could have used a new paint job. The parking lot was empty except for two cars. The place had two names--one on the sign and another on the building. Was it Stewart's Coffee Shop or was it the Busy Apron? Charlie and I approached the building, one of us nervous and the other quietly optimistic.

How did we end up here? Well, let me just say, the Original Pancake House's website said they were open until 3pm. Charlie and I had just slogged through an hour of Saturday afternoon I-5 traffic to get there in time. I even had a coupon! We arrived with what we thought was an hour to spare, only to be informed by a departing waitress that they actually close at 2pm on Saturdays.

"Dim sum?" Charlie Chu suggested, stereotypically.

Dim sum ain't a diner--well, in some ways it is, but we'll get to that another time.

I had noted Stewart's Coffee Shop as we drove past it. It's only about 2 blocks from the Original Pancake House, so we headed back there. I sensed adventure. I think Charlie sensed the possibility of food poisoning. He had recently been acquainted with it, and had no desire to be reintroduced.

The moment I walked through the tall double red doors that are usually a hallmark of neighborhood Chinese food restaurants, I was in Stewart's thrall.

You know how much I love globe light fixtures? I would have a torrid affair on globe light fixtures with Moorish black wrought iron light fixtures. This passion comes from a lamp that hung in our rec room growing up--a lamp I still have. It resides in a closet right now because #1DC Antoinette doesn't think it goes with our living room decor. (Editor's note: this statement is entirely bullshit. I have suggested several times that we hang up that lamp in the aforementioned living room.) Stewart's was decorated with a series of chandeliers and hanging lamps in that style.

We stood in the entrance for several minutes without anyone saying anything to us. We saw a solitary waitress at the far side of the restaurant talking earnestly on the phone. Charlie once again suggested Dim Sum. He was not feeling this place. I was resolute.

There were only two occupied tables inside the whole restaurant. One of them happened to be right by the entrance. As we waited to be greeted or acknowledged, I asked the people at the nearby table how the food was. The woman gave me the "ok" hand gesture, which doesn't really mean just "ok," it usually means "good." The man piped up with a comment of "we eat here almost every day." I imagine that this place thrives on regulars, people probably greeted by name when they walk in. Maybe that's why we hadn't been approached yet; we were strangers.

After another minute or so, the waitress did put the phone down long enough to seat us. We took a booth by the window and began to really take in the surroundings, which did not make Charlie any less apprehensive. All the bad motel art on the wall was off-kilter. All of it. Like someone had purposefully gone to each one and nudged it a bit. The carpet was filthy. At corners and under ledges, we could see patches of what the carpet had once looked like. As much as the outside needed a sprucing up of the paint, the interior was in desperate need of even more care.

The waitress handed us menus that read "Busy Apron" instead of "Stewart's Coffee Shop." Now, had the menu's never been updated? Or had the sign never been changed? Looking at prices I was going with "never been updated." The prices were insanely low--nothing over $8 and the average price for an entree was $6.

Our waitress then disappeared to the other side of the restaurant. An older man came out of the kitchen and picked up the phone. He immediately began talking, so it was clearly the same phone call. We assumed he was the cook and our waitress would not return to take our order until he returned to the kitchen. Rather make us wait now than wait after we had put our order in. We settled in for the long haul.

It might be worth mentioning at this point that the entire staff of the restaurant was Asian, which will make some of the menu items more understandable.

The menu was full of interesting quirks that reminded me a email spam subject lines. "Eggs to Eat and Remember." I was most curious about the "STE style eggs." When I asked the waitress what it meant she seemed embarrassed and said "It's just a name." Charlie and I both needed more time to decide.

Then another man, who was actually dressed like a cook, complete with funny chef hat, came out for a moment, saw his shadow, and returned to the kitchen.

Our waitress soon came back to take our order. Charlie, now apparently free from fear, ordered the corned beef hash and eggs. I ordered the "Eggs a la Heavy." It promised to be a "casserole" of eggs, ham, tomato and green peppers. I also ordered a side of biscuits and gravy.

Our attention was attracted by a building across the street. We were unsure if it was a church or an old folks home; it could pass for either. On the lawn, a sign read "Psychic Fair and shopping" and tents and tables were set up. I remembered that I had just found out an ex-girlfriend of mine had become a pet psychic.

