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Home, Snug Home


Maybe it's the trelliswork on the wall or the cake stand (the kind you see at state fair cook-offs) or the way salad is served in soup bowls. Snug Harbor feels a little like home.

Actually, it feels a lot like home. The Coke float, spewing carbonated bubbles over the glass lip, took me back to grade school. My grandmother would approve of the generous portions, the battle-weary skillets and the way mashed potatoes are shaped into waves with the back of a spoon. Crusty fried potatoes speckled with pepper were always my dad's Sunday breakfast dish, but here they're available every day (and not just at breakfast).

Dropping in on this old-fashioned Santa Monica diner is like picking up an interrupted conversation. First names come with the coffee pot. If you want croutons for your salad, you ask Steve, the chef, or one of the four cooks, and they'll chop up some toast.

You can eat in a comfortable booth or at the counter (watch out for the tippy stool; it could send you face-first into your macaroni and cheese), but on a sunny day, head for the backyard patio. The five tables and lemon-yellow umbrella are a neighborhood secret.

At breakfast (available all day), omelets get top billing. So do the freshly squeezed orange (or grapefruit) juice, oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins, baked grapefruit and the kind of fried meats that make cardiologists rich. (Hungry Man, a heap of scrambled eggs, Polish sausage, onions and fried potatoes, is not for dainty appetites.)

You can design an omelet (made with egg white only, $1 extra) stuffed with either three or six ingredients. Jamming six things into an omelet is a feat, but what my order lost in looks--the waitress actually apologized--it made up for in taste. Bagel, toast, English muffin or home fries ride shotgun with everything.

But if you want something to sponge up butter and maple syrup, think twice about ordering pancakes. The choices range from thin, crepe-like impostors to thick, undercooked Frisbees. The "butter" is some kind of fluffy spread in chrome cups, and no maple tree in Canada or Vermont would dare claim this syrup. Another warning: The homemade cinnamon rolls are hockey pucks.

Lunch offers Philly cheese steak, patty melts, tacos, fish 'n' chips and the usual entree salads. The showstopper is Frank's Zwiebel burger (named after original owner Frank Leight, who opened Snug Harbor in 1941), a beef, turkey or vegetarian patty smothered with grilled onions ("zwiebel" being German for onion) as well as the usual tomato, onion and pickle. It comes with a choice of side dishes: salad; curlicue fried potatoes, crisp from the fryer and not greasy, or fried sweet potatoes.

Snug Harbor, which has been serving breakfast and lunch for more than 50 years, started serving dinner only a month ago, but it did so without dropping a stitch. On a recent evening a customer at the counter and the waitress debated the finer points of malt-making while the Hamilton Beach groaned its mighty mantra. Malts and shakes get respect here, and you get the leftovers in the mixer cup.

Snug's meatloaf could be served warmer, but it's moist and herby and would put my mother's to shame (what did Detroit know about sun-dried tomatoes in the '50s?). It sells out fast, so phone ahead to reserve a portion.

The waitress warned that the Cajun chicken breast was hot and spicy--a false alarm. It had a wonderful spice aroma and was moist and tender, but it wasn't dangerously hot. Thumbs up on the hefty baked pork chop with sauteed green apples, but there's way too much salt in the linguine with spinach and shiitake mushrooms.

All dinners come with soup or salad plus a vegetable. The salad isn't what you'd expect in a diner: five types of sophisticated greens in a judicious amount of puckery vinaigrette. Free with dinner, it's $3 a la carte--half or a third the price you'd pay in a fancier restaurant. The best of the vegetables is mashed yams--we nearly licked them off the plate.

A blue ribbon to the triple chocolate layer cake: heady, moist and not too sweet. The chocolate malt is extra-thick.

This is a place where coffee cups are bottomless and the pitcher of real lemonade makes the rounds without customers' hand signals, as does the service. Hey, you know, it's better than home. You don't have to wash the dishes.



Snug Harbor, 2323 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 828-2991. Open 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.-Sun. No alcohol. Cash only. Takeout. Breakfast for two, $16; dinner for two, food only, $30.


Hungry Man, Frank's Zwiebel burger, apple pork chops, meatloaf, mashed yams, lemonade, triple chocolate layer cake, malts.

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