Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Arthur's - GREATEST FOOD IN TOWN! Well...kind of.

While we were at Ozzie's the other weekend, Tony recommended Arthur's as another great breakfast place. So last weekend when #1Diner Companion Antoinette and I were looking for a place to go to breakfast, I googled it. As it turns out it, Arthur's is only a few miles down the road from Ozzie's.

I was a little hesitant when I saw that they have a drive-through. That's a burger joint thing and I am not in the business of going to burger joints. "If we have to order at a counter, we're walking out," I informed Antoinette. I am snobby about my diner reviewing.

I was relieved when we walked inside. Thankfully, there was no back-lit sign that I had to crane my neck up to read. Chairs lined the counter rather than the counter having a line. Looking at it more closely, I think it had to have been a burger joint at some time in its history: the drive-through first of all, it's very cramped inside, and the kitchen is partially exposed.

A benefit of being in such a small space is that your waitress is never more than ten feet from you. Eating in such close proximity to everyone else also lets you in on their conversations. If it weren't for this, we wouldn't have known that Arthur himself (or Art, as his regulars call him) was there this morning chatting up the diners. He's a sweet looking old man with two hearing aids and flair for jokes. Dirty ones, I assumed, since he'd lean in close to give the punchline.

It's a pretty standard menu that covers the basics. There were two things that really stood out: the price, which I expected it to be a lot cheaper, and the lack of spell check used on the menu. It's like an Easter egg hunt spotting all the typos. "Squueesed."

They also have a fake or rather "exact duplicate" of an Orange Julius on the menu.

The is a weird thing worth noting--in small type at the bottom they tell you that they charge a fee for using your credit card. I had a sense of goodwill toward Arthur's because y'know, old man/dirty jokes, that's pretty cool--but this was borderline.

I'd reserve final judgement for the food. I ordered the french toast breakfast with polish sausage and a side of biscuits and bacon gravy (supposedly a house speciality). Antoinette ordered the turkey salad sandwich on raisin nut bread with a side of fries.

The turkey salad sandwich was exquisite. Quality chunks of white meat that wasn't drowned in mayonnaise. The toasted raisin bread was perfect. The french fries had an excellent crispy to potato flavor ratio.

The french toast and the eggs were nothing to crow about. They were decent--basically what you'd make at home. The polish sausage, however, was delicious. I did have sausage burps for the rest of the day-- but hey if you really like that flavor, it will stay with you.

The biscuits and gravy were very good. The gravy was smooth, not lumpy, and we could taste the bacon grease. That sounds kind of gross, but it really is good! The biscuits are small and dense. They bake them continuously and pop them straight from the oven and into a bucket. The waitresses come by and scoop them out and onto a plate.

Arthur's Restaurant was good. It had a cozy, familial atmosphere that we both really appreciated. The prices and the odd charge card fee practice were given context when Arthur (I can't call him Art, yet) was asked by a patron how business was doing. In that "greatest generation" way he sort of shrugged and talked about not losing money, not making money, only breaking even. Little places like this operate on the razor's edge and need the support of people who appreciate real, classic American food.

If that is not enough to entice you, there's always the prospect that Arthur might tell you a dirty joke or two.

Food: Good.
Price: $6.95-$10.95
Service: Good.
Pie: No pie.

After I told Tony that we went to Arthur's for breakfast, he got really mad. "Dude why didn't you call? I live right by there. I would have met you."
"Sorry. Wait...don't live in Orange County?"
Apparently, there are TWO Arthur's. Art gets around!

8813 Lakewood Blvd
Downey, CA 90240
562 869-9189

And the other location-

1281 E La Habra Blvd
La Habra, CA 90631
562 691-7793

Apparently that wasn't the place Tony was talking about either. There is a THIRD Arthur's and this one is also located in the OC. However, the logo is different and the menu is much fancier. I expect it is not the same restaurant family... or is it? Perhaps there is a story there. Maybe this third restaurant is old Arthur's son's place. He wanted to take the diner dynasty in a new direction but Arthur clung to the old ways, the simpler way of a simpler time. They had a bitter falling out when Art Jr. ran off with the third Mrs. Arthur, a vivacious starlet who Art Sr. hoped would take care of him in his twilight years. The harlot and the ungrateful son had planned on the shock and heartbreak to be enough to kill Art Sr., but they knew nothing of the fire and vigor that rested in the old man's guts. He survived and now battles for the heart and soul of the Arthur's name.