"Was there any indication of this ability while you were together?" Charlie asked.
I took a moment to answer, "Maybe."

I always wonder how badly my presence has effected the lives of my exes. That's incredibly self-deprecating and egotistical all at once. That somehow *I* was so important as to have the ability to destroy someone. Perhaps it is not on me that she now talks to dogs. It is also judgemental and petty to think that her talking to dogs is somehow evidence of destruction. What does it say about me that I feel these things? I started to really crawl inside my mind and just as I was about to begin some internal healing...our food came.

The secret weapon of Stewart's Busy Apron was butter. Lots of it.

Our hash browns were buttery. If it weren't for the butter, I suspect they would have been rather bland. They came out a bit too square and flat, which makes me suspect they were the frozen kind. Charlie's corned beef was also most likely from a can but it tasted like corned beef hash should--just a little grainy, just a bit soggy.

My "Eggs Ala Heavy" looked nothing like I had imagined. I thought maybe the "casserole" was really just a fancy way to say "scramble" or maybe something more fluffy like the "messes" on the menu at Millie's. I estimated it was likely a single egg that went into the pan with the long strips of ham and chunks of pepper and tomato. It was good at first, but as I ate my way down into the bowl, I discovered the pool of butter the food was soaking in. It become far too rich for me.
The biscuit was the kind you would pull out of a package from the super market. It was very soft and spongy. The gravy tasted like a powdered mix which was expected, but still disappointing.

I had really hoped Stewart's Busy Apron Coffee Shop had turned out to be one of those unexpected wonders of diner-fare. In the end, though, it only had one thing going for it: it was cheap. Otherwise, it was adequate American comfort food made by Asian-American immigrants. There are a lot of those places, especially in the Inland Empire and in Orange County. That's a good thing, because not only does it give me places to go eat, but it also gives us dishes that may become new American classics.

Who knows, maybe Eggs a la Heavy is the next Biscuits and Gravy?

Food: Okay.
Service: Friendly but spotty.
Price: $5-$8
Pie: No pie.

Stewart's Busy Apron Coffee Shop
1221 East. Lincoln Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92825
(714) 533-4290

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Harbor House Cafe - A tale of two visits.

Finally, Dinerwood has come back to Long Beach. I just don't make it down there often enough. For months my friends Tony and Victoria had been singing the praises of the Harbor House Cafe. Life finally worked out and one night and I made a special trip down just for it.

Harbor House is covered in movie posters and movie memorabilia. Being this far from Hollywood, this design theme seems out of place and unnecessary. There's no residual shine from the glamour of "Hollywood" all the way down in the LBC. I would have, however, accepted a nautical theme since it does overlook the ocean.

The main building is a little place that more closely resembles a bar than a diner. At some point in the building's lifetime, an enclosed patio was built to expand the dining area. We were led through the patio and back to an area that looked more like the entrance. It had dark wood with real tables and chairs, unlike the patio that housed plastic lawn furniture. For some reason we were placed right next to the only other people in the area. I estimated that this couple was only on their second date or perhaps they were just coworkers testing the waters. Their conversation was awkward but earnest, and we got to hear all of it.

It wasn't all that interesting.

The Harbor House menu didn't seem deep at the time, but when I think back on it, it really covered a solid range. Breakfasts, burgers, sandwiches, Mexican and oddly, Chinese are all given their own section with several items listed under each of them. I definitely felt like a late night breakfast so that's where I focused my attention.

I am always iffy on omelets. I've had a lot of bad ones in my life. So I surprised myself with how quickly I honed in on the Hawaiian Omelet with pineapple and ham. It sounded like such a risk; would it be worth it? I was also given the option of subbing in biscuits and gravy in place of my toast choice for a nominal fee. I decided to go for it. Let's hear it for diner dinner risks!

While we waited for our food, we tried to figure out what this item in the picture above was. The wall was covered in them. I had vague childhood memories of being given these to play with as a child while in bars in Montana. Yes, childhood memories in bars. It's not odd, trust me. My parents aren't bad people, we're just from Montana.

