Another day, another diner.
No, that's way too cynical. I mean well for diner food, our national cuisine ordinaire , and I'm glad for every attempt to revitalize it, though there are getting to be quite a few diners.
I mean well for the corner of La Brea and Sunset too, which has gone from seedy to gaudily imposing in very short order. One of the most pleasingly gaudy elements, right on the southeast corner, is Danny's Hollywood Diner, a '50s dream eatery of neon and glass brick complete with a '50s-'70s jukebox and three models of souvenir T-shirts.
It has some things down just about perfectly. The hamburger is a classic 1947 burger, fairly thick and a little charcoaly, with the traditional lettuce, tomato and pickle (well, the bun is whole wheat, but otherwise it's a 1947-burger). The idea is simple enough, but not so simple that a lot of places don't ruin it. An excellent burger.
There is a pretty serious attempt to revive the soda fountain tradition too. The banana split is a fine three-scooper: strawberry ice cream with strawberry sauce, chocolate with chocolate sauce, and vanilla with pineapple sauce, and there are toasted nuts on the whipped cream, a crucial detail often scanted.
Well and good. Furthermore, Danny's mashed potatoes are made from fresh potatoes, even if they don't positively snap your head off with freshness. The chili is mostly chunks of braised beef and tomatoes, exceptionally meaty and sneakily hot, though perhaps too subtle in the cumin department. It certainly tastes like some real person's vision of the ideal chili. The turkey-sausage gumbo is more like turkey-sausage tomato rice soup, but it's thick with meat and tasty, and I have a feeling there have been real diners that served this as gumbo.
The vegetables are somewhat better than tradition demands. Sometimes they're boiled, and not as bad as that may sound; if anything, they tend to be undercooked rather than overcooked. Sometimes you get a little bowl of fried squash, carrots and broccoli, slightly peppery and pretty good, though once I got a batch that was overdone and bitter.
But there are terrible limitations to anything like authentic diner food. The bland, all-purpose gravy may be soothing for a while, but then it becomes just something wet to help the very plain meat down. From a restaurant like Danny's that's trying hard to be something (a restaurant with its own T- shirts, for gosh sakes), we should expect a little more than the minimum, some meatiness or spiciness or richness or something. After all, part of the diner tradition comes not from popular demand but from the fact that a lot of diners were (and are) located in places where they had no particular competition.
The only thing I've had that could be described as awful, though, was a chicken-fried steak. A floured chicken-fry can be rustically elegant, but this thing came in a thick batter of the sort I associate with H. Salt. It was like a shapeless, orange-brown pillow with something chewy inside.
But anyway, this corner--any corner--can always use a great burger and a soda fountain. By the way, is there a fitting room for these T-shirts?
Danny's Hollywood Diner, 7070 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (213) 962-9800. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily from 8 a.m. Beer and wine. Parking lot. MasterCard and Visa accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $10 to $28.