Tuesday, November 29, 2011

San Marino Grill Coffee Shop

We had been wanting to try this place for a long time. It looked so cute and old-fashioned on the outside.

The inside was just as cute and old-fashioned and really cozy. We immediately felt at home.
I'm pretty sure the old guy on the right was famous but I'm not sure. I kept thinking Pat Boone, but it's not him.

The menu is very simple. It's just this one page and few specials written on the board above the counter.

We started with some coffee and boy was it bad--like brown hot water bad. It did not improve with subsequent cups.

Antoinette ordered the pumpkin oatmeal and a side of bacon and sausage for some protein. The sausage was a little under-cooked but it tasted pretty good and I didn't get sick so that was good. The pumpkin oatmeal needed more pumpkin.

I got the crunchy strawberry french toast which was decent, if a little bland. There was some strawberry jam as a topping but I think I would have actually preferred real syrup. (I thought that but when we went back again a few weeks later I got pancakes and the syrup was nearly tasteless.)

We then looked around and saw that other than us, the place was populated by a decidedly older clientele. Older folks tend to prefer blander food and I think San Marino Grill and Coffee Shop knew on what side their bread was buttered.

Like I mentioned above, we gave it another chance a few weeks later. Bland but oh-so cozy. If the place had good coffee I'd recommend going just to sit peacefully for a bit. But it doesn't, so I can't.

Food: Bland.
Price: $6-10
Service: Nice.
Pie: It's on the menu, but I suspect store-bought.

San Marino Grill Coffee Shop
2494 Huntington Dr
San Marino, CA 91108

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Big Bang Coffee Shop - "As good as Denny's"

It used to be Denny's--sometimes known as "Jail Dennys" due to its proximity to, well, the jail--then it closed for awhile. Then it reopened as Nibblers, which featured a wider variety of food with an international flair. Then it closed for awhile and promised to reopen as Denny's again. Well, now it is BIG BANG Coffee Shop.

"AS GOOD AS DENNYS." Why would you say that? That's not even good advertising speak. "As good" doesn't make me want go. Well... to be fair, I wanted to go regardless because of the whole saga of openings and closings and name changes. That banner though--bad idea.

I came in at about 5:30 0n a weekday.

I was the only customer.

There are little signs all over the restaurant explaining that they were all set to reopen as Denny's when the Denny's company revoked their license. This explains why their menu is just a very scaled down version of Denny's. They even have their own version of the Moons Over My Hammy.

I ordered the Lumberjack breakfast; 2 eggs, 2 pancakes, 2 bacon, 2 sausage, 2 pieces of toast, 1 cut of ham and hash browns. All this food only 7.95.

Here's my review of the food--As good as Denny's.

The eggs and meat were really good actually. It was a slice of honey baked ham, which I did not expect and was quite nice surprise. The hash browns needed to be crispier and the pancakes were rubbery and heavy.

The owners are clearly hung up and bitter about the Denny's thing, which is too bad. I know that after Nibblers must have failed (based on the reviews I read at the time --"kind of pricey, not that great") they must have felt desperate to appeal to the old Denny's base. This all just reeks of desperation though.

It was cheap, decent food, but that's really it. I wish them success though. I like have options near downtown and this is certainly an option.

Food: Decent.
Price: $6-10
Service: Good.
Pie: Apple. (Looked really good, but I was full)

Big Bang Coffee shop
1200 Vignes St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

It's back to being boring old Denny's...but, HEY! Hobbit menu right now!


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dinerwood on the Road: Las Vegas' The Egg and I

I thought The Egg and I was the sister restaurant to The Cracked Egg, which I reviewed a few years ago. The Cracked Egg was a brightly colored, whimsical nouveau-diner, I expected something similar here. I was totally wrong--not saying that the Egg and I is bad. It is just more traditional. (The Egg and I is affiliated with Egg Works, which I have not been to.)

When I walked in they asked if I wanted to sit inside or outside. This was Vegas in August. I didn't appreciate being threatened like that. I chose to sit inside. Save for a farm mural along the wall, the interior felt more like a sports bar. That felt a little incongruent with the breakfast nature of the restaurant.

Not quite sure why they emphasize the Cincinnati Chili.

I liked this feature. I could see how on a busy morning this would be infinitely helpful to your server.

This egg looks totally hiiiigh.

The waitress was especially attentive. When I flipped over to the sad "needs attention" egg to take this picture, my waitress was there in seconds asking if everything was okay.

I ordered the Stuffed French Toast. I thought the country potatoes were amazing, perfectly seasoned and crispy. I didn't care for the french toast and egg together. I ended up separating them. Good french toast and good scrambled eggs.

Food: Good.
Price: $8-11
Service: Great.
Pie: No pie.