The awkward girl in the awkward couple on the awkward date was telling an anecdote about being ripped off by a male friend for a large sum of money, while the awkward boy sat and nodded. A large family in both number and stature then joined our small seating section, leaving the patio still mostly empty. I do not understand the seating thought process here at Harbor House.

After trying to arrange themselves around one of the small round tables, they crowded too close to the couple and broke any air of passion that had been fostered. The awkward couple left awkwardly. I never found out if she got her money back from her friend.

When our food came, it looked delicious right from the start. If Charlie had been with us, he'd have had captured that. As is, the food just looks okay in these pictures.

The omelet was quite possibly the best omelet I have had in a very long time. (The best omelet ever was a smoked salmon omelet in a Sheraton hotel restaurant in Ellensburg, Washington). The eggs were wonderfully layered, almost like tamago, but without the sliminess. The mix of sweet from the pineapple and the salty of the cheese and ham worked amazingly well. Unfortunately the "hobo potatoes" as they call them failed to impress me as much. The unique addition of mushrooms to the mix of tomato, onions and peppers didn't add anything for me as the tomatoes were too overpowering.

I really enjoyed the biscuits and gravy. The biscuits were a bit dry, but the gravy was so good it made up for that default. That plate of biscuits and gravy was only an additional 65 cents.

Victoria got the cheese and potato soup. It was soup. Mmmm, soup.

Tony ordered the hot crab sandwich with onion rings. As good as my omelet was, Tony won this food battle. The sandwich was amazing. Real, high quality crab and not even the questionable placement of avocado on the sandwich could take away from it. The onion rings reminded me of more monstrous versions of the onion rings you can get at A&W fast food restaurants. The breading wasn't oily; it was nice and crusty.

Victoria faked us out with her paltry soup order. She ended her meal by ordering a scoop of ice cream. I failed to capture the scale of this "scoop" in the picture. It was a bear-paw sized scoop of ice cream in an otter sized world.

Our bill came out to only a hair over $32.

Harbor House had lived up to what Tony and Victoria had built it up to be. It was good food at a good price. I liked it so much that a few weeks later, when my parents were visiting and we happened to be in the area, #1DC Antoinette and I took them there. Could it stand up in the harsh light of day?

Sadly, it did not.

I went with the pecan pancakes, thinking that the genius of the Hawaiian omelet would transfer across the breakfast section. I was wrong. The pecan pancakes were regular spongy restaurant pancakes with bits of pecans poured over them. Meh. Even IHOP would do something like have a special syrup or even blend pecans into the batter. This was sorely disappointing. My side of bacon was adequate.

I didn't even bother to take pictures of what my dad got, since it was basically what I got minus the $2.00 of pecan bits.

My mom got the crab sandwich, and luckily that was as good as it was on the previous visit.

#1DC Antoinette ordered the cheesesteak sandwich. It was more like a hot roast beef sandwich with slices of meat, and not that great. The fries were mushy and gross.

I really oversold this place to my family. This wasn't quite as bad as when I chose "4 Rooms" as our Christmas Day movie (note: I do not get to pick Christmas Day movies anymore), but it was supremely disappointing. What I can conclude from my two visits is that Harbor House is a mixed bag. (2nd) Best omelet of my life one visit, disappointing pancakes the next.

And... it turns out, it's not even in Long Beach!

Harbor House Cafe
16341 Pacific Coast Hwy
Sunset Beach, CA 90742
(562) 592-5404

Food: Mixed but mostly good.
Service: Friendly.
Price: $8-$12
Pie: Case of homemade pie.

It does have this outside the front door, so that's pretty cool.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

KJs Diner and Restaurant--Gutter ball.

I was really excited when I pulled up to KJ's Diner. It is attached to a bowling alley--how great is that? Growing up, we had a Chinese restaurant attached to our bowling alley. Sadly, KJ's proximity to the lanes was the greatest thing about it.

I got there a bit early and as I waited for Charlie to arrive, I ordered a coffee (weak) and looked over the menu. It covered the standards, but also had an "International Breakfast" section with chilaquiles and lox--not served in tandem. An Asian themed menu was located on little laminated placards at the counter. The dinner menu was broken up by different "Flavas:" Spanish Flava, Italian Flava, and Savory Flava.

