Friday’s column starts with news of development underway at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Spruce Avenue in Rancho Cucamonga, where a series of Chinese buffets operated for nearly two decades. Also: three more RC items, five Culture Corner items and a Valley Vignette.
Burgerim, 9359 Central Ave. (at Costco), Montclair
“Always more than one” is the motto of this burger chain, a sort of modified Lay’s slogan, and that’s because they specialize in “mini-burgers,” sold in twos or threes rather than individually. They’re a little bigger than sliders but smaller than a regular burger.
Burgerim opened last month in Montclair in that new center by the 10 Freeway with another burger joint, Original Tommy’s, plus a Dickey’s, Creamistry and more. The name, Burgerim, is Hebrew for “many burgers” and is traditionally pronounced “burger-eem,” although they’re saying it “rim.”
It’s a worldwide chain with 200 locations in 16 countries, based in Israel, but there’s only one other one in Southern California. (It’s in Hollywood, with Montclair being the obvious next step *cough*.) More are said to be coming. I wonder what their supply chain is like; maybe everything is airlifted in and dropped by parachute.
I was invited to a media preview event before the grand opening and thus got my meal free, for the record. (Regulars will recall that I pay for my meals out of my own pocket and never identify myself.)
There are 10 types of burgers including beef, turkey, lamb, chicken, chorizo and salmon. A duo is $10, a trio $13, and come with fries (regular, sweet potato or home) or salad plus soft drink; a la carte is $1 less, onion rings are $1.50 more. Burgers come with lettuce, tomato, onion and house sauce, and for 50 cents each you can customize it with nine toppings: egg, cheese, bacon, etc. The menu also has three non-burger sandwiches, four salads and three desserts, plus beer and wine and a Coke Freestyle machine.
The interior is different than a typical fast-casual place: Edison lights, a three-sided counter/bar and then tables and booths along the walls.
I got a Wagyu with mushrooms and a merguez (a spicy beef) with cheddar, plus onion rings. (So, typically $13.50: $1 extra for Wagyu, $1 extra for two toppings and $1.50 extra for rings.) The sandwiches arrive in a cute box and on seeded buns. The sandwiches are tidy, the patties tightly packed, and at 2.8 ounces, two made for a satisfying meal. The kitchen forgot the cheddar, by the way, but as I hadn’t paid 50 cents for it, I didn’t send it back.
I suspect that few, including me, would be able to discern the difference between beef, Wagyu beef and dry-aged beef, to name three of the choices, but you’re welcome to try. The veggie patty is said to be better than usual with green onions, carrots, tofu and lentils.
There’s not much that’s Israeli about the menu, although the panzanella salad ($9), with arugula, tomatoes, radishes, red and green onions, kalamata olives, basil and croutons was described to me as their take on an Israeli chopped salad, and merguez was described as a Mediterranean chorizo.
It’s an interesting concept and a little different than other local burger spots.
In a follow-up to my column last week on the Red Chief Motel in Rancho Cucamonga, Wednesday’s column is about Michelle Lindley, a woman who grew up at the motel when her grandparents ran it. She talks about its latter days in the 1970s and about the recently unearthed mural from the motel’s cafe, which she remembers well.
Above, Lindley says the doorway to the kitchen separated these two unmatching portions of the mural. Below are two fobs from room keys at the motel, which had been renamed the Sycamore.
Two photos of the Red Chief Motel (1936-1977) dining room have turned up courtesy of Darin Kuna, the history buff and photo collector behind several local Facebook pages. The one above is dated 1939. The one below is from a 1951 Claremont Colleges yearbook ad, obviously after the mural was installed in 1950. Finally, a chance to see a portion of the mural in its natural state! Thanks, Mr. Kuna.
Books acquired: “Funny in Farsi,” Firoozeh Dumas
Books read: “Tortilla Flat,” John Steinbeck; “Eat Mexico,” Lesley Tellez; “Ask a Mexican,” “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America,” Gustavo Arellano
Regards, readers! September saw me finish four books, all of them with a similar theme, as the titles above make clear: our friends in or from Mexico. It was a south of the border September.
Steinbeck’s novel, one of his first, takes place in Monterey, Calif., among the paisanos. It’s a gentle farce set after World War I and about a returning vet and his friends, cast in a mock-heroic Round Table mold that contrasts with their basically useless lives.
Some find it charming. There is some nice writing here, and humor, and I warmed to it, but it’s basically the unstructured story of a bunch of useless, conniving winos, friends who’ll buy a jug of wine as a gift but then drink it on the way home. Steinbeck’s later “Cannery Row” is in similar knockabout mode, but I remember liking it more.