Wow, this makes this so much more than a diner review and more like a Raymond Chandler novel.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ozzie's Diner --Not just for truckers.

Tony, whom you first met in the Pann's review, came up to me and said "There's this place off the 5 freeway. It's really hard to see but it's right off the exit. I can't remember the name but you have to go."
"Is it south, like around Bell Gardens?" I asked.

Ozzie's Diner. Already on my list.

We made plans to meet last Sunday morning for breakfast. I was running behind and got there about ten minutes late. As I walked in the front door, I took in the delightful cuteness of the diner; overstuffed turquoise booths, long counter and formica table tops. There was a kitchy 5o's theme going on with the standard Presley-Monroe-Dean (lots of Dead) triumvirate in effect. I scanned the restaurant for Tony. No Tony was to be found.

I was greeted warmly by a waitress as I craned my neck around looking for my friend. For some reason, as I was answering her question about the number of people in my party, I realized I had left my wallet at home.

"Twoooo? Umm yeah." I said, realizing that I had no money on me that didn't jingle.
She looked at me strangely and said, "It will just be a minute."

I sat quietly, hoping Tony would arrive sometime soon, and before a table opened up. I could be innocuous and perhaps just slip out the door if need be if he wasn't going to show. No such luck. The waitress called me over to a freshly cleaned table.

"You want anything to drink? Coffee? Juice?"
"Uhhhhh--Water, please."

I couldn't even float a coffee with the change in my messenger bag. I sipped water and spent my time perusing the trucker advertisements on the menu. I was seated in between the counter and the main dining room. This meant all the waitresses had to pass by my table. I had to deflect several inquiries as to my need for anything else.

This limbo allowed me to take a lot of time deciding what I would theoretically eat if the opportunity arrived--and all of this examination just made me hungrier. They have a large selection of what they call "Trucker Omelets" which are made with "four fresh eggs and served with a side of either Ozzie's Potatoes or hash browns, toast and jelly OR biscuits and gravy and a GOOD MORNING!" Each is named after some highway or trucking terms: "The Peterbilt," "The Interstate 80," etc etc.

Something to mention--There's an old saying that if you are on the road, you should eat where the truckers eat because they know the best places. Yeah, nothing could be further from the truth. Trucker's eat where they can park and at whatever is close to the freeway. If a place has garbage for food but it has a big parking lot and it won't take more than a minute to get there after you exit the freeway, THAT's where they are going to eat. If you find a place that caters to truckers and the food is good, consider yourself lucky. Ozzie's is in an industrial area and has a large parking lot, but inside I saw it crowded with families and regular folks. I felt pretty safe that this was going to be at least decent.

I liked that they had blue plate specials that were actually specials and not just what they wanted to push that day. Bread pudding with every special was also a nice touch.

Looking through the different sections of the menu, I was also tempted by the "Armenian Sandwich." It included turkey or roast beef or ham served on Armenian bread with Swiss cheese, green chiles and a homemade au jus. That sounded very intriguing and a definite "must get" next time I go.

Luckily my bearded messiah arrived before the sights and smells of the delicious breakfasts and burgers and menudo parading by my table made my stomach fold in on itself. He was stuck in traffic, of course. When I sheepishly revealed my lack of funds without missing a beat he offered to cover me. He's a stand up guy that Tony. A stand up guy with a massive beard.

We both went with the trucker omelets for breakfast. I ordered the "Interstate 80" and Tony ordered the ominous sounding "Run-A-Way." I got the biscuits and gravy and he sprung the extra dollar to upgrade to a side of pancakes for his bread. We both questioned whether or not we'd be able to pack away that much food.

After a decent amount of time, our food arrived.

Whoa...the omelet was small. I expected some massive loaf of egg just exploding with meat. It was a TRUCKER'S omelet. This was downright REASONABLY sized. Maybe the idea is that truckers take a lot of amphetamines and don't really eat that much. The omelet was sort of a mixed bag. It very nicely made; layers of egg neatly folded over a thin layers of pastrami. Unfortunately, it was topped with what I believe was processed singles of Swiss cheese. It almost ruined the whole thing. The Ozzie's Potatoes were amazing. They were spicy home fries mixed with extra crispy shredded hash browns.

