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A Taste of the Past at Rose City Diner

Times Staff Writer

I have a friend who adores ‘50s cafes. She has eaten at just about every one in town, yet prefers Rose City Diner in Pasadena over all the rest. This friend may be only 7 years old, but when it comes to the food served at these restaurants, I trust her palate over plenty of those several times her age.

That’s because the food served in today’s ‘50s diners seems best suited to youthful taste buds. Those of us with aged, well-used receptors tend to find the fare a bit too bland. So while the Rose City Diner milkshakes are my young friend’s favorite, I’d prefer them to be more chocolately.

We agree, however, that the hamburgers are our favorite of their sandwiches. These come with either grilled or raw onion, as well as lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise (she removes the tomato and mayonnaise). It’s a challenge for each of us to fit the slippery stacks into our mouths, and typically our efforts result in a giant, but enjoyable, mess.

If consuming the regular hamburger is difficult, eating the Rosie’s Double is a true feat. “This just might be the biggest burger I’ve ever seen,” said another friend when it arrived at the table. A multitude of napkins and sometime later, most of it had managed to disappear.

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Burgers are served with a pickle and coleslaw, the latter of which I enjoyed more after doctoring it with a little black pepper and hot pepper sauce. As for side orders, skip the French fries and try Rosie’s fresh chips instead. These thin, natural-style potato chips come hot from the fryer and must be enjoyed warm (we took a few home and they weren’t nearly as good later). The onion rings looked great, but we didn’t get around to trying them.

The restaurant’s deluxe plates are also served in ample portion. A hearty serving of meat loaf and lumpy whipped potatoes came smoothered in gravy. Flaky pastry topped a huge chicken pot pie. Thankfully, the vegetables that accompany these entrees are fresh and cooked tender-crisp, not the limp style I remember being so prevalent during the true ‘50s era.

Not that we needed more food, but on one visit we sacrificed in the name of research and ordered the hot fudge brownie dessert. This has to be one of the best dessert values in town. Four big brownies are each topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, then hot fudge sauce, pink whipped cream, colored shot (candy sprinkles), maraschino cherries and four paper parasols--all for $4.95. As delicious as it was, two of us could not do it justice, so we recommend ordering this one when at least four want to indulge.

Paper parasols from umpteen previously served desserts, along with thousands of frilled sandwich picks, have found a resting place in the restaurant’s acoustic-tile ceiling. I’d forgotten the old technique for getting the picks to stick into the soft tiles until a little boy seated nearby placed his pick in a straw and with a big puff, propelled it into place.

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Aside from the ceiling, decor at Rose City is typical of other area ‘50s diners, with the obligatory stainless steel, photos of period movie stars and athletes and era artifacts. Booths are upholstered in pink plastic and, of course, each has a individual jukebox so you can add to the din by playing Bill Haley’s, “Rock Around the Clock,” Paul Anka’s “Diana” or any number of other oldies.

The music blares, except on weekday mornings, when they don’t turn on the jukebox until 10:30 a.m. and claim to be “the perfect place for breakfast business meetings.” The menu includes an assortment of egg and griddle offerings, as well as huge cinnamon rolls for $1.67.

Which brings us to another of the restaurant’s unique features--its prices. Items sell for 68, 78 or 88 cents, $2.22 or $4.63. Strange, but they add up to reasonably priced meals and with the check you get complementary Bazooka bubble gum. How long had it been? So here I sit, popping bubbles and thinking I should go back and sample those onion rings.

Rose City Diner, 45 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (818) 793-8282. Open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Reservations accepted for 8 or more. Cash only. Valet, lot or street parking. Sandwiches, $2.93 to $5.75; deluxe plates, $3.95 to $9.35.


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