33 N. Lewis Road
There is nothing visually appealing about Zzyzx (pronounced “ziz-six” like the road) Café’s location. Perched right beneath the Lewis Road exit and across from the Amtrak station, cars whizzed by and trains clacked down the track as we approached the entrance.
Once inside, I noted that only one table was open. The hostess who greeted us was delightful, and the waitress approached within a couple of minutes to suggest an iced tea or lemonade. Brilliant recommendation on a 90-degree day! We were given large menus with breakfast on one side and lunch on the other. Both are served all day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The interior is like a diner, with booths on the sides and tables in the center. Eighties pop songs and soft rock lightly droned through the speakers. On the walls were abstract art (for sale) that looked like it had been made by the love child of Jackson Pollock and George Michael — splattered, textured paint in ’80s retro colors.
At first sight, the menu intrigued us. It had six varieties of eggs benedict and one house benedict featuring bacon, spinach and a garlic cream sauce. And there were clever burgers, one imbued with pinot noir and a margherita — similar to the pizza — that had a garlic cheese bun, Roma tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil.
As we kept reading, our intrigue turned into smiles. Did you see the bacon pancakes? Then wait. Are you kidding me? Fruit Loop pancakes? Finally, when our eyes focused on the Captain Crunch French toast, we had fully stepped from the very real ruckus of the freeway outside into some sort of Willie Wonka-esque fantasy breakfast land. A flowing river of chocolate mightn’t have surprised me.
It was hard to choose what to order! But we decided to attempt a small sampling of the menu by picking one benedict, one burger and yes, the Captain Crunch French toast.
As we waited, I walked down the back hallway to peruse the art and saw other diners’ dishes. Both the waitress and hostess had raved about the beer-battered tilapia tacos with pineapple salsa and when I saw the golden filets with zigzags of sour cream sauce being served, I started to wish I had two stomachs. As a matter of fact, everything I saw on the tables looked appealing.
Our dishes arrived and each had its own fun feature. The large golden wedges of ciabatta French toast had whole pieces of Captain Crunch clinging to its edges. The Santa Barbara benedict comprised of English muffins, poached eggs, spinach, artichokes and a side of hash browns (one of several choices) and had hollandaise drizzled on top in a crosshatched basket pattern. And any burger can be served as a single or made into three sliders. Our petite trio of burgers arrived accompanied by a springy paper cone full of sweet potato fries ($1 extra to substitute for regular fries).
The flavors were unique. “This tastes like nothing I’ve ever tasted before,” said my companion. When pressed, he went on to describe the essence of the spinach, marinated artichoke hearts and the hollandaise mixing together to create a whole other flavor he’d never experienced. While he was enjoying that discovery, my taste buds were taking me back to my childhood.
I had forgotten how sticky Captain Crunch is. Not pull-your-fillings-out sticky, but it does leave a residue on your teeth. And the flavor? Dynamic! Imagine that chemically created peanut-butter flavor from your youth, then think of it crushed, coating battered bread and browned in butter till it turns a golden saffron hue. I did not need, nor want any of the semi-maple syrup it came with. I felt wrong for eating it — like I’d gone to the fair and ordered the deep-fried Snickers — but I treasured it, these forgotten forkfuls of my youth.
The three sliders held their own. The buns were toasted on the flat sides and their crunch contrasted beautifully with the juicy, moist ground chuck. We were having the Ka’anapali burger with a teriyaki glaze, grilled pineapple, caramelized onion, lettuce and pepper jack cheese. The sweet pineapple and onion were delicious next to the saline teriyaki. “I could see this burger being served anywhere north of Lahaina,” said my companion, who’s traveled regularly to Hawaii. “It’s very authentic flavors.”
So in the end, we were really full. The food at Zzyzx could be called upscale diner food or wacky brunch. I would certainly try other selections, and my first instinct would be to bring a child with me. But hey, there’s something completely freeing about being an adult and stating, “I’d like to order the Fruit Loop pancakes with a side of buffalo fries.”
**They also offer sugar-free pancakes and sugar-free syrup