The biscuit and gravy was also great. The gravy was very smooth and peppery and delicious. I generally prefer a denser biscuit, but this was good.

Tony's Run-A-Way omelet was also reasonably sized. He had ordered egg-whites only but that didn't happen. Like mine, his was very well put together with a good mix of avocado, sour cream and green chiles. His cottage cheese tasted a little odd to him but he couldn't place what was wrong with it.

Tony's pancakes were soft, chewy, and fluffy. He said he could have eaten them plain without any syrup. Ozzie's does something with their syrup that I can't even remember the last time I had; they serve it warm. Warm syrup is a little touch that can make a big difference.

I should mention that there were two separate tables that got up and walked to the counter in order to request drink refills. I guess good service was the perk of being seated on the main route the waitresses take; we never waited for refills.

The odd flavored cottage cheese and questionable use of processed cheese were the only negatives that we could find at Ozzie's. I would go back any time. They had some fresh looking pies in a case above the counter that I'd like to try, and I'd love to take a shot at that Armenian sandwich.

Do note that they only serve breakfast until 2pm on weekends and only until 11am on weekdays.
Food: Good. UPDATED: Uneven.
Service: Friendly. UPDATED: Friendly, but not all that good.
Price: $5.99-$9.99
Pie: Yes.

7780 E. Slauson Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90040

Maybe the new owner will spring for real cheese.

UPDATE - 11/23

Antoinette and I ate there this past weekend with my sister and her family. Remember what I said about drink refills? Well THAT and the rest of our service was pretty terrible. I can't blame our waitress alone though, since a big part of it was that our food came out in shifts with a long time inbetween. One of my nieces was done eating by the time Antoinette got her food. It wasn't that the waitress didn't deliver the food promptly, the kitchen just hadn't prepared it all yet.

The food was also really uneven. My brother-in-law had the chicken fried steak and he liked it. I had pancakes that were very good while my eggs were not cooked to order and were pretty bad.

Be warned.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Heritage Family Pantry - You could live on this bread alone.

I found Heritage Family Pantry while searching for a place to eat near Long Beach. #1 Diner Companion Antoinette and I were picking up her sister, Carolyn, who was visiting from New York. A few days before, Diner Friend Lidia said, "Hey if you ever go down to Long Beach there's this place that makes amazing bread. It's called something like Family Pantry?" I replied, "Going on Sunday. Boom! Scheduled."

That Sunday happened to be Easter Sunday. Easter is kind of a big deal for some folks. It's a big going out to brunch after church or after sleeping in kind of holiday. We picked up Carolyn and headed to Heritage Family Pantry.

And then we waited for a good while for a table. It was packed. And oddly, even though H.F.P is clearly an "after church" inclined restaurant, with Bible written verses on the windows (pic below), there seemed to be more of the "sleeping in" category of folks there.

I've stopped being so shy about taking pictures at the table when I go out. When our waitress saw me taking pictures of the menu she stopped. "Pictures? You opening up your own place? Can I come work for you?" She was sassy. As we were leaving I heard her complaining loudly about being open past 2pm on Easter. "No one is coming in! They all ate already!"

Later, Diner Friend Lidia asked if we had had the "older, surly waitress with all the make-up?" Yes, we had. Apparently, she's legendary.

The menu at H.F.P. is pretty extensive, but nothing too crazy that made me say "I gotta try that!" There's a lot of emphasis on bread there since they do pride themselves on their homemade bread.

We all shared the cinnamon roll. It was rather bizarre looking when it arrived. I kind of thought it might be someone's biscuit and gravy. The roll was nothing like any cinnamon roll I have ever had. It was light and more like a bun than a roll. It was very good. The frosting was very buttery, but could have been a little sweeter.

Carolyn had the three egg breakfast with hash browns and a side of pancakes. We thought her eyes might be bigger than her stomach, but she powered through and finished her main plate and took out most of the pancakes. The highlight was definitely the hash browns. They were crispy on the top and bottom and buttery in the center.

