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Jul 1, 2008 03:44 PM

Park Pantry, Long Beach

Posted something about this a few years ago. After maybe a three-year hiatus, I had some shooting to do in the area, and - waddaya know! - wound up not far from Bixby Park right around noon. Now, this is another one of those Local Favorites, actually pretty much a neighborhood hangout, with tables full of people who don't care about the lack of parking because they walked over anyway. I'm pretty sure I was the only person in there from Pasadena...

I got a nice tall glass of iced tea with a big sprig of mint in it almost before I'd finished asking, and waited barely ten minutes for my fish & chips after I'd finished agonizing over all the attractive choices. Got coleslaw as my side dish, and asked for no ketchup or vinegar, but a double dose of tartar sauce, please, and that's how it came. Wish I'd brought my camera in with me, since the slaw was practically glistening with the morning dew (and NOT swamped in gooey dressing, halleluja!), the fries were a pale gold and delicately crisp, and the two pieces of halibut reclined on a big leaf of lettuce, each one surmounted by a deep-brown onion ring large enough to wear as a wrist bangle. Very pretty sight indeed. The fries and the rings were about as good as those things get, the rings especially, as the crunchy and delicious breading clung to the sweet, tender onion better than any I'd ever had before. Though I know some would like the fries darker, these were just about perfect in my opinion. The cabbage in the coleslaw was amazingly fresh, as though it had been sliced to order - perhaps it was - and the very light application of a very rich dressing was a revelation, especially to a man who thought he had coleslaw all figured out. Utterly delicious. As for the fish, well, heck. Nobody's perfect. As the smarty-pants reviewer once said, it had been cooked to perfection, and beyond... It wasn't tragically overcooked, and the flavor was good, but it did kinda need the tartar sauce for some extra moisture.

The tab for this, with tax, was a bit over $13 before tip, not cheap but not bad. Most of the sandwiches and plates run in the $7-$12 range, pretty typical for a place this well-settled and comfortable. Ain't nothin' hip about it, but it's clean and very friendly, with a clientele as mixed as the neighborhood, which is to say Very. And if you listen really hard you can just hear some classical music playing 'way off in the background. My kind of joint - wish it were closer!

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  1. Used to be thought of as a poor man's Denny's.
    Maybe things have gotten a bit better?!
    But unless they have recently remodeled, Denny's had more ambiance.

    8 Replies
    1. re: carter

      Oh, come ON...granted, I haven't been inside one in over ten years, but the "ambience" I remember from any Denny's is kinda like a bus station with coffee. No, the PP looks the same as always, including the usual number of people reading books and/or chatting with each other and the staff. I know we're supposed to be concentrating on the food, of course, which for my money beats any Denny's by a mile, but the calm atmosphere and quiet music made me feel right at home. And if I hadn't been on a schedule I might've stayed awhile myself.

      1. re: Will Owen

        Calm atmosphere and quiet music? Good iced tea and coleslaw? Sign us up! Do they serve breakfast?

        What is it about so many places now that they can't make a decent glass of iced tea?

        1. re: Joani Macaroni

          Some people can't stand the stuff!
          And most coleslaw tastes like no one wants to eat it either.
          And the bus station with coffee look is how I remember the PP, now it may have been remodeled, yet.....
          And as to those reading books or chatting, I don't to restaurants with those criteria in mind!!!
          French Market in Weho or the Kettle in Manhattan Beach, the foundations of the Mimi's Cafe chain, have a much better way with similar fare, and decor, as hokey as it may be!

          1. re: carter

            I must take umbrage with you Carter! Hubby and I both love a good coleslaw and it's good for you! I agree that a good one is hard to come by, but if it's good, it won't be sitting long! Katella Deli has wonderful coleslaw. I'm to the east of Seal Beach, so driving to Manhattan Beach for breakfast is a bit of a stretch. We have a wonderful Mimi's near us in G.G. and eat there often, but it's hard to find a time when there are no cranky babies or yackety kids. I work at a school with over 600 kids, so a place with peace and quiet is a lovely thought! "To each their own!"

            1. re: carter

              I don't go to RESTAURANTS with those criteria in mind, either, but I love those things in a neighborhood diner. However, what I do want in any eating place is an atmosphere of calm, a place where one may converse in normal tones. I know there are those who enjoy a noisy, clattery, electric sort of environment with their food, and they're welcome to it, just don't invite me.

              As for anyone who despises iced tea, coleslaw or both, we will agree to disagree. Having adored both of those things for sixty-some years, I'm at a loss to understand it, but then some people can't stand Mozart, either.

              1. re: Will Owen

                i'm with you 100% on those points will. my problem with Park Pantry isn't conception, but execution. Do give b'n'b a try and see what i mean.

                1. re: FED

                  I'd love to. To be perfectly honest, I knew exactly where PP was relative to where I was, I needed a break, and I REALLY needed a restroom. I need to find Bake & Broil and those other places, but had not the time nor resources to go look. My report on the ensuing meal was not premeditated; I assumed I'd have an adequate one, and was surprised by how good it was and how pleasant the experience was. By my lights it was perfectly clean, and the service was as brisk as I wanted - my 20% tip was not handed over grudgingly.

                  Carter: you will notice that I singled out the coleslaw for mention precisely because it had no overabundance of any dressing ingredient, but was essentially just very fresh shreds of cabbage lightly moistened with a good dressing. My own slaw tends to come out pretty soupy - I think I'll take a useful lesson from this.

