Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Lesson in Perspective

My favorite theater in all of Los Angeles for seeing first run films is the Arclight in Hollywood. Yes the tickets are expensive, but for the price you buy the peace of mind that your seats will not be kicked, incessant talkers will be tossed out, legroom is aplenty, and the worry of shoddy prints or terribly audio is obliterated. When I wandered in a few years ago by chance and heard "Back to the Future" playing over the sound system I muttered, "this is the theater that God built." Not only is everything topnotch from seats to concessions, but also the location is right on Sunset amidst some great restaurants and local hangouts.

It was last Saturday afternoon that I found myself here buying tickets for the May 22nd midnight showing of Indiana Jones, afterwards wandering off with my companions in search of something filling for lunch. I was in the mood for a burger creation, so off we went to "The Bowery" so I could finally try their burger. Arriving at a locked door and drawn shades I was sad to see they were closed until dinner service. Then I remembered “Molly's Charbroiler” on Vine, a burger stand I've passed many times but never took part in. I thought my mind was made up until we spotted the sidewalk signage ushering us towards "The Hungry Cat".

With a sharp turn we were walking towards their outdoor patio and large glass doors.

While the outside was growing crowded, the inside was practically empty except for another couple and the many employees busying themselves with their stations. Behind the bar the bartender was vigorously juicing in one of the many large metal hand juicers, while across the way at the raw bar a cook was shuffling seafood about. We were given the option of indoor or outdoor seating, so we opted for indoor near the juicers to escape the increasing heat outside.

In our seats we were handed brunch menus and a bowl of oyster crackers was placed on the table. I suppose this is their version of a bread basket, I’d rather have hot piping sourdough bread if they were going for a seaside feel. Seeing the crackers I thought clam chowder would be good, but there was none on the menu. I guess if you’re pregnant or have an upset stomach, score! Crunch away.

The waitress arrived at our table smiling to get our drink order, offering us either sparkling or flat water. Jenn said water, Kyle chose the $4 Mexican Coke knowing well and good they sell it at the 99cent store for $1. Maybe here it came fresh over the border this morning? I said diet coke, to which I was given a “sorry, we don’t sell diet.” Ok…water then. She wandered off and moments later a busboy brought the drinks. I was surprised to see a fancy bottle of water brought to the table, already opened, and already poured into our glasses. As it turned out the words “flat water” meant a $4 bottle of what probably came from the same place as tap water. Apparently to get “the other water” you need to say “plain ice water.” My bad I suppose for not dining at finer establishments more often.

As for the food I had known what I was ordering before I walked in the door, “The Pug Burger,” so I only vaguely glanced at the menu when the waitress came back. Jenn had a hard time making a decision, but ultimately ordered the special fish and chips, with Kyle upping the ante on the $30 half dungeness crab. Fifteen or so minutes later our decisions were put in front of us.

My “pug” burger was unexpectedly small and large at the same time. For $16 the amount of meat looked sparse atop and English muffin like bun, but with all the extra ingredients it still looked overwhelming. It came open faced with the blue cheese and avocado already falling off the small piece of meat. I had to get to this burger fast for fear it would crumble. I quickly put the top on and the thing was huge. With a very hard push down I managed a bite as juice leaked like a popped balloon out of this skyscraper. Would the burger live up to all the hype that surrounds it? Yes and no.

It did taste good, very good, perhaps even $16 good. The meat was incredibly juicy and certainly high quality. The fries that came with the burger were also plentiful and above average. But the problem with the burger lies in its execution. Earlier I had been debating the added $2 for the additional fried egg. If I had done that there would have been no way to handle this burger other then by cutting things bit by bit with a fork. That is not how a burger is meant to be eaten. Size may not have been such an issue if it was on a more traditional larger bun, and if the meat was pressed not quite so thick. There was also a problem with the blue cheese, which completely overpowered the subtle avocado. I think it would be best to skip the avocado and keep the bacon and cheese to loose a layer that is lost taste wise anyways. I like a messy burger now and again, but I needed a bib just to handle this one. Check out the napkin.

Around the table Jenn and Kyle had a similar experience dealing with things being small and large at the same time. Jenn enjoyed her fish and chips, remarking it tasted fresh, light, and not at all greasy. But for $16 she wished for more fish to go along with the grandiose amount of chips.

Kyle dish had the prettiest presentation, appearing like a large crab bursting out of large bowl of ice. Unfortunately he picked up the largest shell and there was nothing but ice beneath it. I guess when he ordered a half portion he got the bottom half which was mostly legs. Even so he really enjoyed his meal and was very satisfied with how incredibly flavorful it was.

Walking out we were all content with our decision to detour into “The Hungry Cat” even if it did feel a few dollars overpriced. The burger quelled my craving for meat and I left feeling full, but I don’t think it deserved all the accolades it’s been receiving. It truly is a burger to try once, but I don’t think I need to give it another go anytime soon.
The Hungry Cat
1535 Vine St
Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 462-2155

Monday, April 21, 2008

Eating Blackbirds

Every time I see the sign for “Four N 20” making my way through Sherman Oaks, I chuckle and inevitably will start singing:
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye;
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened,
They all began to sing.
Now, wasn't that a dainty dish
To set before the King?

