Bring Your Wallet and Leave Your Sweet Tooth at Home: A Review of Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour in Brea, California
I remember eating at a Farrell’s in another state when I was much, much younger. Since that branch closed well-over 30 years ago, the memory of the restaurant’s good times and tastes long-since faded into oblivion. So it was with some excitement that I anticipated the opening of a branch of this same establishment about a month ago, just before Christmas. Much of the county seemed to feel the same way, since the line outside the doors meant waits of at least 45 minutes or more.
© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.
We decided to go one lunch after the New Year started to avoid all the vacationing school kids who made such waits inevitable. Ten parties were ahead of us when the doors opened at 11 AM. Despite a cavernous interior populated by over a dozen straw-hatted staff, it took over 10 minutes for us to reach a table.
This was due to their inefficient seating procedure. One or more of the servers would first greet people in line and take down names, number in the party and any special occasion celebrations. They would then go inside and, presumably, distribute the lists to the staff. And then one staff member would come out, call out a name and escort that party to a table. Then another staff member would come out and repeat the process. In no case, did two or more servers come out and seat several parties at once.
The interior seemed as festive as I remembered with its red walls, globe lights and tufted vinyl seating. A Statue of Liberty, player piano and soda fountain counter added to the faux-Victorian atmosphere. Ragtime music played in the background, slightly noticeable above the din of patron’s. We received the newsprint menu, which was covered with an old-time font and line engravings.
Next to the expected ice cream extravaganzas were sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, soups, salads and appetizers. Nearly everything cost close to $10 and above. This could easily mean a family of four spending over $100, once you included entrees, the required ice cream and drinks.
Our server, smiling behind her braces, eventually appeared to take our order and bring my Diet Coke. Then she mysteriously disappeared for long stretches. Despite the constant rushing of waiters and waitresses, service seemed slower than it should be. My glass remained empty of a refill until I managed to flag our waitress, who appeared from distant corner. She then disappeared again for awhile before returning with a new glass of soda.
My partner and I decided to split the Napa Valley Spinach Salad. We purposely ordered this light repast to prepare for the caloric assault of dessert later. After another long wait, the server brought the large white salad bowl, an extra plate and the fat-free Italian dressing on the side.
As was typical, I did not add dressing to the mix of baby spinach, sliced cucumber, sliced red onion, bleu cheese crumbles, roasted almonds, dried cranberries and mandarin oranges. The freshness and variety of ingredients proved delicious. My partner was not so lucky, having spread the dressing all over his half of the meal. The chemical concoction seemed scraped from a bottle that was scrounged at the bargain bin of the local 99-cent store.
The reason for the slow service soon became apparent. Every once in a while, the servers would gather around the table with much fanfare and beating of a bass drum. Then came a fulsome introduction of the celebrant, who was obliged to stand on a chair to be more visible. Finally, the gathered crowd would sing “Rockin’ Robbin,” suitably modified to cheer a birthday or anniversary. And in the meantime, sandwiches got cold on serving trays, ice cream sundaes melted on the counter and people in line outside wondered when they’d be getting in.
From over two-dozen desserts, I ordered the Parlour’s Tin Roof, a 10-inch high delight with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, supporting hot fudge, Spanish peanuts, whipped cream and a cherry. My partner settled on a Choffee Ice Cream Soda, which combined chocolate soda with coffee ice cream. Only one word could possibly describe these visual masterpieces:
The only thing in my sundae with any pretense of flavor in my sundae were the peanuts. Otherwise, I briefly wondered if my tongue was suffering from some disease that dissolved taste. As for the Choffee Soda, I normally disdain coffee, but I gulped down this liquid since it tasted like finely-crushed ice. The so-called chocolate ice cream tasted identical to my vanilla ice cream, which tasted identical to frozen parsley.
The wait, combined with indifferent, slow service, and over-hyped, bland ice cream, made me grateful that I wasn’t there celebrating a big occasion on a weekend night with a group of friends. Downtown Brea has at least two cheaper and more delicious alternatives within a couple of blocks:
- Among many waffle desserts, Bruxie has two types of sundaes made from Belgian chocolate or caramel.
- Red Brick Pizza offers at least eight flavors of house-made gelato, either in a cup, or as part of more fanciful desserts.
I’m never returning to Farrell’s, even after the next 30 years have dulled my unsavory memories of the place.