Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Colonial Kitchen--Kitsch-en

Going to the Colonial Kitchen in San Marino was just like visiting my grandmother's house. Well, not my grandmother's house, because mine is a crazy hoarder. It was more like visiting your grandmother's house.

There are glass display cases with ceramic figurines and a grandfather clock...

useless books laying about...

a gift shop selling necklaces and...stuff...

a hidden away Elvis dining room...

And this... hanging on the wall. Just like your grandma's house.

It's clear to see that Colonial Kitchen is a bit of a design mystery. It's folksy and homey and loves Elvis and has weird stuff everywhere. The overstuffed booths are covered in green leathery upholstery that reminds me more of an Italian restaurant than a diner. The low mood lighting and fixtures do the same.

#1Diner Companion Antoinette and I met up with our friends Lidia and Josh for breakfast one morning. We arrived around ten and had to wait just a minute for a table. Sadly, they were not seating in the Elvis room at this time. I think it's just for special occasions.

The menu had an odd habit of placing quotation marks on parts of the titles of the dishes. For example, the menu listed "The 'Reuben' sandwich" which was right next to "The Hot Beef" sandwich.

Antoinette ordered a turkey sandwich with a side of potato salad. The sandwich was good. It was very thick and didn't skimp on the meat. The potato salad was odd. It was all potato and mayonnaise. No egg at all. It didn't taste bad, it just tasted weird. I actually HATE potato salad with too much of an egg taste, but this was just wrong.

Lidia and Josh split the Belgian Waffle breakfast. It was pretty standard. The bacon stood out as being pretty good.

I ordered the Louisiana omelet. Much like my 1961 cookbook "What Cooks in Suburbia" has a recipe for a sweet and sour sauce which is basically ketchup and more sugar, Colonial Kitchen thinks "Louisiana" is just a place holder for "spicy." The omelet was good, mind you, it just had very little to do with Louisiana. Oddly, it was served with salsa and green chiles, y'know, staples of the southern diet, with a slice of Swiss cheese over the egg. The sausage inside the omelet was at least an actual hot link, so the name wasn't a total misnomer.

The hash browns were really disappointing. They were chewy and lumpy. Apparently, this is a style of hash browns known as "Cafeteria." This comes from cooking a lot of potatoes all at once and then keeping them warm for an extended period time. The starch from the potatoes gets all sticky and gross over time.

Colonial Kitchen is a little disappointing in the food department. In the "WTF" department, it gets a solid 'A.' I can't really give it positive recommendation though. It's fun to go there for the kitsch and the possibility of dining in the Elvis room, but otherwise it is an easy skip.

Food: Okay.
Service: Okay.
Price: $6.95-$9.95
Pie: Yes.

Colonial Kitchen
1110 Huntington Dr
San Marino, CA 91108
(626) 289-2449

Friday, February 19, 2010

Chips--Something familiar.

I finally did it, after nearly three years of writing this blog. I finally made the trip to Hawthorne to visit the classic Googie restaurant, Chips. Dinerpal Paul and I celebrated our President's Day off work (actually Paul has been out of work for a year so he probably just thought it was a regular Saturday) and drove out to Inglewood. I can now say I've hit all of the titans of the LA Diner pantheon.

A recent review on Yelp claims that this was the location of the Pumpkin/Honey Bunny scene in "Pulp Fiction," but like most things on Yelp, it's wrong. This is actually a fairly common misconception, though. That scene was actually filmed at the Hawthorne Grill, which was located on the same street as Chips, but was demolished several years ago.

There's a lot of plants inside for some reason. They are really out of place and honestly distract from the retro decor. They didn't need plants inside in the 50s, they had plenty of oxygen.

I grumbled a little bit when it took a while for our waitress to come over to take our drink orders. She returned with my coffee and Paul's iced tea. She also brought me a gigantic bowl of non-dairy creamer. Even if I did use that nasty stuff, I couldn't have hoped to use all of it in the span of a normal meal time. The coffee was pretty good.

