Often for lunch
380 S Lake Ave, Ste 106
Pasadena, CA 91101
Sean: A review of Float has been long overdue on the blog. It’s a joint we frequent at least once a week for their sandwiches, root beer floats (which can pretty much be enjoyed all year round here in SoCal), and aesthetically pleasing atmosphere. I was introduced to Float by Mengsha before I’d even moved here to Pasadena, more than two years ago.
Mengsha: This is definitely one of my favorite places to take friends who are visiting from out of town, or even friends from in town who haven’t discovered it yet. I love little family-run businesses like this. Sean and I went to school in Berkeley, which is full of cafes and restaurants with character. In Pasadena, which is full of chain restaurants, Float is a gem.
S: One of the many charms of Float is its location. It sits at the end of a quiet glass-roofed alley thronged on each side by windowed storefronts. You step inside into a small, tight, and intimate space. There are pipes protruding from the walls and ceiling, chalk writing scrawled with a playful hand in one corner, and bobble heads adorning the shelves. It’s all evokes a strange, eclectic mix of hipster, steampunk, and restoration hardware vibes.
On hot LA days, root beer floats are amazing. You pick a soda from the display fridge that’s stacked to the ceiling with the most interesting, unheard-of brands and bring it to the counter, where they’ll plop a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream into a clear plastic cup and then fill it to the brim with bubbly pop. Take it outside to one of the many shaded tables and slurp it down. Seriously, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.
M: Even if root beer x vanilla isn’t your thing (it’s okay, we can still be friends), the display case offers carbonated beverages of all types, from your glass-bottled Coca Cola, to cream sodas, fruit sodas, pear and ginger sodas….
You’ve got your choice of ice creams too: just check the chalkboard menu. And if the plethora of decisions is overwhelming, they have a little card at the counter with their classic and seasonal suggestions for combining your ice cream and pop. To be fair, their ice cream is (probably) homemade and isn’t amazing, but this is definitely a case where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
They also serve coffee, if you’re not caffeinated to your liking. They’ll make you drip coffee or a latte or a macchiato. Beware if you’re used to Starbucks definitions for these things – a macchiato is a shot of espresso with a tiny bit of milk, not the caramel candyland you get at Starbucks. The star of the coffee show, however, is their cold brew float. What better way to work than outside a small cafe but still sheltered from the wind and occasional-to-nonexistent rain with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in your cold brew on a hot day?
Unfortunately, we don’t always have the time to come out to a coffee shop to work. But that doesn’t stop us from dropping by to grab a sandwich. One sandwich in particular stands out: their new seasonal special-turned-classic, the pastrami banh mi.
A banh mi is any Vietnamese sandwich – but here in the US we have certain ideas about what should go into such a sandwich: pork, sweet and sour pickled vegetables, jalapenos, cilantro, cucumbers, and mayonnaise. The banh mi I’m most familiar with is made with pork belly, and feels like the asian equivalent of a taco. It’s greasy and filling, and I’ve had it both in cheap restaurants and off food trucks. Replacing the pork with pastrami makes it feel lighter – yet still filling, and their homemade pickled daikon and carrots are the bomb. I’m not joking when I say I would buy jars of it if they would sell it to me.
Hotter climates breed spicier food, and they sow raw jalapeños slices into the banh mi with a free hand. They’re not for the faint of heart. Feel free to pick them out, we won’t judge you. Better yet, get a float to quench that fire in your mouth. In Los Angeles, jalapeños are the perfect thing to make you sweat – and you want to sweat, so that the meager breeze can cool you down.
S: We’re both in agreement that the pastrami banh mi is consistently one of the best sandwiches either of us have ever had. I’m one of those people who typically does not like the flavor of cilantro. I find cilantro overpowering and usually so pungent that it overwhelms the other flavors of whatever it is I’m eating. In this banh mi, however, it plays its part admirably, contributing a zing that sits somewhere between peppery and minty on the flavor palette. Every ingredient has a role to play, a job to do, and each of them does it well, without detracting from any of the other components. The sandwich has been on Float’s menu now for probably about six months, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be a seasonal offering. We both dearly hope it finds a permanent home on the menu.
M: If you do have the time to sit down, whether for a sandwich or a drink, place your order at the counter, and then go wander the rest of the arcade. Tiny Universe, the gift shop next door, has the same owner as Float, and is one of my favorite places to look for unique presents for friends. Then grab a table outside. They’ll bring your food out to you when it’s ready. Sit, relax, and enjoy. 🙂