REPAST LIFE REGRESSION

Angel's prides itself on its homemade desserts, and unlike the appetizers and most entrees, they actually taste homemade. There's nothing subtle about the sweet German chocolate cake, a huge slice gilded with a two-inch layer of frosting. Chocolate satin pie is nicely done--the chocolate cream filling doesn't have the waxy taste and texture that ruin inferior models. And it was only after I sucked up every last drop of the chocolate malt, thickened with three scoops of ice cream, that I remembered I no longer have the metabolism of an 18-year-old.

A word about service. I watched the on-the-ball manager checking with customers at every table, as well as doing his own rug sweeping. Too bad the rest of the staff didn't share his sense of duty. Our food server slopped food all over the table, and she and other employees didn't get around to replacing missing silverware, refilling water glasses or clearing dishes. We finally stacked up our dirty plates and marched them over to the counter ourselves. Ugh.

Angel's Diner & Bakery brings back everything from the good old days except reliable food and service. Welcome to the '90s.

5 and Diner, 9069 East Indian Bend (Scottsdale Pavilions), Scottsdale, 949-1957. Hours: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Like Angel's, 5 and Diner puts more emphasis on the sizzle than the steak. This diner, whose second Valley spot opened up about ten months ago in Scottsdale, is high on concept, but not quite so strong on performance. Instead of figuring out how to take the restaurant national ("Franchises available," says the takeout menu), the operators ought to concentrate on monitoring the quality of the fare.

They certainly have got the fantasy-'50s diner look just right. The place gleams. Iridescent red vinyl booths, old-fashioned dinette tables and posters of '50s celebrities set the mood. So do perky waitresses, bedecked in white shirts and black aprons, who carry bus-driver-type change holders around their waists.

Nor do the proprietors overlook too many chances to turn an extra buck, from the souvenir stand (5 and Diner tee shirt, $12) to the jukebox at each booth. If you want aural nostalgia, it will cost you two for a quarter. (The waitresses will give you change.)

But with nothing priced more than $6.99, the food at 5 and Diner won't break too many bank accounts. And some of it is quite tasty. However, there are too many lapses that make eating here less enjoyable than it might otherwise be.

Best things first. That could be the basket of onion rings we used as an appetizer munchie. (There's no appetizer list.) These rings are thick, puffy and fresh out of the fryer.

It could be the pork sandwich, a big, breaded pork cutlet served on a mayo-lined hamburger bun. It could be the flavorful Polish sausage, served with hot sauerkraut and an out-of-place dinner roll. It could be the Reuben, which sports decent corned beef. And it could be the rich pecan pie.

Several dishes fall into the taste category one step below--call it routinely serviceable fare. This is food that goes down without making any particular impression.

Among these are meat loaf, submerged under a tidal wave of salty brown gravy. It's kind of squishy textured, but you'd be too if you were under this much liquid. The routinely serviceable list includes the Phoenix burger, a third of a pound of ground beef topped with melted cheese and the world's mildest green chile. And it also includes the Cobb salad, which features real bacon and some grilled chicken breast.

But some items are without any redeeming gastronomic value. The roast beef dinner is a horror, processed-looking and -tasting meat that will persuade even heretofore enthusiastic carnivores to consider the virtues of vegetarianism. Macaroni and cheese, meanwhile, is utterly tasteless, and the portion's small, too. The side of home fries sat in enough oil to lubricate a fleet of buses. And the mixed veggies that come with dinner look just like the ones I refused to eat in my youth.

There are other disturbing tendencies. Instead of butter, 5 and Diner gives you those little containers of "spread" that tastes like it was fashioned at Chernobyl Farms. The god of shelf life is not the deity that restaurants should be worshiping. The menu also claims, "We make our famous Dressings Fresh and Tasty." If that's the case, I wonder why the kitchen so effectively disguises them in Kraft packets? And neither the onions I ordered with my burger nor the blue cheese promised in the Cobb salad ever showed up.

5 and Diner shows flashes of talent. But before it's ready for the national big time, it needs to work on its act.

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