Spicy meat-a-ball

The third annual Sons of Italy pasta dinner takes place from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Antonino’s Ristorante, 7945 Vineyard Ave. in Rancho Cucamonga. The dinner is $10 per person, all-inclusive (salad, roll, pasta, beverage, dessert).

Attentive readers may remember yours truly being given four meatballs, twice the number as the mayor, in 2008, and three last year. This year, alas, it will be zero meatballs: I’ll be out of town.

In 2011, I’m afraid the Sons of Italy may make me start over from scratch.

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Growing up with Mrs. Nelson’s

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Friday’s column pays tribute to a La Verne institution, Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop, which has been at 1030 Bonita Ave. (at Damien Avenue) since 1991, and in existence since 1985 (the first location was in Covina).

Pictured are the now-retired Judy Nelson, left, and manager Andrea Vuleta.

You can visit the store’s website here and read my column here.

I was allowed to see the employee restroom, whose inner door has been decorated with doodles by visiting authors and illustrators. A portion of the door is pictured below. Click on the image for a larger view.

Do you have comments about or memories of the store? If so, post away.

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Restaurant of the Week: Aladdin Jr.

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There’s a sequel to this restaurant in downtown Pomona named Aladdin Jr. 2, but this is the original, up on North Garey below Foothill Boulevard. It’s in a slightly blah shopping center that nevertheless boasts a couple of very good restaurants, notably Los Jarritos.

Aladdin Jr. has a big, landscaped patio for eating or hookah smoking. Inside, there are booths and tables in the dining room, which is decorated by murals that highlight the Disney version of a romanticized Middle East. Kitschy but cute. If memory serves, the staff used to wear vests and fezzes, but they no longer do.

Aladdin has a lunch buffet that’s popular, but on a recent mid-afternoon visit, two friends and I opted to order off the menu for fresher fare. A lamb shawarma sandwich ($6.50) was tender, flavorful and practically as big as a football. The lamb kabob ($14) and chicken kabob ($12, pictured) had generous portions of meat, plus rice and a small salad. Good stuff. The lamb guy took half of his order home.

Aladdin is priced between, say, Saca’s on the lower end and Casablanca or Mes Amis on the higher end. You get a good amount of food for the money.

Service, by a man I believe was the manager, was friendly and joshing. He kidded the ones in our party who arrived late (who deserved it, which I can say because it wasn’t me). Our only complaint were the persistent flies in the window. Maybe they liked the look of the sand in the murals.

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Something awkward this way comes

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Here I am speaking Oct. 8 at Western University to an intimidatingly wall-like mass of people to introduce Ray Bradbury. (Photo by Jeff Malet.)

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Midway through, Muriel Spill of the Pomona Public Library came out to move me, twice, to get me in position for the video camera. In the overflow room, all they were seeing was the bare wall and my voice coming from off-camera, as if I were the Invisible Man. (Photo by Bruce Guter.)

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And here is Bradbury himself a few minutes later holding forth, with his biographer, Sam Weller. (Photo by me.) You can read my account of the event in Wednesday’s column.

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Columnists for council?

John Bredehoft’s blog Empoprises-IE (I have to admit, I’ve never understood the name; maybe John can enlighten us) recently noted that Gino Filippi is running for Upland City Council. Filippi, of course, has penned a wine column for our newspaper for years.

“So does this mean that David Allen will run for the city council in Claremont or Pomona or wherever he lives?” Bredehoft wonders.

No. But thanks for asking.

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Restaurant of the Week: Philly’s Grill

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Philly’s Grill, 1701 S. Grove Ave. (at Francis), Ontario

Sometimes you fall out of the habit of a visiting a restaurant. The reasons might be obvious, like a bad experience, or they might be obscure. You might just be tired of a place. For probably a year in circa 2001 this South Grove sandwich shop, then known as Philadelphia Grill, was a weekly stop. Then I gave up on it and moved on.

Recently I thought I’d try it again. In business since 1986, Philly’s and its green awning are still there, open Monday to Friday as befits its business park location. The UPS drivers who used to fill a couple of booths at lunchtime were absent, but I was there a bit late. The interior has been spruced up and the staff now brings your order to you.

They don’t have the daily specials they used to (curry chicken on Mondays and spaghetti on Wednesdays were favorites), but the menu remains wide-ranging: cheesesteaks, burgers, deli and sub sandwiches, wraps, teriyaki, salads, spaghetti, fajitas, grilled fish and traditional breakfasts. Whew! Some of it isn’t even on the menu board, only in the paper menu.

I had the cheesesteak combo ($7.39), which comes with fries (average) and soda. The sandwich was on a crusty roll with chopped meat, provolone and grilled onions. I’m no expert, but it was a good version of the Philly steak, even though it was made in a California industrial zone by Koreans.

I’ve since returned for teriyaki chicken ($6.39). Philly’s Grill isn’t going to be a weekly stop again, but I may be back. Revisiting it has been a pleasure.

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Ray Bradbury on how to save downtown Pomona

Author Ray Bradbury, who’s visiting Pomona on Friday, visited at least twice in the 1970s, both times at the behest of civic groups, to present ideas on rescuing the city’s downtown. He’s no architect, but he’s a fan of architecture, and some of his design concepts were used in San Diego’s Horton Plaza. He’s long had interesting things to say about urban design.

In 1973, he offered concepts for Pomona’s ailing pedestrian mall. In 1978, he spoke as part of a “Save the Fox” program, during a period in which the theater was used as a civic auditorium.

Among his ideas for downtown: winding pavement, an artificial river, theaters, performing arts, open-air dining, shops, a farmers market and, intriguingly, an orange grove near a Mexican restaurant to evoke Pomona’s early days. The whole effect, he said, should be “theatrical” and “fun” and should offer activity until midnight.

“Make the kind of place people will talk about,” Bradbury urged in 1973. Five years later, he said downtown appeared to be fading and said the whole thing should be rethought: “You must do it or you’ll be bled dry by surrounding malls.”

Civic leaders gave him a proclamation, shook his hand and evidently ignored everything he said. Yet more than 30 years later, the Fox has been saved, the arts are a linchpin and some nights there is activity until the wee hours. Something tells me nobody has had the imagination to consider planting an orange grove, though.

You can read the Progress-Bulletin articles on Bradbury’s twin visits by clicking on the thumbnail versions below. Thanks to the Pomona Public Library’s special collections department for locating the articles.

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‘Fahrenheit 451′

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As part of the Big Read, everybody in Pomona is supposed to be reading Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” Have you started it? Have you read it before? Did you toss it in a fire? I hope not, because it’s a book about book-burning!

Bradbury himself is due to appear Friday at 6 p.m. at the Western University of Health Sciences Health Center, 710 E. 2nd St., along with his biographer, Sam Weller. A certain columnist is supposed to participate as well, unless someone in charge comes to their senses.

Here’s a list of all the “451″-related events in October and November: book talks, film screenings, fire safety demonstrations, storytime for the kids, even a genealogy lesson and a virtual tour of the Pomona of the 1950s, when the novel was written.

The Pomona Public Library, the recipient of the NEA grant that’s allowing all these programs to take place, has some great Bradbury material on display, courtesy of fan Bruce Emerton, including many of his books, such as an entire case devoted to paperback editions of “Fahrenheit 451,” and several posters from the 1966 film version by Francois Truffaut.

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