Friday, August 21, 2009

Dinerwood On the Road: Las Vegas' The Cracked Egg

My first time in Las Vegas was a little over a year ago. I asked the concierge desk at the Planet Hollywood Casino (where I was staying) where to get a good breakfast. After suggesting the in-hotel restaurant, I stopped him. "No, where do you real people get breakfast?" He paused- "The Cracked Egg." A little while later, I asked one of the bellhops the same question, "The Cracked Egg" he said. Now I didn't make it there during that trip, so I made a point to schedule it in this time.

The Cracked Egg has a few different locations around Vegas. Charlie and I went to the location on Rainbow Road, out in the hinterlands of South Vegas. I was surprised that it was in a strip mall. Once we went inside, I was pleased that there were no hints of "VEGAS!" here. It was very homey and decorated in faux-colonial style and accented with knick-knacks, but also had exposed duct-work which seemed out of place but fine.

The menu at Cracked Egg isn't deep. It covers some solid ground with pancakes, skillets and omelets. Price-wise, it read as entirely reasonable. They also have a gluten-free menu, which you don't see a lot of places.

I asked our waitress what she recommended and she replied confidently, "Anything smothered in gravy." I didn't feel like gravy but as I knew this would probably be my main meal of the day, I needed something filling. I went with sweet and heavy--the Peanut Butter French Toast. Charlie ordered the Mexican Skillet.

We both also ordered the fresh coffee cake, which the waitress brought right out. I took a bite and was surprised to find , a melty chocolate chip in my mouth. They routinely experiment and change up their coffee cake recipes, and this week was chocolate chip coffee cake. It was very rich.

Our food followed quickly.

The portions were pretty ample. I definitely felt like I received $9.50 worth of french toast. It was sweet and heavy, just like I wanted. The bread was split and filled with peanut butter blended with cream cheese. This would be to keep the peanut butter from getting too melted and liquidy and spilling out of the bread. The syrup and the bananas also added a nice balance of flavors.

Charlie's Mexican skillet was good but basic: chorizo, cheese, jalapenos, and salsa. The chorizo wasn't too spicy or too mild.

The Cracked Egg was a very good breakfast experience. The friendly wait staff helped remind me that there are regular people in Las Vegas. I highly recommend it if you find yourself there and want a quick reminder of what normal life is like.

Food: Good.
Service: Great.
Price: Reasonable.
Pie: No Pie.

The Cracked Egg
6435 S. Rainbow, #100
Las Vegas, NV 89119
Phone: 702.220.6449
Fax: 702.221.9310

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sunny's Family Restaurant: Underdogs, not undercooked.

You'll have to forgive the less than stellar pictures on this one. #1DC Antoinette and I went out for breakfast with my parents and we forgot our digital camera. These were taken with my fifty dollar Wal-Mart phone...and they are horrible.

My parents are antique dealers and will often come down to Southern California to visit us and go to different flea markets. This past Saturday, we all went to the Golden West Flea Market in Huntington Beach. Across the street was a quaint looking place called Sunny's Family Restaurant.

After spending several hours at the flea market and finding some neat treasures, we finally headed over to Sunny's for breakfast. The first thing I noticed while walking in, was a dry-erase board asking us to compare them both in taste and cost to places like IHOP and Coco's. Sunny's had something to prove. Inside, it was a very warm and friendly place with three distinct dining rooms. One of them was assuredly a smoking section back in the day when restaurants had those. I have no idea what the third section would have been for.

Interestingly, the walls were decorated with a real hodge-podge of different framed images. One wall had all Superman pictures while another was dedicated to Mohammad Ali. There were also a large number of random movie stills. One was of the kids from Harry Potter. I have no idea what the connection was, except maybe the owner just likes movies.

The manager sat us at a table and within a handful of minutes three different waiters asked if we wanted anything to drink and/or to make sure someone had taken our drink order.
We all ordered the coffee and agreed that it was above average. All of the servers were downright festive. They all had smiles and easy-going manners that didn't seem forced. There was a team spirit there.

The first thing that I saw when I opened the menu was the Butterscotch pancakes. My eyes and stomach fell in love and no matter how much I scoured the rest of the menu, I could not seriously consider ordering anything else. Although the menu didn't specify, our waiter did explain that even with the specialty pancakes you can get the combo (which includes eggs and sausage AND bacon) for less than two dollars more.

We also noticed a particularly amusing menu item: Hooker fries. Named after the Union general who captured New Orleans? Hooker fries are french fries covered in melted cheese, bacon and other toppings. I think they may have gotten their name from the fact they will F*** your arteries up.

Antoinette, feeling a bit under the weather, inquired about the soup of the day. Our waiter informed us that at this location (there are two Sunny's Family Restaurants, both in Huntington Beach) they only ever have vegetable soup, but that it is made fresh daily.

My mom ordered the cinnamon roll french toast combo with eggs and a ham steak. She had never had cinnamon roll french toast and her mind was blown by the concept. I've had it before at other places (Brandon's Diner, for instance) and often the problem with it is that it is incredibly sweet. Sunny's wasn't overly sweet and I appreciated that. The ham steak was juicy and surprisingly huge.

My butterscotch pancakes did not disappoint. They were simple enough, just the butterscotch baking chips poured into the batter. For the most part they were melted throughout but occasionally I'd find a few chips that had escaped the heat by huddling inside the delicious fluffiness of the pancake.

