"It's more than a restaurant," the menu at Ed Debevic's boasts. "It's a way of life!"
So true. But eating at Ed's pure kitsch diner is to experience the '50s as it was on "Father Knows Best," rather than how it ever was in real life.
"You want to be jaded," said one woman who frequents the place. "You'd like to have this attitude of 'You're not going to get to me.' But it doesn't work."
The spirit is infectious. But on a recent trip there we weren't quite prepared for Miss Gloria Penrod, the most severe of hostesses who showed us to our table and then whacked her ruler on the stack of menus.
"These are the menus," she said, slapping them again and looking sternly over her half-glasses. "Start in the upper left-hand corner. Are there any questions? Raise your hand if you have any, or if you need a hall pass to go to the bathroom."
Ed's is probably the only restaurant where the waiters and waitresses audition for jobs. The result is a cast of characters who do more than slap a burger on the table.
There's a nerd who sports thick glasses and a sign taped to his back that reads, "Kick me hard!" One woman had a hairdo as big as a mushroom cloud and the host was a chubby guy with a beanie and propeller and a shirt that gapped between buttons.
Our waitress, who appeared as soon as Miss Penrod turned her back, was Noreen, a former beauty queen from Camden, N.J. "Once a queen," she said, touching her tiara, "always a queen."
She sat down at the booth and took our order, explaining the specials and telling us that Ed's meat loaf was good. It comes burnt, but not Cajun-style. "It's Ed's style," she said.
Penrod reappeared later to tell our friend to "Get your foot off the seat," which she did. Later she admonished us because our posture was not up to snuff. We promised her we'd correct it. "Good," she said, glaring. "Don't make me come back."
We asked Noreen for Sweet 'n' Low, which she produced from her cleavage, where also was stashed some little tubs of cream. "For an emergency," she explained.
Los Angeles has caught diner fever, and its craving for food nostalgia has made places like Ed's crowded all the time. It's not just culinary delights people come for, although they do an admirable job with hamburgers, French fries, salads and what one person called "cafeteria food": meat loaf, spaghetti, frozen vegetables.
There are certainly no pretentions about the food, but at least the prices are respectable. A hamburger is $3.75, meat loaf is $4.25 and wets , French fries with gravy, are $1.60.
"The world's smallest hot fudge sundae" is just that, a teensy-weensy thing that's gone in two bites and costs 35 cents.
Lots of Atmosphere
Ed's is high on atmosphere. Besides the antics of the waiters there are signs all over that read, "If you're a good customer you'll order more," and "Our coffee is so good we drink it ourselves!" Behind a window is a huge plastic cow and a sign that reads, "You're looking at burger history in the making."
Be prepared for a wait if you want to eat here at peak hours. Diners are encouraged to sit in the bar while a hostess barks out names over the public address system and warns customers to "Move it or lose it."
We pitied the poor man who had made a move to his table before it was ready. Penrod caught him. "You were just trying to seat yourself?" she asked cooly. Whack. The ruler hit its mark on his upper arm.
Noreen said we could pay for our bill in cash whenever we wanted. We plunked down $20 and she pulled change from a much-used change purse in her pocket.
"Be good," Miss Penrod said as we got up to leave. We will, Miss Penrod. We will.
Ed Debevic's, 134 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (213) 659-1952. Also at 23705 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance, (213) 378-5454.