Play with your food
South Pasadena’s Mix n’ Munch turns customers into culinary artists
By Erica Wayne 05/02/2013
Mix n’ Munch Cereal Bar and Grilled Cheese Cafe on Mission Street in South Pasadena is a niche business, kind of like the Scotch Tape Store on “Saturday Night Live.” As the name suggests, all they (seemingly) serve is cereal and grilled cheese sandwiches — not the kind of menu most folks would say is an immediate turn on.
But, like many frozen yogurt emporia, the folks at Mix n’ Munch allow older customers to craft their bowls of corn flakes and sandwiches into edible examples of self-expression while satisfying kiddies with the basics.
Cereal (close to 30 brands) can be purchased in mini (12-ounce — $2.75), large (16-ounce — $3.75) and jumbo (32-ounce — $4.99) sizes. For the two smaller portions, customers can combine up to four cereals/mix-ins (milk counts as one). Additional mix-ins are 60 cents apiece. If you order the jumbo size, however, the sky’s the limit. Mix n’ Munch stocks fresh fruits, nuts, cookies, candy, syrups and all kinds of milk, including soy and almond. Old-fashioned oatmeal is available too (mini — $2.99, including two mix-ins; large — $3.75, with three mix-ins).
As for the grilled cheese, basic (choice of one of six kinds of bread and two of 10 types of cheeses) costs $3.75. Premium cheeses (smoked Gouda, Gruyere, brie or havarti) will set you back 60 cents more. Augment your creation with as many fruit or veggies as you want for another 60 cents apiece and/or add some protein (e.g., bacon, ham, turkey, roast beef, a fried egg or Spam) for $1 each. Voila! Food as art
Plain or vanilla yogurt parfaits ($3.75 with three mix-ins) and grilled dessert sandwiches ($3.50 with your choice of bread and two spreads or mix-ins) rounds out the menu’s main headings. But there are minor lists of sides (tater tots, soup, salads and the like, ranging from $1.99 to $4.25). Drinks include juices, coffee and tea, cantaloupe and watermelon water.
Some clients understandably aren’t that into an artistic endeavor; they’re just hungry. Our heads were spinning with the sheer number of possibilities, and it’s obvious that the owners understand this dilemma. Mix n’ Munch’s menu suggests nine pre-designated sandwiches, five cereal mixes, three oatmeal bowls, two yogurt parfaits and four dessert sandwiches from which to choose. And, on the white board by the counter, there’s yet another choice or two or three.
One special, the “Wacky Quacky” ($7.25), caught my eye — Peking duck, mozzarella, hoisin and green onion on Hawaiian bread. If my husband (the protein hound) had been along, he would have undoubtedly picked the “Mix n’ Munch Cristo” ($6.50), with Gruyere, Swiss, turkey and ham on French Texas toast. But my gal-pal lunch date veers toward the vegetarian end of the spectrum and opted for the “Pesto Perfecto”: mozzarella, pesto and tomatoes on sourdough ($4.95).
Despite its fetching description, the “Wacky Quacky” was a disappointment. The duck was a genuine import from Monterey Park. The sandwich even included a slab of skin along with shreds of meat. But the onion was scarce, the bland cheese overwhelmed and the crispy fatty texture that characterizes Peking duck skin at its best and simplest was lost. We much preferred the simpler pesto combo, which went well with the small bowl of excellent house-made tomato basil soup ($3.25) that we shared.
For me, the high point of our lunch was the incredibly yummy pre-fashioned dessert sandwich with which we ended our meal: Nutella and sliced strawberries on dark sweet wheat bread ($3.50). It came to the table warm and gooey and disappeared in less than a minute. I could easily have devoured another two or three, but even this one necessitated an extra 30 minutes on the treadmill to (partly) dissipate the guilt if not the calories.
Speaking of which, behind our table in this spacious restaurant decorated with a gigantic hanging Cheerios box, a charming landscape (featuring Tony the Tiger, the Lucky Charms leprechaun and the Honey Nut Cheerios bee all pointing toward the façade of Mix n’ Munch), a flat-screen TV tuned to the Food Channel and a play station with books, toys and a magnet board for small kids, were bulletin boards labeled Wall of Fame and Wall of Shame. Both had photos of customers in front of an abundance of used plates.
The gal who took our order explained the difference. It seems there’s a standing challenge at Mix n’ Munch: Order the first six combo sandwiches on the menu plus a jumbo cereal. If you can finish everything, the food is free and your picture goes onto the Wall of Fame. Fail the challenge and not only will your face be plastered onto the Wall of Shame but you’ll be presented with a bill for close to $40.
It’s unlikely that challenge contestants (winners or losers) will feel much like exploring the neighboring stores after dining. But those who eat more moderately should get a kick out of The Battery (used books) and Hodgson’s Antiques (mostly swap meet stuff), which share the entryway to Mix n’ Munch. And, unlikely as it is that you leave hungry, the adjacent La Monarca Bakery and Buster’s across the street can provide further sustenance.