Down a charming side street, in the shadow of one of Pasadena’s architectural, historical and cultural gems, sits a new fast casual restaurant poised to serve a burgeoning Playhouse District neighborhood.
The Stand is housed in a lovely brick building behind Playhouse Plaza — where once stood JH Biggar’s furniture store, on the southeast corner of Colorado Boulevard and El Molino Avenue — surrounded by courtyards, communal work spaces, an exercise studio and other conveniences for the modern lifestyle. It used to be TLT Food (owned by The Stand’s parent company). Now the indoor space has the casual comfort of a mid-century diner with sturdy wooden tables lined up against big windows, lots of stainless steel and bright orange stools, but with a definite modern sensibility. Two patios flank the boxy building, and that’s where I suggest hanging out.
I can’t say enough nice things about the pleasantness of the patio. Busy Colorado Boulevard is only a few hundred yards away, but you’d never know it. This stretch of El Molino is like a quiet European street, especially when gazing upon the beautiful Spanish Colonial style Pasadena Playhouse across the street. I wasn’t there during a performance, but I could imagine the people-watching before and after a Saturday evening show or Sunday matinee would be entertaining. Plus, The Stand is perfect for a pre- or post-show bite.
The food is your classic American fare — burgers, hotdogs, sandwiches and salads — but with a few twists. The El Capitan burger, for instance, contains braised short rib, pickled peppers, guacamole and chimichurri. The Three Pigs bratwurst sports a bacon-tomato jam, Swiss cheese, porchetta and a yummy apple-onion slaw. In both of these instances the meats are really flavorful. The beef is especially rich with a nice smoky taste.
In some cases, however, there are so many items on the sandwich that the flavors kind of cancel each other out, leaving diners with just a general sweetness in their mouths. The fluffy white buns that most things come on don’t help either. I’m a fan of high notes and low notes in my food (e.g. crunchiness and tartness along with umami flavors), but my husband and son loved the consistent texture and hunger-sating ingredients.
For me, the Southwest Chicken Sandwich had a good Gestalt with a taste greater than the sum of its parts. The corn salsa and sweet chili aioli added the required “high note” to the chicken, cheddar, bacon and guac combo. Their new Chinese Chicken Salad is tasty too, with lots of fried wontons and other crispy bits, along with mandarin oranges, shredded veggies and lots of chicken.
The one item where they really hit the nail on the head is, not surprisingly, one of their top sellers. The French onion soup burger is straightforward with a strong viewpoint. The thick, tasty beef burger is topped with gruyere cheese and two kinds of onions. The clincher, though, is the side of tangy onion soup for dipping — like a French dip sandwich, only better. They’d be wise to put the soup on their menu as a side for all their sandwiches.
According to Don, the friendly manager, The Stand’s real bread-and-butter (so to speak) are the families who live within walking distance. This makes sense since not only does The Stand have something on the menu for everyone, everything is customizable. You can design your own dog or burger with dozens of toppings and condiments, including green chili aioli, garlic mushrooms, sauerkraut, fried eggs or just plain ketchup. You can also get veggie versions, wheat buns and lettuce wraps. Plus, it’s very easy to be there — bustling enough to go casually dressed, but nice enough to feel like you’ve gotten out of the house and had a small adventure with the family. The prices are fair too, with most items between $6 and $12.
They serve ice cold draft beer and, interestingly, draft wine. Don’t laugh. It’s as fresh as a newly opened bottle. The lighting is good and it’s easy to order at the counter, then relax and wait for your food to be delivered. They’re liberal with napkins and sturdy plastic utensils, not to mention smiles, and they have an awesome drink station with dozens of soda choices.
While it may not be on the short list for a James Beard award, The Stand is a step up from your run-of-the-mill burger and dog place. If I were going to the Playhouse or to a foreign film at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 theater on the other side of Colorado, I would definitely come back here to watch the world go by from that lovely patio with a glass of something on tap and a French onion soup burger.
36 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena
Beer & Wine| Major Cards Accepted | (626) 714-7117