Friday, February 5, 2010

Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain

I've passed by the Fair Oaks pharmacy for years, pretty much as long as I can remember, but I never went in. It looked cool, and I read write-ups in Los Angeles and Sunset magazines praising the old time feel of the place. Part of me hoped it would be like the throwback diners I used to visit with my dad when I was a kid, like the Rose City Diner or Fender Benders in La Cañada. (I used to love the doo-wop singers on weekend afternoons at the former, until the time one of them singled me out in front of the entire restaurant for not singing along to "Up on the Roof." This was somewhat unfair of him; I was born long after that song was popular and I hadn't yet learned the lyrics at the age of eleven.) But I had a nagging feeling that it might also be a letdown, that I would want it so badly to be like one of those places that it would fall way short. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.

Elizabeth and I stopped in to get a bite to eat more than a year ago. But, although the soda fountain is open until 9, they stop serving food at 6. We were twenty minutes too late. We went to Gus's instead. From time to time over the next year, when trying to decide where to go for dinner when we had our hearts set on going out, one of us would suggest Fair Oaks Pharmacy, only to remember they aren't open for dinner. 

Recently, on a chilly but gorgeous winter afternoon, we decided to stop by for lunch. We walked inside and asked if we could sit at one of the tables on the sidewalk. "Absolutely," one of the kids working there said, "I'll be right out with some menus." We sat down and waited about ten minutes before a different kid came out with a couple menus for us. (This theme of lousy service will be repeated frequently, I'm just warning you ahead of time.)

We mulled over what to order. We certainly had plenty of time to. After 15 minutes the waiter came back to take our orders. For drinks, Elizabeth got a fountain Coke with cherry syrup, and I ordered a vanilla egg cream. For food, she decided on the crispy chicken salad and I went with the Reuben. About five minutes later he returned.

"We are out of pastrami," he said.

"OK," I replied. "Can I have the menu back?"

He gave me a look as if I was asking a lot and returned (in no great hurry) with a menu. I ordered a Coney Island Dog - sauerkraut and mustard. We sat there for another twenty minutes or so, with empty drinks in front of us for at least half that time, but no waiter in sight to inquire if we wanted more. This was not unusual that afternoon; a mother and daughter at the table next to us waited for about twenty minutes with menus in front of them without receiving service. Eventually a kid came stumbling over and laughed: "Oh, uh, sorry. I forgot about you guys." An older man was sitting two tables away. After fifteen minutes of being ignored he left.

Finally our food arrived. Elizabeth's salad had a tiny plastic fork impaled in the middle of it.

"Sorry about the plastic fork," the waiter - by this time the 3rd different waiter we had seen - said. "We don't have any clean forks in the whole place. If we get one of them clean I will bring it out to you."

"Are you stoned?" I asked him. Actually, no, I didn't say that. But I was thinking that.

The food was decent, thankfully. I was expecting at this point that it would suck. Or that the employees had made it, forgot who it was for, and thrown it away. (This is not that much of a stretch, by the way; my brother and I once waited an hour after ordering dinner at Ari-Ya in Old Town and when we inquired about it were told by the waitress "Oh, that food was yours? We couldn't figure out who it was for so we threw it away.")

The fries were hot and crispy but otherwise unremarkable. My hot dog was nice - a big beef dog with tasty sauerkraut. Elizabeth's salad was good - I had a few bites when she finished. The lettuce wasn't particularly fresh but the croutons were tasty and the fried chicken pieces were really good.

Predictably, we waited for a long time after we finished our food. Finally we got up and went inside to get the check and pay. (The old man whom I thought had left had actually just moved inside, and he had already finished his food, which he ordered long after we did. So I guess the trick here is to sit inside.) 

It was just over $30 for our food. This did not surprise me - I mean, the prices are right on the menu - but it still seemed a little expensive after the meal we just had. It was basically fast food we ate, but at twice the price. With terrible service. I wasn't angry; the servers all looked like high school or college kids and this is probably the first job they have ever had. But we had been to Firefly Bistro a couple nights earlier for their "Burgers, Beer & Blues" night, and it was almost exactly the same price as this meal. And I'd had the second-best hamburger I've eaten in the last year and the service was great.

So, that nagging feeling I had about Fair Oaks Pharmacy was not without merit. It's a neat soda fountain and I think everyone should stop in once and have a shake or some ice cream. But the food is mediocre and more expensive than it should be, and the service is kind of a joke. I am glad I went, but I doubt I will ever return.


Smith said...

So how long were you at restaurant in total?

JustinM said...

Almost an hour and a half. Definitely too long for a hot dog and salad.

Anonymous said...

So Alices Restaurant and Great Gatsby eh?

JustinM said...

Yes, those two, along with Hudson Hawk, form the great cultural tripod of the 20th century.

Cafe Observer said...

Yes, and in my IMHO, you can toss pie in burger as another joint to go for poor value.

I know, I'm outta the In crowd on this.

JustinM said...

I will admit this: of all the complaints hurled against Pie N Burger, the "not a good value" argument is the one with the most merit.