Shape matters. After the winter holidays I often find myself gnawing the heads off reindeer sugar cookies long fallen out of Santa’s employ, while unformed shortbreads of equal staleness are left to a dignified death in the dumpster. It could be that though I’ve been a vegetarian for three years, I’ve a mutinous appetite in need of redress, but there’s a more universal explanation for my discriminatory chow-down. Children, forget what your mothers told you: It’s the outside that counts.
At Orangeside Luncheonette on Temple, that’s a belief both upheld and embraced. Its specialty, encased in glass that reflects the fluorescently colored walls, is square donuts: their four baked sides, intersecting at four baked right angles, form the most convincing evidence yet that the circle may indeed be squared. If you have come to break your fast from a night of exhaustive sleep, consider taking a moment in your diner booth to ponder their novelty.
But then be hungry, take a bite; let things fall apart and the gapped center cease to hold. The Boston Cream fools with its quotidian chocolate frosting, but conceals within a tunnel of crème that snakes around all four angles. The crème itself is surprisingly light, hardly landing on the tongue before its artificial flavor takes off.
The Snickers special, crosshatched with a caramel and chocolate drizzle and sprinkled with peanuts, was one-note, though its namesake is a piquant triad. Butter crunch, sided with sharp, crispy slabs, was cloyingly sweet and uncomplicated, lacking the anticipated fattiness of flavor.
For all donuts sampled, the cake texture was uniformly gluey and thick like an overstuffed pillow. If a pastry is to be heavy, let it be complex enough to justify further investigation by bite. The ones on our plates ceased to surprise after our first tastes.
If it is still curves you crave, Orangeside offers a selection of pancakes. The blueberry satisfies with fat fruit that gave the cake a starchy sweetness. Both blueberry and chocolate chip were well endowed with their respective mix-in, with a morsel in nearly every piece.
The pancakes, like the donuts, are substantial: three to a plate, each the diameter of an outstretched hand. But, like the donuts, they are too bland for their abundance and colored not bear-fur brown but a light, blasé gold, though objections to color are purely a matter of personal preference. All pancakes were accompanied by a bowl of packaged butter and “maple syrup,” actually a foodservice concoction called “Breakfast Syrup,” both of which were disappointing and artificial accompanists to a meal not prepared to perform alone.
Omelets are available as well, though we did not try them. Service was attentive and timely, although we visited shortly after the early-morning opening and avoided the lunch scramble. And prices are reasonable — pancakes here will cost less than whatever you are currently paying for breakfast. Our five-item bill totaled only $18.15 and paid for far more food than we were able to finish.
It is a diner, with sizable portions emblematic of American excess, even if the space is wanting in neon signs and checkerboard floors. The left wall is painted a bright leaf green, the right Tropicana orange, and the result is a crash of kitsch. A sparkly sign by our booth read “FAMILY,” while the sound-track replied with a blaring of “We are Family.” There is a strong sense of displaced cheeriness inside Orangeside that, despite its efforts, most resembles an industrial cafeteria.
A curly-haired companion of mine noted perceptively that the restaurant, in both arrangement and smell, recalled a hockey rink. My own memories of rink-side birthday party feasts, serving doughy pizza appreciable only by an indiscriminating child, sprung immediately to mind.
In appearance Orangeside does not aspire to be a fine-dining diner, or a college student standard. You will sit, eat and leave. If there is sentimentality to be found in your meal, it will come not from the décor but the two people who have, without complaint, agreed to meet you at 7:15 that morning so that you do not have to dine solo. You get along, and you will talk for quite a while as you eat. Perhaps it is fitting, then, that the portions are so large, even if they do lack even a hint of culinary intrigue. At the very least they will last you until your conversations wend to an end and class begins. Like all of us, new friendships need some form of nourishment.