“Four N 20” has two locations, both in Sherman Oaks and Studio City, the latter being the busiest. I’d heard some rumblings indicating that you go here for breakfast or the pie. So on this Sunday morning I decided that I’d pay my first visit ever for breakfast, finally paying patronage to the place that has always sent me into an instantaneous musical.

Arriving after 9:30am on a Sunday morning I imagined I'd be driving into a mob scene, but entering their rear parking lot I was pleasantly surprised spots were a plenty. Keep a close eye out for the lot entrance, it's very easy to miss.

Inside was the same story. Looking at my surroundings I wasn't quite sure what they were going for when they designed this place. From the outside it somewhat has a cottage like appearance, but inside it reminded me of a roadside stand where the owner sticks random nostalgic knick-knacks like neon signs and vintage cola signs on the walls.

Once a busboy spotted us we were seated quickly amongst the scattered elderly and 30 something valley locals, and given two menus. One was their usual, the other was a slightly more expensive Sunday brunch menu that came with mimosa or champagne. How fancy! To bad I wasn't a morning drinker like Nana at the next table.

All morning long I'd been thinking about french toast, and on their menu I had two choices. The normal everyday variety or one called "French Toast Extraordinaire." I laughed to myself and said no contest, until I read that the only thing extraordinary about it was grilled pineapple. I went with the "Four 'n 20 Morning" which came with french toast, 2 pieces of bacon or sausage, and one egg. Not too bad a deal at $6.75.

Jenn was torn between the "Corned Beef Hash 'n Eggs" or the "Pigs in a Blanket." She went with the corned beef hash when she realized she got a choice of blueberry, bran, corn bread or toast. She chose blueberry.

The food that arrived 10 or so minutes later certainly wasn't as fancy as a glass of champagne, but I didn't really have high expectations. I was more concerned about taste then presentation anyways.

The one plate that did look the most promising was the bread. I had imagined a slice of thin blueberry bread. This was no thin slice, this was a hunk.

My french toast was fine. Nothing terrible, nothing amazing, simply french toast. The egg I ordered "over-medium" was closer to easy, but still perfectly ok. I know that cooking an egg medium takes an amount of skill I certainly haven't learned either. The bacon was crispy and again simply that, crispy but still fine bacon. At least the very fresh piece of watermelon was a nice surprise. Jenn seemed to be enjoying her hash and eggs. I gave it a taste and agreed, it was again pefectly good and simple. Although I have hardly any experience to draw from I took her word for it. But now on to the bread.

The bread was more then just a simple and ordinary experience. I took one bite and literally melted in my seat with blueberry goodness. Then I took some of their cinnamon honey butter and slathered it on. I think my head actually exploded in sunshine and rainbows. The bread was a plate of baked happiness.

Before I ate the bread I thought I'd walk away thinking "Four 'N 20" was perhaps a very slight step above "Denny's," but really nothing to tell my friends about. The bread changed my entire perspective, and I will certainly be back here again to try their lunch offerings, their bread, and dear God what I'm assuming to be equally mood enhancing pie.
Four 'N 20
5530 Van Nuys Blvd
Sherman Oaks
, CA 91401

(818) 988-1152

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Real Life Flappy Jack's!

When I think of “Flappy Jack’s Pancake House” in Glendora, I think of a Family Guy episode where Stewie becomes crack-like addicted to the pancakes at a restaurant with the same exact name. With that in my head I wishfully hoped this version would look exactly the same. A diner worked by middle aged blue haired waitresses bustling back and forth, and standing behind the counter at the grill flipping pancakes old Flappy himself.

Unfortunately the restaurant in the fictional town of Quahog is nothing like the real life version in Glendora. But architecture and employees not withstanding, I was here for the food and not the atmosphere.

Entering sometime just before 9 in the morning this place was surprisingly bustling. It reminded me of a nicer Coco’s that pushed their Route 66 location in wall knick-knacks and murals of 1950’s movie and TV stars. We were seated quickly by a smiling hostess, but when I went outside for a brief moment to take a picture of the front I already saw people waiting to be seated.

The menu is extensive, covering just about anything you can think of. I was very tempted by the skillets, but after seeing that everything came in larger portions I moved towards the omelets. I needed to have room for a “Donut Man” donut from down the road. I asked for a rec from the waitress who suggested “Flappy's Favorite Omelette,” apparently their most popular. My girlfriend settled on their “Mediterranean” version. One thing I really liked was your choice between toast or two pancakes. Not really a tough decision. The omelets also come with their home style potatoes which I ordered well done, Jenn made a fruit substitution. Before you could say “Flappy” the food was on the table and my lord did it look great.

