Uh-oh. Last Chinese restaurant in Chinatown just bit the dust.
Lucky Liu’s has closed.
And before Unlucky Liu’s, Red Pearl came unstrung.
Silver lining? Today, where Red Pearl used to be, I discover a brand-new place.
440 J Street, Downtown San Diego
It’s not Chinese, so what’s the big deal? It’s that the owners promised their Gaslamp comfort-food/bakery would stay open — yeah! — 24/7.
One benefit: all-day, all-night breakfasts.
Right now, I’m standing outside looking into this big cavern of a space with a bar and a sea of red, deep-studded circular booths.
Up front, they have a counter packed with fabbo-looking pies. But the biggest display of all is this giant picture of buttermilk hot cakes. I’m drooling. Griddlecakes, pancakes, johnnycakes, flapjacks, right? It’s their main claim to fame. They quote Esquire magazine as saying Du-par’s has the “best pancakes in the U.S.”
“We opened here three days ago,” says Veronica, behind the counter. “But we’ve been around in L.A. since 1938.”
Turns out, back in 1938, Mr. James Dunn and Mr. Edward Parsons teamed up to start a nine-seat food stall in the L.A. Farmers’ Market. “Dunn and Parsons” became “Du-Par.” Nice French ring to it.
I curl into one of these huge, round raspberry booths. Table’s solid wood. And, yes! You can get breakfast, lunch, or dinner any time of day or night, no questions asked.
The other surprise: things ain’t so cheap here. For breakfast you need to think $15 or so. Maybe they have to up the ante to pay for round-the-clock service? No, says one of the managers, Amie. “It’s mainly because we make everything here, nothing from frozen, all the sauces, everything. Like, we bake our own breads, make our own pies, we use Harris Ranch grain-fed beef. We grind the meat here, every day. We form our burger patties by hand. It costs more.”
Breakfast eggs start at $9.25 for two eggs with hash browns and buttered toast or “Du-par’s bakery muffins.” Add bacon or sausage links (pork or turkey) and we’re talking $13.25. Three-egg omelets run $14.50. Appetizers go from $9.50 (breaded zucchini) to $14.50 (crab cakes). Salads start at $10.95 (Caesar) to $15.50 (the Waldorf), and any add of meat — say, chicken — puts the price up by $5. Sandwiches, and soup ’n’ salad, think $15. Most burgers are around $15, too.
There are deals. In the morning up till 1 p.m. they have four Blue Plate Specials, like $10.50 for a short order of french toast and bacon or turkey links. Or for $11.50 the “American breakfast” gives you one egg, two bacon or turkey links, hash browns, toast, jam, and a glass of OJ. And endless coffee’s thrown in, too. So this starts to look like a deal. And happy hour, when they get it organized, will be every afternoon 4 –7, and 10 p.m. till 1:30 a.m. Three-dollar beers, $6 appetizers such as three sliders or potato skins or fish “bites.”
Time to decide. Marco the waiter’s brought my coffee ($3, endless refills), and I’m down to two choices: the country chicken, with two eggs and country gravy ($14.94), or should I just cave in and have at “Du-par’s legendary — since 1938 — buttermilk hot cakes”?
What the heck. Short stack (three hot cakes) is $9.25, full stack (five hot cakes) is $10.25. I decide to invest the extra buck and get the full stack.
Can’t help noticing Marco’s eyebrow raise. Turns out I’m his first full-stack order since they opened. Then, I throw in a half order of bacon ($3.50) after he swears they’re not those lousy thin shavings some places call a rasher of bacon. I didn’t think to ask for the melted butter and boysenberry instead of the maple hot cake syrup for the hot cakes, but no biggie.
When they arrive, I find out why the raised eyebrow. These things are massive. I lunge into the first one and make it halfway through the second (with the help of lots of coffee and an extra pot of hot maple syrup), but that’s it. Three and a half hot cakes sit waiting. I wonder if this happened to the Esquire guy.
So, are these the best hot cakes in the US? Honestly, I’m not an aficionado. They tasted fine. And Marco gave me plenty of maple sap to drown them in. And the bacon was good and thick.
’Course, now: the ironies. Turns out I could have ordered just one pancake and syrup for $4.45. Then, if I’d come earlier, I could have saved cash with the Blue Plate Specials. Or, if I’d come later, at four, any day, I coulda played “Beat the Clock.”
Turns out this is a really neat pre-dinner special idea: between four and six p.m., whatever time you place your order is what you pay. So, place your order at 4:02 p.m., that’s what you’ll pay, $4.02, for any one of five dishes. And the dishes are interesting: grilled salmon tapenade with spinach and red potatoes, almond chicken with corn and broccoli, caprese salad, vegetable pasta, or spaghetti and meatballs. Even if you squeak your order in at 5:59 p.m., it’s a deal.
I’ll bet this was an idea from the Depression era, 1930s, when Du-par’s started. A nice way to help people out and to generate early business.
Meantime, I’m sitting staring at my three and a half remaining pancakes.
“This could take awhile,” I say to Marco.
“No hurry,” says Marco. “We never close.”
440 J Street, Downtown San Diego
Prices: Breakfast eggs (two eggs, hash browns, toast/muffins), $9.25; or $13.25 with bacon or sausage links; 3-egg omelets, $14.50; breaded zucchini appetizer, $9.50; crab cakes, $14.50; Caesar salad, $10.95; Waldorf salad, $15.50; yellow split-pea soup with ham, $7.50 (bowl); steakhouse blue burger, $15.75; Blue Plate Specials (till 1 p.m.) include short-order french toast, bacon (or turkey links), $10.50; American breakfast (one egg, two bacon or turkey links, hash browns, toast, jam, glass of OJ; endless coffee, $11.50; happy hour (due soon, 4–7 p.m.; 10 p.m.–1:30 a.m.), e.g. $3 beers, $4 wines, $6 sliders (3); buttermilk hot cakes, short stack, $9.25, full stack, $10.25
Buses: 3, 11
Nearest bus stops: (for #3), Fourth Avenue and G Street (southbound); Market and Sixth (northbound); for #11), Fourth and Market (northbound), Third and Market (southbound)
Trolley: Green Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: Convention Center