“Eat Mexico” has a local tie, as author Tellez is a Rancho Cucamonga native. It’s a cookbook with recipes for casual Mexican dishes she learned while living in Mexico City. How does one read a cookbook? Well, there was enough explanatory text about markets, street vendors and more that I found plenty to read, as well as lovely photos to look at. I can’t really judge the recipes other than to observe that her from-scratch approach means effort of varying degrees. If you’re interested in Mexican cooking, you might take a look and see if you think you’re up to it.
This brings us to not one but two books by Arellano, a journalist, OC Weekly editor and commentator. (His other book, “Orange County,” was read in 2012.) He’s best known for his syndicated column, “Ask a Mexican,” early examples of which are collected in the 2007 book of the same name. It’s a sort of advice column in which readers submit questions, often inane or offensive, about cultural mores: Why do Mexicans swim with their clothes on, why do Mexican women bleach their hair, why don’t they assimilate faster, that sort of thing.
Snappy answers to stupid questions, as Mad’s Al Jaffee would put it, but also enlightening answers to penetrating questions. Arellano can be profane and snarky in classic alt-weekly fashion, which some won’t appreciate. But his scholarship and common sense turn many criticisms on their head, placing Mexican immigration and assimilation squarely within the American tradition of Irish, Polish, German and others now deemed acceptable. (No one objects to Irish flags in St. Patrick’s Day parades, he notes, while Mexican pride is viewed suspiciously.)
“Taco USA,” from 2012, is a history of Mexican food in America: where it came from and how it’s adapted. As sophisticated SoCal residents, we may think we know Mexican food, but Arellano has turned up all sorts of hidden history, such as the tamale men who operated from carts a century ago even on the East Coast. Then there’s the hiding-in-plain-sight modern origin stories for Taco Bell, frozen margaritas and El Torito, which made foreign foodstuffs safe for plain folks. His nonjudgmental approach to “authenticity” and adaptation is refreshing, just like an agua fresca.
I think Arellano gave me “Taco USA” when I interviewed him in (gulp) 2012 over combo platters at Ramon’s Cactus Patch — er, it’s been a busy four years, Gustavo! — and I bought “Ask a Mexican” from him shortly after that at an event in Upland. (It’s nice to be caught up on his books, at least until his next one.)
Meanwhile, I bought Tellez’ book from her last year during an event at the Rancho Cucamonga Barnes & Noble that also resulted in a column. Steinbeck’s not around to sell me his book, alas, but I did the next best thing, buying the “Short Novels” omnibus in 2009 at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. I read the omnibus’ five other novels here and there and saved the first, and worst I’m afraid, for last. Nice to have the thing polished off at last.
Winner of the month was “Taco USA.”
Some of you have no doubt read “Tortilla Flat,” and you can tell me about that. But what did you read during September? After all this Mexican food, we’re not hungry to know, but we’ll loosen our belt and listen in due time.
Next month: a little horror, a little history.
Sunday’s column pays a short tribute to the late Arnold Palmer by drawing attention to his role as designer of the Empire Lakes Golf Course in Rancho Cucamonga, the one that closed in May. After that: Culture Corner and other items.
Friday’s column is about a new restaurant in an old location that has seen tenants come and go. Mustang Sally’s hopes to capitalize on its Route 66 location near the Pacific Electric bridge and its patio overlooking the street.
The Melt, 7870 Monet Ave. (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga
The Melt is a San Francisco-based burger chain with a small number of locations in California and Colorado. I’d eaten once at the Sunset and Vine restaurant and was only barely conversant with it before one opened earlier this year at Victoria Gardens.
The menu has burgers, grilled cheese, two salads, tomato soup and mac ‘n’ cheese, plus milkshakes and all-natural sodas. The corporate ethos is to use better ingredients and no preservatives. They also serve craft beer and wine.
On my first visit I ordered the grilled cheese and tomato soup combo ($10) and got a black cherry soda. It was a warming, basic meal. Frankly, it was forgettable, but pleasantly so.
I wanted to return sometime for a milkshake after trying the overdone version at The Mug Shakes. On my second visit, then, I got the swiss and shrooms burger ($7) with fries ($2.45) and a mint chocolate chip shake ($5). Other choices were vanilla bean, double chocolate, cookies and cream, snickerdoodle (!) and salted caramel.
Very good burger, which came with grilled onions and greens, on a poppyseed bun, and the fries, sprinkled with oregano, were addictive. The shake had a crumbled cookie, like a Thin Mint, on top and I liked it too.
A couple of small tables stand outside the restaurant, beyond which is more of a communal patio with chairs in cheerful primary colors. The restaurant is along the made-over street for youngish people with outdoor seating, stylized crosswalks and sidewalks, and overhead strings of lights. I like it.
Murals from the old Red Chief Motel’s restaurant have been pulled from storage and put on view at Upland’s Cooper Museum. My column Wednesday is about the murals and the motel, with some details provided from the 1940s by an eyewitness.