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REVIEW w/ pics: Clifton's Cafeteria

pleasurepalate Dec 21, 2007 09:45 AM

If you've never visited Clifton's Cafeteria, LA's oldest cafeteria,
than you definitely should put it on your to do list, because walking
through this restaurant's portals will take you somewhere that you'd
never expect a cafeteria to take you to.

First, let's talk briefly about the Clifton Cafeteria's founder,
Clifford Clinton. The Clinton family business was a chain of Clinton
Cafeterias in San Francisco. Upon his father's retirement, Clifford
bought out the cafeterias along with two partners. Due to creative
differences, Clifford eventually sold his ownership interest to his
partners and made the move to Los Angeles, where he wanted a fresh
start. Needing a new name for his business, he combined letters from
his first and last name to come up with Clifton's (CLIF-ford and clin-
TON).

The first Clifton's Cafeteria opened in 1931 and was on Olive Street,
but 8 years later, it underwent an amazing transformation. Inspired
by a family trip to Asia and the South Pacific, Clifton transformed
his restaurant to one of tropical splendor. The facade of the
building featured artificial tropical foliage and a waterfall, while
inside there was a large tropical jungle mural, a grass hut, an
interior waterfall and even a rain hut where a mini tropical storm
would make an appearance every 20 minutes. Known as Clifton's
Pacific Seas, it remained a tourist attraction until it closed down
in 1960.

In 1935, a second cafeteria known as Clifford's Brookdale was built
on Broadway. As a child growing up, Clifford spent family vacations
in the Santa Cruz Mountains where beautiful redwood trees resided,
not far from the Brookdale Lodge. 72 years later, Clifton's
Brookdale is the only surviving Clifton's Cafeteria.

Given the description I gave you earlier about Clifford's Pacific
Seas, I'm sure you can already imagine what the inside of Clifford's
Brookedale may have looked like. But first, I want to mention the
beautiful mosaic or tile art that is on the sidewalk in front of the
restaurant. Directly outside the front door is a sun motif with the
words "Clifford's Brookdale" cutting into the sun's rays. On either
side of the sun, you'll see vignettes depicting things to see and do
in LA like the one featuring the Hollywood Bowl or a scene with
bathers about to dive into the water which represents beaches.

After you've done with your art appreciating, walk through the doors
and what you'll experience is a forest wonderland. To the right is a
large canvas of life size trees painted by renowned L.A. muralist,
Einar Petersen. Towering up to the second floor are artificial rock
facades. Above one of those rock formations is a little chapel and
upon entering its small space, you can press a button to hear a
recording of "The Parable of the Redwoods". To your left is a
waterfall that starts at the second level and cascades into a gentle
stream that eventually makes it way to the first level of the
restaurant. Even steel columns that are supporting the restaurant
have a covering of bark to give a feeling of there being actual trees
inside the main dining room.

Of course, it wouldn't be a forest without wild life, so there actual
bear statues, with one that even has a fish dinner on a plate,
standing right next to the stairwell between the 1st and 2nd levels.
By the way, there's even a much plainer third level at Clifton's.
You walk up to see red and gold tapestry-like walls with a red carpet
and hanging plants. While up there, take a look at the signage that
says that it's all you can eat for 64 cents. Amazing, huh? Along
with the signage, you can also take a peek at a portrait of founder,
Clifford Clinton himself.

My first visit to Clifton's Brookdale was 3 years ago and I've been
there a few times since then, but every time I walk in, I always feel
like I should be wearing hiking boots, pitching a tent and keeping an
eye out for Yogi Bear.

As for the food, there's definitely a lot to choose from. It's a
combination of Hispanic and American Cuisine. What I always found
interesting was once you pick up your tray, the section that comes
first showcases their desserts. I always try to make sure that I get
a piece of strawberry pie if that's available. After the desserts,
you can choose from a variety of salads like coleslaw, macaroni,
green bean as well as various veggie sides.

Following the salads, you can get rolls, garlic bread, pasta followed
by the main entrée section which can include anything from enchiladas
to pork chops. Once you've filled up your tray, you make your way
down to the cashier and pay up. I have to say that I've never had a
disappointing meal at Clifton's. The food isn't fancy, but it tastes
good, it's hearty and it's filling. For cafeteria food, I'd say
Clifton's is pretty good.

As mentioned earlier, Clifton's Brookdale is the only one left in the
chain. There were also 2 or 3 other Clifton's Cafeterias that made
it into LA suburbs that are no longer in existence. Clifton's
Greenery, which was in West Covina, finally closed its doors a few
years ago.

Clifton's Cafeteria is definitely one of downtown LA's quirkiest
landmarks and really is a must visit for any Angeleno. If you're only
going to go there once, visit around Christmas time. They really get
into the holiday spirit as you'll notice when you take a look at the
pictures I took below. On that note, I want to wish everyone Happy
Holidays!

To see pics, go to:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/la_addic...

