Friday, December 07, 2007

Diner is Served

I was in Los Angeles recently and, despite the fact that there are, no doubt, thousands of restaurants in that fair city I ate mostly at the same four restaurants. The establishments in question are Swingers of Hollywood, Swingers of Santa Monica, Brite Spot, and Fred 62. If you are familiar with Los Angeles eateries you may notice that these places, in one main respect -- namely that they are all slightly upscale diners -- are very similar. Nevertheless, as I will describe below, I found substantial differences between them.

My culinary research started the night I flew in with Swingers of Hollywood. I had been there, as well as the Swingers of Santa Monica, a few times on a previous visit. What I really wanted was to go to the one in Santa Monica, but it was too far away and so I settled for the Hollywood version. I was considering ordering the fried egg sandwich, which, on the previous visit, I had found to be very good. At this moment my dining companion, someone whose cookies I had once stolen, told me that the sandwich had been altered since I last had it. In the past it had been served on a toasted bagel, whereas now it was served on normal toasted bread. I discarded the idea of trying this new incarnation of an old favorite. I searched the rest of the menu and came upon the vegetarian burger. A few moments later the waitress arrived. I ordered the vegetarian burger while my companion ordered a brownie sundae. As the waitress walked away I lamented that I had not ordered cheese on my vegetarian variation of the American classic. I expressed this sentiment to my companion and then made my way to the restroom. Upon my return I was informed that cheddar cheese had been ordered on my behalf. A good thing too as I was soon to discover. The burger was a poorly constructed hodgepodge of grains and beans and peas or something. Only the cheese and the other toppings saved the thing from being a total loss. By the time I was halfway through the burger was falling apart. A knife and fork were required to consume the rest. Simultaneous to this I ate my mashed potatoes, which were a good deal better than the burger. In retrospect I think I might have done better to discard the patty and replace it with mashed potatoes. Not ideal certainly, but the same could be said of the patty. Meanwhile, my companion seemed to enjoy his brownie sundae.

The next day I found myself alone at Swingers of Santa Monica. I was there to kill time and my intent was to have a cup of coffee. I was about to order the very same when I noticed a good deal. The offer that I couldn't refuse was $3.99 for two pancakes, an egg (any style), and sausage. I inquired if they had vegetarian sausage and discovered that they did. I put in my order and checked my watch. I hoped that my meal would come quickly because, while I had ample time for coffee, a whole breakfast was stretching the point. The food arrived, if not quickly, at least quicker than it might have. I scarfed down the pancakes, eggs (scrambled), and vegetarian sausage more or less all mixed together and covered in syrup. I found it all to be pretty okay.

Only a few hours elapsed before I once again darkened the doorstep of Swingers of Santa Monica. This time my companion from the previous evening elected to join me. I was still full of pancakes, eggs, and vegetarian sausage, but I ordered a small Greek salad anyway. This proved to be disappointing. My first charge against it was that the plate was much too small. The salad called to mind a brave but overweight daredevil perched atop a flagpole. If it was absolutely left alone one supposed that it might have gone on as it was for some time, but the moment another element was introduced, say a fork, ever so lightly applied to an olive, it seemed preordained that a good deal of the leafy greens and onions would find themselves scattered in the surrounding area. And, as the wheels of fate inevitably turned, it was so. Setting aside this complaint and getting to the meat, if that's what it ought to be called, of the matter, my opinion did not greatly improve. I won't say that the salad should have been offered for free on a discount airline, but it was a near thing. The greens were about a day past their prime, the onions were strong and nothing else, the feta was dry, and the dressing was bland. Had I paid three or four dollars I would have felt alright, but the price tag was more in the neighborhood of seven dollars. I had seen enough of Swingers for a while.

At this juncture my narrative continues at Fred 62, a place with somewhat questionable decor. The overall theme was seemed to be informed by rockabilly nostalgia for the early 1960s seen through the lens of a mall food court. Despite my misgivings regarding the ambiance I sat down across from two other hungry souls with high hopes. Those hungry souls alluded to in the previous sentence were friends who lived in the neighborhood and who assured me that Fred 62's food was nothing to scoff at. Without much hesitation I selected what was billed as a "hippie sandwich" with French fries on the side. The sandwich was served on round bread and while I don't recall all of the layers betwixt these two starchy circles I will say that I immediately dolled out high marks. As best as I can recall there were sprouts, avocado, tomatoes, and some kind of cheese. The French fries we served in a small brown paper bag. I'm not exactly sure what use the paper bag had, but the fries were good, if not great. I was my opinion that the food at Fred 62 could best the food at Swingers with one hand tied behind its back.

