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Pancake Paradise

October 27, 1994|JONATHAN GOLD

Pretty much anybody will concede that the coffeeshop DuPar's serves the best French toast in Los Angeles--essentially, supermarket balloon bread transformed into a rich, eggy bread pudding, slicked with melted butter, dusted with confectioners' sugar. In good French toast, milk and egg invade a slice of bread the way the creatures in "I Married a Monster From Outer Space" took over police officers. The French toast served in swank brunch places is at the other end of the spectrum: thick slices of a challah-like substance, perhaps smeared with damson jam, but practically unbreached by liquid. The French toast at the Pasadena breakfast place Marston's stands somewhere in the middle: thick slices, nearly saturated, dipped in crumbled corn flakes before frying for a crunchy, golden crust. Marion Cunningham attributes the corn-flake wrinkle to James Beard, who attributed it to dining cars on the Santa Fe Railroad, whose tracks pass not 50 yards from the restaurant, which may bring things full circle.

Marston's is a converted old house across from Memorial Park, serving strong coffee and crisply fried potatoes and orange juice dense and sweet as a Creamsicle. The place feels like the best restaurant in a small college town, and in a way it is. Sometimes, with all the chatter about guest lectures and Maranatha meetings, Marston's seems like an adjunct of Fuller Theological Seminary down the street.

At lunch, the restaurant serves clean, considered California cooking: white chili made with lots of chicken and Jack cheese; grilled-fish tacos that taste like something taken from an issue of Cooking Light magazine; Cajun whatevers and spicy jicama salad instead of fries, if you like. There are alfalfa sprouts on the hamburgers, marinated black beans on almost everything else; club sandwiches and Cobb salads.

At breakfast, though, Marston's serves exactly the sort of food a missionary might crave after a stint in rural Chile, and it is not uncommon to hear someone here commenting on the first pancakes he's eaten in three years. The thin buckwheat-based blueberry pancakes, are dense and dark, pliable as crepes, barely sweetened, studded with fruit--blueberry pancakes for grown-ups. The macadamia-nut pancakes are basically thin scrims of buttermilk-pancake batter stretched between crumbs of roasted nut, served with a shot of maple syrup and dusted with more nuts.

Marston's may be a little Calvinist in its hours--it closes on Sundays and stops serving breakfast abruptly at 11 a.m., perhaps guided by the notion that laggards don't deserve to eat anything as good as its French toast.

* Marston's

151 E. Walnut St., Pasadena, (818) 796-2459. Open Tuesday-Friday, 7 to 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7 to 11:30 a.m. and noon to 2:30 p.m. Mastercard and Visa accepted. No alcohol. Lot parking. Breakfast for two, food only, $8-$13.

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