A nice couple chatted with me a bit about motorcycles and scooters (I had ridden my scooter from Silver Lake). They were enjoying a slice of apple pie with grated cheddar cheese on top. It's a Northeast thing.

Once Charlie arrived, we got down to business. When our waitress asked what we wanted, I asked if she recommended anything. "After eating here? Nothing! Hahahaha." I was really hoping she was just kidding--really hoping. I ordered the Cream of Wheat Pancakes and Charlie ordered the Ham Pan Sandwich, without the pan but with french toast instead.

A nearby table featured a dad and a gaggle of pre-teen girls celebrating a birthday. Divorced Weekend Custody Dad really needs to step it up. Bowling and a diner for your girl's 11th birthday? That's tragic. The staff did sing "Happy Birthday" in awesome oddly accented English.

It didn't take long for our food to arrive. I was surprised that I was paying over $8 for a stack of four pancakes. I assumed there would be hash browns or bacon or a slice of orange. The pancakes started off well, albeit a little undercooked, but as I continued down the stack they got more and more grainy and runny.

Charlie's french toast was okay and the ham slab was dry.

When we were finished, I asked our waitress what pies they had. She said "No pies, just cake."

Now, I knew they had pie. I had seen it. A slice of pie had been within five feet of me. I looked up at the counter and I could see a pie in the display case. Only one, so I could safely assume it was apple pie, which I wasn't in the mood for. Why would the waitress lie about the pie? She had told the truth about the food. Why lie about this? I shrugged it off.

KJ's Diner is not a place I'd recommend. If you are already bowling, pop over for some flava, but don't make it a destination. It's definitely not worth it.

Food: Disappointing.
Service: Okay.
Price: $6-$12, but ask exactly what you are getting for the price.
Pie: Yes, but they lie about it.

KJ's Diner
8731 Lincoln Blvd.
Westchester CA 90045
(just a short distance North of LAX)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dinerwood on the Road: Las Vegas's Tiffany's Cafe

White Cross Drugs is the oldest still standing business location in Las Vegas. We all know what the oldest profession in Vegas is. That's right:

...Crazy Old Prospector.

Our first night in Vegas, Charlie and I, led by our host Laurenn, cruised into the White Cross Drugstore pretty late. Well, regular people and regular city late. It was positively early by Vegas standards, which meant that there was nobody eating at Tiffany's Cafe. Tiffany's is open 24 hours; in fact, it was Vegas's first 24 hour restaurant, but it really is meant for an after-hours crowd.

Tiffany's is an amazing throwback to the classic greasy-spoon: a little dirty, a little messy, but you know the crew has their system down. The matron behind the counter was wearing a white t-shirt with a leopard print bra underneath. She was manning the grease trap and she had better things to do then worry about fashion.

Tiffany's also has some very bizarre artwork on the walls. The above landscape is thrown into disarray as the floating head of the outlaw Josey Wales descends from heaven.

Charlie ordered the Manhattan Burger. It's a regular burger with a sourdough bread bun.

Lauren ordered the BLT. It came with some home-made steak sauce. It was awful. It was VINEGAR with a little Worcestershire, and maybe some rat poison mixed in. While the cook was making the sandwich, I noticed that after frying up the bacon, he then wiped it off with a towel.

I ordered the Tiffany Burger. I figured I couldn't go wrong with the signature dish. It was a basic mushroom burger, that when I bit into it, sprayed grease all over Laurenn.

All of our french fries were slightly stale tasting.

Tiffany's was not all that good. Sometimes it is not about the food, though. The majesty of "setting" really pulled this place from out of the "DO NOT WANT" bin. It has such a classic feel and with the added benefit of the artwork, the place becomes wonderfully surreal in a town that is often depressingly surreal. It would be worth checking out, but know what you are getting into food-wise.

Food: Greasy
Service: Adequate.
Price: $8.00-$14.00
Pie: Various, located in a pretty display case at the entrance.

Tiffany's Cafe in White Cross Drugs.
1700 Las Vegas Blvd. S
Las Vegas, Nevada