Mi Pueblo is gone-o

Heading south on Central Avenue from Foothill Boulevard on Sunday, I noticed that the late Mi Pueblo restaurant in Upland was half-demolished.

I’ll admit upfront that I know absolutely nothing about Mi Pueblo. It’s been closed for months, if not years, with a chain-link fence around the property. It’s a large-sized, low-slung building on the east side of Central and may once have been popular. It’s at 11th Street and Central.

I’ll try to follow up with City Hall to see what’s planned there. In the interim, anyone know anything about the place?

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Presidents Day

Well, it’s a holiday for some of you, but not for yours truly. No rest for the wicked, as they say.

Speaking of the wicked, today is when we honor U.S. presidents. I have to say, being born in 1964, none of the presidents in my lifetime have been more than intermittently inspiring. Growing up I was an Abe Lincoln partisan, and as an adult I’ll stick with him as my favorite.

On the other hand, the best song I know about a president is “James K. Polk” by They Might Be Giants, a historically accurate paean to the 11th president, and they make him out to be quite a fellow:

“In four short years he met his every goal/He seized the whole southwest from Mexico/Made sure the tariffs fell/And made the English sell/The Oregon Territory/He built an independent treasury/Having done all this he sought no second term.”

Who’s your favorite prez?

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‘Pomona A to Z’: F is for French Food

[Now it's time for the F-bomb. So to speak.

When "Pomona A to Z" hit the letter F, people figured I'd choose the Fox or the Fairgrounds, something logical and safe. Well, those places are no mystery to anyone, and the long-shuttered Fox was a symbol of Pomona's faded glory, which I was trying to avoid. I wanted readers, including Pomonans, to think of Pomona in a fresh way.

So I picked something unexpected: French restaurants. Pomona then had two. Alas, Brasserie Astuce closed in 2007 in preparation for relocating to Claremont's Village Expansion. That fell through, so the result is that the place no longer exists. Second Street Bistro, an Italian-French place downtown, lives on, happily.

This column was originally published Aug. 22, 2004.]

Mon dieu! Pomona’s F is for … French Food? Oui.

Today “Pomona A to Z” flashes forward to the letter F. Which fun, fabulous facet of Pomona should be featured?

* F could focus on Fairgrounds, where the county fair last year funneled 1.3 million folks to Pomona.

* Fox Theater, a 1,700-seat Art Deco jewel built in 1931 whose 81-foot tower is a downtown landmark.

* Fish tacos at El Taco Nazo, which practically constitute their own food group for downtown clubgoers.

* Frantz Cleaners, with a nifty neon sign, drive-thru service and the motto “In By 10, Out By 4,” here since 1951.

* Friar Tuck’s, the valley’s only bar in the shape of an English castle. It was built in 1968 as Magic Tower Burgers.

Fantastic!

But because my philosophy with this series is to avoid the obvious where possible, that scratches the Fox and the Fairgrounds, which get plenty of ink.

So let me throw you a curve: F is for French Food!

For Pomona is home to not one, but two restaurants serving French cuisine: Brasserie Astuce and 2nd Street Bistro. Impressive, n’est-ce-pas?

They’re surviving despite Pomona’s love of Mexican food and the usual fast-food suspects.

Not that it’s easy.

“You talk to customers and they’re afraid to come in because it’s French,” said Brasserie Astuce co-owner Leo Coulourides, a good-humored man with 25 years in food service.

His brasserie shouldn’t be intimidating. It’s on busy Foothill Boulevard, next door to Route 66 Classic Burgers and across the street from a Burger King.

In other words, not exactly the Champs Elysees.

“We serve the basic four food groups like everyone else,” Coulourides told me. “We’ve got chicken, beef — it’s just a few different herbs and flavors.”

Speaking of different flavors, Coulourides is of Greek descent, his wife, Christina, is German and chef Miguel Mercado is Mexican. Vive le difference!

Their menu is regional French and the restaurant aspires to be casual, at least by French standards.

While Brasserie Astuce isn’t snooty, you can order escargot, the ultimate French dish.

So, in an undercover visit, I did.

An appetizer, the snails arrived on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes. My colleague Jennifer Cho Salaff, the most adventurous diner I know, was there to talk me through it.

Dark brown, curled up, escargot looked a lot like mushrooms and had a similar taste. One or two chews of the slightly rubbery pieces and down they went.