Antoinette ordered the Roast Sirloin melt. The bread was amazing, first of all. Heritage Family Pantry makes their own and it is frankly some of the best bread I have ever eaten. Her sandwich was thick with meat and tomato. Luckily, she couldn't finish the whole thing so we took it home and I was able to eat it for dinner later. The french fries were seasoned with celery salt and were very good.

Curiously, they serve ketchup in a small dish--no bottles, which struck me as a little odd.

I went with the country-fried steak and eggs with a side of home fries. There are usually two ways you can go with country-fried steak: crusty tough leather or greasy slab (sometimes its both). This steak was perfect. It was still tender and even a tiny bit pink in the middle and the breading held to the meat. My eggs were also good. I ordered them over-medium so I could sop them up with my biscuit. The home fries were actually a little underdone and were the only disappointing part of my breakfast.

The biscuit was fluffy and much like the cinnamon roll, was more bun like than biscuit.

Heritage Family Pantry was a great breakfast spot. The food was definitely worth the trip and the atmosphere was friendly. Our waitress was the fun kind of irascible waitress you thought only existed in movies and sitcoms from the 70s. I highly recommend this place, even if only for the bread. My god the bread!

Food: Great.
Service: Good.
Price $7.95-$12.95
Pie: Yes.

Heritage Family Pantry
2601 Carson St.
Lakewood CA 90712

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cafe 50's--The Best Stuff is on the Walls.

I honestly was not expecting much from Cafe 50's on Santa Monica. In some ways "5o's diners"are to me what Bucca di Beppos are to Italians. You kind of hate them, but at least it's something, and it's not an Olive Garden (the diner equivalent of which is Johnny Rockets).

The problem with a lot of 50's diners decor is that they are basically cliched Reader's Digest versions of the 50s--Presley, Monroe, Dean, and Coca-Cola, repeated ad nauseum. Sure, Cafe 50's is going to have some of that; it would be incomplete without it.

But at Cafe 50's, it's a more complete view of the popular culture of the day. It's like they loaded ten years into a spray can and went to town.

#1DC Antoinette and I took a long time with the menu. We were there for dinner but our options were open. They serve breakfast all day and have a wide selection of sandwiches and burgers.

Interesting things we noticed were that you only get one free refill on sodas and hash browns are only available until noon on weekdays. They also have Buffalo burgers for only $1.98 extra. I'll forgive the anachronism of buffalo meat being readily available. It's not like this place is trying to be Medieval Times. Medieval Times is accurate, right? I don't know; I only go to diners.

By far the most impressive section on the menu is the milkshake list.

The Butterfinger shake was intriguing considering it lacked what I consider to be the secondary ingredient of a Butterfinger candy bar: chocolate. The shake was vanilla ice cream with peanut butter and root beer. Root beer? There were sips that were just straight peanut butter shake but then there would be a sip of the perfect combination and the aftertaste was pure Butterfinger.

Antoinette pointed out these two ads pasted on the wall next to our booth. Boys DO like girls who make Seven-Up floats.

We started with the most intriguing appetizer on the menu, the green bean fries, which are somewhere between a french fry and a zucchini stick with just a little bit of spice. They were very tasty, but they did give me green-bean burps for the rest of the night.

Antoinette ordered the Healthy Sandwich which is just a fancy way of saying "vegetarian." The sandwich was thick with cucumber, mushrooms, lettuce and avocado. The bread was little over-toasted and scratched up the roof of her mouth.

I went with the Sputnik Melt: turkey, coleslaw, cheese, and Russian dressing. It was good but a little dry--I would have preferred a bit more dressing. I resorted to dipping my sandwich in the remaining green bean fries' dip.

We both had sides of coleslaw. I like sweet coleslaw; in fact, the best coleslaw in the world as far as I'm concerned is from KFC. I was disappointed in Cafe 50's coleslaw, but Antoinette liked that it wasn't drenched in dressing and still had a little crunch left.

I could spend hours looking at the walls in Cafe 50's. There's an insane amount of cool stuff up there. The food I could take or leave, though. The milkshake was definitely worth it and I'd go back to try the pie.

Food: Decent.
Price: $7.95-$13.95
Service: Okay.
Pie: Yes.

Cafe 50's
11623 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90025

... This movie is about EXACTLY what you think it's about.