Column: Writer Junot Diaz says the kids are all right

I attended an author talk at Scripps College Tuesday night for Junot Diaz, who won a Pulitzer for his debut novel, and he had enough interesting things to say that I decided to write about it in Friday’s column. That’s followed by items about my own book talk, a dismaying reaction to my shirt (!) and a Valley Vignette.

Above, Diaz multitasks by signing a book for me while mugging for the camera.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Popular Cafe

Popular Cafe, 9637 Central Ave. (at San Bernardino), Montclair; open daily 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For years I drove past the sign for Popular Cafe and chuckled at the immodest but charming name without ever really considering going in. Last spring a source¬†who’s a regular suggested meeting there for a lunch interview. Well, why not?

After the bland exterior, the inside has some homey touches: a hutch behind the greeter station, kitchen-style cabinets visible in the kitchen. It’s family owned by a Chinese American couple, with the wife waiting tables and the husband cooking the food, at least on my visit.

Serving breakfast and lunch only, Popular Cafe has been around for some 25 years — see, it must be popular — starting off down the street and later relocating a few blocks north. The couple’s children, I’m told, used to help set tables when they were shorter than the tables. Awww.

I had the meatloaf sandwich ($7.29), which came with lettuce, tomato and mayo, and got slaw as my side. Not a lot of places have meatloaf sandwiches (sigh), and even fewer serve it as an actual sandwich rather than open-faced with gravy and mashed potatoes. But not only does Popular Cafe get points for trying, they get points for succeeding, as this was a solid version.

Three months later, I went back for another lunch. They’re known for omelets and pancakes and I believe serve breakfast all day. (Why not, when it’s essentially a two-person operation? There’s not a lot of red tape to cut through.) For lunch they have hot and cold sandwiches and some $7 lunch specials, including a few Chinese American dishes like kung pao chicken and egg foo young.

I got the mushroom swiss burger ($8), lured by the menu’s promise of a hand-formed patty. Indeed, it was a better than average burger. The bun, however, wasn’t quite up to the job of holding everything together. A sturdier bun is recommended.

So, this is a decent option for all-American food. My second lunch came on a slow day in which I was the only customer the whole hour. C’mon, people, it’s the Popular Cafe. Don’t make liars out of them.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Column: Base Line, the long and winding interchange

A view looking north on East Avenue in the left turn lane that seems to be on the wrong side of the freeway pylons.

I marvel at the improved but still confounding Base Line Road interchange in Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana in Wednesday’s column, while also tossing in a list of notable upcoming local concerts and a Valley Vignette. If you’ve had any experience with that interchange, past or present, I’d like to hear about it, in hopes that it isn’t just me.

Secrets Behind the Columns Dept.: I wrote the interchange item as long ago as May and revised it a few weeks later but, unsure if it was column-worthy, saved it for a rainy day. I’m on call for jury duty this week and don’t know from day to day if I’ll be working the next day or serving. Learning Monday night that I’d be working Tuesday, and thus would need to file a column by 1 p.m., I hauled the interchange item up from the depths.

Will I have a Friday column or a Sunday column? Only court administrators know for sure.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

A book talk in Chino

About 20 people showed up for my talk Saturday morning at the Chino Museum, 5493 B St., hosted by the Chino Valley Historical Society. I yakked about my career, read selections from my books “Pomona A to Z” and “Getting Started,” took questions, and sold and signed books. It was my first event in Chino and, one hopes, not my last. The museum is stuffed with objects to look at and merits a return visit.

The sign out on the sidewalk was a flattering touch.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Dial ‘NAtional’ in Pomona

Reader Robin Young was in Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center in August when she found a sure sign she was in the old wing: a sticker on the restroom’s towel dispenser with a NAtional prefix (62). As phone exchanges were dropped in 1965, that’s one old and well-preserved sticker! “It’s a time capsule,” Young says with fondness.

Carr Paper Co., by the way, was established in 1944 and lasted at least into the 1980s, and possibly beyond. Founder Dick Carr was also a longtime board member at the hospital and the boardroom was named for him. So it’s kind of heartwarming that one of his company’s stickers is still in place in a humbler spot in the hospital.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Restaurant of the Week: Pomona Valley Mining Company

Pomona Valley Mining Co., 1777 Gillette Road (at Dudley), Pomona; 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday

Perched atop a hillside above the 10 Freeway, Pomona Valley Mining Co. is a destination restaurant with a theme. At the bottom of the hill, a sign on a weathered-looking shack points you in the right direction.

That requires a heart-stopping drive up the hill, one that it might be possible to get used to, but which freaks me out the handful of times I’ve done it. (Too bad I don’t still have that F-150.) Once up there, though, you’re rewarded with views of Pomona, the freeway and Elephant Hill. A seat near the bank of windows is a must.

The exterior is meant to resemble a Gold Rush-era wooden building, and wagons, lanterns and other such items decorate the drive up, the parking lot and the interior. The dining room is down a flight of stairs.

I was there for dinner recently with bloggers Dining in Pomona (and wife Mrs. C) and New Diner 2. It was a blogging summit meeting. As with most summit meetings, progress was incremental and deals were elusive. The only photo ops were of food.

I had had dinner at the Mining Co. precisely once and remember only that my cheapskate friends were irate that they were charged for soda refills, which I believe were taken off the bill. At noontime it’s a rental facility and I’ve been to a couple of service club lunches there.

The menu is largely steaks, prime rib and seafood. Two of our party got the shrimp and scallops ($26), one got the ribeye ($32) and I got the Miner’s Filly filet mignon ($34). Salad and soup bar is free with a meal or $18 on its own; you get a chilled plate that resembles a mining pan, except you’re panning for veggies, not gold. I had a little of the albondigas soup, which had (ugh) peas.

Cheese bread was delivered gratis (and au gratin). What’s not to like?

The seafood crowd was perplexed that their shrimp and scallops came in a cream sauce rather than a garlic sauce. (The menu says they’re “sauteed with garlic butter,” after all.)

The ribeye eater was put out by its preparation; it should be cooked “hot and fast,” leaving a char on the outside, she said. Also, her lemonade ($3.50) was never refilled. But then, maybe they don’t do free refills? Still, they should ask if she wanted another. She said that’s typically the way women are treated when outnumbered by men at a table, but noted ominously, “I have just as much influence on the tip.”

I may have been the only satisfied customer, enjoying my splurge steak with herb butter and mushrooms. Overall, though, the salad and soup were unexciting, the service average to indifferent and the mining theme a little dated. Here are the takes of Dining in Pomona and New Diner 2.

So, as a holdover from the era of theme restaurants — it appears to have opened circa 1977 — Pomona Valley Mining Co. is an interesting curio. The food’s okay. But if you go, it will probably be more for the views.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

WCTU fountain, Chino

In downtown Chino, walking from El Pueblo to Aguiar Square, I noticed this WCTU fountain for the first time. It’s at Sixth and D streets, southeast corner. According to the plaque, it’s a replica of a 1908 fountain erected by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, an organization of anti-alcohol crusaders that built fountains so that men could get a drink of water without entering a saloon.

Now get a load of this, as it’s a rare thing to read an official plaque and laugh out loud: “Records show that not long after the dedication, a runaway ‘horseless’ buggy plowed into the fountain and destroyed it.”

BOOM.

Click on the photo below for a larger view of the plaque, although the lettering is such that it’s tough to read at any size.

This replica was dedicated in October 2010 for Chino’s centennial, recognizing “an important issue that led to Chino’s incorporation.”

The fountain isn’t meant to be operational, but as you can see, a working water fountain is next to it. I got a refreshing drink of water and thought about Chino.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Linkedin Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email