Looking up from our table, I noticed this sign above the counter. I've seen it before and only about two weeks ago. Then I looked at the menu.

Peachy Peachy French Toast?

Hungry Charlie tuna sandwich?

This is the same menu as Rod's Grill! It turns out that they have the same owner. Manny (I'm assuming his name is Manny) has a Los Angeles diner empire.

Dinerpal Paul ordered the Mardi Gras Omelet. Why is it the Mardi Gras omelet? No idea. It has turkey, spinach, bacon, avocado, and jack cheese. I guess it's colorful like Mardi Gras? Paul liked it. He said that the spinach didn't over power everything else in the omelet.

Paul also wanted me to note that "the ketchup flowed easily" and that they also had sugar-free syrup, which to a diabetic like him is "like a dream." Sometimes I really appreciate when Paul comes out with me, sometimes...not.

My breakfast was great. The home fries were simple but crispy on the edges and soft in the middle. I did get the odd surprise off a small piece of chicken mixed in with my potatoes. I wouldn't expect that every time though. My eggs, over-easy, were perfect. The ham steak was a delicious cut of meat that was just a little crispy.

My pancakes were very dense. I had to use a knife to cut them. They were smaller around than what you usually see, but since this was just a side order, I could see them doing a smaller size than for a regular order. The syrup was really good. It had a hint of butterscotch flavor in it. I know this might be weird, but I actually poured a little into a cup and took a sip. It was really tasty on its own.

I asked our waitress about pie and she said they only had apple today. That was a little disappointing as I was really in the mood for a cream pie.

Chips's food was great and reasonably priced. I definitely would recommend checking it out.

Food: Good.
Service: Okay.
Price: $6-$8
Pie: Varies.

11908 Hawthorne Blvd.,
Hawthorne, CA 90250

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chef's--Stick around, hang out, make friends.

Chef's is nestled in a half residential, half strip mall area of Arcadia. From that location alone, I could tell that this was a locals' place.

I feel like I'm using the term "locals' place" a lot lately and I should explain it. A "locals' place" is a place that isn't well-known and isn't in a heavy traffic area. You're only going to find out about if you go searching, or if you stumble upon it, or if you are a local and you see it everyday. Take a place that is well known like Dinah's or even House of Pies. Dinah's appears in movies and it's near the airport, while House of Pies is in Hollywood. Neither of these is really a "locals' place."

Although there's no cartoon chef at Chef's, the building is adorned by an amazing cast iron looking scene of a chef offering a platter of pancakes to a little boy and a dog.

What is it with diners and crane machines!?

The menu at Chef's had two full pages of breakfasts. There are a ton of options and everything was roughly seven dollars. The older couple next to me recommended the breakfast burrito. My waiter had some other recommendations for me. It was a group decision. I went with the corned beef hash breakfast. For my toast I asked for a biscuit and when I declined gravy (I was saving my calories for pie), my waiter was surprised but he rolled with it.

While I waited, a different waitress came by and made a comment to another patron about my scooter in the parking lot. I piped up and said it was mine and we talked for a few minutes about scooting and riding motorcycles. There were a lot of these side conversations going between diners and staff. That's a locals' place right there.

At the table in front of me sat two guys. One did the majority of the talking and all of his stories ended with someone praying to Jesus. They started off as reasonable "praying to Jesus" tales. "Someone tried breaking into her house and she and her kids started to praying to Jesus." and "the car flipped over and while I waited for the paramedics, I started to praying to Jesus." Eventually they got to be pretty mundane situations that also somehow ended up requiring prayers to Jesus. "It turns out they were Buddhists, so I started praying to Jesus." "I can't finish this breakfast burrito, I need to pray to Jesus."

When the waiter brought out my plate, it looked exactly as I had pictured it. I expected canned corned beef hash and a canned peach, and that's what I got. Everything tasted fine, although the biscuit was a little dry.

I sat for awhile and sipped coffee, taking some time to let the food settle. I actually wrote the better part of the Rod's Grill review while sitting at Chef's. My waiter returned regularly to check on me and refill my coffee. I felt very comfortable just hanging out at Chef's.

