Everything old is new again
By Erica Wayne 04/30/2009
I did my first review of Twohey’s way back in 1987, when I was probably the only local who hadn’t heard of it. At least that's the impression I got once I “discovered” the restaurant. “Have you been to Twohey’s?” I’d inquire of almost anybody. And the response was inevitable: “Of course — they have great onion rings! And have you tried the hot fudge? It's incredible!”
My ignorance may be explained by the fact that I was a relocated East Coaster, while most of the respondents to my inquiries seem to have gone to high school in the Pasadena-San Marino community and to have been Twohey’s aficionados since their dating years. At any rate, in the 22 years since, my love for the place has never faltered.
Twohey’s has always been an unadulterated “family restaurant” — pure Middle America. It’s been in operation since the 1940s (at its present location since the ’50s); and, despite some facelifts of decor and menu (starting in the ’70s), it retains most of the signature items that can transport you back to your youth (well maybe not yours, but somebody’s) better than any revival restaurant I know.
Oh, sure, they now offer wines by the glass and upscale live lobster and rib-eye steak dinners for a bit over $20. But, frankly, what I usually want is way less formal. The updated menu is almost as varied as the Cheesecake Factory’s: e.g., chicken pesto ($12.50), all kinds of barbecue, wild salmon ($14.95), burrito grande ($10.50), etc., etc.— but I inevitably turn to the pages dedicated to burgers and soda fountain treats. The first burger listed is the “stinko” (Twohey’s doesn't rely on charismatic food titles), served with pickles and, as the name implies, a generous slab of raw (but sweet) onion. It seems that a customer within earshot of the original owner opened her bun, looked at the onion with dismay and said “Oh, Stink-o!”
The price, if you can get up the courage to tell the waitress you want one, is $6.75 with a generous side of fries and, amazingly enough, it’s also $6.75 if you order your burger topped with thousand-island dressing, chili, coleslaw, or fried onions. These burgers are quarter-pound size but, for a small premium, half-pounders (like my husband's favorite bacon and blue cheese “blues burger” — $ 8.50) can be had.
A “ring combo” ($3.50 plus the cost of burger or sandwich) brings a tangled heap of onions to share the plate. Homemade, fried in a light and crunchy buttermilk batter, they’re well worth the almost universal praise they receive. The crinkle-cut fries are above average as well, retaining their crisp as they cool down.
Soups and sandwiches are mostly traditional, although the clam chowder with curry ($4.75), an heirloom recipe from Twohey’s original chef, is surprising. Likewise, among the tuna, BLT, hot roast and corned beef, etc. are a few updated offerings (e.g., two wraps and a ciabatta turkey melt). Don’t be disappointed by the deviled egg ($5.95) — there’s not a hint of mustard, but it’s still one of the best egg salad sandwiches around.
There’s also a veggie ciabatta with charbroiled eggplant, zucchini, onions, sweet peppers, tomatoes, basil and sundried tomato sauce ($8.50) that likely has the original Twoheys rolling in their graves, since scuttlebutt has it that they didn't like vegetables (potatoes and onions excepted) and didn’t serve them in the restaurant at all.
On the other hand, many of the dinner entrees are true time-warp fare: chicken-fried steak ($10.95), liver and onions ($10.50), meatloaf ($11.50), turkey and stuffing ($11.25), fried chicken ($11.50) and deep- fried shrimp ($14.95).
All of them come with soup or salad, dinner rolls and all the traditional fixings. I’m fond of the fish and chips ($12.50). You never have to remind the server to bring the malt vinegar.
Twohey’s breakfast menu is on the back page, right where it should be. I’m stuck on their orange French toast ($6.50), except when I’m feeling ethnic — then it’s huevos rancheros, “viva italiana” and “opa greek” omelettes ($7.95) or lox and bagel ($12.50). My mate never deviates from the Alhambra combo — eggs, bacon or sausage, hot cakes or French toast and coffee ($8.95).
There are Twohey’s regulars who come in for a daily soda fountain fix. (We try to keep ours down to once a month.) The old-fashioned milkshakes ($3.50) and ice-cream sodas ($3.60), which come in lots of mix ’n’ match flavors, seem to be especially addictive to those who grew up with ice cream socials.
Whenever I’m at Twohey’s for lunch I see beaming septuagenarians sucking on straws. Come to think of it, my hubby and I (who aren’t quite that old but who usually share a chocolate shake) always argue about whether to have mint chip or cappuccino ice cream.
Younger folks seem more inclined to order sundaes.And, speaking of sundaes, the most wonderful dish at Twohey’s, without exception, is the large (really large) bittersweet hot fudge sundae ($5.95). The fudge, I was once told, is made especially for Twohey’s from a recipe they bought from their original supplier when it went out of business. Whatever they paid, it was worth it.
They also have milk-chocolate hot fudge, hot caramel, pineapple, marshmallow, strawberry, blueberry, peach-apple, raspberry and cherry toppings, but those are for amateurs. Trust me. One bittersweet hot fudge sundae with half mint and half coffee ice cream, and you'll be coming back when you’re in your 70s, too.