Restaurant of the Week: Claro’s, Upland

Claro’s Italian Market, 1655 N. Mountain Ave. (at 16th), Upland; open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday; closed Wednesday

You know how it is: Sometimes there’s a long-lived, beloved restaurant that you always mean to try, but you never get around to it. Claro’s was like that for me. I knew where it was, but it’s rare that I pass by on North Mountain, and since it’s a market, seating might be an issue. It was always a “one day I’ll check it out” kind of place for me.

But then a friend in the San Gabriel Valley brought up Claro’s to me, as there are a few out that way. This was two weeks ago, on what was looking to be the the last hot stretch we were likely to have in 2018. Since the heat was such that eating outdoors would be comfortable for your easily chilled blogger, I resolved to make a special trip for lunch that Friday before inspiration faded.

Claro’s is larger than I’d have expected, the deli area busy with employees preparing catering orders and fulfilling a long grocery list of the other mid-afternoon customer, who ordered a pound or half-pound of multiple deli meats. The store, incidentally, has pasta, sauces, canned tomatoes and many other Italian items — as probably everyone reading this has known for years.

The young man taking my order suggested the Grandpa Joe as the deli’s most popular sandwich. It’s got salami, capocolla, provolone, lettuce, tomatoes, pepperocini and dressing on a (what else?) Italian roll. Price is $7 for a small or $8.49 for a large. So obviously I got the large.

I paid at the register and also bought a $1.20 cookie, which, charmingly, rang up on the receipt as “Delicious Claro’s cookies,” and a Pepsi, then took it all out to one of the half-dozen outdoor tables, situated under the broad awning. Customers came and went from the store, some grabbing a small shopping cart before entering.

The capocolla and pepperocini provided a nice kick that cut through the other fillings like Willie Nelson’s voice through your speakers. The roll was soft and crusty. The result was delicious, possibly the best such cold deli sandwich in the Inland Valley.

Half a sandwich would have been fine, by the way, but I went ahead and finished it. And the cookie did not make a liar out of the receipt.

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Restaurant of the Week: Golden Corral

Golden Corral, 1640 E. 4th St. (at Baker), Ontario (also at 2037 Rancho Valley Drive, Pomona); open 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

(It’s schedules like the above, by the way, that make me regret my policy of typing out restaurants’ business hours.)

Buffets’ heyday might seem to have come and gone, with the late, and lame, HomeTown Buffet driving the final limp celery stalk into any remaining interest. But along comes Golden Corral, the North Carolina-based chain that has made a big entry into California.

I was only mildly curious about Golden Corral. I’m not a buffet guy. But a week ago, three members of our newsroom, which was practically the entire newsroom, were all going to the Ontario location for lunch and invited me to join them. Why not? I knew I’d never go on my own.

When you enter, you get your tray and your self-serve drink before you pay, which probably cuts down on cheating from those who would claim they would only get a water while later secretly filling up on soda, and plenty of it. Lunch is $13, with drinks extra. I actually did get water. A server stopped by our table a couple of times to offer refills, since you can’t get them yourself, so be prepared to tip a dollar or two.

There’s oceans of seating, and a weekday lunch does not seem to be the busy time. I’ll bet weekends are a different story. There are five areas for food: Greenhouse (salads and fruit), Smokehouse (Southern/BBQ), Hacienda (Mexican), Grillhouse (chicken and fish) and Brass Bell Bakery (dessert).

One colleague went all-Southern (see above), which she called a Southern potluck: fried catfish, hush puppies, popcorn shrimp, fried okra, mashed potatoes with sausage gravy, fried chicken, “Bourbon St. chicken,” pot roast and a roll. She liked it and singled out the popcorn shrimp for being more shrimp than batter.

My first plate, above, was, to go clockwise from left, toasted ravioli, pulled pork, fried shrimp, hush puppy, fried fish, Bourbon St. chicken, collard greens and rice. Not bad.

Another colleague had fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn and green beans. Taking after the “Southern potluck” diner, he declared: “My course is Sunday afternoon at Aunt Bea’s house.”

He said his strategy is to try to get seven courses, but not seven plates, represented. The fourth in our group said he looks at buffets as a competition: “Oh, David got the clam chowder. I need to get that.”

It’s hard to photograph a buffet, especially when you’re 1) trying to be subtle about it and 2) not trying that hard to begin with. But here’s one view.

