Some shop at this time of the year. We get distracted. How else do you explain a trip to Target the other night that landed us at Pann's for an early dinner with an ensuing trip to Pasadena in search of the ultimate Christmas light display? (Someone had heard Fritz Coleman talk about it one time during the weather report.)
Someone else said comfort food and before you knew it we were racing down Centinela and before long ensconced in one of those well worn booths under a ceiling of floating holiday gifts wired together like a kind of holiday mobile. I didn't need to see the menu. I was having country fried steak - the staple of my coffee shop upbringing. Pann's version has a nice crunch that I like with lumpy mashed potatoes and gravy way thick with flour. Vegetables are surprisingly fresh and the staff surprisingly winsome. One friend unexpectedly tried the salmon cakes and pronounced them good with a respectable hollandaise while another enjoyed the beef short ribs, a little fatty, but tender and flavorful. Only the dry as dust corn muffins and dinner rolls were disappointing. We reminisced about cramming for finals at the old Ship's Westwood and Sunday dinner in the Fireside Room at the former Pick's in W.L.A. Glasses of some kind of house (maybe Mondavi Woodbridge) merlot were ordered and the whole thing came to $52 for three that included a $10 tip.
On this occasion we met Rena who made her way to each table introducing herself as the owner but really making sure people had what they needed. Bedecked and bejeweled she would fit in quite nicely (and probably does) at Spago for lunch twice a week. Nice lady who knows her business. She offered that the ceiling gift display was new because the old sleigh and reindeer that used to fly over the counter area had just fallen apart. We left about 6:45pm, the room now having filled up considerably, and enjoyed the giddy young couple with their baby boy who, as they thanked us for holding the door, announced that they stop here every time they drive up from San Clemente.
With all intentions of shopping now dispelled we headed up La Cienega to the 10, exited Fair Oaks and drove around San Marino marveling at the colorful lights in the trees that line St. Alban Dr. A few blocks away two hilarious guys running a roof top shaped Xmas tree stand gave us the real low down and directed us to Hastings Ranch, arguing with each other the best way to get there. Moments later, don't ask how, we were driving past Pie 'n Burger on California and I pulled over immediately. Okay, I was secretly plotting this stop. Their banana cream pie is still a local treasure. With heavily sweetened whipped cream that's ladled on after the meringue has been ceremoniously tossed and a crust that mysteriously manages to stay flaky long after the moistness of the banana filling has seeped through, this is the best commercial version ever and at 7:45 p.m. they were running dangerously low. We also got the last piece of chocolate cream pie and some hot coffee and if we hadn't had dinner at Pann's I would have gladly ordered one of those burgers and the great hash browns.
Well worth the $20 that included tip.
With only counter space available the three of us tried to figure out the directions to Hasting's Ranch when the very nice couple next to us directed us to Christmas Tree Lane and a group of some sixty homes off Sierra Madre that appeared to have shared the same two strands of lights and looked like something straight out of Terry Southern's, "The Loved One." The Balian mansion off of Allen was the prize winner to be sure. But, oh, that pie.
Merry Xmas and Happy Hanukah!