Clifton's Cafeteria
648 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 627-1673
www.cliftonscafeteria.com

Thanks,
Abby
http://pleasurepalate.blogspot.com/

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    slacker RE: pleasurepalate Dec 21, 2007 10:33 AM

    We used to go to that Clifton's on Broadway a lot when I was little, and then when I grew up and worked downtown, I'd go there now and then. But I liked the Silver Spoon better, on 7th (it's now the 7 Grand bar). When I was little, we considered the Silver Spoon the more high class of the two. Clifton's Silver Spoon had the Soup Easy in the lower level; the lower level also housed The Garden, wherein resided a life size Jesus Christ behind glass. You had to get a token to enter The Garden (the same token is used for the restrooms). There was bench seating in there (risers, IIRC), you push the button and the whole room goes pitch black, and then there's a spotlight on Jesus, and a booming voice comes on, reading from the scriptures.
    When the Silver Spoon was closing, they had a big sale of all their stuff. I didn't get to it in time to purchase the gigantic pepper mill that was always on display upstairs. But I managed to get a butler pull. *sigh* I miss the Silver Spoon.

    All this reminds me that I need to get myself back to Clifton's soon.

    1. DanaB RE: pleasurepalate Dec 21, 2007 11:34 AM

      Thanks for the report! I've lived in LA all my life, but never have been to the Clifton's downtown -- I'll have to check it out sometime. As a teenager, we used to go to the Clifton's at the Century City mall -- I think that one has been gone for 10+ years.

      2 Replies
      1. re: DanaB
        Bob Brooks RE: DanaB Dec 21, 2007 04:49 PM

        That Clifton's became the Ontra Cafeteria before it finally closed. But that was way more than ten years ago.

        1. re: Bob Brooks
          DanaB RE: Bob Brooks Dec 23, 2007 10:07 PM

          <<But that was way more than ten years ago.>>

          Lol! I will admit that the last time I was at the Century City Clifton's was about 25 years ago, when I was 14 or 15 years old. So, I'm sure you are right ;-)

      2. m
        marlane RE: pleasurepalate Dec 21, 2007 02:35 PM

        IIRC I read that during war time ??? or a period of rationing that Cliftons would feed people for whatever they could afford; be it a nickel or a dime. Just an anecedote to the history of the OP. I have never been but intend to. History is good even if the food is just OK.

        1. ipsedixit RE: pleasurepalate Dec 21, 2007 08:56 PM

          It's definitely a nostalgic kind of place. But the food, aside from a few notable items, is very very average. I do like their salisbury steak and banana cream pie, however.

          1. u
            udontmakefriendswithsalad RE: pleasurepalate Dec 21, 2007 10:37 PM

            Love Clifton's-- thanks for the great writeup and pix. I was there last week and saw that they are now selling their (super cute, woodland-inspired) trays as souveniers! I bought one for a homesick ex-Angeleno friend of mine. A nice memento of a fun place.

            1. o
              Oh Robin RE: pleasurepalate Dec 28, 2007 04:14 PM

              Wow. The garlic bread looks just as I remember from my many "lunch break" meals at Clifton's Lakewood Mall. Yummy.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Oh Robin
                j
                justagthing RE: Oh Robin Dec 28, 2007 04:49 PM

                I use to work in that mall too right across from Clifton's. I remember the soup, where I learned to love Cream of Broccoli.

                1. re: justagthing
                  o
                  Oh Robin RE: justagthing Dec 28, 2007 05:51 PM

                  My first job was at Suncoast. Can't tell you how many spaghetti lunches I had at Clifton's, with tapioca for dessert and fresh lemonade to drink. Also can't forget the "cakey" strawberry cheesecake.

              2. Deidre7 RE: pleasurepalate Oct 26, 2008 01:46 PM

                I adore Clifton's. My mom read about this place and wanted to go because she used to frequent cafeterias as a kid in the 50/60s in Chicago. My family was in town so we all went and it was great. I go there every so often. It's comforting and good food.

                The food is great and its really fun to have the option of selection, etc. I actually saw a curry dish when I was last there. Looked slop-ish but I'm sure tasty. I like their turkey legs and garlic mashed potatoes. Snicker pie mmmm Price wise it isn't that cheap...def. not expensive but a meal is at least $10-15 depending on what you choose. They take debit! I tend to go through the line a few times when I am there haha...I get so indecisive.

                People watching is fun there as well and you can also purchase items from the bakery!

                1 Reply
                1. re: Deidre7
                  n
                  noshie RE: Deidre7 Oct 26, 2008 06:54 PM

                  I like their turkey dinner with stuffing and I also like their enchiladas for some reason

                2. h
                  hobomike RE: pleasurepalate Oct 27, 2008 07:19 AM

                  Food bless you for reviewing Clifton's! I gotta tell you that the place bums me out every time I walk in (okay, some of the hardtimers bum me out) but it's so important that it survives. I'm a sentimental old coot.

                  1. l
                    Lisa Davidson RE: pleasurepalate Oct 12, 2010 10:36 AM

                    It's great that someone mentioned the Ontra Cafeteria, because I lost a tooth in the one on Vine Street. This isn't really fair to say, because it was a milk tooth which was about to come out anyway, but I lost it while biting into a pork chop. Also, can someone explain their name to me? Is it pronounced "entree" with an accent? Does it mean "on a tray"? Is it just on-tra like it looks? What's an on-tra?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Lisa Davidson
                      Akitist RE: Lisa Davidson Oct 12, 2010 11:40 AM

                      I originally heard it as on-tray, play on entree and the cafeteria style service, but later people seemed to pronounce it phonetically. Think America being dumbed-down.

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