Traditional breakfasts rule at VIP’s Café in Tarzana, a favorite of the late John Wooden
The most surprising thing about VIP’s Café is how unsurprising it is. This is not how things work in this day and age. Twists and turns are to be found everywhere. Bits of culinary curiosity that restaurants add to make them different from everyone else.
But that’s not the case at VIP’s. You could pick the place up, and drop it off on Ventura Boulevard half a century ago — and no one back then would blink. It’s as classic, as traditional an American restaurant as we have in the SF Valley, or in Los Angeles. It’s where you go…for solace. You want culinary culture shock? VIP’s is not your place.
When inside dining returns, you can sit at the counter, which offers some of the most comfortable counter dining seats I’ve ever snuggled my butt into. The bright, modernist carpeting alone should awaken you on even the most mind-boggling morning-after-the-night-before.
But then, the coffee is strong and good — and served as just that…coffee. This is not where you go for a latte or a cappuccino. What’s served at VIP’s is a cuppa joe. And bless ’em for that!
Inside the restaurant, you can admire the plaque that declares a table to be “Coach John Wooden’s Favorite Booth.” The presence of a legend made this eatery that much more legendary. Which is why it comes as a surprise to find a lot of locals who have never been there. They’re familiar with the Black Bear Diner next door. But they’d do well to shift their vision a bit to the right, and take note of VIP’s, which sits on the ground floor of a five-story office building next door. It’s not a restaurant that declares itself with bells and whistles. But those who know it, know it well.
And even if the interior is closed, there’s plenty of good seating outside — though on Sunday mornings there seems to be a wait. And what are acolytes waiting for, aside from the good feeling that comes from a staff that actually cares about feeding you well, and caring for your needs? Well, for starters, for breakfast there are the dishes we all grew up with. And no, I do not mean a bowl of Trix, and a slice of burnt toast with margarine on it. (My mother had an unfortunate thing for margarine, a function of her generation.)
Rather, there are classic three-egg omelettes, served with hash browns or home fries (or rice — who eats rice with an omelette?), homemade biscuits or toast and jelly (with raisin bread or an English muffin available for 20 cents extra, and a bagel with cream cheese for 60 cents extra). The biscuits make me happy as a lamb in clover; I couldn’t ask for better.
The omelettes, very nicely done, come plain, Spanish, Denver; bacon, cheese and onion; chili and cheese; ham and cheese and so on. One is called the Eye Open — made with Ortega chiles, cheese and Spanish sauce — a word out of the mists of culinary time. It has no set meaning, though it’s often a tomato sauce flavored with sautéed onions, green peppers, mushrooms and garlic. Or not.
Like a lot of dishes from back then, there’s no version in the Bureau of Standards. Meatloaf is…whatever your mother put into it. The most exotic omelette is probably the one made with shrimp and scallions. Or, the one you create yourself, from the “Build Your Own” menu, where the options include pastrami and corned beef — which sound more like an omelette at Brent’s Deli.
If you have a need to Eat Big, consider the “Very Special Breakfasts” — the cream cheese and marmalade stuffed French toast, the loco moco, the chicken fried steak with two eggs, the Hungry People Dish with three eggs, spuds, ham, bacon and sausage.
Indeed, feeding hungry folk is a theme at VIP’s. There’s a Long Burger “For the Hearty Eater,” served on a French roll with cheese, tomato, pickle, fries or rings. The House Burger has two patties with American cheese. There’s a Monte Cristo and a Reuben. There’s chicken fried steak, liver and onions, and a shrimp & chicken quesadilla. I’ll get to those dishes someday. But when at VIP’s, I like to have eggs, both for breakfast and for lunch. If they offered dinner, I’d probably have eggs then too.
I’ve never quite understood why breakfast is a morning meal. French toast sounds fine come the evening. But then I’ve been known to have sushi for breakfast. Those of us who eat for a living are odd ducks. (And yes, I’ve been to the restaurant in London called the Duck & Waffle, where they serve brunch 24 hours a day at the top of a building overlooking the London Bridge. It tastes just fine!)
- Rating: 3 stars
- Address: 18345 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana
- Information: 818-343-7361, www.facebook.com/VIPsCafeTarzana
- Cuisine: Traditional American
- When: Breakfast and lunch, every day
- Details: Soft drinks, tea and coffee; no reservations
- Atmosphere: Much loved, neighborhood breakfast and lunch spot, with a spacious outdoor patio, and an owner and staff with a loyal following for their sweet, old-fashioned graciousness. A haven of tasty goodness in difficult times.
- Prices: About $15 per person
- Suggested dishes: 13 Three Egg Omelettes ($9.70-$13.90), 14 Egg Dishes ($7.40-$15.90), 7 Waffles and Pancakes ($5.90-$10.20), 11 “Very Special Breakfasts” ($9.90-$14.90), 17 Hamburgers ($9.70-$12.90), 9 Specialty Sandwiches ($10.90-$13.50), 12 Traditional Sandwiches ($9.80-$10.40), 11 Salads ($9.80-$13.50), 12 Specialty Dishes ($10.90-$15.20)
- Cards: MC, V
- What the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth a trip from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, even exceptional. Worth a trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A good place to go for a meal. Worth a trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry, and it’s nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic going.) 0 (Honestly, not worth writing about.)