“Are you thinking about the fact that they’re snails?” Jennifer asked conspiratorially.

Until she brought it up, no. (Urp.)

Meanwhile, you can get escargot in the shell with butter at 2nd Street Bistro in the downtown Arts Colony — but I haven’t.

Housed in an 1891 storefront, the bistro opened in May and quickly became a bustling lunch spot, no snail’s pace about it.

Owner Alain Girard started Harvard Square Cafe and Viva Madrid, both in Claremont, and Caffe Allegro in La Verne.

Girard told me he’d always wanted to open a restaurant in downtown Pomona. That crazy dreamer.

“Pomona, it’s different from Claremont,” Girard admitted. “But I think there is potential here. There is definitely room for a good restaurant, which I think we’ve achieved here.”

Girard seems as French as they come. A beefy man with a mop of shoulder-length hair, he looks like Gerard Depardieu and speaks in a strong Gallic accent.

Yet he once ran a chain of fish and chips shops in Scotland and was formerly married to an Italian. He’s not running a traditional French restaurant either. Three-fourths of the menu is Italian.

“If I went totally French, I would have scared everyone,” Girard confided.

French items include quiche Lorraine, goat cheese salad, mussels and French onion soup (“of course,” Girard said).

Needless to say, while the Arts Colony has a Frenchier ambience than all-American Route 66, the funky, punky arts district isn’t the Left Bank.

“I’m sure that can be discouraging for people to come and eat,” Girard allowed, “but that’s part of downtown Pomona life, you know?”

True. His bistro co-exists happily with its neighbor to the west, an edgy store named Monkeys to Go.

Hmm.

With a French neighbor, shouldn’t that be Surrender Monkeys to Go?

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, more monkeyshines.)

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Restaurant of the Week: Salad Farm

CLOSED

Salad Farm, 9090 Milliken Ave. (at 7th), Rancho Cucamonga.

Salad Farm opened recently in the small center on Milliken at Seventh Street that also houses Gandolfo’s, a NY-themed deli (already visited). The ‘Farm is part of a very small L.A.-based chain that appears to have just five locations thus far.

You order at the counter and they make your salad right then and there for you. The menu shows 28 salads, from $5.95 to $8.50, plus panini sandwiches, baked potatoes, soup and quesadillas. A helpful photo menu depicts virtually every item.

I had the Greek salad with chicken ($8.45), and it wasn’t bad. It was also enormous and I don’t know who could finish it. It came with two pieces of pita bread.

It’s a similar concept to So Fresh Salads and More in the Claremont Village Expansion (also visited before), and perhaps slightly better — at least at Salad Farm I didn’t have to wait, I got what I ordered and the amount of dressing was reasonable.

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Montclair in the (fake) news!

The Onion, of course, is the hilarious website and newspaper that presents fake news. Lark News is a fake-news website for Christians that is at least amusing.

Courtesy of my ex-colleague Jason Newell, here’s a Lark News story about churches sanctifying iPods that has a Montclair angle, even if it’s, y’know, not real. An excerpt:

“Several churches nationwide are using iPod-related rituals to get kids’ attention. One church in Montclair, Calif., hosts regular playlist burnings, where kids set fire to a list of songs they promise to delete from their iPods.

” ‘It gets quite emotional,’ says youth pastor Ronny DeLane who founded the ‘God on the ‘Pod’ services at Evangelical Free church. ‘The kids lay their iPods on the altar and dedicate them to God. Then they set fire to a CD or list of songs in a metal bowl and promise to delete them from iTunes when they get home. There’s a lot of crying.’”

I’m sure there is.

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Easy wash

Driving Imperial Highway in Brea on Sunday — and thinking of Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.,” with its line “Rollin’ down Imperial Highway” — I stopped for gas at a 76 station. When I went to clean my windows, I found the squeegee had a handle 3 feet long.

I’d never seen one like it, but it was darn handy. I could wash my windshield without stretching halfway across my hood. The long handle may be a response to today’s oversized vehicles but for my little Corolla, it worked wonders.

Anyone else ever see one of these?

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Steve Gerber

Steve Gerber is my all-time favorite comic book writer, maybe even moreso than Stan Lee. Gerber is best known for his absurdist, psychologically acute writing for Marvel in the 1970s, where he warped many a mind, including mine, with Howard the Duck, Man-Thing, The Defenders, Omega the Unknown and many other series.