Next up was Brite Spot. Actually it was called "Alexander's Brite Spot". I don't know if that implies that other restaurants of the same moniker exist elsewhere, but if so I could hardly expect them to have the charm on exhibit at Alexander's branch. The booths were comfortable and the decor was nostalgic without straying into the realm of kitsch. This, if I were to guess, was the result of doing nothing to update the place for the past 30 or 40 years. In any case, I was very hungry and I was glad to see that the menu offered many options in the way of sustenance. Aside from the usual diner selections there was also a page devoted to Mexican choices. It was from this bill of fare that I ordered. A few minutes later a breakfast burrito was set down in front of me. My first impression was that it looked too plain. It came unadorned on a large oval plate. A few seconds later my spirits rose when salsa and sour cream were added to the food in front of me. I applied the toppings and gave the burrito a hearty try. I found it to be more or less alright, but lacking in any real inspiration. The eggs tasted like eggs and the beans like beans. The cheese, which can propel the breakfast burrito to great heights, was a non factor. If it tasted like anything at all I didn't notice.

A second round at Fred 62 was in the cards for me. This time for breakfast. Casting aside a brief thought of ordering a breakfast sandwich I ordered up a plate of scrambled eggs, toast, and hash browns. These came in short order and I am pleased to say that they were very good. I don't want to take my praise too far because this trio of venerable standards is difficult to prepare incorrectly. The two things that set this version apart were that the hash browns were extra crispy and that the toast, much like the bread from my so-called hippie sandwich, was round.

My odyssey ends, in a way, as it began. That is to say that it ends with my desire to order a good fried egg sandwich. I did that very thing upon my second visit to Alexander's Brite Spot. Possibly there may have been a side item served with my sandwich, but I don't recall. My attention was focused on one of the best fried egg sandwiches I have ever eaten. Each aspect of it was not just good, but great. The bread, sourdough I believe, was toasted just short of golden brown. The egg was fried right to the point where it was thoroughly cooked, but not dry. All of that was well enough, but where it truly diverted from the ordinary fried egg sandwich was the inclusion of lettuce and tomato. And not just any lettuce and tomato, but a beautifully green crisp leaf of lettuce and two or three thin slices of flavorful tomato. All these elements worked in concert to bring me the experience that I had been searching for my whole trip.

Swingers of Hollywood
Fried Egg Sandwiches Not Offered on a Bagel: F
Vegetarian Burger: D
Cheese and Toppings: B
Mashed Potatoes: A-
Dining Companion's Brownie Sundae (estimated): A-
Swingers of Hollywood: C-

Swingers of Santa Monica
Pancakes: B
Scrambled Eggs: B
Vegetarian Sausage: B+
Covering Everything in Syrup: A-
Good Deal on Breakfast: B+
Greek Salad: C-
Size of Plate on Which Greek Salad Was Served: F
Price of Greek Salad: F
Swingers of Santa Monica: C+

Fred 62
Decor: D
Hippie Sandwich: A
French Fries: B+
Scrambled Eggs: B
Hash Browns: A
Toast: A-
Fred 62: B+

Alexander's Brite Spot
Decor: A-
Breakfast Burrito: C+
Fried Egg Sandwich: A+
Possible Side with Fried Egg Sandwich: ?
Alexander's Brite Spot: A-


Anonymous wells said...

The return! Yes!

5:43 PM  
Blogger Chad Hartigan said...

i'd say that brownie sundae estimate is a severe lowball

5:59 PM  
Blogger David Lowery said...

Oddly enough, I've always enjoyed the Swingers burger (truth be told, I like burgers you have to eat with a fork - Real Food Daily, I'm looking at you), whereas the one time I went to Fred 62 I wasn't impressed at all - to the point that I don't even remember what I ordered anymore, but only that the waiter smiled far too much.

If we're ever in LA at the same time, we'll have to go hit up some new spots.

2:03 PM  

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