Polly's Pies and Papa's Pantry (quick, say it fast as you can 10 times) dish up solid American comfort foods at bargain prices. No wonder lines spill out the door at both places during peak hours.
Polly's has had a substantial following for years, but the new Los Alamitos location, No. 7 in Orange County, is attracting the biggest crowds yet. It's a bright, sunny spot with the clean, scrubbed look of an upscale candy store. The interior is a bright, summery peach color, and if you visit a Polly's in the next few weeks, you'll catch their nine-inch fresh peach pies, too. Go early--they're often sold out by late afternoon.
Before dessert, there are plenty of ways to convince Mom that you're eating a balanced meal. Rotisserie chicken is one--a superbly juicy roast chicken cooked on the restaurant's Hardt rotisserie, a high-heat system that causes excess fat to drip off judiciously. The BBQ bacon burger is another: lean beef on a cracked wheat bun, topped with crackling bacon and a sticky-sweet barbecue sauce. It's a sloppy, indulgent burger, and I can't imagine how it could be improved.
Lots of things are sweet here in the pie palace, even too sweet. The Oriental chicken salad is alleged to have sesame oil dressing, but all I could taste was sugar. Polly's chili, with ground turkey standing in for the usual ground beef, may be what the menu calls "heart smart" but it's tongue foolish. It's discordantly sweet, and you'd need scientific instruments to detect any spices.
But, oh, those pies. First there is the flaky house chicken pie, a sumptuous offering filled with shredded chicken meat, celery, potato, carrot and fresh peas. The crust is rich and buttery, and the pie comes smothered in an old-fashioned gravy. And then there are the dessert pies: creams, double-crusted specialties and fresh fruit pies. These are unquestionably the best pies produced in quantity that I've tasted in these parts.
Now that it's summer, there are lots of fresh fruits--strawberries, raspberries, ollallieberries and peaches--heaped onto Polly's rich, flaky crusts, then bound with a sugar and pectin glaze. The peach is gorgeous with its majestic yellow hues, and the heavily glazed strawberry pie comes in two varieties, plain or artificially sweetened. (The sweetener used here is Equal, making this the lowest in calorie content of any pie they make.) And then there is my personal favorite, the raspberry pie, slightly tart, wonderfully light and totally refreshing. It's practically perfection.
Polly's is inexpensive. Burgers, sandwiches and hot dishes are $3.15 to $6.25. Pies are $2.65 a slice.
Papa's Pantry is a dinner house with a Western twist. Though located in a Huntington Beach shopping mall, it manages to look exactly like a steakhouse in western Montana. The walls are covered with real moose heads and cowboy hats, nooses hang from the dark ceiling like stage lights, tables are draped in checked cloths--brown and white ones, as you'd see in a frontier saloon. It all has an oddly mystical effect, as if the present had suddenly vanished and become a Rod Serling teleplay.
But the food here, while tasty, is far too ordinary to be served in the Twilight Zone. It's mostly Western-style grub with all the fixin's--nothing unusual to be sure, but competently prepared. All dinners come with a choice of soup or salad, a choice of potato (ask for the crispy potato pancake) and hot garlic bread. These are trencherman potions, so bring a hefty appetite. Or a friend who looks like Hoss Cartwright.
Start with a giant bowl of the house soup, either thick vegetable beef or the even thicker clam chowder. Salads come with a choice of homemade dressings; the Caesar is particularly good, with an egg-rich dressing that completely coats the greens. Appetizers such as onion rings and battered zucchini are good here, too. The onion rings, big enough to collar a horse, come in a crunchy cornmeal breading. Fried zucchini is served in big battered sticks that Teddy Roosevelt would approve of.
The inexpensive main dishes--prime rib, fried chicken and fresh liver, to name a few--are surprisingly good. The prime rib is a tasty bargain at $7.95. Liver is grilled to order, with sweet sauteed onions and crisp bacon. Chicken (four pieces) comes in a crunchy crust and is virtually greaseless, and, if you like, they will charbroil it at no extra cost. Steaks come in all shapes and sizes, prepared just the way you want 'em at bronc-busting low prices. I tried the chicken fried steak, a big piece of sirloin steak dipped in egg and deep fried, and enjoyed every tender bite.
Not everything is perfect here, though. The filet mignon, at $8.95 the most expensive item on the menu, was so tough that Lee Van Cleef would have sent the thing back. And this is no place for dessert thrills. There are various refrigerator cakes that look better than they taste, and a couple of sundaes, chocolate and butterscotch.
Papa's Pantry is inexpensive. Sandwiches are $3.50 to $5.95. Complete dinners are $5.95 to $8.95.
21094 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach
Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
MasterCard and Visa accepted.
3464 Katella Road, Los Alamitos
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
MasterCard and Visa accepted for purchases of $10 and up.
Also at six other Orange County locations including Fullerton, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Laguna Hills, Orange and Santa Ana.