Norms, 807 S. Indian Hill Blvd. (at Auto Center), Claremont
Norms, which opened in Claremont next to the 10 Freeway in August, was the most-anticipated Inland Valley restaurant arrival since Five Guys Burgers in Rancho Cucamonga.
All this fuss for a sort of upscale Dennys? This says a lot about the essential working-class character of the valley, as well as the numbers of repatriated Angelenos in our midst, as Norms’ 18 locations are scarce in our part of L.A. County.
The 24-hour diner, heralded by a very un-Claremont sign that looms over the freeway, is still busy a month after its opening, so timing your visit carefully is advised.
I had breakfast there with a friend recently. At 8 a.m., the restaurant, which has an occupancy of 221 seats, had plenty of empty booths, but by the time we left at 9, every seat was full and there was a line to get one. Ditto with a lunchtime visit a few days later; at 11:45 a.m., 25 people were waiting to be seated and there was a line at the cashier to pay. By 1 p.m., when we left, the crowd was thinning out and the pace slowing.
It’s a comfortable, coffee shop vibe, with browns and oranges in the color scheme, plush booths, counter seating and tiled walls. One friend said the interior, with its high ceilings, hanging orange lamps and expanse of windows, reminded him of the old Henry’s drive-in. There’s a surprising amount of outdoor seating as well, wrapping halfway around the building.
At breakfast, I had the Jump Start ($4.99), with eggs, bacon and toast. It was what you’d expect. For an extra buck I could’ve had the Bigger Better Breakfast, which comes with eggs, pancakes, ham, bacon and (not or) sausage. That’s a lotta meat.
My friend had the Country Cookin’ ($8.79, pictured below) with chicken fried steak, his baseline meal, and two eggs and hash browns. On a 1-to-10 scale, he gave the steak “a good 8.” The steak was processed rather than made on the premises, but the gravy was pronounced “excellent.”
Coffee, at $2, was a little steep, my friend said, but Norms is making a fuss about the quality of its coffee, and refills were offered every few minutes.
On my lunch visit, I had a tuna melt ($7.69), my own baseline sandwich by which to judge a diner. It was a decent version and the fruit on the side, thin-sliced crescents of melon, provided a nice balance. My friend had the Avo Gobble ($8.29, pictured at bottom), a turkey and avocado sandwich. (At Nancy’s in Rancho Cucamonga they call something similar the Turkado.)
That friend’s verdict: “The food’s pretty good. Everybody’s nice and friendly. They come by and ask how you’re doing.” Of the crowd, he said: “You wouldn’t know there was a problem with the economy.” He also observed that the diners didn’t look like Claremont people, being working-class types and retirees.
I’m looking forward to dinner there sometime, and maybe to a middle-of-the-night visit too, if only I could stop sleeping soundly and induce insomnia.