Restaurant automation has arrived

It's official. The future has finally arrived. Just like in "The Jetsons" cartoon, you can now push buttons on a computer and the meal of your choice slides out on a tray. OK, maybe not immediately and certainly not for free, but at the new Specialty's Café and Bakery on Brand Boulevard in Glendale, that's pretty much how it works.

Questionable spelling aside, Specialty's is totally plugged in to the modern, techno-friendly way of doing things. In the middle of the restaurant, there is a bank of iPads at which you place your order. If you've been there before, your preferences immediately pop up. If this is your first time, there are friendly assistants hovering nearby to help you with your order. When it's finalized, you're assigned a beeper number and buzzed when your food's ready. It's simple, fast and elegant. You can order the old-fashioned way, from a human at a register, but what's the fun in that?

To speed things up even more, busy workers in nearby office buildings can pre-order online and pick up prepared lunch bags in cubby holes by the door. Employees whose job it is to plan corporate lunch meetings will think Specialty's is a gift from above. Their system is a cinch to use, and the menu features an assortment of sandwiches, salads, soups and sweets to please everyone.

The problem is when you're trying to please everyone, nothing really stands out. That's not to say their food is bland; it's just very mainstream fare. By and large, the choices are satisfying and nutritious. Sandwiches include roast turkey, tuna salad and spicy chipotle chicken.

Salads have names like Chicken Cobb and Southwestern Salad. I sampled the Hot Roasted Veggie sandwich ($7.59) which was tasty with its red pepper pesto, goat cheese and fresh baby spinach but it had much more spinach and fewer roasted veggies than in the online photo. The tuna salad sandwich ($5.99) is like what Mom would make but on freshly made thick, soft bread.

The Saigon Salad is one of the more daring choices with a very spicy wasabi dressing on top of delicious smoked pulled pork and Asian-inspired greens ($6.99). The fresh soups of the day are posted every morning at 8 a.m. on their website. The Creamy Chicken Artichoke ($2.99) was delicious but didn't need the thickening agent that was added. The cookies, at $2.19, are pricey and as good as you'd expect — big, fat numbers fresh out the oven with gooey chocolate chunks.

Cookies, of course, go with coffee, and Specialty's is an authorized purveyor of Peet's Coffee, the best of the chains in my opinion. The whole restaurant, in fact, has the feel of a coffeehouse, complete with free WiFi and that coffeehouse social vibe. There are lots of tables, inside as well as out in the lovely courtyard overlooking the dynamic horse sculpture at 500 N. Brand. Most of the clientele are local workers who come in droves at breakfast and lunchtime, but anyone can park in the lot behind (off Milford) and get a one-hour validation in the restaurant.

All in all, Specialty's Café and Bakery is a cross between Panera Bread and the automated check-in kiosk at LAX. It's fast, easy, gives you nourishment and gets you on your way.

Lisa Dupuy has been writing local restaurant reviews since 2008. She can be reached at



What: Specialty's Café and Bakery

Where: 520 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale

When: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday

Prices: Breakfast items $2.99 to $4.99; sandwiches and salads $5.99 to $9.59; soups $2.99 and $4.99; baked goods $.89 to $2.79

Contact: (employees do not take outside phone calls at the store)

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