The Egg & I
4533 W Sahara Ave #5
Las Vegas, NV 89102

Friday, August 26, 2011

Dinerwood on the Road: Penny's Diner, Yermo California

Yermo California might be the most depressing town I have ever seen. On my way back from Vegas last month I decided to take the scenic route through the town. I had never seen so many abandoned and boarded up homes in all my life. It was like wandering through a town in Fallout 3.

Yermo does have two saving graces though--the two diners located right off the freeway exit. They are Peggy Sue's Diner which I reviewed last year and Penny's Diner. Well, maybe Penny's isn't so much a "saving grace" as it is a "decent option if Peggy Sue's is not available."

I do like that Penny's is a classic art-deco chrome diner. There are not a lot of those left out here in California. Stylistically alone, I give it points.

I think this is where the Yermo locals eat, leaving Peggy Sue's to the tourists.

I asked about the Dody's Vegas Jack sandwich. The waitress--a sweet girl--had no idea what I was talking about, so I showed her the menu. Apparently she had never seen anyone order it. Bad sign, maybe? But it was just a turkey melt with some green pepper, I don't know how that could go wrong. I ordered it and then got to overhear the cook asking what was on it and how to make it. Seriously, NO ONE had ever ordered this sandwich? An older waitress--sweet girl's mom--had to explain how it was made.

I got the sandwich before too long. It was okay. The cook forgot the green peppers... which is kind of the thing that would make it not just a turkey melt? I bet it would have been good with the peppers. Oh well. I thought the number of french fries on the plate looked puny, but they tasted all right.

I also got a slice of apple pie at Penny's. They had some homemade looking pastries on the counter and I could see some pies in a case behind that so I got my hopes. They were dashed when I saw in the reflection of the case a store sticker on top of the plastic lid of the pie. Meh, it was supermarket apple pie--dusty crust and nothing to taste but cinnamon.

Across the street, Peggy Sue's is this spectacle that harkens back to the old days of road-side attractions, while Penny's Diner is just there for you to get some food and move on from the most depressing town I've ever seen.

Food: Okay.
Price: $5-$10
Service: Friendly.
Pie: Yes...store bought.

Penny's Diner
Yermo Rd, Yermo, CA 92398
(760) 254-1148

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Uncle John's Ham n' Eggs -- Downtown's Greasy Spoon and Chopstick

I never ate at the original location of Uncle John's Ham n' Eggs and after missing my window with "Jail Denny's" becoming Nibblers and now going back to "Jail Denny's," I didn't want to miss out again. The economy being what it is, places can disappear over night.

Now located next to and connected through the lobby of the Stillwell Hotel, I was surprised at how nice the interior was. I knew the reputation of Uncle John's as a greasy spoon and this did not match that. I hoped the new location had only changed the environment and not the content. Once the waitress handed me the menu my fears were allayed.

Uncle John's serves both American and Chinese food. The menu has Chinese dishes on one side and American ones (primarily breakfast but also some lunch items) on the other. Well, there is a little bit of bleed over from one side to the other. For example; most of the breakfasts have as an option either potatoes and toast or rice. The prices were very reasonable for a place known for large portions. Most of the entrees were hovering around $8 or $9.

Of course I had to try one of these...ugh, "fusions" for lack of a better word. I decided to go in a little bit different direction. I ordered the spicy fried pork chop (so spicy it had to have a chili pepper icon next to it on the menu) and eggs. I decided to go with the potatoes and toast option, rather than rice.

The pork chops were really good. Normally, I don't like breaded meats because the breading tends to be soggy and greasy, but surprisingly these were not like that at all. The breading was crisp and actually reminded me of chicken McNuggets (which is secretly my favorite fast food item). My eggs were undercooked and disappointing, though. The potatoes were pretty standard--not good, not bad.

I didn't find the portions to be anything out of the ordinary but I did wish everything had come out on a larger plate. It was just a big pile. I imagine the peppers went with the pork chop, but the scallions left me wondering. Were they part of the pork chop portion or were they supposed to be for the eggs? Maybe for the potatoes, since they needed a little something?

After finishing my meal I sat for awhile and enjoyed my coffee and--by god!--I paid for that full hour on the parking meter and I was going to use it. The staff kept my coffee full the whole time.

Uncle John's Ham n' Eggs is a decent greasy spoon with over a 30 year history. Not too long ago this was probably one of the few places in downtown that you could get a hearty breakfast that wasn't at a chain restaurant. I think it still services a need for folks who live and work down there. I mean, where else can you get some fried rice with your hotcakes?

Food: Decent
Service: Good
Price: $6-9
Pie: None.

