Through thick and thin
Count on Colonial Kitchen’s comfort cooking for all occasions
By Erica Wayne 03/31/2011
These are troubled times. Japan, Libya, DC, Sacramento — no matter where you look, housing’s down, the job market’s bad, budget cuts are the rule, and we’re not getting any younger. In the global tsunami that seems to be sucking the joy out of 2011, there are only two choices: hide under the bed or head to a coffee shop.
Coffee shops have always meant comfort to me. As a youngster on family trips, I remember the happiness of seeing Howard Johnson's or Hot Shoppe signs that signaled familiar food in unfamiliar locations. Williamsburg, Tallahassee or Portsmouth, we could count on pancakes, burgers and grilled cheese done the way we liked them — important reassurance to a kid in transit.
In college, coffee shops were where we escaped from the dorm, outlined papers, plotted strategies for finals and ragged on parents, professors and other authority figures. Maybe it was all those free refills on coffee, or perhaps it was simply that the waitresses never seemed anxious for us to pay up and vacate, but the neighborhood coffee shop was a true haven.
In later peregrinations, coffee shops have gotten me through periods when belongings are in boxes, cats are confused and neighbors are simply curious nameless faces wondering what living next door to me will mean. Luckily, it’s been more than 20 years since I’ve been in that position, but I’m still grateful to our neighborhood coffee shop, Colonial Kitchen, for providing solace then and continuing to do so through thick and thin.
The Kitchen, on Huntington Drive in San Marino (we’re still Pasadena residents, albeit barely), is an old-fashioned place, cozy and warm. As a fugitive from bare walls and unpacked cartons on our first visit in 1989, I hid rather than nestled in one of the heavy green booths at the back of the restaurant, seeking sanctuary from the arduous process of "settling in."
The wood cases filled with cloying ceramics (mostly saccharin Hummel figurines), clichéd landscape paintings and fake oak paneling lining much of the wall space all made me feel better. The red glass lamps, wood-grain tables and stocky early American chairs gave me a feeling that somehow things would become ordered again.
Flocked wall coverings (perhaps plastic), philodendron (probably plastic) and soft music (definitely plastic) didn’t (and don't) bother me a bit. The coffee's real, the waitress calls me dear and I can stay as long as I like (which in times of duress seems to be most of the day, if I can swing it). Unfortunately, they close fairly early, so there's no chance of avoiding responsibilities indefinitely.
CK’s breakfast is a high point. The pancake sandwich ($7.45) sustained me through two verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown mornings when I couldn't find: a) my underwear (in with the pots and pans), b) my ginger cat (lurking among the stacked paintings in the living room), c) my black cat (hunkered down invisibly in a black leather chair), and d) my gray cat (on top of the underwear). This month, it’s buttressing us as we prepare to donate most of our spare cash to the IRS.
Well, I’m not that fond of sausage and the overlight eggs are sometimes slightly underdone, but the batter is homemade, the pancakes are tender and the syrup is served warm. (IMHO, there’s not a doldrum in the world that can’t be mitigated by the aroma of maple sugar.) Early on, I also enjoyed CK’s homemade chili omelette ($8.45), fat and cushiony, served with decent hash browns or even better O’Briens (with onion and peppers) and fresh biscuits — comforting enough to enable me to head home and empty two cartons before succumbing to moving malaise once more.
Now that we’re longtime residents, my favorite omelette is the Sonora ($8.45), made with green chilies and jack cheese (I usually switch to cheddar) with dollops of guacamole and sour cream and mild salsa. My husband, whose appetite picked up once his books were on the shelves, rarely veers from the Titan ($9.95), a sausage, bacon, potatoes, egg, pancake, juice and toast extravaganza.
We’ve never asked how it got its name or why British and American flags hang out front. Welsh rarebit sandwich ($7.25) and fish and chips ($13.95) suggest the original owner may have been a Brit. The last time we were in, shrimp pot stickers ($6.95) were a daily special, quite a shocker until we belatedly noticed that new owners (Frank and Linda Chen) had taken over eight years ago. Other than the dumplings, we haven’t noticed a single change in food or ambience.
We consider ourselves CK semi-regulars, but we’ve never gotten to the egg salad ($6.75), BLT ($7.45), club ($8.95) or grilled cheese ($6.95) sandwiches. We haven't tried the burgers ($7.75 - $8.95), chef’s salad ($8.95) or any of the predictable dinner specials (e.g. chicken-fried steak, spaghetti and meat sauce, fried chicken, Salisbury steak or liver, bacon and onions, most between $12 and $14). We haven't made it to the bread pudding ($3.75), hot fudge sundae ($5.75) or fruit pies ($4.75) either.
That’s because breakfast’s served all day, and we usually focus on eggs.
My husband did try the tuna melt ($8.45) once, but it wasn’t a happy experience. He complained about the presence of pickle relish. "They ought to tell you about it in the menu," he grumbled. (We were having a rest after a morning of garage organizing, and he couldn't find any of his tools, which turned out to be under the other gray cat.) We’ve never ordered it again, but I’m sure it’s the same. Everything’s always the same at the Colonial Kitchen (no matter who owns it), and that’s the reason we like it so much.
1110 Huntington Drive, San Marino
Beer and wine/