                2. re: Will Owen

                  I like GOOD coleslaw, but most every version you try anywhere you try it is gawdawful, or worse!
                  I truly feel that good coleslaw does not need an overabundance of mayo.
                  No grocery store makes one even half-way decent, as an example, altho I vaguely remember Albertson's, of all places, making one that was palatable, and I do not live within 10 miles of one.
                  Boneyard Bistro in sherman oaks does a nice one, though, yet it is not a food I ever will go out of my way for.
                  As to iced tea - ugh!, yet the same thing can be said for tea in general - obviously, I did not grow up in the south.

        2. i've got to agree with carter on this one. i've never understood some people's affection for this place. to me, it's kind of like Polly's ... and i know they have their fans, too. i do understand the appeal of that kind of food ... i love bake 'n' broil ... but even if its simple, it still needs to be well-executed and neither park pantry nor polly's does that reliably.

          7 Replies
          1. re: FED

            Sometimes, BnB is also mediocre on the execution. They're all freakin' coffee shops. Sometimes it is interesting to take a review on its face without all the hype surrounding local favorites. Enjoyable read, and if I was within a few blocks of Park Pantry I wouldn't drive to BnB.

            Although if it was lunchtime, I'd go to Rivera's.

            Rivera's Mexican Restaurant
            2901 E 7th St, Long Beach, CA 90804

            1. re: mlgb

              Bake 'n' Broil is very frequently weak on the execution. They have the right menu but, too often, the wrong techniques or insufficient cooking skill. The chicken-fried steak is beaten to a pulp with an implement sold on late-night TV, no doubt. The onions in the onion soup look milky, not carmelized, and the chicken breast in the otherwise good chicken pot pie is overcooked and dry, even though smothered with sauce. I often find very unpleasant-tasting clumps of beans in what could be a good navy bean soup, and the vegetable sides are generally poorly chosen. In a place like this, let's have corn, greens (e.g., creamed spinach w/cheese and jalapenos), white beans, potatoes, rice, .... Poorly prepared mushy carrots, green beans, broccoli, and other staples of bus-stop America are unappetizing and wasteful, because it’s hard to take more than a couple of bites.

              On the high side, those BnB rolls and their cakes and pies can be excellent. I always take an extra slice or two home with me.

              It's obvious from postings to this board over the years that many of us yearn for a reliable, old-fashioned, homey cafe where the kitchen knows how to cook and management is the constantly present grandma' making sure it all comes out right. I'm just taking off on a one-month driving trip around the country and plan to stop at many such establishments in the small towns and big cities of the Midwest, Northeast, and South. All the way home, no doubt, I'll be complaining: Why doesn't some young entrepreneur in Southern California learn this cherished trade and knock us over with a blue-plate cafe for the ages?

              1. re: sbritchky

                certainly not going to dispute the bnb is fallible (hard to imagine a $10-per-person restaurant that isn't). but I had to laugh about the description of the chicken fried steak. It is absolutely accurate, but it is also, of course, exactly what a chicken fried steak is supposed to be.

                1. re: sbritchky

                  Hmmm. Probably the young entrepreneur in Southern California understands that the demographic for bland, overcooked white-bread food is long since gone from around these parts.

                  Why eat mushy carrots and overcooked meatloaf when you have a choice of Korean, Thai, Mexican, Japanese, Cal-Ital, and even updated burger joints like Father's Office?

                  Even the occasional nostalgia item like red velvet cupcakes translates into Sprinkles and the numerous cupcake outlets.

                  1. re: mlgb

                    we are indeed lucky to live in an area that is so rich in ethnic restaurants--including Midwestern. It's wonderful that someone who doesn't care for chicken-fried steak will have a very easy time finding tonkatsu or milanesa.

                  2. re: sbritchky

                    Because they could not afford the rent, labor, and other costs of operation here that are so much higher than any other part of the country that you mention, or if they would, the retail prices would be beyond the desire of the customer base!
                    I mean, would you pay $15 or more for chicken fried steak?
                    Doubted it as well.

                    1. re: carter

                      More likely a young entrepreneur would follow in the footsteps of all of the updated comfort food restaurants that charge $15 for chipotle mac n cheese, or $40 for pot roast.

                      "But it's a good pot roast."

              2. Drove by this place thousands of times before venturing in about a year ago. Sorry Will, but why would you go here when Potholder, Coffee Cup and Bake & Broil are so close and light years better? It seemed dirty to me, the service was lacking and the food was very ho hum. The only part I liked was in the booth behind us were young parents with two incredibly well behaved polite children. The kids (about 3 and 5, girls) told the waitress please and thank you and pondered (out loud) the choice of french toast or grilled cheese. Unless this place has overgone a major overhaul (your food did sound appealing) I will not be partaking any time soon.

                1. I can appreciate the review, but like others have stated I would not go here as a destination restaurant in Long Beach, especially if I was driving from LA. I would go to the Bake and Broil. It is my favorite place in Long Beach and is superior to the Park Pantry in every sense of the word. I would even rather go to the Potholder than the PP. Sorry Will.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Rm33

                    If I were in a strange part of town, say, South Pasadena, and were working in a park, needing a meal and a restroom, it would be logical to stop in the nearest diner, which is what Will is reporting. Yes, for those of us who live in the area, PP may not be our first choice, but, come on! He stopped in a strange place in a strange part of town, and had some great coleslaw, fries, and O-rings! I'm thrilled to hear that someone had a good experience, walking into the nearest place he could find. I like all the aforementioned places, and have also had some decent food in the Park Pantry.

                    1. re: vickib

                      Or if you had actually been there before and had gotten decent cheap food, you might even drive past some unfamiliar alternatives, as I did. Based on that past experience I was expecting an adequate lunch, not a stunning one. That much of it was stunning was a delightful surprise. I still want to try Bake'n'Broil - hey, I want to try EVERY place I haven't been to, but with gas as it is I'll have to be in the vicinity on paying more driving all over LA just for the hell of it. Darn it.