Ship's never tried to be hip. Its beauty was its extravagant futuristic naivete. Now, along with the ghosts of Tiny Naylor's and Googie's past, it's been lauded in a book called "Googie: Fifties Coffee Shop Architecture" and crowned a "prime example of Coffee Shop Modern." And take Lincoln Boulevard (please), that ugly street of fast-food joints and auto parts; it is considered a prototype of the American architectural "strip" and it's now being seen as L.A.'s indigenous art.
The Galaxy Cafe on Lincoln Boulevard is yet another example of remembrance of modernist coffee shops past. From the streamlined facade to the black sunburst sconce, from the spackled sparkling cottage cheese ceiling to the ubiquitous aqua and pink, the Galaxy sports enough badges to pledge for the Googie club. The redux style is not two-dimensional: "Angel Baby," was on the nifty jukebox when I came in and the Everly Brothers came on as our coffee was served.
The menu is enormous (breakfast is served all day) and it's lots of fun to look through. Pancakes are "flying saucers" and eggs are called "moons," juices are "countdowns," side orders have become "meteorites." Then there's Big Dipper Dinner and Lunar Lunch where you can blast off with Saturn salads, charbroiled Aurora Borealis beef and a constellation of Heavenly Desserts.
Whether you sit at the high-stooled counter or at one of the many marbled Formica tables, the service is attentive, casual and quick.
The menu states that the food is "simply out of this world." But at this point there seems to be no consistency at Mission Control. Fresh blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup were very tasty and light while heavy, overbeaten waffles never got off the ground. I liked my thick bacon and spinach omelet but, really, four eggs are too much in these cholesterol-aware years. (All-egg-white omelets are served, the menu says, on request.) While the so-called "exotic" oatmeal was abundant with bananas and two kinds of fresh berries, it tasted like the pasty, quick-cooking kind.
At a subsequent lunch and dinner, inconsistency prevailed. A lean, juicy hamburger was served with unannounced mayonnaise. A homemade, scrumptious vegetable soup, with an arresting clam base, came to the table lukewarm. The spicy pepperpot soup studded with chunky cubes of beef was downright cool. The fresh fruit salad with a fresh mint, yogurt and honey dressing couldn't be beat. The lemony grilled chicken sandwich, marinated in olive oil and spices, and served on a superior baguette, was a good choice, coming with crisp skinny fries and a sprig of fat grapes.
A group of friends and I enjoyed a full-fledged, definitely post-Googie dinner late one night after the movies got out, starting with more than credible potato pancakes laden with sour cream and lumpfish caviar. Snappy spinach pancakes were consumed twice as fast. Only the tempura-style vegetables were sorely overcooked.
The best main course was the simplest: a plate of vermicelli laden with garlic, basil and tomatoes. A chicken and pesto pasta was more subdued, the pesto nearly nonexistent, the chicken marinated much too long.
We were compelled to try the weirdest dish on the menu, an African Seafood Sundae. The "sundae" was as big as Uranus and had as many moons: "crab, shrimp, scallops and lobster sauteed in a white wine, garlic, butter sauce served over a bed of rice with sauteed pineapples and bananas and topped with an avocado lemon dressing with orange and lemon twists." One of our party prudently stuck with the rice. The rest of us scavenged for the tender, far-too-salty seafood, but we never found any lobster in the mass. The avocado and lemon was basically guacamole; when combined with the sauteed fruits, it tasted every bit as bad as you'd expect.
One of the "heavenly" desserts was close to celestial: an excellent hot caramelized apple pie with cashews, which comes to the table hot. Ben and Jerry's ice cream is available--and superior to the rather ordinary chocolate "black hole cake."
The Galaxy Cafe wants to be out of this world, but so far, with ungrounded hip intentions, too often it's just out to lunch.
Galaxy Cafe, 2920 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, (213) 392-9436. Open Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday, 11 a.m.-midnight. Open Saturday 8 a.m.-midnight, Sunday, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Visa and MasterCard accepted. Parking lot in front. Breakfast for two: (food only) $7-$18. Dinner for two: (food only) $15-$35.