Thursday, June 24, 2010

Way Station Coffee Shop - Worth the drive.

The Way Station Coffee Shop is located at the end of the quiet little main street in Newhall. If you have no clue where Newhall is, you can join the club. #1DC Antoinette and I are former members. We had no idea where it was. We had a vague idea that it was north. It's a small town, both in size and attitude, located not far off the I-5 freeway, near Magic Mountain.

The Way Station is not very big; there are maybe only ten or so tables along with the counter. We were there at 11am and every table was full. I imagine there can be times where there's quite a wait. Luckily our friends Matt and Sara, who live in nearby Val Verde, had gotten there already and grabbed a table.

The interior is decorated with vintage license plates and an assortment of western kitsch. The waitress was a little rushy with us, and I understand the desire for turnover, but it took us a little while even to look at the menus. There was a lot of little stuff to look at all over the the restaurant. We started with some delicious coffee and then took a look at the menu.

The menu is very simple, with only two pages of American breakfasts and lunches. They close at 2pm so there's no reason to go any further with the food choices. It was interesting to me that there was no Mexican influence on the menu. The area is pretty heterogeneous, so I would expect there to be some cross pollination. There are, however, three Mexican joints on the same street, so maybe they know not to compete.

On the griddle is just a mountain range of hash browns slowly cooking. The cook just hacks off a piece of it like Sir Edmund Hilary, crisps it on a hot spot and-boom-ready to go.

#1Diner Companion Antoinette, Matt and Sara all got some basic variations of the standard breakfast.

Antoinette's had bacon, eggs and hash browns. The hash browns and scrambled eggs were really good. The bacon wasn't soggy with grease and had slight crunch to it. It was quality bacon.

Matt got his eggs over-hard and a slab of delicious ham.

Sara abstained from a pork product, but got grilled onions instead.

All of them were delicious.

We also got two sides of the biscuits and gravy and both were very good. You can see from the picture that the white gravy was very smooth, almost milky. The biscuits were a little small but very good.

I ordered the Kris Special, which was kind of like a Benedict but with chicken gravy instead of hollandaise. I didn't expect EVERYTHING to be smothered with the gravy. I didn't mind it though, because it was fabulous.

After our food came, I asked the waitress what pies they had--the menu clearly said they had pie--she said they were out of season and that they only have them in the fall. Pie is always in season, young lady. Always.

The Way Station Coffee Shop is really a top-notch diner. I just lament that it's such a long drive from where we live. If you are north of LA proper, I can't recommend it enough: all around good food and great coffee.

Food: Really good.
Service: A little rushed, but good
Price: $6-$9
Pie: Seasonal

The Way Station Coffee Shop
24377 Main St
Newhall, CA 91321

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Nick's Cafe--On the Other Side of China(town) is America.

I knew it existed, but I didn't quite know where Nick's Cafe (not to be confused with Nick's Coffee Shop ) actually was. One day I took a slightly different way into work and just happened to glance the right way and, to my surprise, there it was, just before Chinatown.

I decided to leave for work a little bit earlier yesterday and get some breakfast. I knew the building was small, but I had no idea until I stepped inside. It's all counter with a single table on the far side, but I don't think anyone is meant to sit there since it was piled with boxes when I walked in.

I'm not shy about taking pictures anymore unless it seems obtrusive to the other diners; in Nick's it definitely felt obtrusive. We were packed in. I was sandwiched between two groups of guys, one of which was arguing about the Lakers and the other about parachuting--not civilian parachuting but Airborne/knifing Nazis in the throat--parachuting. I think either party would have been a little edgy about a camera snapping photos.

On the other side of the counter were two cops, and its creepy taking pictures of cops. It's creepy for them; it's creepy for me. They only get their picture taken when they are doing something wrong or when they are being targeted by the evil South Africans from Lethal Weapon 2.

I waited for them to get up before surreptitiously taking this awful picture.

Let me also say that when I got the coffee at Nick's Cafe and it awesome, I knew I was off to a good start.

