Monday, November 2, 2015
648 South Broadway
I reviewed Clifton's Cafeteria back in 2007. It was simple comfort food at good prices. It wasn't gourmet, far from it, but it was a good value. Later Clifton's started to use canned foods and the quality went down. So, the Clinton family sold the restaurant to Andrew Meieran, who has renovated other buildings in downtown Los Angeles and turned them into nightclubs like The Edison. Meieran planned a major renovation starting in 2011.
The orginal plan was to keep the restaurant open during the first phrase of renovations, but when you're renovating a building that first opened in 1935, there are many surprises. So he soon closed down the restaurant and went full steam ahead for the renovation. While renovations continued you never heard a word from the new owner. It was always the standard response, the restaurant is going through renovations. With the explosion of social media, not a good way to do business.
Finally in October 2015, they opened. Long lines on the weekend, up to 2 hours, during the first two weeks of reopening awaited long time customers. The best thing the new owner did was tear down the ugly aluminum facade that ruined the original front of the building.
I went on a very warm Sunday, and the wait to get inside was about 15-20 minutes. Once inside you get a tray and then the cluster of food stations are in front of you. The first station is salad, followed by the "grill" breakfast items, a burger and fries station, then the pizza station. Right after the grill section is the sandwich sectin, followed by the dessert section. Behind you is the carvery- sliced roast beef, ham and turkey along with mac and cheese and stuffing is served at this station. Then you go pay. Then you find a table on any of the three levels of the restaurant that are currently open.
Tuna salad, $2.50. This was good, well seasoned, not drowned in mayo, but the portion size was very small and the value is debatable.
Brownie bites, $3. Pretty damn good and the best value of the items I ordered. Flavorful, moist, and not too sweet.
Service is good overall. But, the busboys are very slow to clear tables and offer refills.
Clifton's was not worth the long wait! The food is overpriced, lacks flavor and portions are small. The food line would move faster if they boards actually listed what items were being served. For example, the signs above the grill section didn't list fries. I only saw the fries because a person at the table next to me had ordered a burger and fries. I skipped the burger section because I didn't want a burger. Also, prices aren't listed for some items. There was no price listed for the stuffing which was next to the $6 list price for the mac and cheese. Why they charged me $4.95, I'm not sure.
To be fair, there is somebody at the front of the carvery telling people both sides serve the samething, but there as you walk out, people in the grill section can enter the carvery. They need to either put an exit only sign or have somebody there to direct people!
As for seating some tables, especially near the second floor bar area are too small for dining. The busboys need to come by more often to take the trays, which take up too much room on the small tables! There were trays on the floor and chairs! The third floor has seating for larger parties.
The basement, which will become a bar, and the fourth and fifth floors-will eventually become a steakhouse and another bar, are still being renovated.
The interior is filled with glass displays of wild animals that seem real. Not sure how well this goes over with animal rights activists!!
I won't go back to Clifton's for the food. I did like how they restored the building, but the food just plain sucks!
Update January 21, 2016
Two friends wanted to go and try Clifton's. So, being the great guy I am, I said we'll go. This time we went for dinner on a weeknight. There was a much smaller crowd than before. But, same confusing food sections. My friend made a great point, even though she had never been to Clifton's, they do not serve any hot vegetables! The old Clifton's had a wide variety of hot veggies. So, they were from a can, but at least you had a choice.
One change for the better is that they put the mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and stuffing in a chafing dish to keep them warm. Before they were just on the counter!!
Small salad, $5, half romaine lettuce and half spinach. They couldn't screw this up! The lettuce and spinach were very fresh. I got a citrus dressing that was pretty good. Maybe a bit overpriced for what you get.
I'm not a fan of the new Clifton's and don't expect to return anytime soon!