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