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2 Places That Serve Up Hot Cars, Hot Cooking

April 04, 1986|CHARLES PERRY

Good morning, restaurant and classic car fans. This week we're checking out a couple of spots that show the convergence of our two favorite places, the eatery and the auto showroom: McConahay's Cadillac Cafe and Franco's.

To get right to business, Franco's has a fire-engine red formula race car (the restaurant owner actually entered it in the '82 Long Beach Grand Prix, where it came in ninth) mounted on the wall at a steep angle, as if taking a sharply banked turn. At the Cadillac Cafe there are not one but two caddies, a white one and a cherry pink '59 El Dorado with tail fins you could scale fish on.

Which one you prefer is going to depend a lot on your taste, of course. At Franco's you get a good view of the race wheels and the chassis, but at McConahay's you get close enough to look in at the ashtrays and read the "Please Do Not Touch" sign. It's a tough call, but in this scribe's opinion, the auto round goes to Cadillac Cafe.

In the motif department, though, the game is all Franco's. Waiters and waitresses wear red pit mechanic coveralls, and the wine list is printed as the label of an oil can. On the whole, Franco's takes the food competition as well. For all the swinging setup--Art Deco architecture, big-screen TV playing rock videos when the live band isn't on, brass railed bar in the center of the room on an Andy Warhol/everyone-will-be-famous-for-15-minutes raised dais--Franco's is a surprisingly respectable Italian restaurant.

The menu is a short one: a handful of salads and antipasti, half a dozen pizzas, half a dozen pastas, a couple of meatball or home-made sausage entrees. It is not perfunctory, though. The green salad comes with paper-thin sliced carrots and onions, Parmesan grated over it by the waiter and an aromatic vinaigrette that I could swear is made with Italian balsamic vinegar.

The pasta is fresh made, but I didn't have a pasta dish that was outstanding. The pizzas are sure-fire, though. They are simple and fresh, like pizza margherita, which is topped only with chopped tomatoes and mozzarella. The standout is pizza pugliese all' agniello. I've had my share of lamb sausage pizzas in the nouvelle cuisine world, but this is the first one that has convinced me. It's pizza margherita topped with ground lamb, fresh rosemary and whole baked garlic cloves--quite lamby, though you don't usually think of Italians as great lamb eaters.

There's an insert page of a few fancier dishes (decent scaloppine of white veal), and the waiter is likely to have some specials to tell of. The best I've had, perhaps by coincidence, has also been a lamb dish, very nice roast leg of lamb with rosemary.

Entrees tend to come with a melange of cooked cold vegetables with onions that I somehow expected to be more interesting than it is. Maybe I'm just used to slightly pickled or fermented caponata. Desserts are limited, but there's a nice tangy cheese cake, good Italian ices and minor-league chocolate cake.

Unlike Franco's, McConahay's doesn't just have a bar--it virtually is a bar (and disco dance floor) with a restaurant tagging along. We're talking video arcade time, we're talking a TV screen supported by what appears to be the world's largest non-military satellite dish.

They describe the food, which is served Fuddrucker's/Flakey Jake's style (they take your first name and call it out when the order is ready), as "gourmet fast food," but it tends toward guilty pleasures rather than gourmet refinements. Case in point: "Irish nachos," an undeniably savory fast-food gross-out of french fries topped with melted cheese and bacon.

The burger is a good, thick one with a satisfyingly old-fashioned garnish, heavy on the pickles, and there are other hearty fast-foody sandwiches, such as fried roast beef with melted cheese. The fried chicken comes with crisp bread-crumb breading, and the sauce on the huge beef ribs is a surprisingly refined semi-sweet model (the ribs themselves came to me only lukewarm, though).

Salad and desserts are a little perfunctory (Cobb salad has the right ingredients, all right, but they aren't cut small in the orthodox manner--it's a lettuce salad with a sort of Cobb garnish), tacos are the plain hamburger sort, and the fish and chips, made with little shingles of fish about as thick as a Triscuit, are kind of dismal.

Both places are reasonably priced for what you get. Franco's menu runs $4.50-$6.50 for regular menu entrees, with specials as high as $11.50. At McConahay's everything is in the $2.50-$6.95 range.

That's all for this week, fans. My apologies to Bentley's in Huntington Beach--I'll get around to their '49 Bentley sometime.

FRANCO'S 10741 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach (714) 841-7077 Open for lunch and dinner daily. American Express, MasterCard and Visa accepted.

McCONAHAY'S CADILLAC CAFE 11889 Valley View Ave., Garden Grove (in Eastgate Shopping Center) (714) 891-1481 Open for lunch and dinner daily. MasterCard and Visa accepted.

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