The British were wondering (in their fastidious British way) why it was that rich Elvis—whose material desires were limited only by how clearly he could speak into the phone on any given day—chose to eat junk food until the night he died. He could have had the finest, healthiest, tastiest meals science and obscene foppery had yet devised—lambent pink halibut cheeks, cage-raised lamb leg never ever flexed, pterodactyl under glass—but instead he'd pad down to the kitchen to review how many sticks of butter were puddling in the skillet in which his peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches were frying up. His personal chef, Mary Jenkins Langston—"Maywee," he called her—found after five experiments that the golden ratio was two sticks of butter per every three sandwiches. Usually, he'd have her fix up about five sandwiches. His daily caloric intake was back-calculated as something more appropriate for a full-grown Asian elephant. And then he died, more oil than man—dinosaur to fossil fuel per the usual progression. The British wondered why.
So last month Oxford ran taste tests on locusts—insects themselves as insatiable as Elvis—to find out why we like what we like. They found out that when they starved the locusts and then gorged them on peppermint flavor, the locusts thereafter preferred peppermint. And when they gorged them on lemon flavor, the locusts preferred lemon. The food had tasted extra-good when they were starving, and the locusts never forgot. Humans may behave similarly, the scientists said: "The story goes that Elvis Presley's mother would make his sandwiches as a treat when he was young and living on a subsistence diet," they explained. "When Elvis was at the height of his fame, he may have enjoyed a high-rolling lifestyle, but instead of choosing expensive, luxury foods with higher nutritional value, the peanut butter sandwich remained a firm favorite." So he ate killer food because it made him feel good. Two Umbrellas also has killer food, and it makes me feel good. They even named the stuffed French toast after Elvis.
It's the first thing you see on the menu: top of the fold, $7.95 for something between a French toast sandwich and a dip through a deluxe sundae bar—part of a complete breakfast only because there is some bread and an egg involved early in the process. Somehow it's very continental—a Euro breakfast of sugars, not an Iowa one of starch. They start you with two slices of French toast, spread with sticky sweetened cream cheese, drizzled with powdered sugar and set at a daring angle on a mod oblong plate (what does it mean that the rest of their dishes come on normal old circular plates?). And then the options. Like the Elvis: filled with peanut butter and banana. Or the Flasher: peanut butter and banana and bacon. And the Apple Guy (granola, apple, raisin, maybe some kind of glaze) and the Banana Guy (bananas, mandarin orange, maybe some almonds?) And the S'mores: whole hot gooey marshmallows and chocolate. And there's more: one with caramel, one with berries (seasonally dependent), one with peanut butter and jelly—a kid-in-a-candy-store selection. Several of the toasts come not just stuffed but "encrusted." But no mixing and matching, said the waitress: "Too crazy."
The first time I had an Elvis, I scared myself. It could have been one of the best things I'd ever eaten. The syrup softened everything; the peanut butter melted into the cream cheese and pooled around fat bananas. I would have happily snorkeled in it. But then an Elvisoid tolerance developed. After several weeks of Elvis, I was accustomed. It was good, sure, but the shock of the new was no longer there. At that time I ordered the Flasher—the Elvis supercharged with strips of bacon, possibly so named for the warning light on an electrocardiogram machine. The bacon snapped and crumbled under the edge of my fork and stuck in porky little pieces to the banana. That was beautiful. Then I thought I should try something a little healthier. The Apple Guy was a vanilla scoop shy of apple pie—same thick wet wedges of cinnamon apple, dusted with dots of granola and raisin. Then I felt that I'd had breakfast, lunch and an unspecified bonus meal all at once, so I decided to get dessert. The waitress was a little worried when she brought out the S'mores toast: it sat fat and golden blond on a black plate, crisscrossed with chocolate drizzle and glowing with powdered sugar. The marshmallows ballooned out the sides, bright white; they looked bigger than my fist, and at an adjacent table a couple suddenly began discussing blimps. I ate as much as I could; it was the kind of food you would be beaten for eating in certain countries. It was so sweet and soft I could feel my teeth dissolving not from decay but from simple absence of purpose. I didn't even want to pour syrup on it. It was the purest thing I'd had for years. I made it halfway. Then I stopped. No man is an Elvis—not me, anyway. But it was still a killer breakfast. And I felt good.
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TWO UMBRELLAS CAFÉ, 1538 E. BROADWAY, LONG BEACH, (562) 495-2323. OPEN WED.-MON., 7 A.M.-2 P.M. BREAKFAST FOR TWO, $10-$15. CASH OR CREDIT CARD. NO ALCOHOL.