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Mel's Drive In opens in Seal Beach

j
Joani Macaroni Dec 14, 2007 07:35 PM

After many delays, Mel's Drive In opened Wednesday in Seal Beach on Los Alamitos Blvd. This is good news for those of us who didn't want to see the last Parasol Restaurant (and its classic Googie style architecture) get torn down - well, a partial victory anyway. A lot of changes were made and the Parasol lights have been replaced, but the circular arrangement of the diner has been maintained. It's not, however, a drive-in with car hop service, just walk-in (as it always was). I hope it does well and maintains its charm for families as the Parasol did for many years. Haven't had a chance to get down there yet for fries and a shake, but would love to hear from other chowhounders who have.

  1. d
    danimal57 Dec 29, 2007 09:44 AM

    My family has lived in the area for years, and we all wanted to see the Parasol survive. It didn't. The Parasol, sometimes called "the Parasite" by locals, is extinct, replaced by Mel's Drive In. Mel's interior is apparently designed to pay homage to the movie "American Grafiti". I had expected a 1950s revival, but the emphasis seems to be the movie about 50s nostalgia, not the 50s themselves. There are framed photographs showing the movie set and other doo-dads from the movie everywhere. Odd.

    I took my mom there for breakfast one morning after Christmas. The place was busy. The place was NOISY. The architecture of the Parasol building is domed, somewhat like being under an umbrella. The Parasite had an acoustic ceiling, if I remember correctly, and without the dampening material the noise level under the dome structure is deafening. My mom and I were squeezed into a little table, but even though we were close together we couldn't converse.

    We had regular breakfast stuff to eat, something a faux-50s diner should be able to do regularly. No surprise, the food was okay. My omlelette was good, although it was puny. Mom's waffle looked overcooked to me. I was a hash slinger in my youth, and to me her waffle, singular, looked small, thin and cooked to that toughness that only an overcooked Krusteze waffle can have. If you can't cut a waffle with the edge of your fork, something's wrong. It cost $7, too, for a little waffle.

    There's no justification for reduced portions at breakfast. Both our meals were kid-sized, but what's a few ounces of Krusteze pancake & waffle mix cost in bulk? Almost nothing. Same thing with eggs, the cost of serving a big omelette is virtually the same as serving a miniature one. Materials cost less than 10% of breakfast, so eat hearty. My philosophy when I was cooking breakfasts was to send the customers out full. Spend the extra nickle for one more egg and your customers will be happy. Save the nickle and your customers will remember.

    The staff at Mel's was great. They were quick, professional and polite. The men's restroom has moved to the opposite end of the restaurant, and it's as big as a Tokyo hotel room. There's a jukebox that plays, no surprise here, 50s hits. They even have faux-50s mini jukeboxes at your table, so you can select oldies without getting up and walking to the big jukebox. You can't hear it over the racket, though.

    The summary? Mel's is okay, especially if you really, really liked American Grafiti. It serves predictable food in a predictable atmosphere, neither of which are better than average. It'll never be the Parasol, which had big, cheap meals in an authentic 1960s atmosphere with surly old coots from Leisure World crowded in for the early bird special. I'll be back, for sure, since it's walking distance from Mom's house. I sure wouldn't go out of my way, however.

    9 Replies
    1. re: danimal57
      m
      MaryT Dec 29, 2007 08:01 PM

      Sometimes it was a long day, or being off schedule, but especially, it was often the place to get the good homecooked style meal after a long trip out of town -- especially if we had been out of the country oh me!

      It was predictable and consistent both, and I knew when it was over, it was . . . but this type of place, that it was, we need more of today. Some of these "diners" are "okay". I still like the Rubys concept at some of the key places, that still serve the items no longer on the menu -- like the bacon and pecan waffles, I sure hope they don't give those up! Rubys breakfsts are pretty good, since they are known for the burgers etc. they usually are not even busy at breakfast, I went to Seal Beach Pier last weekend for the breakfast and as usual no wait, good service, and good food.

      1. re: danimal57
        j
        Joani Macaroni Dec 30, 2007 07:59 PM

        Thanks danimal57,

        We too, are fans of the "big breakfast." When we have a lazy Saturday morning to spend together, hubby and I love to indulge in a "breakfast" that often holds us all the way through to dinner time. It won't be Mel's for breakfast, that's for sure! Perhaps their lunches wil be better. On the other hand, if it's as noisy at lunch as your breakfast experience, we may not be back for a second time even if the food's good. Thanks for the warning! P.S. If you're looking for big breakfasts, try Schooner or Later.