Nick's is only open until 2pm (Mon-Sat, not open on Sundays) so the menu only covers breakfast and lunch. It is a solid diner menu: a dozen different egg specials, pancakes, waffles, sandwiches and soup--sadly no desserts. I saw that their corned beef hash breakfast was made with "fresh ground beef," so I wanted to give it shot.

I have to say, that this was hands down the best corned beef hash I have had in California (the best overall was at Jam in Portland). It tasted fresh, as fresh as a brine-cured meat can be. This was so far beyond the canned stuff I've had at most restaurants as to actually taste almost unfamiliar as "corned beef hash." There were no cubes of potato and there was no dog food sliminess. The only negative thing I could say about it was that it was shade too greasy.

The potatoes at Nick's are also amazing. They are shredded so fine that they must crisp instantly on the griddle. The only thing I can really compare them to are Chinese crispy fried noodles.

My toast also came with a homemade apple and grape jelly (I think that's what it was). I also assume it was homemade because it wasn't sweet enough for store bought jam. They also make and sell their own salsa, but there was nothing on my plate that I thought salsa would improve, so I skipped it.

By the time I was halfway done with my breakfast, everyone else had cleared out and it was just the cook, the server and me. The server and I chatted about scooters and vacations and Fall weather. It was very pleasant.

I really fell in love with Nick's Cafe. I can see myself going there at least once every two weeks or so, or whenever I haul my butt out of bed early enough to go before work. It's working class; it's simple; it's delicious; it's what a diner is meant to be.

Food: Great.
Service: Friendly.
Price: $6-$9. (Cash only, but ATM on premises)
Pie: No pie.

Nick's Cafe
1300 N. Spring st.
Los Angeles CA 90012

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dick Church's Restaurant--We Went Here Because of the Name

Dick Church's is one of the oldest continuously run restaurants in Orange County. It has had a half dozen different names since it opened in '47 (editor's note: 47!) but has retained the Dick Church's name since 1972. Its previous name was "The Coffee Tree," which makes the Dick Church logo less confusing.

#1 Diner Companion Antoinette and I went down to Newport Beach to go on a whale-watching cruise (no whales but enough dolphins to make seeing dolphin playing in the ocean actually seem boring). Afterward, we stopped into Dick Church's in the mid-afternoon for a late lunch.

There was only one other table occupied at the time, a man in his mid-20s seated with two chatty elderly women. We couldn't decide if he was just an unfortunate grandson or an unlucky gigolo.

We both fell in love with the "grandpa's den" feel to the place: wood paneling, comfy chairs, black and white pictures on the wall...

...and the vintage cigarette machine hiding by the bathrooms.

Even though it was the afternoon, I really wanted to try the coffee. At a place like this, it's either really bad or really good. I thought it was just a little weak, but Antoinette loved it. She also liked the real cream brought to the table.

The menu is straight up American diner classics. There is a strong emphasis on breakfast and lunch, but they also offer a decent Family Restaurant dinner menu with things like steak and jumbo shrimp. They have great daily specials during the week (soup, burger and pie for only $8.25) but alas, nothing comparable on the weekends.

When the waitress came to take our order, I asked which sandwich she recommended--the Plantation sandwich (ham, Swiss and pineapple) or the Aspen (ham, turkey, bacon), since both sounded good. Without hesitation, she said the Aspen.

Antoinette ordered the Beefeater with tomato added. This was one of the best beefeaters we've ever had. Quality roast beef, not too greasy, and the cheese was melted perfectly. The fries were also pretty good. There was a decent amount of them, but I would have liked more.

I was surprised by the Aspen; I expected something more deli style. It was a more elaborate Club sandwich and not cut into fourths. Ham and turkey and bacon, 1000 Island dressing and tomato. It could have used a little bit more of the dressing, but otherwise was perfect.

The pie was good in a gross way. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but think of it like this: you can get a McDonald's hamburger or a gourmet one from someplace like Umami Burger. Sure, the gourmet one is going to be better, but sometimes the McDonald's one is just fine. That's how I felt about this pie. The filling was from a can, the crust was from God knows where, but I liked it. I like pie.