Uncle John's Ham n' Eggs
433 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 623-3555

The original location.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dinerwood on the Road: Best breakfast in San Diego is in Chula Vista

On the annual pilgrimage to San Diego Comic Con, me and mine stay in the lovingly rundown city of Chula Vista just south on the 5 freeway. Our usual place was booked up so I found place a few blocks away. Now, when I booked the Big 7 Motel I swear it had a 2 1/2 star rating on Expedia--which I was fine with since I only planned on sleeping there not eating off the carpets. During the approaching months I watched that rating eek ever lower. By the time Dinerfriends Greg and Paul and I checked in, I knew we were in for a crapbox of a stay.

The one saving grace of staying Chula Vista this year was our close proximity to this place--

Family House of Pancakes. If you want to just cut to the chase, let me say it: This place has the best breakfasts in San Diego.

On the first day it was just Greg and I and we had no idea what to expect.

It's a cozy joint with a charming decor ripped right out of a 70s movie.

Waitresses greeted patrons by first name and knew what they'd want to order the minute they sat down. Seriously--one of the waitresses basically did a magic trick. She asked this woman what she wanted and when she replied, the waitress said "I knew you would want that. In case you don't believe me"--she turned her notepad around for the woman to see--"I had already written it down." MAGIC.

To summarize the story: Dad had dreams of opening a restaurant although all he knew how to cook were pancakes. He realized his dream and learned that you should not open a restaurant when all you know how to cook are pancakes. The restaurant struggled until dad died. Mom, heretofore only a homemaker, came in to try to run it. She struggled too and it took the whole surviving family coming together in order to make it even function. Now they do okay.

On the first day I ordered the Tropical Pancakes. Pineapple bits in the batter and on top along with toasted coconut. This was heavenly.

To get some much needed protein to go along with my powerfully carb and sweet pancakes, I ordered a slab of ham. It was delicious.

That morning Greg was a little under the weather and honestly felt more like plain toast and tea but the lure of the bacon waffle was too much. Nice chunks of bacon were mixed in with the waffle--you would think that would go without saying right? I have unfortunately ordered a bacon waffle at places and that just means they lay some slices on top and call it a day. This had a perfect balance of sweetness in the waffle to work with the bacon chunks inside.

The next morning we ate downtown (Cafe 222 review coming soon), but on our last day we made a point of going back to Family Pancake House. This time we took Paul with us.

Paul had the banana pancakes with a side of bacon. His pancakes were almost as good as the ones I had two days before.

Whereas Greg and I ordered coffee (it was decent--not great), Paul ordered only water. They brought his water out in a gigantic cup. I think that actually says a lot about the thoughtfulness of the restaurant.

I had the roast beef hash with eggs and potatoes. I believe the menu said '2' eggs--this was easily 4 or 5 eggs. The country potatoes were thin cut and walked delicately close to crispy. The hash was a tiny bit salty but otherwise everything was delicious. I ate maybe half of what was on my plate and I was bursting.

Greg, fully recovered from his illness of the other day, was the big winner at breakfast. He had the house speciality Irish Benedict. The menu said "corned beef" for the meat portion and we had assumed they were using short hand and it would be corned beef hash, but we were wrong. It was actually hearty cuts of actual corned beef. It was amazing. The waitress (the one who did the magic trick the time before) looked at Greg and said "I know what you're ordering next time you come in. I'll remember." No doubt she meant it.

When our waitress brought out our food that morning she apologized for the delay. We had waited maybe ten minutes--I think it was probably closer to five. Their turn around was blindingly fast.

I love Family House of Pancakes. I was actually upset that it took four years to find this place and I had to eat at Aunt Emma's Pancakes more than once. This is officially my breakfast headquarters when I'm in San Diego. Now I just need to find a slightly better motel to stay at nearby for SDCC 2012.

Food: Great
Service: Exceptional
Price: $7-10
Pie: Yes.

Family House of Pancakes
562 Broadway
Chula Vista, CA 91910

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Annia's Kitchen -- El Monte

Remember when I said Dinerwood would change formats? We'll call this more of a new-format review. Enjoy the pictures.

I've tried several times to write a more thoughtful and expansive review of Annia's Kitchen. I even went here twice to try to absorb more of the feel of the place. It just never happened.

The dining room is small and not very well air-conditioned. It's uncomfortably warm inside. I recommend sitting on the patio, because not only is it cooler but on the patio you get to see these...

..Airplanes! Did I mention that Annia's Kitchen is at the El Monte Airport?

Annia's has a very extensive menu. Everything is a little bit more expensive than I'd like it to be.

I liked the biscuits and gravy, although the gravy was a little flour-y.

The pancakes were good, but really heavy. Pancakes like this usually are, but these felt even more so. The sausage was over cooked, but the bacon was done quite well.

The chorizo and eggs was decent.

The pot roast breakfast was really great at the time. It came back to haunt me in the afternoon. I'm not sure if it was the gravy or the eggs that did me in. I ordered both eggs over medium and one was cooked perfectly while the other was over hard.

