Soul food on the way

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Cassie’s Soul Food Kitchen is coming soon to Locust Street in downtown Pomona, I noticed recently. This is off a few steps north of East Second Street’s Antique Row, in the space previously occupied by the late, lamented Pomona Bakery. (Despite the sign, I’m not sure Cafe Amerisian, its first replacement, ever opened.)

There’s a new black-owned barber shop next door with a family connection to Cassie’s, I was told.

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Restaurant of the Week: Babylon

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Babylon, 205 E. 2nd St. (at Locust), Pomona

Pomona is where you go for Mexican food, obviously, but the city also has a minor specialty of Mediterranean food. North Garey has two competing Lebanese restaurants in the same shopping center, while downtown has two such restaurants three blocks apart, thanks to the mid-January opening of Babylon, which joins Aladdin 2, its Second Street competition.

Babylon is on a corner in Pomona’s Antique Row in a space that’s seen a number of short-lived uses in recent years; it was most recently the Hardy Cafe.

Babylon, however, is an ambitious venture. The owner, who used to run Aladdin in Glendora (the inspiration for Pomona’s Aladdin Jr.), sunk a boatload of money into making the restaurant a showpiece. The interior is elegant, with white tablecloths and custom oak carving in the ceiling and columns. Outside, there’s wraparound sidewalk dining.

They do a $10 lunch buffet on weekdays with a long table of items, laid out on open platters and in steam containers, like a hotel banquet or Kiwanis luncheon. In other words, no sneeze guard. But I won’t complain, because the items were uniformly good on a recent visit. A seat outside on a warm afternoon made for a relaxing meal.

There’s a fountain a few steps away and a second fountain across the street. Do those count as the rivers of Babylon?

Babylon is open late, until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and midnight the other days. On weekends they’ve been offering entertainment — bellydancers or singers — with a meal for an all-inclusive fee of $35 or more.

Too rich for my blood, but you ought to try a weeknight dinner (pictured is the chicken kebab, $13 and very good) or the lunch buffet. It beats the one at the more casual Aladdin 2 down the street.

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Dining with the bloggers (part 1)


Last week I had dinner with Meg and K., the couple from the M-M-M-My Pomona blog. We’ve had such blogging summits before, but not often enough.

This time we went to L.A.’s Koreatown and tried out Park’s BBQ, one of the LA99 restaurants as chosen by critic Jonathan Gold. We had bulgogi, short ribs and a kimchi pancake, as well as panchan, the side dishes most Korean restaurants give you for free (as did Park’s). Pictured are the short ribs on the grill and some of the panchan. A delicious meal for about $30 each.

To bring in the almost inevitable public-transit angle, Meg and I took Metrolink and K. picked us up at Union Station. She and I talked blogging on the way in and I notice that after a long period of near-silence on her own blog, she’s posted several times of late. Always interesting to read.

I’ll have a second blogging-related meal to recount soon.

* Meg’s more detailed take is here.

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‘Romeo et Juliette’

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On Saturday afternoon I attended “Romeo et Juliette,” the Repertory Opera Company production in Pomona. (In my column item last week I referred to it by its more familiar English title so as not to scare off the Francophobes.) My count showed about 120 people in the audience.

The troupe did a nice job of it. Some of the actor-singers are better than others; Romeo was vocally underwhelming, especially compared to the powerful Juliet. Mercutio, Stephano and the Duke also impressed me.

There were technical issues: The Shakespearean dialogue projected on a screen was difficult to read (perversely, the top line was fainter than the others; I felt like I was reading an eye chart in reverse) and at the end of the first act, one of the backdrops toppled forward. Oopsie.

But those are small objections. They let me in for free, and I like them anyway, so whether the show is worth your $30 is for you to decide. Personally, I think they should charge $20 and try to fill the place instead of charging $30 and having the room half to two-thirds full, but economics and marketing aren’t my specialties. (Prompting the reasonable query: What is my specialty? I have no good answer.)

The show repeats Saturday and concludes Feb. 19, both times at 2 p.m. It runs about 2 1/2 hours. The venue is First Christian Church, 1751 N. Park Ave.

If you saw it, what did you think?

Here’s a video from a dress rehearsal:

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‘Second Hand News’

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This statue at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona — “Second Hand News,” by J. Seward Johnson — was a heartening sight on a recent visit to the campus, even though the second guy should really buy his own newspaper.

