The Little Swiss Cafe: Carmel, CA's most unique restaurant

Though the food is fantastic, it is what is hidden in the walls of this Carmel, California Eatery that makes it truly unforgettable. Photo: Little Swiss Cafe, Carmel / Matt Payne

CARMEL, CA - March 6, 2013 - I had anticipated that the secret ingredient to my pancakes at The Little Swiss House in downtown Carmel, California would be something exotic. Perhaps the vanilla extract came from a rare Tahitian orchid harvested only by Aries between the hours of 2am and 4am on clouded nights when the moon is waning. 

The Little Swiss Cafe

Carmel, with its elf-like cottages and ancient cypress trees, is an enchanted beach town that conjures up images of elves and magical fairies. Perhaps the secret to these dreamy flapjacks arrived by way of hobbit from Middle Earth. There had to be something esoteric that made these airy, almost crepe-like cakes so special. 

“The reason the pancakes are so good here is that we add extra water to the batter and keep the skillet really hot,” my waitress tells me.  

That’s it?

I take another bite and consider what she has just revealed. The secret could not be simpler. Heat and a couple of lousy hydrogen molecules chained up to a molecule of oxygen? Clearly the secret to the pancakes at this quaint local breakfast joint isn’t one to be shared.

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The Little Swiss House, a family run restaurant since 1972, is a lunch and breakfast spot located on the corner of Dolores and 6th Avenue, and specializes not only in pancakes and the usual breakfast fare but also cheese blitzes, Swiss Sausage and liver and onions.

Just off of the Carmel’s main drag, The Little Swiss feels very much like you have stepped into a tiny eatery somewhere in the Swiss Alps.  It is divided into two rooms. In the front room are a couple of small tables looking out onto the street.

The back room is a tight, square room with several tight, upright booths.

Is that really duct tape?

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The walls of this snug room are painted with murals of the Swiss countryside, each wall reflecting a season. And here is where it gets strange.

At a glance, the landscape seems benign, if not slightly cliché and in disrepair.

Duct tape carelessly hangs in the sky above one of the landscapes and on another, a nail, once intended to hang a painting, protrudes from the wall. At least that is how it appears.

But if one were to try to remove the duct tape, they would be quick to discover that the duct tape, stringy on the edges and muted silver, is actually painted on the wall. So is the nail.

Caught off guard by this peculiar artistic ruse, my eye begins to wander across the European countryside and as it does, what was once a fairly straightforward mural becomes a joyful exercise in observation.

The wintery mural at a glance, features a frozen lake surrounded by some humble cabins and inns. One of the Inns, however has a tiny Motel 6 light on it. On one of the logs coming out of the water rests a parrot. A matador with a red cape antagonizes a bull in a field of cattle. Gollum hangs out in a tree. A seal’s head pops out of a crack in the lake. A penguin reads a sign on the water’s edge that says “No Diving.”

What all do you see?

The wall representing spring features a river running through a field of beautiful flowers. In the river, a shirtless man, hat on backwards, flyfishes. Puss and Boots sword fight over a log. Shriek and his girlfriend soak in the stream and the couple from the classic Grant Wood painting American Gothic hang out in one of the rows of flowers.  A tennis net stretches across another row of flowers and on either side of the net, two people engage in a heated match. In the distance, barely visible is the Eiffel Tower and just a hop, skip and a jump from there, the leaning tower of Pisa.

There are more than fifty images playfully hidden in the landscapes painted in 2005 by artist Andre Baylon. By reputation, a serious artist, Baylon, born and raised in The Netherlands, currently shows his more serious work down the road at Jones and Terwillinger Galleries. At The Little Swiss House, however, he let his imagination run wild, much to the delight of both locals who call this eatery their own as well as tourists from all over the world.

Under the watchful eye of the old couple from American Gothic, I finish my pancakes. As I leave, on the mural, I notice a strange man in the bushes smoking a cigarette. Above him, a flock of birds heading straight toward what I once thought a nail protruded from the wall. One of the birds is upside down…. It is too good.

Spring flowers.. and other things.

Full and inspired, I head into the day. I glance into the around, now half expecting to see a gargoyle perched in a tree, stoically eyeing me.

Above I notice the clouds. One seems to be shaped like a car. In another, the face of a lion. 

A car whizzes by and for a second, I think it might the driver might just be Mickey Mouse.

As I take a breath of the Carmel salty sea air, the world as I see it, is far more interesting than it was an hour earlie. I can’t help but wonder… Seriously… What was in those pancakes?

Read more of Matt Payne’s journey in Payne-Full Living

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Matt Payne

Matt Payne has lived and worked as both a television writer and producer in Los Angeles for nearly ten years.  Matt grew up in Oklahoma City and began his career with a degree in Film and Video Studies from the University of Oklahoma.  Since then, he has worked as part of writing staffs for such hits as 24 andWithout A Trace. Most recently Matt wrote and produced episodes of CBS’s The Defenders starring Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell and Memphis Beat, starring Jason Lee, which is set to air on TNT in August of 2011.

In addition to a successful television-writing career, Matt has developed features with major production companies and continues to work as a freelance script analyst for Relativity Media, the production company behind such hits as The Fighter, Zombieland, and Catfish where he has provided script feed back on nearly a thousand features.

When he is not writing and producing television, Matt works as contributor to the Washington Times Communities Travel section, where he has writing skills have taken him from the top of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpar to the jungles of the Philippine Islands.  New York City’s finest restaurants to the earthquake ravaged Port au Prince Haiti. 

Matt was the winner of the 2004 Comedy writing award for Scriptapolooza, a finalist for the Warner Brothers Television Writer’s workshop, and is an active participant in Los Angeles’s Young Storytellers Program.  

Early in his career, Matt spent two years working as an assistant the Endeavor, which is now part of WME, the second largest talent agency in the world, working closely with such talent as Christian Bale and Michael Douglass.

Matt  is a member of  the Writer’s Guild of America and the Screen Actor’s Guild.

Contact Matt Payne


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