Four 'N 20 in Van Nuys
“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 I've passed by time and time again.
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 perfectly good and simple. Although I have hardly any experience to draw from so 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.
I dropped in there for lunch a few weeks ago, and considered doing a write-up, but wound up having essentially the same experience as you (except my bread was a fair-to-middlin' garlic toast): okay food, decent service, reasonable prices, ho-hum. I had the fish & chips, which came with a soup-or-salad choice, of which I chose the green salad with just oil and vinegar. Nice, but ordinary. The fish was of the battered variety, and I really wanted to love it - the batter was crisp and good, the fish almost too succulent, but they would NOT stay together! As soon as I bit into a piece the fish wanted to come slithering out. The fries were just fries, though there was a humongous pile of them. I pulled my usual trick of asking for extra tartar sauce, 'cause I like to dip my fries in it, and was embarrassed to get two BIG cups, each holding easily three times the usual portion. It tasted very much home-made, and was some of the best I've had, but that was the closest the meal got to "extraordinary."
I think our OP's step-above-Denny's comment isn't far off here, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It was a comfortable place to have lunch, it was nice and clean and smelled pretty good, and if you HAVE to be in Van Nuys for some reason you could do much worse - I'd been headed for the Lamplighter when I spotted this place, please don't ask me why...
Really, 4 and 20 is best for the pie. The food is just not all that hot. Their baker is a magician. I work right in the Curves down a few doors. It is a struggle to keep from running over there and doing a face plant in the pie. When the strawberry pies start coming out, I don't know if I can hold out.
They had a big banner on the front of the building advertising their strawberry pie, which is what got my attention first! The iconic strawberry pie of my youth was a baked shell containing a mixture of sliced and sweetened berries and whipped cream, which was kept in the bottom of the cooler so that it was almost frozen. So fabulous was this ambrosia that they could charge 25¢ for a slice, as opposed to 15¢ for their other varieties, and we would all happily pay the extra. Now, if 4'N 20's pie is NOT like that, I would be disappointed...and if it IS like that, then I'm not allowed to eat it anymore. So with deep regret I decided to avoid the issue, but I may just change my mind next time I'm in the neighborhood.
Yes, I did think it was way cool that there was a Curves next to a pie shop!
LOL! Pie isn't exactly on the Curves plan although from reading your posts for so long I know you have a lot of self control and plan your pig-outs carefully. But are their pies really all that good? Despite living in Sherman Oaks for almost 20 years I've never been to 4 'N' 20. Seemed too much like Lamplighter which is horrid. I used to go to the Curves next to Carnival and QT Dogs and it was often a challenge to get out of there. Eventually I got bored with Curves and started going to Black Dog Yoga. Luckily In-n-Out has no appeal for me nor does Mogo's due to its depressing atmosphere, and the donut shop is at the other end of the center, easily avoidable by approaching from the east entrance off Milbank.
I can address the 'what were they going for when they designed this place?' question. The Van Nuys 4n20 used to be on the west side of Van Nuys Blvd at Oxnard. They left that spot (I know they were still there in 1990) to be replaced by a dealership (cuz what VN Blvd needs is another dealership). So 4n20 took over a space that was previously occupied by a place called Chicken, Steak, and Chocolate Cake. They would charge you based on your weight. I kid you not. There was a big scale in there. So 4n20's set up was pre-determined by CS&CC.
(PS, Hi L.A.-ers!! I miss you! )
They would charge you based on your weight? Ah, you mean, like, they would make you climb on that big scale in there and like weigh you right there in front of everybody? Like, ah, I really wanago there. But I wonder why they are gone?
Good to hear from Kiwi. I hope the grind is going well. I know you are eating well. Come back soon.
Hiya Doll! Chicago Chowhound is rough. Folks are argumentative and there are very few posts compared to LA's page. God forbid you ask for something that is not Chicago-style! They'll take your head off! I still love perusing the LA page. It like makes me like totally happy. ;}