I was 10 years old when I discovered his work, at the same time I discovered comics, and while I didn’t get every nuance, I was a sophisticated reader and knew Gerber’s stuff was different, wacky and exciting. Time has only deepened my opinion of his writing.

He was rarely allowed to write the major comics characters, which was too bad — he’d have been a great Spider-Man writer — but his work on fringe characters, often of his own creation, gave him the freedom to experiment.

Howard the Duck, his best-known character, was the Sandman of its day, garnering media attention and becoming the first Marvel character to get his own movie. Unfortunately, the result was awful in a legendary way, but that shouldn’t reflect on Gerber, who had nothing to do with it.

He wrote sporadically for comics after the 1970s, most recently a Dr. Fate series for DC, in which his knack for wild concepts remains intact.

Well, Gerber died Sunday. If anybody reading this likes comics, or just wants to know more about him, here are links to obits and remembrances about him: one at the New York Times, one at the L.A. Times, one at Newsarama, one at Mark Evanier’s site, one at Gerber’s own blog and one at Wikipedia. And here’s an appreciation by Heidi MacDonald.

If you want to read Gerber at his best, go to Borders or Amazon or your local comics shop and look for Essential Man-Thing, Essential Defenders Vol. 2 or Essential Howard the Duck, not to mention recent issues of Countdown to Mystery, which contains his ongoing Dr. Fate series.

A story titled “The Kid’s Night Out” published in Man-Thing (nominally a horror comic about a swamp creature) is one of the most moving comics stories ever published, a tale about a bully, a sensitive kid and the dark side of high school. And The Defenders, in which a superhero team fought such menaces as an angry fawn with the mind of an evil magician, a pop psychologist-led cult who all wore Bozo masks and a woman named Ruby Thursday whose head was replaced by a red globe, is almost Dada in its brilliance.

For you cognoscenti, he was Grant Morrison before there was Grant Morrison, Alan Moore before there was Alan Moore. Comics are at last being taken seriously as culture, entertainment and literature. Steve Gerber, who brought an artistic sensibility to comics 30 years ago, was ahead of his time.

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Six months* of blogging!

It was Sept. 12, 2007 — six months ago today* — that I launched this blog. How time flies when you’re posting daily. Also, having fun.

Blogging, admittedly, has been more work than expected, in part because I didn’t intend to post seven days a week. Once I started, though, I kept up the pace.

Many days I wondered what I would post the next day — usually I write these posts a day or more in advance, timed to pop up around 5 a.m., so there’s something here first thing in the morning for you — and yet even when I’m stuck, something always suggests itself. In that way it’s been a good writing exercise for me.

This blog has proved to be a good outlet for sharing reader mail, occasional stray thoughts, cultural notes, nostalgia and accounts of my dining adventures. I think of it as “my column, only moreso.” Half the fun is your comments, so thanks to all for your contributions.

My column remains my main thing, of course, with the blog being a sort of adjunct. (Readership here is a tiny fraction of print readership, albeit growing.) And yet it’s taken on something of a life of its own, and that’s awesome.

At this half-year point, any general feedback on this blog’s usefulness or focus would be appreciated. Anything different you’d like to see here? Posting my columns here is one idea that’s been suggested, although I’ve been reluctant to do that, thinking it seems redundant.

* As reader Randy Volm points out below, from mid-September to mid-February is really only five months. I mistakenly counted the months themselves, which add up to six, but he’s absolutely right. Since I already hung the streamers and paid for the band, can we celebrate five months? Thanks.

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Memories of Guasti

Guasti as we knew it, a rural enclave, is essentially gone, for good or bad.

Because of construction, the Post Office has moved, Saffron Cafe has closed, Filippi Winery closed its tasting room, the Guasti/Homestyle Cafe moved to Chino, the patio furniture places are gone and the school has been bulldozed.

Construction is under way on a mixed-use complex that seems intriguing, if very different than the hodgepodge that was there.

Months ago I spoke to Jim Maples, a former advertising rep at the Bulletin, about Evel Knievel’s jump at Ontario Motor Speedway. He also lamented the changes then beginning to happen at Guasti:

“I got to California in 1957 and one of the first things I did was go to wine-tasting at Guasti. That’s when all those little houses had inhabitants,” Maples told me.

He said a wine festival was sponsored circa 1958-1962 by the Secondo Church. You could buy a bottle of wine, fill up a bota bag with it and walk around, sipping as you went.

