To mark the occasion of Franklin Avenue’s 100th restaurant review, Mike and Maria invited their readers and fellow bloggers to come dine on french dip sammiches with them yesterday afternoon at the venerable landmark of Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet and Susan and I got my mom to come along and join them for our inaugural visit.

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First let me preface my impressions with the much respect that I have for the eatery and its history. As reportedly the longest continuously running restaurant in the city, it has my deep admiration, as well as my sincere trepidation at the news that the place has been sold and the new ownership plans to “spruce it up” in the coming months. One can only hope the plan is to bring Cole’s back to a former glory and not try to re-envision it. Having said that, I can see major room for improvement in terms of the decor. Frankly the place was depressing. It’s loaded up with all this old signage and photographs and beautiful Tiffany lighting fixtures, but it’s all just hanging haphazardly and drab and dark and dingy. Not that I want to see it eliminated, just celebrated.

I wish I could celebrate the food and say it made up for the surroundings, but not quite. While Susan thoroughly enjoyed her roast beef frenchie, mom gave a so-so grade to her roast pork, and I was ultimately disappointed with my corned beefer, needing to take a fork and a knife to the tough stuff. It wasn’t bad, just not all that great.

Ultimately I don’t care who “invented” the french dip sammich. Be it Philippe’s or Cole’s — each who lay claim the distinction of doing it first (although Cole’s seems more adamant about it) — the bottom line is that I’m glad both are still around but between the two I’d opt for Philippe’s… their double-dipped lamb sammy with bleu cheese is my fave. Certainly I’ll visit Cole’s again, not sure if it will be before or after the transformation (though I’m glad I got to see it before). Either way, the next time I’ll try the roast beef and dig into it with a cold beer at the bar, where there’s a little more light and life.

Susan has some great pix of the interior over on her blog.