I really wanted to like Annia's Kitchen, I gave it two chances after all. The most positive thing I can say is that I do really like their menu, I just haven't been wowed by their execution. If the idea of eating breakfast while watching small planes take off sounds awesome, then by all mean go for it.

Food: Decent
Price: $6-13
Service: Good
Pie: Yes

Annia's Kitchen
4233 Santa Anita Avenue # 18 (El Monte Airport)
El Monte, CA 91731

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Black Cow Cafe -- Damn Yuppies

I was in an odd mood. I wanted a frou frou breakfast. No greasy spoon would do, my friends.
Thus, we traveled to Montrose, just off the 210, to a cute neighborhood with little shops and restaurants. Our destination, which already had a throng of people out front, was the Black Cow Cafe.

It being only 9am and already oppressively hot and muggy outside, we opted to sit in the dining room. This place did look pretty fancy, but was much more than that. Nearly one wall of the restaurant was a pastry case, followed by a coffee bar and then an ice cream parlor. Along with the tables, there were lounge areas where people were just quietly sipping coffee and working on their laptops.

We were both surprised that considering the very mature ambiance of the cafe, there were a lot of families with young kids eating breakfast. Upwardly mobile, yuppie parents--easy to hate them but I'd rather see them feeding their kids actual food instead of Carl's Jr. or In-N-Out. Even if the food proved to be much less than impressive.


We were seated not far from the open the kitchen. We started with the house coffee, which required a lot of help to be palatable. It's La Mill coffee, which always tastes bad to us.

Our waiter started off very attentive and then it just dwindled away over time. We understand the breakfast rush had him going all over, but the table next to ours had a waiter who was johnny on the spot with refills and check-ins.

We hadn't turned completely against Black Cow Cafe at that point. There was a lot on the menu that looked interesting. It also looked a little pricey for breakfast, which again shocked us due to the number of families around. Damn yuppies.

The Bavarian Cream Strudel. This is where the corner was turned. It was not good. They heated it--I'm going to go ahead and say they microwaved it which completely destroyed the texture of the pastry (soggy one bite, rock hard another, chewy on the third) and the cream filling.

Our hopes were buttressed when our breakfasts came to the table and looked delicious on the plate.


I had the Cow Benedict. I love benedicts and the orange hollandaise sauce really sold me on it.
Orange hollandaise sauce is pretty damn frou frou, I have to say. Hollandaise sauce in-and-of-itself is pretty frou frou, really. It was good, but not great. I wanted a thicker cut of ham (this was not even back bacon thick, but more deli-cut) to counter the sweetness the orange added to the sauce. The eggs were nicely poached, I will give them that. I don't really care for croissants and in hindsight I wished I had asked to replace it with a biscuit or English muffin.

Let me go off on a tangent here for a moment and then I'm going to bring it back around. I don't usually order spaghetti when I go out to an Italian restaurant because I can make a pretty decent spaghetti at home. Straight spaghetti has pretty limited range of flavor to play with and I'd say a breakfast sandwich is pretty similar in that regard. Sometimes you just want spaghetti when you are out and sometimes Dinerwife Antoinette just wants a breakfast sandwich eventhough we can make a pretty decent one at home.

Black Cow Cafe's breakfast sandwich was all sorts of disappointment. The bread-- not actually toasted, was just touched briefly to the grill as to make the effort pointless--was very thin like the 99 cent loaf at the grocery store. The turkey was also too thin and the "melted cheese" was not melted at all. Looking at the menu online I see there is supposed to be some kind of "secret sauce" on it as well. "Disappointment" is not a sauce.

The fruit was under ripe and should not have been served. The pineapple was white and flavorless. Under ripe melons always taste like garbage to me.

The breakfast potatoes were fine. Just fine. Not really sure I'd even venture to call them breakfast potatoes. Halved small red potatoes tossed with some paprika and a minimal amount of red peppers and onions that were skitted across a griddle I guess counts, but I could easily see them served with a lunch or dinner.

We then waited far too long for our waiter to not only bring the check but to check in with us and ask us if we were ready for the check. The johnny on the spot waiter took pity on us a few times for refills. Eventually we tried to just go to the coffee bar counter to pay but that didn't work. It became a cluster.

I've read good reviews of Black Cow, Dinerfriend Amy K. even wrote a positive yelp about it. I cannot reconcile those reviews with our experience. The restaurant was packed and people seemed to be enjoying their meals. I'm told that Black Cow Cafe was for a long time the nicest restaurant in Montrose. If you wanted a nice dining experience, you had to go there; otherwise, it was fast food and take out. That probably accounts for it's continued popularity.

I just could not risk another trip there even though there's quite a bit on the menu that I'd like to try. It's not worth it.

Food: Not Good-Decent
Price: $9-$15
Service: Not good.
Pie: Tartlets

Black Cow Cafe
2219 Honolulu Ave.
Montrose, CA 91020