First, she called herself the Mount Vernon Inn, then Reflections in various guises, then (briefly) the CouCou Grill, and, in yet another transformation, the Flintridge Inn. But, no matter what her name, she was always dressed to impress. Like Angelina Jolie or Julia Roberts, perhaps, she was not a conventional beauty, but striking nonetheless.
The restaurant, on Foothill Boulevard in La Cañada Flintridge, boasted an unusual elongated contour, with a ski-chalet look and cozy booths that scalloped the borders of the well-lit dining room. Her magnificent redwood carpentry and stained glass skylight created an informal elegance that was hard to match, especially in her younger days.
In her Flintridge Inn incarnation, with more facelifts than Joan Rivers, the old girl still looked pretty good. Only the ashy paint job over her redwood rafters called to mind an older woman’s hair color — meant to hide the gray and perhaps effective in doing so, but not nearly as beguiling as the unadorned freshness of a young woman’s appearance.
About eight years back, she underwent yet another transformation; the Flintridge Inn became Dish. And, perhaps by taking on the task (as the Web site says) of offering “the quality and creativity of higher priced restaurants, with the value and comfort of a neighborhood coffee shop” and focusing on “classic American food, the kind of recipes you might find in an old Sunset magazine or your grandmother’s cookbooks,” Dish found her true self.
The ski chalet has become a barn — with white paint on the high ceilings, tabletops gaily painted in patterns reminiscent of Pennsylvania Dutch instead of being shrouded in white linen. And, while my granny never cooked up a goat cheese and Portobello omelet or topped her noodles with wild mushrooms, there’s an all-American charm to Dish’s cornmeal johnnycakes, classic BLTs and chicken and dumplings.
Breakfast used to be my favorite time to visit Dish. With her indulgence of my morning lassitude, she serves her early menu until 11. After pouring myself into my clothing and car, and having poured a number of cups of their fine Kenyan dark roast coffee into myself, I’m ready to undertake the near impossible task of deciding from among a number of nearly identically irresistible selections.
About those johnnycakes: they’re made with cornmeal and fresh whole corn and, like the apple oatcakes (whole wheat flour, rolled oats and diced green apple), they can be had for a cost of $6.95 to $10.25, depending on how many and what you choose to pair them with. The ham is glazed with brown sugar, but I prefer the applewood-smoked bacon or the Schreiner’s (local) chicken-apple sausage.
Their (free-range!) egg dishes (starting at $6.95) come with roasted red potatoes, fresh fruit and toast (white, wheat, rye or sourdough), strawberry preserves and unsalted butter. Omelets ($8.95 to $13.95) are heaven — I don’t know how they manage to make them so fluffy, even while folding them over ballooning centers, pregnant with: sausage and caramelized onions; jalapeno, tomato, onion, cheddar and bacon; or that goat cheese, mush-room and tomato concoction I mentioned earlier.
You can also count on old favorites being perfected; just try the three-inch high Dish burger (a half-pound of ground Black Angus sirloin with a pickle, tomato, red onions with tangy remoulade and crisp, freshly fried potatoes on the side — $9.95). Even the brioche buns are superior. Monday nights are “gourmet burger and craft beer” evenings, with additional toppings and half-price brews.
And Dish’s new-fashioned flair shows up in appetizers like the wild mushroom and smoked mozzarella quesadilla ($8.50), sides like “grown up” mac & (parmesan/blue) cheese ($4.95) and sandwiches, including grilled brie and green apple with almond-honey pesto on grilled potato bread ($11.95). My granny would be flabbergasted!
Most of all, she (having lived most of her life in the Delmarva peninsula back East) would adore Dish’s Tuesday dinner special: tender, juicy fried chicken, with just the right crunch to its crust, served with mashed potatoes and ham-studded cream gravy, fresh veggies and a big fluffy biscuit with butter and honey ($10.95). It’s this item that has demoted breakfast to my second favorite Dish meal, at least on Tuesdays, the only day fried chicken graces the menu.
Whatever day of the week or time of day, there is a gaiety, a joie de vivre that animates the restaurant; her personality is effusive and bright. Her pre-Dish self seemed somewhat like a mature woman in the throes of a passionate but possibly unrequited love affair, trying to seem glamorous and exciting at all costs.
But, since 2003, it seems she’s eschewed such romantic interests in favor of the more mundane but far more satisfying goal of pleasing her family. Today Dish glows warmly in the reflected light of her clientele’s unceasing love and admiration, and her natural beauty is always on display.
734 Foothill Blvd. | La Canada Flintridge | (626) 790-5355
Full bar/Major cards