Described in the menu mine include ham, bacon, sausage, bell peppers, onions with monterey jack and cheddar cheese. Cutting into the omelet I was surprised at the amount of ingredients and the thickness. Flappy certainly doesn’t skimp. There was a layer of cheese on top and within, and I could see everything that was in the description. In all honesty this may have been one of the better omelets I’ve ever had. It was cooked perfectly and the taste was wonderfully semi-soft and not overly chewy. If there was any fault to be had it was the bacon. The cheese was strong tasting and abundant, and while I could certainly taste the ham and the sausage, the bacon was drowned out. I’d recommend forgoing the bacon and sticking to either ham or sausage to keep out meat competition. As for the hashbrowns they were as I asked, crispy top and great. Did the pancakes deserve a restaurant spotlight? They certainly did, very light and airy with a nice texture. These are something I’d think about getting just a stack of in the future.

Jenn’s egg creation included chopped spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms and imported feta cheese. Sampling hers I was actually taken aback to the creaminess that the feta provided. Hers tasted just as fresh and great as mine, and even seemed lighter if you’re so in the mood to not feel weighed down after breakfast.

The food at “Flappy Jack’s Pancake House” has won me over and I hope that I’ll have the opportunity to return here in the future. I just wish it wasn’t so far away, otherwise I’d be here all the time. Perhaps that’s a good thing, I don’t want to turn into an addict like Stewie did.

Flappy Jack's
640 West Route
, CA 91740

(626) 852-9444

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Man and His Donuts

Driving from a suburb in the Valley with my my girlfriend all the way to Glendora for a donut sounds ridiculous. Doing it twice sounds like we’re a glutton for punishment. Gluttonous maybe, but looking for punishment hardly.

Along Route 66 in an area of Glendora that looks frozen in a 1950’s time warp is the “Donut Man.” On boards like Chow and Yelp it gets a lot of buzz for their fruit filled peach and strawberry donuts, more notably the strawberry, that only fry up seasonally. This limited availability has given the donut almost cult like status, sought out by many when this time of year rolls around once more, when the scent of sweet strawberries permeates the air.

On our first visit Jenn and I came only for the donut that based on reviews sounded like an apple growing on a tree in the Garden of Eden. This time however we were going to be in the area for the Renaissance Faire, so driving to the “Donut Man” sounded a bit less insane. We also tacked on a visit to a nearby breakfast place, “Flappy Jack’s Pancake House”, which I’ll get to posting about soon.

Returning felt like returning home. The business was still a small hut shaped structure with large glass windows displaying their doughy wares in metal trays. I detected no exterior fading, I saw the same donuts, and I was still greeted with smiles from the teens working the registers. The only change was the addition of the store being built next door, which according to the banner will be a gym. Perhaps they’re hoping to take advantage of those suffering from donut guilt.

At the window I ordered my usual strawberry donut for the both of us, but suddenly I found my eyes drawn to another heaped with what looked like white frosting and some sorta red drizzle.

“What’s that?” I asked. The cashier bent down to see where my hand was pointing. “It’s a plain donut topped with a premium cream cheese and given a raspberry drizzle. It’s my favorite.” It’s those last three words that got me. “I’ll take that as well” I said quickly.

Three dollars and some change later we were sitting in the car looking at the donuts. I tried the strawberry and it was still exactly the same. A sliced glazed stuffed with large strawberries given an additional strawberry jelly sheen. I had the same reaction I had one year earlier, it was good bordering on great. A greatness that I’m sure would be revealed only if the thing was hot. According to the staff hot donuts only show up around midnight, so keep that in mind if you prefer hot donuts.

Next I picked up the second, took a bite, and put it back. I hadn’t thought about what the man said when he described the donut. A “plain” donut with added cream cheese is basically just that. Sure the cream cheese was good for cream cheese, but I don’t really want to feel like I’m eating a tub of cream cheese. As for the raspberry I found its taste weak and the consistency off putting. It came off stringy and had a somewhat gummy texture. Jenn liked it more, likening the taste to a cheese danish. But we both were in agreement this is a donut not worth the drive.

Surprisingly all was not lost. Seeing the two donuts together gave me a brilliant idea to cut my losses. I took the cream cheese off the donut and started putting it on the strawberry. Suddenly the “good strawberry donut” was really starting to taste “great”. If I returned in the future I might bring my own premium cream cheese to smear on top of the strawberry. Maybe "Donut Man" should think about making their own cream cheese strawberry donut.

In the end the “Donut Man” for me is not really worth the drive and only worth a stop if you're in the area. Still, I can understand why for many this place gets raves. The place is friendly and small, and distant enough to feel like a donut quest. Sometimes the adventure in acquiring a much talked about food can turn anything from just good into greatness.
Donut Man
915 E Route 66
Glendora, CA 91740
(626) 335-9111

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My New Haunt

After sporadic posting over at "Candy Apples" I finally decided I needed a fresh start. Consider "Famished L.A." the beginning of what I hope will be a beautiful friendship. I plan to make the posts more frequent, so check back soon.