Review: An iconic Hollywood Hills diner is back, and the food is better than ever
Lately a common refrain runs through morning text exchanges with friends who are longtime Angelenos. It starts with me asking if they want to meet for breakfast at Clark Street Diner.
“You mean Clark Street Bread?” they respond. “Don’t know about a diner.”
“You probably do. It’s the former 101 Coffee Shop across from Hollywood Tower. The owner of Clark Street Bread took over. Looks the same.”
“Oh! I’m in. What time?”
Even if you never physically visited the 101 Coffee Shop (known before that as the Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop), you may still know the place. It’s where Vince Vaughn stands on a table and shouts at Jon Favreau about being grown up in the 1996 film “Swingers.” More recently it’s been a backdrop for “Gilmore Girls,” HBO’s “Entourage” and, earlier this year, a vigorously choreographed Meghan Thee Stallion video.
The building in which the restaurant resides has stood since the late 1920s, also housing generations of hotels (its current run-on name: the Adler a Hollywood Hills Hotel) and previously a liquor store adjoining the coffee shop before an early-2000 renovation. That’s when Warner Ebbink, who runs Little Dom’s in Los Feliz with chef Brandon Boudet, took over the restaurant space. He bronzed the room in a late-1960s palette: stone walls, teak-colored leather booths, wall tiles and floors and counters with swivel chairs all in gradations of brown. Sunlight seeps through the windows at an angle that casts the people and furniture in a Southern California-specific shade of sepia.
For 20 years it was a steady, low-key hang for actors, screenwriters and literary types, tourists and locals. Grief poured out on social media in January 2021 when word spread that the 101 Coffee Shop had closed. Patton Oswalt posted pictures of his young daughter in one of the booths. Kat Dennings mourned the loss of the blueberry-stained Purple Haze milkshake. “I didn’t stop to think about what a luxury it was to be able to count on the place I simply called ‘the 101’ until news broke last week that my diner around the corner had — without any last goodbyes — closed for good,” former Times columnist Nita Lelyveld wrote in a tribute.
Taking the reins of the restaurant in November, new owner Zack Hall has navigated the community’s collective nostalgia with extreme care. The only glaring change to the space is the addition of a pastry case near the entrance. It’s filled with Clark Street Bread signatures: sweet and savory croissants, knotted cardamom-scented buns, cheddar-chive scones, rye-flour brownies, pull-apart monkey bread crackling with sugar and, for the Easter season, raisin-studded hot cross buns.
You can start with these — and order a cold brew or a cortado (or, yes, a humble cup of coffee) — as you put your name down for a table. The wait is usually short and the people-watching is prime: Everyone’s back. There’s a rightness to seeing the room full again. It has the old energy, the feeling that the Capitol Records building is less than half a mile away and the heartbeat of Tinseltown almost within earshot. You can’t hear the traffic on the Hollywood Freeway inside the restaurant, but you can almost feel the shadow of its concrete ribbons looming a block away.
Hall performed the most delicate of personality transplants to the menu. He brought in Juan Pablo Garcia, who was chef at the Brentwood outpost of Clark Street Bread, to lead the kitchen. They serve breakfast and lunch diner classics. The food is stealthy-good: It tastes familiar to lovers of the genre — but with unusual attention to seasoning and care in the cooking.
There’s nowhere in Los Angeles I’d rather eat a three-high stack of blueberry pancakes right now. The edges bounce pleasantly against the fork’s tines, and the interior of the heap is hot and just set but bordering on custardy. Plump berries are scattered generously. I dip a finger in the small syrup pitcher perched on the plate to make sure it’s real maple. Indeed.
I ask sheepishly if the omelet I’ve requested to be loaded with vegetables and cheddar can be made on the soft side, and out comes what is essentially a pale French rolled omelet. Perfect. The yolks on the eggs Florentine burst and bleed onto the English muffin, spinach and (optional but recommended) kerchiefs of smoked salmon. Corned beef hash delivers satisfying proportions of crisp-soft spuds, salty wisps of meat and more deftly cooked eggs (over-easy, texture wise, feels right with this dish).
Since the owner runs one of the city’s most respected bakeries, it is almost redundant to say that the bread is excellent. Hall’s plush sourdough crisps handsomely; the avocado toast, sprinkled with mild chile flakes, transcends clichés and tedium.
The waffle contains almond flour but also wheat flour. A crunchy, satisfying waffle made with rice flour and nut flours is very achievable these days; perhaps Hall should give the gluten-free set a breakfast treat they too can enjoy?
Sometime this year he plans to launch dinner service, serving the new team’s take on meatloaf, fried chicken, mac and cheese and other customer favorites from the 101’s dinner menu. In the meantime, lunch options are available until 3 p.m.
I prefer the cheesy, oniony punch of a patty melt over the just-fine burger, and vegans can have a Beyond Burger counterpart on sourdough. A substantial arugula salad laced with sliced pear, blue cheese, hazelnuts and pomegranate and dressedin tarragon vinaigrette isn’t far off from something you’d order at A.O.C. or République.
I lean toward breakfast at Clark Street Diner, but I also savor being in the room around 11:30 a.m., when you can look out over the long row of booths and see the landscapes of hash browns and tuna melts, pancakes and bacon, hefty breakfast burritos and coffee mugs. A liquor license was recently approved, so the panorama might now include mimosas, cans of Miller High Life and (delicious diner heresy) glasses of orange wine.
The spirit truly animating the scene, though, is the staff. Sally Stewart had worked as a server at the 101 since it opened, and she’s back in its new incarnation. I’m always happy when she walks up to take my order. Stewart has ageless rock ’n’ roll energy (her husband is, in fact, a touring musician); she practices a steely sort of patience when my friend changes his order three times in 90 seconds.
Neighbors mark their lives by the everyday moments they spend in diners, but it’s also a genre of restaurant where people settle in for decades to make their livelihoods. Stewart’s place of employment has landed in capable hands, and that’s uplifting news for all of us.
Clark Street Diner
6145 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 848-4438, instagram.com/clarkstreetdiner
Prices: breakfast entrees $10-$18, hot sandwiches $12-$16, pastries and breads $3.25-$8.50
Details: Open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. daily. Beer, wine and spirits. Credit cards accepted. Lot and street parking.
Recommended dishes: blueberry pancakes, corned beef hash, eggs Florentine, monkey bread, patty melt
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