After a bit, I let my waiter know I was ready to be pied. I was informed that the pie of the month was Strawberry Cream and that they make all the pie in-house. House of Pies strawberry cream is pretty spectacular and you don't always see it offered at a restaurant, so I wanted to see how Chef's measured up. It was pretty good, but not as good as House of Pies. They did use fresh strawberries, but the cream wasn't as rich.

Chef's gets my recommendation more for atmosphere than food. Fake being a local and hang out there for awhile.

Food: Okay.
Service: Great.
Price: $7-$9
Pie: Various and homemade.

Chef's Coffee Shop
13 E. Live Oak Ave
Arcadia, CA 91006

(626) 574-0257

In the Chef's restroom:

Friday, February 12, 2010

Roady's- Excellent!

Now, I'm sure the residents of this little town can fill volumes with the fabulous history of San Dimas, California, but let's explode this bomb first to get it out of the way: we all know San Dimas as the home of Ted Theodore Logan and Bill S. Preston Esquire.

And we all know that San Dimas High School Football rules!

Faithful readers, I will now tell you something you didn't know about San Dimas. Located in ridiculously cute downtown San Dimas, there's a little storefront diner called Roady's.

I was invited there by legitimate journalist and fellow blogger David Allen. This place was a complete mystery to me. David said he only makes it out there about once a year.

It was cute and quaint inside and had a an honest small town feel. It wasn't packed full of kitsch, but there were the obligatory Coca-Cola signs pinned to the wall. I imagine it was originally just the one small shop space with the kitchen, counter and a few booths. At some point, they took over the space next door and outfitted it with some choice wood paneling and pictures of Native Americans on the wall.

Wood paneling and pictures of Indians? That's the recipe for my childhood home's den. It felt like going back in time and going back to Montana. All it needed was a snooker table, a bison skin hanging on the wall, and a suit of armor. Yeah, I grew up in a weird home.

I started off with the coffee and was pleasantly surprised at the quality. They had great coffee. Between our regular waitress and the other gal making the rounds, I never found my mug empty. I drank easily six or seven cups.

It didn't take too long to make our way through the menu. It's small but covered the basics of what you'd reasonably order here. I had to try the Chuckwagon Breakfast and David went with the patty melt.

The Chuckwagon Breakfast had some serious diner food going on. I could tell this meal was going to sit in my stomach and hang out for awhile. The bacon was very crispy--shatter into tiny pieces crispy, which is not normally how I like it, but it still had a good flavor. The sausage was also good. The biscuit wasn't so much a biscuit as a piece of bread with the texture of rustic sourdough. That was different and not necessarily bad.

The gravy was interesting. It tasted doughy, not floury. It's an easy difference in flavor to be able to catch when you've eaten as much white gravy as I have. You can tell a pre-mix gravy because it tends to be thinner in consistency and flavor. If it tastes like flour, it is usually because the roux (the fat and flour mixture) wasn't cooked long enough. I believe the dough taste must have been from the fat to flour ratio being off. I like a doughy flavor so this didn't bother me, but your mileage may vary.

David got the real winner. It didn't seem like much when it arrived at the table. The sandwich was rather thin for a patty melt, but this really was the key. It was thin like a grilled cheese and this made the bread grill just right and the cheese melt just right and the meat blended in perfectly. It was easily in the top five patty melts I have tried.

We then hit the pie course. They had about six to choose from. I went with apple and David ordered the lemon meringue.

The lemon meringue was good, but unspectacular.

My apple pie was the best slice of apple pie that I have had since Mama Kat's in San Marcos. It was perfect. It burst with flavor and sweetness and the crust was amazing.

Overall, Roady's was a very nice experience. It felt like an ideal small town diner, almost too good to be true. It was clean and bright with waitresses who were sweet and engaging. The food averaged out to good. I could see myself going there about once a year, too.

Read David's review HERE.

Food: Good.
Service: Nice.
Price: $7-$10
Pie: Yes. OMG the apple!