So there’s a topic. Anyone want to share memories of what Guasti used to be like and what you did there?

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‘Pomona A to Z’: E is for Equine Education

[Back to "Pomona A to Z." Coming up with a good "E" column wasn't, you know, easy. Not much is known about the Edison historical district, my first choice. I can't remember why I didn't write about the Ebell Club.

Anyway, I went with a left-field choice, a Cal Poly horse program. It was one of the lesser entries in the series, at least to me, but I tried to make "E" an entertaining read.

This column originally appeared Aug. 15, 2004.]

A little horse sense offered in ‘Pomona A to Z’

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Letter E featured in “Pomona A to Z”!

If you came in late, each week we’re examining another essential element of that endearing, eclectic entity known as Pomona, and doing so in alphabetical order.

As we eagerly embark on E, what are the possible entries?

* The Ebell Club, whose stately headquarters has been a visual tonic for passersby since 1922.

* Eldridge Cleaver, the former Black Panther who spent his final years in Pomona.

* Edison Historic District, comprising 637, 611 and the 500 block of West Second Street, all on the National Register of Historic Places.

* Espiau’s, a fruit stand on Holt in the 1930s that sold “all the orange juice you can drink for a dime,” and later became a popular coffee shop, now located in Claremont.

* Emerger, a gallery in the Arts Colony that, because people can’t pronounce its name (e-mur-zhay), is familiarly known as the e gallery.

Exemplary examples, all. But our E is entirely different.

E is for Equine Education!

It’s not that horses are getting degrees, like a bachelor of oats. But at Cal Poly Pomona, students are learning about horses at the university’s Equine Research Center, and so is the faculty.

In fact, Pomona and UC Davis have the only facilities in California devoted to the study of horses. Well, aside from the grandstand at Santa Anita.

Pomona’s Equine Research Center plays with ponies more scientifically: They’re put on treadmills.

“For us it provides a platform for very controlled studies,” said Steve Wickler, the center’s director and an animal sciences professor. “They take amazingly well to it.”

To prove it, he and his assistant, Holly Greene, put a thoroughbred on the treadmill for me.

Horses, incidentally, are responsible for Cal Poly Pomona’s existence.

Cornflake magnate W.K. Kellogg established a ranch for his beloved Arabian horses on what is now the Cal Poly campus. He deeded the property to the state in 1932 with the stipulation that Arabian breeding and horse shows continue — and to ensure Cal Poly’s continued life, they do. Call (909) 869-2224 for details.

But back to the barn.

This day’s test subject was Anakin, a 7-year-old named after the “Star Wars” character. He was a washout as a racehorse, but his gentle nature makes him a winner at Cal Poly.

Like any gym rat, Anakin was decked out in sporty fashion, colorful wraps wound around his two front legs. At least he wasn’t in culottes.

A student started the treadmill and Anakin walked, transitioning into a trot as the speed increased.

“If you listen you hear two sounds,” Wickler explained. Two limbs, right front and left rear, hit the treadmill diagonally, then the other two. It’s an efficient gait, but not comfortable for a rider, as the horse’s back rises and falls.

When the speed increased, Anakin broke into a canter, which is more of a rocking motion. Two feet were on the mat at any time. The other two touched the mat at different moments.

Then the incline feature was activated, so that Anakin was cantering at a 10 percent grade, as if running uphill.

“It increases the intensity two and a half times,” Wickler said.

Feel that burn!

Exercise over, Anakin ate from a bucket of horse feed — the power bar of the equine world — and was led off to cool down. He didn’t act winded, but Wickler pointed to Anakin’s right rear leg. The horse’s blood vessels stood out from exertion.

At the research center, veterinary and animal sciences students learn horse handling — many have never been around horses — and about horse anatomy and treatment.

Meanwhile, Wickler and Greene study how horses move and how they function at high altitude. Sometimes white markers are placed on the horse, similar to a human stress test, to calculate the amount of force on each limb.

It’s a little trickier than working with people.

“With humans, you can say, ‘Is this comfortable? Is this too much?’ With horses, it’s tough to ask them that,” Wickler joked. “So we measure their metabolism.”

Anakin was taking my own measure, sniffing my elbow as I took notes. It was a shame I couldn’t interview him.

That way I could have learned about equine education straight from the horse’s mouth.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, feeling his oats.)

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