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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

A Tip of the Hat to Pasadena Brown Derby

November 21, 1986|RUTH REICHL

"If there's a gentleman in your party he must wear a coat," intoned the voice on the end of the phone. The Brown Derby, you understand, has a tradition to uphold. The restaurant may have moved to Pasadena (911 E. Colorado Blvd., (818) 796-7139), but this is the original, replete with all the caricatures, photographs, paneling and etched glass that once graced the dining room at Hollywood and Vine.

Some of the menu's intact, too. They still do a mean Cobb salad and you'll find the famous grapefruit cake, (complete with the somewhat dubious claim that this is "one of America's favorite pastry desserts"). But I can't help wishing they had held the modern dishes like Cajun prawns and fettuccine with smoked salmon and cream and given us some old-fashioned favorites like the baked beans which the Derby once cooked in a time-worn bean pot.

Was the Brown Derby ever a great gastronomic experience? Probably not; after all, it used to serve catsup-covered corn beef hash with sponge cake to Wallace Beery. That's not on the menu anymore, but the Derby does serve big portions of reasonably well-cooked food--and huge helpings of nostalgia.

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