As Good As It Gets
By Bill Gerdes
Pinocchio in the Desert doesn’t need to lie about its dishes—they speak for themselves
I’m quite glad that it took me an hour to drive to Pinocchio in the Desert in Palm Springs from Riverside; some things in life I don’t want to be too close to: Vegas, Bourbon Street, and several of my old-high school chums. If I lived within walking distance of Pinocchio I’d be 20-pounds overweight from its staggering collection of Benedicts, surely back on the Marlboro lights, and a sybaritic, red-nosed wreck to boot due to its all day Happy Hours. So, yes, I’m glad I don’t live down the street.
But a visit now and then? And with the kiddos who I brought along on the first journey? That’s a go.
I experienced Pinocchio on a yet another sweltering day, the day after a madman in Colorado decided to shoot up a midnight screening of The Dark Night Rises. I needed some whimsy, some fun, some cleverness when it came to my brunch. And here I was driving 50 miles to go to another damn diner. If you review restaurants in the IE you wind up hitting so many diners you become a connoisseur of grease, weak coffee and chicks named Flo. Pinocchio is not really that kind of diner though.
Maybe it’s the thatched umbrellas outside that told me this was someplace different. Maybe it was the statue of a twirling Marilyn Monroe. Or simply the drink specials—Happy Hour all day? Isn’t there an obscure law against that? Whatever it was it soon dawned on me Pinocchio in the Desert was special. There is escargot on the menu. And a Martini Burger, which turns out to be a simple hamburger that comes with a well martini, a staple for traveling salesman in the 1970’s now gone by the wayside.
My kids settled for burgers minus the martini, with one going for a simple cheeseburger, the other with bacon. They’re rustic sprawling affairs, simple, with tons of cheddar and a faint whiff of nostalgia. They’re a more delicious version of the burgers our parents used to make us. They’re tasty and a relief from the obnoxious bistro burger that runs 15 bucks and has arugula and beetroot ketchup on it. The side pasta salad is creamy, has a bit of heat to it and comes off as something more than a throwaway.
Like many diners the star of the show here is the breakfast menu. Unlike many diners, the stars here are their series of Eggs Benedict with Florentine, Salmon and Lobster versions available. I tried the Crab Cakes Benedict, and it was damn fine. Benedicts come down to two simple things really: how the egg is poached and the quality of the Hollandaise sauce. My eggs were spot-on, slightly undercooked, as you want an egg to be to retain flavor, while the sauce was subtle, yet delicious as it combined with the yolk to create small lakes on my plate. The crab cakes themselves were peppery and flaky, better than I expected on a scorching day in the desert, far, far from Maryland.
Desiree and Friedrich Gerhardt opened Pinocchio in March 2007, and were partly inspired by a restaurant named Pinocchio in Friedrich’s native Germany. They’ve succeeded in creating one of the cleverest and fun casual restaurants in Southern California for breakfast and lunch. Treat their drink specials though with respect. Bottomless champagne can do silly things to a person.
Pinocchio in the Desert, 134 E.Tahquitz Canyon Wy., Palm Springs, (760) 322-3776; www.pinocchiops.com. Summer: Sun-Sat, 7:30am-2pm; season: Sun-Sat, 7:30am-3pm. AE, D, MC, V.