All of us in the biz could use the help. At the Daily Bulletin and its sister newspapers, we learned last week our salaries will be cut 5.5 percent, permanently, on top of furloughs, a wage freeze and a vacation freeze. Read more here.

Economic recovery? Not in our industry, or among our advertisers.

Still, things are tough all over. If you’re unemployed or underemployed, we feel for you. We also print a lot of news, bad and good, about the economy. And don’t forget, we publish help wanted ads too.

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David Brooks to speak in Claremont


New York Times columnist and author David Brooks will speak at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Scripps College’s Garrison Theater, 231 E. 10th St. Brooks is described as “a prominent voice of conservative politics in the United States and keen observer of the American way of life” by Scripps.

He’s the author of “Bobos in Paradise” and “On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense.” His next book, “The Social Animal: the Inner Roots of Character and Achievement,” will be released in March.

The event is free and a book-signing will follow.

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My Super Bowl Sunday included a late breakfast at Jack’s Coffee Shop in Whittier with a friend, a visit to Whittier’s Little Old Bookshop (which, in a news flash, just changed hands and is now called Half Off Books), a mid-afternoon lunch at an uncharacteristically empty Mix Bowl Cafe in Pomona (at game time) and a book break at an uncharacteristically quiet Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Claremont.

Two senior men were in front of me in line. They concluded the Super Bowl was to blame for the calm.

“Who’s playing?” one asked.

“The Steelers and…” the other said, forehead crinkled in thought. He couldn’t come up with the other team.

“You can tell the baseball guys from the football guys,” his friend replied with a chuckle.

I had a good day but wish I’d planned something better, like a visit to a place that’s always packed — The Grove, say, or Philippe’s — just to revel in the elbow room.

How was your Super Bowl Sunday — especially if it didn’t include the Super Bowl?

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Claremont farmers market


Did you know the Claremont farmers market is 15 years old this year? It dates to 1996, as I learned from the market’s new website. View the site here.

The Farmers and Artisans Market, the official name, takes place each Sunday, rain or shine, in the Claremont Village, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Vehicle traffic is barred from one block of Second Street, between Indian Hill Boulevard and Yale Avenue, for the market, in which more than 100 vendors, either growers or artisans, take part.

It’s a lively street scene each week.

The market sponsor is the nonprofit Claremont Forum, a community organization that runs the Prison Library Project and various health and wellness classes.

As for the website, “There is new market information, vendor updates, photos and a new market blog,” volunteer Rachel McDonnell tells me. “The website will be updated frequently and I hope it becomes a resource for local residents.”

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Restaurant of the Week: Magic Lamp Inn

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Photo: Thomas R. Cordova/Daily Bulletin


Magic Lamp Inn, 8189 Foothill Blvd. (at Red Hill Country Club Drive), Rancho Cucamonga

The Magic Lamp is the venerable restaurant on Route 66 in far western Rancho Cucamonga with the rococo roof, stained glass windows and neon lamp sign that burns a gas flame at night. The look is Old World European despite the Arabian Nights name and theme.

The restaurant opened in 1955, taking over from Lucy and John’s, a spaghetti parlor, and was the brainchild of the man behind Clearman’s North Woods Inn, who clearly loved high-concept eating places.

The Lamp’s interior hasn’t much changed in recent years. There’s still a round fireplace in the center of one dining room, a lot of wood in the decor and a specially made lamp-patterned carpet. The Lamp is a little fancy for a casual meal so my visits have been rare over the years, but some friends and I had lunch there not long ago.

One had the Chinese chicken salad, which did not skimp on the chicken; the other had the Cobb salad, which was tossed tableside and declared to taste “just the way I like it”; and I had the peppercorn top sirloin (pictured), which comes with rosemary potatoes and vegetables. Good steak and sides, and just the right size for a lunch. (I forgot to note the prices but the steak was about $15 and the salads about $10.)

Service was friendly and our waters and iced teas were refilled regularly, although the server’s response when asked for recommendations, that “everything is good,” didn’t provide any guidance. Then again, since we liked all three of our entrees, she might be right.

It’s quiet and sedate in the Lamp, making it a good place for conversation and an unhurried meal. As we relaxed post-lunch in our leather chairs, one of my friends said: “They don’t make restaurants like this anymore.” True dat.

Check the Route 66 Landmark sign below; the fine print reads “Recognized by Hampton Hotels Save-a-Landmark program as a site worth seeing.” Who would argue?

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