160 W Bonita Ave
San Dimas, CA 91773
(909) 592-0980

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Rod's Grill--Back off Arcadia! We're keeping this one.

Located in the Arcadia corridor of Historic Route 66, Rod's Grill is a bit overshadowed by some of its more prestigious neighbors. It is just up the street from Santa Anita Racetrack, just down the street from the last Van de Kamp windmill (now sitting on top of a Denny's), and just a bit further down the street from the historic Derby Restaurant.

I didn't even know about this place until #1DC Antoinette and I drove past it one night. When I was doing some research on it, I discovered that not too long ago, we almost lost this nearly 65 year old establishment to the greedy wrecking ball of the City of Arcadia. In 2006, the city threatened to use "eminent domain" to seize the property and expand the Mercedes Benz dealership next door. Shockingly, public outcry caused the city to back off. Luckily, the economy then tanked and no one in Arcadia was buying Mercedes Benzes anymore.

I met my friend and metblogger Burns for breakfast there a few weekends ago. I was taken aback by the beautifully classic architecture of the whole building. With outside stone-wall facade and inside long curvy counter and plush turquoise booths, it was easily the most aesthetically pleasing place I had been to in awhile.

I got there a bit before Burns and sat down in a booth toward the back. I just soaked in the atmosphere. This is definitely a place that people have been coming to their whole lives. Reading up on yelp comments and forum posts, I found that a lot of them begin with statements like "I remember coming here as a kid." I got to hear one of these "remember whens" firsthand from the table behind me. A large family were meeting there for a Sunday breakfast. "Hey remember how dad used to always get the steak and eggs? I think I'll get that." Oh, don't worry, it's not sad. It's not like "dad" was dead. He was sitting right there and I think he was a little pissed that his daughter had kiped his usual.

My waitress was pretty quick with the coffee refills, which I appreciated. The coffee was pretty decent.

When Burns arrived, we dug into the menu, the cover of which was graced by my second favorite cartoon chef of all time. The menu isn't expansive. It's pretty standard, but with a lot of cute names for regular things. The "Hungry Charlie" ($7.25) is basically a tuna sandwich and the "Peachy Peachy French Toast" ($6.95) is french toast with peaches on it. I ordered that. Burns ordered the "Bone-in Ham Steak and Eggs" ($7.95)

We then waited an oddly long amount of time. We filled the time talking about Burns' dating life and riding motorcycles. He's an adult who rides a grown up machine, while I am an adult who rides a tiny scooter. He looks bad-ass with leather pants and jacket, while I look adorable in a scarf that #1DC Antoinette crocheted for me. We were just getting to the perk up and look around like meerkats stage when our food came.

Burns really loved his breakfast. The eggs were delicious and cheesy (we think Swiss). The ham steak was thick and just a little crispy. The hash browns were extra crispy.

The portions were certainly ample. The Peachy Peachy French Toast also included two eggs and four pieces of decent breakfast sausage. It was also kind of cold. Now, it's french toast covered in whipped cream and canned peaches, both of which are cold items, so I wouldn't expect it to be piping hot. I think it had just sat up on the kitchen counter for a few minutes too long.

Split between the two of us, the food averaged out to "pretty okay." Barring the delay in getting our food, the service was pretty on it. I don't think I ever had to wait more than two minutes for a refill on my coffee. I would go back to Rod's to give the food another shot. There's no question about it, the atmosphere and look of this place alone made me a fan. I can honestly say it's places like this that keep me doing Dinerwood.

Food: Pretty Okay
Service: Mostly good
Price: $6-$10
Pie: Various

Rod's Grill
41 West Huntington Drive
Arcadia, CA 91107

Maybe next time I'll try this.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Diner on Main: I don't like sports.

The Diner on Main is an odd one. Located in the heart of what the City of Alhambra Chamber of Commerce calls "the historic Main Street Entertainment district," it is gigantic and overflowing with neon. It has an impressive pedigree as a diner, being an actual Armet and Davis designed "googie" building (it was formerly called Sandi's Restaurant). Once inside, however, you get smacked in the face with the fact that the Diner on Main might actually be aspiring to be a sports bar.

