The '90s remake of Hamptons Hollywood Cafe by screenwriter-producer and former restaurant critic Stanley Ralph Ross is not all that different from the original gourmet hamburger joint. Oh, the walls are now a clean white and the ceiling has been hung with white lattice, but there are the same battered wood tables, the same tree growing up through the ceiling, the same '70s fern bar-cum-beer hall look, only brighter. The front room, its original wood paneling untouched, retains its familiar look of a well-used ski lodge or college beer bar.
Named for the Long Island resort towns and famous for an oblique connection to Paul Newman, Hamptons belongs to that category of once-hot hangouts, like Cafe Figaro and the Moustache Cafe, which had their heyday 20 years ago, yet persist.
The tall, deep-voiced host, who looks like a character actor and ties his tie funny, is Stanley Ralph Ross himself. He and co-owner Hope Howard, want this scrubbed and brightened Hamptons to again become a favorite hangout for Hollywood writers and other show-biz types except, maybe, agents. Indeed, there is even a "Writers Table," distinguished by a sign hung over it. And yes, writers, normally a skittish breed, actually sit there, in full view of the public.
According to Hamptons' public relations material, anyone who can show any show biz-union or guild affiliation can receive 10% off his or her bill. Agents, on the other hand, should they reveal themselves or are recognized, will have 10% added to their bill. When we visited, this policy was never mentioned.
Waiters are all friendly, amusing young men. The service can be swift, although we experienced one glitch that might say more about the menu than our server.
Hamptons may have refurbished its menu to fit the '90s, but it is quintessentially a hamburger joint. Now, the hamburgers are only 17% fat (most commercial burgers have around 25% fat), and there are also veggie burgers, turkey burgers, gator (yes, that's alligator) burgers, venison and beefalo burgers. And then, there are all the toppings and seasonings that can be applied to any burger in any combination: peanut butter, sour plum jam, pepper sauce, teriyaki sauce, horseradish, etc. We ordered one turkey burger with green chiles and a fried egg and one bacon cheeseburger with onions. The waiter, without batting an eye, delivered one burger heaped precariously with everything from both burger orders--bacon cheeseburger with green chile, onion and egg, anyone?
The burgers themselves are juicy and huge (8 ounces). I liked, in particular, a smoky venison burger with spicy pepper sauce.
To attract non-burger eaters, the new owners have added a salad bar, a selection of pastas, specialties such as meatloaf and fish and chips. I've skipped through the menu, trying a salad here, an entree there, and found, mostly, decent coffee-shop fare--if you encountered it in any chain coffee shop, you'd probably be ecstatic.
Nachos are smothered under guacamole, beans, sour cream, cheese. Too bad the tortilla chips are so thin they become limp and as difficult to scoop with as rose petals. "Hot poppers," cheese-stuffed, deep-fried jalapenos, are designed to go with beer.
A Cobb salad is just fine. And the special soup, a salmon bisque, is delicious. But chicken breast and linguine with lemon and capers isn't: too oily, salty and the noodles were mushy. I ordered an open-faced tuna melt with guacamole, sprouts and cheese and wished I'd gone for a burger instead. That's OK, I filled up on curly fries.
My friends and I only once had room for dessert: An ice cream sundae topped with better-than-I-imagined hot peanut butter sauce and terrific bittersweet hot fudge made three people quite happy.
* Hamptons Hollywood Cafe, 1324 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (213) 469-1090. Open Sundays through Tuesdays for lunch. Open Tuesdays through Sundays for dinner. Beer and wine served. Major credit cards accepted. Dinner for two, food only $24-$48.