Dot Com Dining Restaurant Reviews Click on photos (except logo) to see them full-size
DOT COM DINING A Look At San Gabriel Valley Restaurants by SanGabrielValleyMenus.com
Nano Café in Pasadena A Great New Choice for Dining
by Bill Coburn
Nano Café, 975 N. Michillinda, in the Albertson’s Shopping Center (626) 351-0388, may be the new spot in town, but it certainly comes with more experience than most new restaurants. Owner Jackie Shue is the former owner of Old Town Café in Pasadena (1986 – 1995) and more recently owned the successful News Café in El Monte from 1992 - 2003. And it looks as though she’s brought her winning formula to Eastern Pasadena, now, as well.
Nano Café opened in January, right on the border of Pasadena and Sierra Madre. The site has been several places in the past, most recently Sweet Taste Pastry, which hung in for a couple years before closing down. The site sat empty for a while, but then in December, we saw workers making changes, and wondered what was coming now. When I walked in for the first time, I was kind of shocked at how different the inside was. There are several booths and tables, a counter, and a warm welcome feeling as you walk in the door. But the biggest change is probably the big concrete slab out front, which has been transformed into a nice patio area. It is shielded from the supermarket parking lot by lattice, which allows an open air feel while minimizing outside noise and distractions, and shielded from the sun and rain by a sturdy patio cover. The patio is decorated with strings of white lights, and on a balmy March evening warmed up by Santa Ana winds, it’s a great place to enjoy dinner.
The first time I ate at Nano Café was in the morning. I stopped by with my wife, Katie, and we had breakfast. I was pleasantly surprised to see several tables already occupied, and even more surprised to find that a patio table was occupied by a gentleman I know to be the owner of another area restaurant (whose name I won’t mention). He was there with a friend, and when I stopped to greet him, I ribbed him a little. His response was that he has breakfast there two or three times a week, “you can’t beat the specials.” He went on: “I can say this, the food is good, the place is clean, and the service is terrific.” His friend informed me that on the “grilled ham steak and eggs, the ham covers half the plate, at $3.99, it’s the best deal around!” Well, I wasn’t in a ham mood that morning, so I can’t confirm that, but as good as the food is that I’ve had, and as generous as the portions of the meals that I’ve had have been, I can say that he’s probably not exaggerating.
I ordered the blueberry pancake combo, with eggs over medium and bacon. Katie ordered the chicken fried steak and eggs, which comes with biscuits and gravy. Now we both ordered off the regular menu, which has two full pages of breakfast items, including banana and strawberry crepes, eggs Florentine, Nano Café skillet, eggs benedict, pork chop and eggs, corned beef hash and more. They have omelettes, hot or cold cereal, Belgian waffles, seven grain granola pancakes, cinnamon roll French toast, you name it, they probably offer it. You can find Nano Café’s menu on the web at www.sangabrielvalleymenus.com/nanocafe.htm. They have a great big display rack on the counter of delicious looking cinnamon rolls, muffins, scones and bagels, for sale, too.
In my mind, if you’re going to serve breakfast, you need to find a good breakfast cook. Lots of people can cook lunch or dinner, but it takes real talent to serve eggs the way people like them. Nano Café seems to have found a good one. My eggs over medium were just that. I’m fairly used to having the eggs come out over easy, or worse yet, over well, but these were just right. The bacon was crisp and delicious, and the pancakes were covered with blueberries. I was definitely full when I left after breakfast. I tried Katie’s chicken fried steak with the country gravy, and found it to be delicious as well, the creamy gravy seasoned with plenty of pepper, but not too much. I also enjoyed finishing off her hash browns for her when she got full.
For those who want to order off the specials menu, be sure and check out the window by the door, as you walk in. There are several early bird specials available until 11 (they open at 6am), at just $3.99, including the aforementioned grilled ham steak and eggs.
Tonight I stopped by again to try their dinner menu. The dinner specials change monthly, though several of the favorites remain each month. This month I noticed they are offering a 12oz. Porterhouse for $11.95, and the 16oz. Porterhouse is just $14.95. In addition, they offer grilled mahi mahi, charbroiled salmon, grilled pork chops, a stir-fry “Oriental Delight”, teriyaki chicken, and more. I picked out the chicken marsala, which is one of my favorite meals. The menu said that it came with vegetables, rice pilaf, and choice of soup or salad. Since the price was just $7.95, I kind of thought I’d be disappointed in the size of the servings, though after the enjoyable breakfast, I figured it would probably taste good.
Well, I’m not a big fan of vegetable soup, and since the other choice was chicken vegetable, I decided to have the salad. I was pleased to see that I was served a good-sized salad, with not only mixed greens (all I expected at that price), but sliced tomato, celery, carrots, and cucumber. The meal followed shortly after I finished my salad, and I don’t know how they do it. I received a large boneless breast of chicken, smothered in marsala sauce with sliced mushrooms and sautéed onions. I had never had sautéed onions on chicken marsala, but it was a nice addition, and I’ll come back for it. There was a very generous portion of carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, not overcooked, not undercooked. The kind the healthy people tell you “retains the vitamins.” What really surprised me though, besides the generous portions at that price, was how hot the chicken marsala was. This wasn’t a chicken breast sitting in a warmer, thrown on a plate with sauce added from a pot sitting on a stove. This appeared to have been made up fresh to my order, plenty hot, like I like my food served.
One last thing about Nano Café. You ever go to a restaurant, and wait around for a few minutes till the hostess comes back, and the waitresses stand by the cash register, ignoring you because it’s the hostess’ job to seat you, and they’re busy? Doesn’t happen here. Every person I’ve ever seen walk in that door, and I’ve seen a few, is greeted before they get a couple feet in the door. The waitresses know and recognize the customers who’ve been in before, (my breakfast waitress from two weeks ago came by and said hi), and everyone is thanked profusely before they leave. The waitresses are courteous, efficient and polite. So you get good food, good service, and low prices. I have a feeling Nano Café will soon be carrying a waiting list, so now’s the time to stop by and try it, while most people don’t know it’s there yet.
Bill Coburn is owner of SanGabrielValleyMenus.com, a restaurant website featuring dozens of restaurant’s menus, as well as downloadable coupons. He has nearly 20 years experience in the restaurant business, and has been eating for much longer than that.
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