By NOLA L. SARKISIAN
It's not your usual morning at the Original Pantry.
Amid the typical crowd the suits, students, salesmen and families feasting on stacks of hotcakes and plates of ham and eggs TV crews from most of the local stations are staking out their turf. Cameramen elbow one another for the best spot, climbing onto rusting metal barstools to position their floodlights.
Then there's the guy behind the counter, the new cook du jour. Wearing a white smock and hat, he seems somewhat more tentative than the rest of the kitchen crew.
Maybe it's because his real job is mayor of Los Angeles. And although Richard Riordan has owned L.A.'s most famous greasy spoon for years, it's rare that he begins his day actually flipping pancakes and pouring coffee.
But today, Riordan is throwing a party for his restaurant's 75th anniversary. And the promise of the mayor working the grill or, even more amazingly, politely waiting on City Council members is irresistible to the city's TV news directors. The fact that some of the area's top chefs will be joining Riordan on kitchen duty only sweetens the deal.
"When the mayor calls, you don't say no," says La Cachette's chef, Jean Francois Meteigner. He, along with Wolfgang Puck from Spago, Susan Feniger from Border Grill, Joachim Splichal from Patina and Giorgio Baldi from Giorgio's, are contributing a gastronomic hand to the event.
The cameras start to roll and the mayor starts pouring pancake batter on the grill next to Splichal.
Each creates his own masterpiece, although Riordan's three buckwheat pancakes are somewhat less ambitious than Splichal's "Pancakes 2000" three pancakes with roasted bananas and caramel sauce garnished with four vanilla bean sticks.
"Who do you want to cook for you Joachim or the mayor?" Riordan bellows to Councilman Richard Alatorre, as he takes a seat at the counter.
Alatorre, who pooh-poohs the fanciful fare, opts instead for the mayor's flapjacks.
"You have no sophistication," Riordan tells Alatorre.
"You're absolutely right," Alatorre replies. "I like the basics. Nothing fancy for me."
Moments later, Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks makes his entrance through the hubbub and takes a seat.
Baldi offers him a plate of fagattoni a delicate crepe filled with saut & #233;ed vegetables, potatoes and parmesan cheese. "Delicate," of course, has never been a word associated with the fare at the Pantry, and Parks appears appropriately confused.
"Do you pour anything on this? Syrup?" he asks.
An impatient reporter interrupts, yelling, "We need the mayor in one minute thirty."
"I know, I know," answers Deputy Mayor Noelia Rodriguez, Riordan's press liaison, as she pushes through the standing-room-only crowd to find the mayor for his interview.
Within seconds, Riordan is smiling behind the counter, ready to field questions.
Reporter Bill Smith of KTLA-TV Channel 5 waits for his cue, and then asks the mayor about the popularity of his restaurant. "It's the employees," Riordan replies. "People come here to be entertained or abused."
The cameras zoom in as Riordan pours the police chief a cup of coffee. "He's earning that whole dollar of his," Parks quips, referring to the mayor's self-determined salary.
"Bernie, push through some quick requisitions," Alatorre suggests.
The big photo op, however, is yet to come.
Robert Eisenberg, by most accounts the oldest Pantry regular, is celebrating his 101st birthday, which just happens to coincide with the restaurant's anniversary. Dressed dapperly in black from head to toe, with a red satin tie and carrying a cane, Eisenberg says the key to his long life is simple "Pancakes."
Within moments, Pantry waiters carry out the double-tier, white circular cake and set it on the counter. The cameramen zoom in on the confection and the mayor announces Eisenberg's birthday present.
"To treat Bobby on his 101st birthday, I'm giving you a lifetime of free meals at the pantry," says Riordan.
The last order of business is blowing out the 75 candles on the cake, which Riordan does, along with the help of his chefs, workers and patrons.
"The best chefs in the world are coming to work for the Pantry," a beaming Riordan says to the cameras, with his arms wrapped around Puck, Splichal and Feniger.
"We're too expensive," Splichal fires back at him.
"At least you have a job when you leave the mayor's office," adds Puck.
Riordan finishes his showboating outside, where a Dixieland band has set up on the sidewalk in front of a crowd. Standing side by side at the microphone, Riordan joins in the fray with the band's female vocal, Mickey Champion.
"He's the meanest man, baby," belts out the singer.
"I'm so mean baby, but you love it," shouts Riordan.
Maybe others don't. Asked if he is disappointed about the lack of attendance of all but two City Council members Riordan replies: "They're busy. I've been around too long to be disappointed by anything."
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