MAY 13, 2007 — Last night, I went to a friend’s pretentious birthday party at the Sofitel Hotel’s swank Stone Rose Lounge in West Hollywood. I’ve never had a birthday party like this. When Industry-associated — that’s the entertainment “Industry,” of course — twentysomethings in Los Angeles throw a birthday party, they go all out. They usually invite 200 or more of their closest “friends” to a huge party at a glamorous club that admits only people named on the infamous Guest List. (Note: if you ever think you have 200 friends to invite to a birthday party, you need to seriously think about your definition of the word “friend.”) Each attendee gets the privilege of standing around awkwardly, trying to look as cool as possible while drinking a tiny $14 drink, knowing that he or she is the ugliest person in the room.
The conversations at these parties are of course, utterly fabulous. Most sentences start with, “I was reading US Weekly…” or “Did you hear that Lindsay Lohan…” or “Last week at Whole Foods I saw Kristen Bell…” It’s mind-numbing. But last night, someone said something to me that surpassed even the shallowest of sentences I’ve ever heard anyone say in LA. As I was wrapping up a conversation with a Hollywood assistant about adjusting to LA life, he said, “The great thing about Los Angeles is that it feels like a place where all of the popular people in high school moved to one city.” Doing my best to avoid vomiting all over him, I said meekly, “I wasn’t all that popular in high school.” To my sheer horror, he replied, “Really? You seem to fit right in.”
I don’t know how he turned this conversation against me, but suddenly I knew I would hate myself for the rest of my life. The fact that he meant it as a compliment was the most terrifying thing of all.
Thankfully, I have an LA refuge that always cheers me after a painful week: West Hollywood’s The Griddle Cafe. It’s the only place in LA where anyone knows my name. I guess it’s my Cheers. Of course, Cheers didn’t have an average 30-minute wait to get in, it didn’t serve home-style American breakfast food, and it wasn’t filled with wannabe actors, producers, and directors — all of which are true of The Griddle. I know, that description makes it sounds as bad as the pretentious birthday party. But it isn’t.
For starters, The Griddle Cafe serves the best French toast and pancakes I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. Trust me, I don’t say this flippantly. The Griddle Cafe takes two huge slices of the thickest, fluffiest bread you can imagine and smothers them with egg and cinnamon, then adds homemade whipped cream and powdered sugar. The final product, called “Mom’s French Toast,” is a wispy, sweet, eggy invention that feels like it melts in your mouth and tastes like heaven would taste if you could eat heaven.
Once you’ve tried this French toast, you’ll never be able to enjoy any other French toast ever again — until you try their “Peanut Bubba Crunchy French Toast,” that is. In this masterpiece, The Griddle outdoes itself by adding to the original a crunchy peanut butter batter. God never meant for French toast to be this good. Don’t die without at least trying it once. Seriously. If you’re not into peanut butter, you can also try their “Apple Cobbler French Toast” (apple bread rolled in a cinnamon crunch batter) or their “Devil’s Daydream French Toast” (chocolate bread with chocolate chips).
French toast is not all The Griddle makes perfectly. The Griddle calls its pumpkin pancakes “‘Tis the Season,” and they’re made with real pumpkin pie filling baked-in. Wow. The same goes for the boysenberry pancakes (“Boysenberry Rain”), the banana pancakes (“Banana Nana”), and pretty much any other pancakes they make. Just make sure you come hungry — the portions are enormous, and I’ve never been to The Griddle with anyone who can finish a pancake order. (Always get a half-order, or better yet, just one pancake. They’re huge.) If you’re not a pancake/French toast person, you can always try the scrambles — “Chicago Charlie’s Scramble” has enough egg, cheese, and sausage to last you for the entire day. Even the omelets are good; one of my friends discovered that the savory “Say Cheese” three-cheese omelet is the perfect complement to a single sweet pumpkin pancake.
Even beyond the food, going to the Griddle is a (good) Hollywood experience. Sure, the place is always filled with Industry-wannabes, but on weekend mornings, everyone is dressed-down and seems uncharacteristically down-to-earth. Alex, the host, may have the highest niceness to industriousness ratio in Hollywood — he’s overtly friendly and always calls me by name, even though he deals with over a thousand self-important people every morning desperate to get into the restaurant. In fact, the entire staff (Kevin, Michael, and the many beautiful actor-servers) combined with the Southern-style banjo and harmonica music always make the atmosphere feel boisterous and unassuming.
Sure, The Griddle pretends to be a Southern breakfast diner import, but there’s no avoiding fact: it’s still in Hollywood. If you took the entire eye-poppingly beautiful Griddle staff and cast all of them together in a teen soap opera set in Beverly Hills, not one of them would look out of place. You can’t eat here without overhearing someone bragging about his upcoming film or TV project. And you’ll always be eating near someone famous (or at least Industry-powerful).
It is Hollywood. Everyone here was popular in high school, apparently. But in The Griddle Cafe, it doesn’t matter who’s who. We’re all there for only one reason: to eat the world’s best French toast.