Sunday’s column is a tribute to Claremont’s Bridges Hall of Music, one of the most gracious civic spaces in the Inland Valley. It turned 100 over the summer. Top three photos courtesy of Pomona College, with the third one showing a detail of the ceiling. The bottom two are by me from the Sept. 27 concert; performers pictured are, from left, Gayle Blankenburg, Holly Shaw Price and Ray Burkhart.
Friday’s column begins with news about Claremont’s community read of “Wonder,” a young adult novel. (I also talk about the pressure of reading it.) Also, there’s business news from Upland, cultural notes and word of the impending take-down of a beloved Montclair tree.
The Sand Witch, 1208 W. 9th St. (at Mountain), Upland
I’d heard of the Sand Witch, a little shop tucked between a Chevron and an auto repair shop, but hadn’t gone in until recently, even though a friend recommended the panini sandwiches ages ago.
Despite its neighbors, it manages to be a cute place that takes the “Witch” part of its punning name seriously: The interior colors are black and shades of orange (orange is the new black, if you hadn’t heard), there’s cartoony witch-themed framed art and the menu boasts items with supernaturally punning names, such as Chicken Presto (it has pesto), Harvest Moon, Cobb Web Salad and such.
All this isn’t overbearing, which is a relief, and thankfully the ban-Harry-Potter crowd isn’t picketing. The Sand Witch sells cold sandwiches, paninis, oven-toasted sandwiches, salads and a couple of daily soups “from the cauldron.” There are four vegetarian sandwiches, a fact many will appreciate.
I got a tuna melt ($7), which some of you will recall is my baseline sandwich at places that serve them. It was a panini, and it was only average, with the tuna salad a little watery. But then it had tomato and bits of celery, a nice touch. I had a coupon for a free soda and side with sandwich purchase and got potato salad, which was fine.
Admittedly underwhelmed, I felt like I should give them a second chance. A few weeks later, I got a half-and-half combo, where you can get any two of the following: a half sandwich, half salad or half soup. I got the deviled egg salad and loaded baked potato soup ($8.38), this time using a $2 off coupon.
Decent sandwich and soup, the latter with bacon, cheddar and scallions, and better than the panini. I wouldn’t recommend driving across the valley to eat here, but it’s a local option if you’re in the area. Also, the radio was turned up way too loud. You’d think they’d have a playlist devoted to “Witchy Woman,” “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and Stevie Nicks, but no.
Bulletin assistant city editor and history columnist Joe Blackstock retires today after nearly 48 years in the news biz. He’s the subject of my Wednesday column.
Readers tend to ask me the same general questions, namely, ones that might occur to anyone (do I work at home, what’s my favorite column, how’s the paper doing, did you grow up here, etc.). But now and then a question seems to come out of nowhere.
For instance, there was the woman who, after a book signing in Pomona in February, asked conspiratorially, “Are you really bald or do you just shave your head?”
This brings us to last week, in a Q&A in Rancho Cucamonga, where a man threw a very original Q at me: “Is ‘David Allen’ your real name or a pen name?”
After a couple of seconds of gaping at him, I replied, “Because ‘David Allen’ is such a glamorous and exciting name, it can’t possibly be real?”
“It’s a yes or no question,” he said defensively. (It’s not, though, is it?)
For the record, it’s my real name. I’d like to think that if I wanted a pen name, I could come up with something a little more exotic.
On Thursday I spoke to the Rancho Cucamonga Kiwanis Club and received a gift in a be-ribboned box, which I opened that evening at home. Expecting a coffee mug, the typical takeaway from these gigs, I was instead surprised with….punctuation. This statuette is now in an honored position on my desk — at least until Crosby Stills Nash Young tell me it’s theirs and ask for it back.
Sunday’s column starts with news of Oct. 3’s inaugural “Pomona Reads!” book festival, with events for young and old, and well-known authors in attendance. I’ll be there too with “Pomona A to Z.” Come check it out. Also in my column: an event at Mitla Cafe involves writer Gustavo (“Ask a Mexican”) Arellano; scary movies are creeping into the Ontario library; and a farewell to my optometrist, Joe Trezza.
Friday’s column starts off with two reader anecdotes about their Vince’s Spaghetti obsession. After that: cultural notes and people news from around the valley.
Mitla Cafe, 602 N. Mount Vernon Ave. (at 6th), San Bernardino
I’d never heard of the Mitla Cafe until Gustavo Arellano dined there with the New York Times in 2012 to talk about his book “Taco USA,” but it seemed very similar to the place to which I subsequently introduced Arellano, Ramon’s Cactus Patch in Ontario. Both were family operations launched in 1937, serving Cal-Mex food, although Mitla has the distinction that its cooks taught Glen Bell how to make hardshell tacos, a skill he eventually parlayed into Taco Bell.
Mitla also has the distinction of remaining in business; Ramon’s closed in 2013, shortly before its founder, Ramon Sanchez, died. Descendants of founders Vicente and Lucia Montano still operate Mitla, which is now the oldest Mexican restaurant in the Inland Empire, and among the oldest in Southern California.
Rarely do I head east, but in July I had to go to Redlands, and on my way back I eschewed eateries in that burg to go to Mitla. It’s pretty much equidistant from the 210 and 10 freeways, but only blocks from the 215, in the West Side barrio.
Mitla occupies what appears to be its original building and once inside, past the glass bricks in the entry, you’ll take in the front room with its counter, swivel seats and vintage Mitla calendars, and feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
That first visit, I ate in the dining room and got the No. 6 dinner ($8.75), with a taco, enchilada and chile relleno, a kind of sampler platter. “Have you ever been here before? Everything on the menu is simply delicious,” the server said. “But, the one everybody likes is the No. 6.”
The enchilada and chile relleno were covered in a meat sauce that was reminiscent of Ramon’s, a good sign. Those two items were good, but for me the taco was the standout, and I wished I had more. It was very similar to Ramon’s: fried with a ground beef patty, plus shreds of lettuce, diced tomatoes and yellow cheese.
“Now you’re part of the family,” the server declared. How could I not like this place? (And I had not introduced myself. He was just being friendly to a stranger.)
On Tuesday I had to be in San Bernardino for work reasons and took that as an opportunity to go back to Mitla — and order more tacos. This time I sat at the counter and got the three-taco combination, ground rather than shredded beef ($7.25), and got to marvel at them anew.
To be clear, there is nothing cutting edge about this food, and the menu even has a section I believe was called “American Tastes,” with hamburgers and hot dogs. Mitla is almost a classic coffee shop, only a Mexican-American version, where you can get fries with your huevos rancheros. My point is, you could have superior tacos and burritos at many other places, possibly even at the two Mexican restaurants on other corners of the same intersection.
But as an admirer of Ramon’s and all it stood for, Mitla Cafe fills that void for me, and might for you as well: food, ambience, family, tradition, history.
Heck, there are even two cactus gardens outside.
(Incidentally, it would be possible to take Metrolink to Mitla, as the San Bernardino station is visible from the restaurant. It’s probably a half-mile walk. After a meal, though, I’m not sure you could find anything else to do.)
Wednesday’s column presents an update on the train museum at Pomona’s Fairplex. Two years after giving up its centerpiece, the 1941 Big Boy locomotive, how is the museum doing? Fine, as it turns out. It’s got other rare trains, and a modern diesel locomotive that actually runs.