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The Breakfast Club 

Thursday, May 20 2004
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Photo by Anne Fishbein

THE GRIDDLE IS LOUD on a Sunday morning, really loud: clattering pans, a hundred shouted conversations, amplified rock & roll bouncing off the high ceilings at such volume and with such distortion that it is hard to tell whether you are listening to Justin Timberlake or the Stooges.

The woman next to you at the counter is eating a stack of berry pancakes so large that it looks like a movie prop, like three large pizzas piled on top of one another and smothered in powdered sugar. Her partner is digging into a chili-oozing baked potato the size of your head. The bacon strips in front of you are cut so thick that you briefly wonder if they would stop bullets as effectively as Kevlar if you sewed them into a vest. Your head pounds from three cups of French-roast coffee; the sugar from a banana waffle has settled in near your frontal lobe. You vaguely remember waiting almost an hour for your seat. And if you couldn’t swear that you were sober, that you had wandered in after a morning jog instead of after greeting the dawn at a nightclub, you could swear that you were strung out on some kind of designer hallucinogen, a variant on STP maybe, buzzing with a serrated methamphetamine edge.

The Griddle, which has only been open for a few years but feels as if it has been corrupting Hollywood since 1956, is an instant Hollywood institution, an alternate universe of unshaven, bed-headed young actors in muscle shirts and those who would ogle them, of guys from the craft unions, gangs of pretty script readers, and middle-aged men preening in Robert Evans shades, secure in the knowledge that they have found the one place in town where nobody will make fun of them. The Griddle is probably the best place in Los Angeles to take an out-of-town niece intent on spotting someone from Dawson’s Creek or the The O.C. — she’ll probably score an Ian Ziering sighting at the least — and it is not uncommon to see young couples poring over their head-shot portfolios as if they were copies of The Hollywood Reporter.

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The jumble of bottled condiments on each table could stock a supermarket shelf: not just ketchup and mustard but Buffalo chipotle sauce, a few different hot sauces and a bottle of organic maple syrup from Vermont — Grade B, which is to say the thick, dense stuff that is so much more satisfying than the relatively delicate Grade A.

Coffee comes to the table in squat plunger pots, which is a stroke of marketing genius: The customer pays three times what he or she would pay for a bottomless cup of coffee at most coffee shops, and the waiter never has to walk across the room to pour a refill. It may just be a bonus that the coffee is delicious, thick, hot and black as a Republican’s soul.

The enormous pancakes are available blanketed in cinnamon streusel, or spiked with Kahlua and Bailey’s, or smothered under an improbable mass of whipped cream and crumbled Oreos, and they are not the best pancakes in Los Angeles, but they are good enough. There is a small specialty in omelets and scrambles and such; and at certain hours, almost everybody in the restaurant seems to be plowing through something called a Tequila Sunrise, a careful composition of chile sauce, fried tortillas, fried eggs, and a lump of melted cheese that is both the size and consistency of a fried egg, like a culinary pun from some diner-cook Ducasse. The sandwiches on fluffy white toast aren’t bad either, especially the grilled shrimp melt with gobs of pesto.

Because this is Hollywood, most of the menu is infinitely customizable, so that baby moguls and sunglass-wearing actresses who read a little too much Ayn Rand can exercise their will to power by demanding egg-white frittatas, chocolate chips on their chili, or “hamburgers” made with grilled chicken breast, veggie patties, ground turkey, or even actual beef, topped with anything from capers and avocado to artichoke hearts and aioli.

But this isn’t just a breakfast place — it’s Nate ’n Als for the Hollywood populated by men who dream of egg-white scrambles instead of matzoh Brie, of hot turkey sandwiches instead of pastrami, of spicy chicken chili and the lumpy, meaty hamburgers that Mom used to make. These are the huge, grease-and-carb-intensive breakfasts and lunches craved by the kind of hunky dude who is still deeply nostalgic for Indiana. The Griddle is an unsubtle restaurant for unsubtle times.

The Griddle Cafe, 7916 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 874-0377. Breakfast and lunch, Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–3 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 8 a.m.–3 p.m. AE, D, MC and V accepted. Beer. Lot parking in rear. Breakfast or lunch for two, food only, $12–$18.

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