        1. re: Joani Macaroni
          o
          Oh Robin Jan 5, 2008 07:17 PM

          Just a note, avoid Schooner or Later on the weekends unless you enjoy waiting two hours for some eggs with the trucker hat hangover crowd.

          1. re: Oh Robin
            j
            Joani Macaroni Jan 5, 2008 07:39 PM

            Wow, the longest we've ever had to wait, even on the weekends, was about 45 minutes. Never saw those "trucker hat hangover crowd" folks, but I know for a fact that some of the retirees from the DWP like to meet up with some of the current guys over there. When you've worked 10 days in a row on the graveyard shift, you're not always the most fastidious in appearance. . . but most of the folks we see there are pretty nice and appropriately dressed for the marina area. Schooner's omlettes are tasty and very hearty.

            1. re: Joani Macaroni
              o
              Oh Robin Jan 5, 2008 08:28 PM

              When I say trucker hat, I mean the hipsters. The only reason I'd wait at S or L is for that portugese chowder. Love to get the recipe for it.

            2. re: Oh Robin
              j
              justagthing Jan 6, 2008 07:01 AM

              I found the breakfast at Buster's very tasty and their variety quite interesting.

          2. re: danimal57
            j
            Joani Macaroni Jan 5, 2008 02:24 PM

            We went to lunch at Mel's in Seal Beach yesterday and danimal57's report was "right on the money" - it was LOUD, VERY LOUD! A little girl came in after us and promptly stuck her fingers in her ears as she complained to her mom. Noise doesn't usually bother 7 year-olds . . .

            Anyway, the place was hoppin' - there were several parties waiting to be seated in the small entryway and the place seemed understaffed, at least at the front register. It was several minutes before anyone approached us to place our name on the waiting list. Of course, the sign did say, "Seat yourself" but since there wasn't any room (except at the counter), it was a moot issue. We were told 10 minutes, and he was right - it was just about 10 minutes, which was fine.

            Once seated with menus, it was a bit of time before anyone approached us for a drink order, although wait-persons and bus boys dashed past with amazing frequency. Finally, a waitress sensed we were ready to order, appologized for the wait, and told us "Your drinks are on me" after we ordered. When the drinks arrived, the very confused (different) person switched our drinks back and forth several times before setting them down (we ordered a Sprite and a diet cola) incorrectly despite the fact that I said "Diet Coke" and Hubby said "Sprite" to him. He left and we just switched our glasses and chuckled. Our food orders took quite a while to arrive (25 minutes, for burger plates) and the waitress explained there was a back-up on orders at the kitchen. Not at all surprising since the place was crammed with tables and full of people. When my burger arrived, I looked at it and it was not the burger I ordered, or rather, it was missing two things: the avocado and the cheese. The assisting waitress promptly brought out a plate with sliced avocado on it, but it took my hamburger at least an additional 10 minutes to make it back after the first waitress came back to ask what kind of cheese I wanted on it. When it re-arrived, it had both the cheese AND chunks of avocado, along with fries, which I hadn't ordered (a peace offering?) and hadn't been on the first plate. The burgers were attractive but just "acceptable" in taste - not juicy as the menu warned us they would be. The fries were good. By the time my plate finally got back, my large diet Coke was gone, so the waitress said she'd bring us another (we hadn't asked) and two more sodas arrived, landing in the right spots this time.

            The tab for two was $27 which included two beverages (presumably the two she brought us the second time, which was fair, if we had asked for them). Everyone was friendly and courteous.

            The Ladies' room was clean but with all that tile, extremely noisy when the hand blower was turned on. Imagine jet engines and you'd be close. The worst part was trying to get to the Ladie's room - there are so many small tables on the floor space that it is quite a trick to manuever through them while avoiding the hustling wait-persons. On the plus side, the old fashioned juke box selectors at the side booths are quite cute and have a lot of selections to choose from, and add an authentic touch. Would I go again? Maybe, but not soon. There are better places to spend $10 on a burger.

            1. re: Joani Macaroni
              m
              MaryT Jan 6, 2008 12:45 PM

              Just a few miles down the street, the Rubys at the pier has great burgers (my fav is the bleu cheese), not bad coffee, and much better breakfasts. They will also still serve you the pecan and bacon waffles, and yum, do those go with a peanut butter shake. And you can't beat the view at the pier, come on!

              1. re: MaryT
                a
                AGENT FOODIE Jan 6, 2008 10:42 PM

                i just recently went to a mels diner, but in san francisco. the food was good but portion were on the small side and kinda expensive. the one thing i did like was that the breakfasts we had there was made quick and tasty and most importantly not drowning in oil and/or grease. maybe when things calm down ill head down to the one in seal beach for a workweek lunch.........

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