Food: Good.
Service: Friendly.
Price: $6-$10
Pie: Yes, but you can skip it.

Dick Church's Family Restaurant
2698 Newport Blvd.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

A relic of Dick Church's past. This is the side of the building facing a U-Haul rental place. When I went to take the picture, I walked onto the lot and gave the day laborers false hope. Suckers!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Stox - "That's the weirdest thing I've ever seen you order."

For the finale of the three year anniversary, I invited just about everyone who had ever appeared in a Dinerwood review to come out to breakfast with me. Five people showed up. Apparently, I am not that popular.

I choose Stox in Downey for this celebration because well--basically, the sign is amazing. What font is that? It's kind of classy, kind of sporty, kind of awesome.

The first paragraph of their history page has perhaps my favorite quote from one of these things "Stox quickly became a favorite restaurant stop because of the home-cooked food and pies fabulous." Typo or poetry? You be the judge.

The dining room is adorned with fake plastic plants, neutral colors and ceiling fans, giving it a late 70s/early 80s coffee shop feel. Gigantic booths make it perfect for large parties. They actually have a lounge off the main dining room, so if you want your ham and eggs with a side of Highball or Mojito, you can.

The wait staff was great. We rarely had to wait for refills on any of our drinks. They also asked right away if we wanted to split the check.

Paul ordered the cheese benedict. It did not come out in smiley face form, but pretty close to it. We had only to move the bacon around to form hair and it was set. Paul liked the bacon the best.

#1DC Antoinette ordered the soup and salad. The soup was beef and vegetable and packed pretty dense with carrots, zucchini and other veggies. It was also very peppery.

She also ordered the pumpkin muffin, which was amazing.

Tony and Brian both ordered the avocado omelet. They liked that it was fluffy and layered and well-made, but it could have used more fixin's inside. As it was, the avocado was basically only on top and hardly found inside the omelet. The hash browns were nicely crispy on the top and the bottom and then soft in the middle.

Brian also got a side of french toast. It was alright.

Lidia ordered the Stox Burrito and photo-bombed her own food picture. She thought it was a bit bland. The burrito was also lying in what we thought at first was "salsa-juice" but we concluded was a broth of some kind.

Cammie ordered the corn beef hash with poached eggs. The hash wasn't anything special but the eggs were good.

Now for me, I only had to take a few seconds with the menu. I saw immediately what I wanted: the corn meal mush. I asked the waiter what it was and he replied, "We mix corn meal and water and then freeze it so it holds shape and then we deep fry it. It comes with syrup."


How could I NOT get it!?!

When it came out, #1Diner Companion Antoinette said "That's the weirdest thing I've ever seen you order."

Another waiter came by specifically to watch me eat it. "It doesn't taste like anything. It's GOOD!" he insisted.

And of course my camera ate the picture. This is why this review is not posting until after the 3 year anniversary is over. I had to go back the next week and order it to go.

When I ordered it the week before it actually looked like golden bricks. These were kind of like...slightly rounded at the top golden bricks. The mush bricks aren't crispy. There is a fried "skin" and then they are soft and mushy on the inside. On their own, they were just okay. They tasted like plain polenta...which is what they are.

But dip them in warm syrup--OMG! Sooo good.

Stox gets top marks from me for having an impressive pie menu. A Pie Fabulous menu, even.

I ordered the pineapple cream cheese pie and it was pretty good. I didn't care for the crust though, I found it a bit "dusty." The cream cheese (think the filling in a Danish) and the pineapple were very good. I think I actually felt my gums shrink away from my teeth on account of all the sugar.

Paul ordered a slice of coconut cream pie to go. He compared it favorably to the coconut cream pie at House of Pies.

Cammie ordered the strawberry tart. Lidia photo-bombed.

I really liked Stox. The food was a little weird in both bad (burrito broth) and good (corn meal mush) ways. The service was great. I'd go back there and, in fact, I already have.

Food: Good overall, but a little uneven.
Price: $8-$12
Service: Great.
Pie: "Fabulous"..well it was good.

Stox Restaurant
9518 E. Imperial Highway
Downey, CA