The picture of my eggs and pork sausage didn't turn out, unfortunately. The sausage I found overly greasy but the bacon was quite good. My scrambled eggs were a little too wet but otherwise good.

My dad ordered the Chef's Special Cake: three buttermilk pancakes, two eggs, two sausage and two pieces of bacon. He agreed with me about the sausage.

Antoinette ordered the chicken quesadilla and a piece of corn bread, a refreshing break from the parade of traditional breakfasts the rest of us chose. The quesadilla had flavorful peppers but could have used more chicken. The cornbread was wonderful--moist and cakey, with just a hint of sweetness.

Sunny's was a friendly and enjoyable eating experience. We all liked the food but would agree that it wasn't mind-blowing. There was an underdog energy to Sunny's--they were really trying hard to compete. As the dry-erase board out front asked us to, we compared it to a Coco's or an IHOP and hands down Sunny's was cheaper and better than your typical chain. On its own merits, it was just a good place to eat. I'm sure the next time my parents come down to go to the nearby flea market, we'll be eating at Sunny's.

Food: Good.
Service: Friendly.
Price: $6-$10
Pie: Not at this location. They do have lots of ice cream desserts.

7148 Edinger Ave
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
(714) 841-9934

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dinerwood on the Road: Aunt Emma's Pancake Restaurant, San Diego

Sometimes you turn a corner and BAM! you find something you weren't expecting--maybe it's a twenty dollar bill you find on vacation and your parents let you blow it on Masters of the Universe action figures; maybe it's an old friend who just got a job working the counter at the questionable "bookstore" you frequent; maybe it's driving around your hotel your first night in town and seeing a sign that says "Aunt Emma's Pancake Restaurant." Sometimes it's that last one.

It was closed at the time we drove by (it's only open from 6am to 3pm), but in the dark it looked pretty awesome. We woke up early the next day and headed over.

It wasn't too crowded inside but this was also a Friday morning. I imagine it is busier on weekends. The interior felt newly remodeled. There was a pretty keen half circle counter up by the kitchen which was mirrored by a half circle lowered part of the ceiling. It made me imagine that at one time this place may have had a bit more style and design to it. Now it was decorated in warm earth tones and hotel room art.

We were seated in the span of no more than three minutes, then three different waitresses asked what we wanted to drink. We tried to explain to the later two that someone had already asked but they whizzed away so quickly that we failed. Two of the waitresses came to the table at the same time carrying our two glasses of water and a coffee. Aunt Emma's is the kind of place that leaves you your own pot of coffee on the table, and loyal readers will remember that I love that. After this and taking our order we hardly saw our waitress again.

The menu was very deep and traditional, and of course there was one item that was dominant: the pancake. This is a breakfast joint where the pancake is king and the king is a dessert.

There is a mess of different pancakes on the menu and nearly all of them involve whipped cream. It being only 8am, I wasn't in the mood for dessert so I ordered the corn pancake, described as "Corn flavored with corn topping."

#1DC Antoinette ordered a strawberry crepe (the foreign cousin of the pancake) and we shared eggs, turkey sausage, and fruit.

It is strawberry season so it was a bewildering that they used frozen strawberries. This might be the most 'foodie' critique I've ever made of a place, and although they were fine tasting, it was just such a cheap restaurant cop-out. The crepe was a little rubbery but tasted all right.

The eggs could have been good but were lukewarm when they arrived. The fruit bowl was a bit plain and the sausage was typical. Although I neglected to take a picture of it, I also ordered hash browns, which were actually pretty gross.

When the menu said "corn flavored" I imagined it may be a corn meal pancake which would have been nice. When it came out and it seemed to just be the regular pancakes with some corn niblets on top, I was a little disappointed. The pancake did have some sort of vague corn flavor, but I wasn't sure if that was just flavor transference from the corn topping. And that white mess on the plate that looks like a wadded up napkin? That's the plop of butter they put on the plate.

Aunt Emma's wasn't the treasure I had hoped it would be. It was adequate and reasonable. I may go there again just to try the dessert pancakes, but it's not a place I can give a gushing recommendation.

UPDATE- 7-27-10

One year later, I was back in San Diego and staying at the same hotel. This time, #1DC Antoinette stayed home and old Dinerwood friend Greg was with me. Although unimpressed on the first trip, I wanted to give it another try.

When we walked in, the waitress very apologetically informed us that the booths were full. We saw about a half dozen empty tables in the center.

"Can we have a table?" I asked.
"Oh, sure" and then she took us to a table.
I was really confused by this until I heard two other parties refuse tables and choose to wait. When we left there were even more people waiting for booths while tables sat empty. Those booth seats must be freakin' amazing.
The coffee was pretty weak, which was unfortunate. I could really have used a pick-up.

Our waitress told us about the $3.99 breakfast specials. We could not refuse that price.

I went with a standard egg and pancake breakfast. Eggs and sausage were pretty standard. I used the strawberry syrup on pancakes and it was shockingly good. The pancakes were very dense, almost like shortcake. With that syrup, it made them taste almost like strawberry shortcake.

Greg had the chicken fajita omelette and it was very good. The chicken was juicy big chunks with a nice seasoning.

The best part was the final bill. That's a cheap breakfast.
I still somehow forgot to take a picture of the sign.

Food: Okay. -update- I'm going to call it 'Good' now.
Service: Fine.
Price: $6-10
Pie: Various. -update- I didn't see any listed on the menu.

Aunt Emma's Pancake Restaurant
700 E St.
Chula Vista, CA 91910
(619) 427-2722