Dinerpal Paul and I went in for dinner a few weeks ago. For some reason, although there were plenty of tables available in the main dining area, we were shuffled into a "lounge" area underneath a blaring flat screen TV playing a basketball game. Bud Light pendants hung all around us, which really distracted from the 50's style architecture and fixtures.

We were the only two diners in this section so we were doted on by our waiter slash bartender. He was all up in our business but only to the point of mild annoyance. He really pushed the happy hour specials on us and seemed a little disappointed when we ordered coffee and soda.

It was hard to get a sense of the rest of the restaurant from our alcohol serving corner. I ventured out to get a glimpse and saw a pretty traditional diner set up. A large, long counter face the kitchen and several booths line the walls. The walls were decorated with only a moderate amount of kitsch and several black and white photo prints of classic--probably long extinct-- diners. I valued this connection to the past. In our lounge we were graced by the presence of college dorm art Marilyn Monroe.

The menu at Diner on Main is pretty decent. It's not extensive, but it covers everything you would reasonably want to order. The frou-frou factor was pretty light. I think I made our waiter's day when I ordered the dinner special, the chicken pot pie. Paul ordered the Philly French Dip.

My dinner came with side salad which was actually pretty good. I didn't expect that. The chicken pot pie was interesting. The crust was basically a giant floating biscuit on top of a hearty bowl of chicken and vegetable soup. I liked it, although the cheese on top was unnecessary and could be skipped. Included with the meal was a small plate of foccacia bread, I assumed for dipping; it also didn't add that much, but was a nice surprise.

Paul really like his Philly French Dip. It was exactly what you thought it would be, a Philly cheese steak with a bowl of au jus for dipping. It was a thick sandwich, which made it a little difficult to dip in the juice without stuff falling out. It came with coleslaw that was slightly rubbery but nice and tart. I'm pretty sure they used apple cider vinegar.

We both had room for dessert and I made our bartender slash waiter's day even better when I ordered the dessert special, the boysenberry and apple cobbler. Paul ordered a vanilla shake.

The cobbler was really good. They serve two kinds of pie at Diner on Main: apple and boysenberry. The apple is served with a warm cinnamon sauce and the boysenberry is best a la mode (according to them). The cobbler is basically these two items smashed together in a bowl.

Vanilla shake was a vanilla shake. It was good.

Diner on Main is part of the Pasadena based restaurant conglomerate that also owns Wild Thyme and Shakers (which will probably get reviewed sooner or later). I can really appreciate what they are trying to do decor-wise and that they need to do it, but the Diner on Main overwhelms you. There's so much neon (the blue hue to all the pictures will give you an idea of what it's like) and the reflection of the lights offf the large plate windows can easily disorient you. The jukebox can go from playing Wanda Jackson to Bon Jovi--and not classic Bon Jovi, MODERN Bon Jovi--and it makes you want to die. You miss out on some of the great atmosphere it would have had back in the Sandi's Restaurant days. Or that it might have in the morning when they aren't competing with the other restaurants located all around them. It unfortunately reminded me a lot of Ritchie's Diner.

Paul and I ended up going back to Diner on Main just a few days ago. We tried their breakfast (ham and eggs and Portuguese sausage and eggs) and found our reactions to be pretty similar to our dinner. It was good, but not great.

I will probably find myself in Diner on Main again. It's located in our new neighborhood and sometimes we might not want to drive the 1.2 miles to Twoheys. Ultimately, I'm glad it's there because of the history and the need for something more real than the Johnny Rockets a block away. I swear to g-d though, if I see them advertise a "Watch the Super Bowl here" campaign, I'm going lose that goodwill in a heartbeat.

Food: Good.
Service: Fine. (Desperate if you get stuck in the empty lounge)
Price: $7-$10 most things. Up to $14 for entrees.
Pie: Apple and Boysenberry

Diner on Main
201 West Main Street
Alhambra, CA 91801