The dessert area included a chocolate fountain, soft serve ice cream, hand-scooped ice cream (which the staff serves), cookies and brownies. I had a chocolate pudding, which was pretty good.

Overall, my friends were satisfied. The competitor did his best to keep up and, sated, spent the afternoon struggling to stay awake. Golden Corral is all right for what it is. As a non-buffet guy, it’s hard for me to imagine going back. It wasn’t that good. But it’s definitely of better quality than HomeTown. If you’re a buffet guy or gal, you might like it.

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Column: A week after Pittsburgh, faiths and voices unite

An interfaith service at a synagogue in Pomona a week after the Pittsburgh murders drew several hundred people, including yours truly. I went out of curiosity as a member of the community but also brought a notebook. The service was really interesting, and even though a few days have gone by, I decided to write it up for Wednesday’s column anyway. Hey, it beats yet another election story, right?

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Reading Log: October 2018

Books acquired: “Ritchie Valens: The First Latino Rocker,” Beverly Mendheim; “Our Towns,” James and Deborah Fallows

Books read: “The Doom That Came to Sarnath and Other Stories,” H.P. Lovecraft; “Echo Round His Bones,” Thomas M. Disch; “Banking on Beauty,” Adam Arenson; “O Pioneers!” Willa Cather

Did we all remember to turn back our clocks, or were we too busy reading? Anyway, welcome to another Reading Log, where the frost is on the pumpkin, or it would be if it weren’t 84 degrees outside.

Personally, I finished four books in October. I did not “fall” down on the job. Three fiction, one nonfiction. To wit:

“The Doom That Came to Sarnath” was my annual H.P. Lovecraft read. This was made up of early fantasy stories in the mode of Lord Dunsany, a couple of collaborations, a poem and a few pre-Cthulhu stories. Overall, the weakest of the eight HPL collections I’ve read. The notes by editor Lin Carter do help put it all into context.

“Echo Round His Bones” (1967) was my sort-of-annual Thomas Disch read. In this one, a military man is dispatched via matter transmitter to the Mars base to deliver the top-secret message that America’s nuclear arsenal should be released against the Russians. But the transmission process is flawed and a duplicate of everyone is created for a shadow world. The anti-war message, and anti-Vietnam War message in particular (in 1967 no less), is commendable. The explanations of the matter transmission and the “echoes” it creates are pretty much impossible to follow, and Disch’s authorial voice as narrator is intrusive. Interesting, but neither here nor there: too complicated for light entertainment and too cheerful for literary fiction.

(Incidentally, I bought a bunch of the hard-to-find Disch books five years ago at a used bookstore in Goleta and have now read four — only one of which I liked. I’m beginning to regret the whole exercise. Except that chronologically, the next one is a classic. We shall see.)

“Banking on Beauty” (2018) was the subject of a column earlier this year. It’s about the partnership of Millard Sheets and Howard Ahmanson that produced the artsy Home Savings branches around Southern California in particular. It’s well illustrated and rigorously researched. It’s a bit much for the general reader, if any there are, but the book fills a gap in midcentury modern architecture history and tells a uniquely suburban SoCal tale of art and good taste being brought to the masses via a philanthropic businessman and an artist who was happy to sign on with a corporate client.

Lastly, “O Pioneers!” (1913) is a classic by Willa Cather spanning about three decades in the settlement of a Nebraska town. Even at a slim 180 pages, her novel has an epic heroine, one who outshines her petty, small-minded brothers in business. Cather’s descriptions of the Nebraska landscape are loving and lovely and her sketches of the Swedes, Germans and Czechs who settled the prairie so far from their home are enlightening and empathetic.

So “Pioneers” was the month’s clear winner, and also the one more of you are likely to have already read or to consider reading. Although I’d bet Rich P. has read “Echo.”

But what of you all? What did you read in October?

As for how these books entered my life, “Echo” was bought at Goleta’s Paperback Alley in 2013, “Sarnath” came from DTLA’s Last Bookstore in 2017, “O Pioneers!” came from Borders (RIP) — I’d have said circa 2011, but as it doesn’t show up in a search of this blog, maybe more like 2007 — and “Banking” was contributed by Claremont Heritage (I was writing about Adam Arenson’s Heritage-related visit to town) in 2018.

My four books made this, I think, my last big month of 2018. There’s a good chance I’ll only finish four or five over the last two months of this year, including two relatively complex nonfiction volumes, my oldest unread books, that I really want to read before another year goes by. Do you have any year-end reading goals?

Next month: a hairy time.

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