In a city with restaurants as transient as Pasadena's, it's often hard to remember what used to be where. But with certain restaurants the reverse is true: no matter what the new establishment, I can't get over the fact that the previous one disappeared. Every time I have a drink on the patio of NeoMeze I fondly remember fish tacos and habanero salsa on summer days back when it was Sol y Azul. No matter what Asian incarnation appears at 58 E. Colorado (Ari-ya, Tani, and now BlueFish), I remember it as the place I frequently dined on smoked turkey sandwiches and spicy fries when it was The Rack Shack. This trend can be taken to the extreme: my favorite restaurant in Pasadena at the moment is Green Street Tavern and I could happily eat there every day, but I can't enter the location without thinking of the magnificent Kuala Lumpur that used to be there.
Central Park Restaurant is a nice place - friendly, reasonably-priced and very attractive inside. But I can't sit inside without remembering the days when it was Soda Jerks. I've never been a big fan of breakfast, but I always loved eating it at Soda Jerks. Years ago, in an autumn following the hottest summer of my adult life, my friend and I decided to go hiking every weekend up in the Angeles National Forest. Every Sunday morning we started with a breakfast at Soda Jerks. I cannot think of a single thing I own that I would not gladly give up to be able to go back and repeat just one of those breakfasts.
Soda Jerks closed four years ago, a familiar story. (They said they would open again soon in a new location but have not - an equally familiar story.) Luckily, though, we did not get a chain restaurant shoehorned into the location, we got Central Park, a restaurant owned by the same people who own longtime local favorites Shakers, Beckham's, Wild Thyme, and Diner on Main. I have been to Central Park a few times for dinner, and it's a surprisingly elegant location, with brick walls and photographs of old Hollywood celebrities.
A couple days ago Elizabeth and I stopped in for lunch. We sat off in a side room, almost like a sun porch, where they seemed to have placed all of the customers at that time. They have a brunch menu that goes until 2 on weekends, but we both felt like having lunch. I ordered the same thing I usually do at Central Park: the barbecue chicken pizza. Elizabeth pointed out that we were having a couple friends over that night for dinner and making pizza, but I didn't care. I could eat pizza for every meal. She ordered the ahi tuna sandwich.
When I've eaten there for dinner, I usually start with an appetizer of their salmon and rock shrimp cakes, which are very good. Also, they have a wine list with several nicely priced wines. (The first time I ever ate here, with my friend Tracie, we shared a 2004 BV Cabernet that cost only slightly more than it would have at BevMo.)
Elizabeth loved her sandwich. I tried a small bite and thought it was good, not great, but I am not the expert on ahi, she is. My pizza was good but not as good as I remember it being. It could have used a couple more minutes in the oven. (Or, perhaps, since this was my first lunch here, maybe I just usually find it better at night after a couple glasses of wine.) It was better than California Pizza Kitchen, but definitely not as good as Avanti Cafe or Crocodile Cafe.
I will certainly return to Central Park again, but I have to say I like it more for dinner. It's more intimate in the evening and better suited to a relaxing dinner than an afternoon lunch.