About David Allen

A journalist for nearly 30 years, David Allen has been chronicling the Inland Valley for the Daily Bulletin since 1997 and blogging since 2007. His first book, "Pomona A to Z," was published in 2014. E-mail David here. Read recent columns here.

Restaurant of the Week: Oke Poke, Chino Hills

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Oke Poke, 3277 Grand Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills

Poke, as the menu helpfully explains “is a classic Hawaiian dish comprised of sliced, raw fish and various mix-ins.” It’s becoming popular out our way, with several poke spots having opened in Rancho Cucamonga, for instance, and two in the works for Claremont, which currently has none.

Oke Poke, pronounced like okey-dokey, is a chain with a location in Chino Hills in Payne Ranch Center across Peyton from the Shoppes. It opened in 2015. I met a CHills friend there for lunch recently for my second poke experience this summer (the other was in LA).

As with Chipotle or Pieology, you get in line and proceed to make a series of choices for your bowl: a size (regular $9, large $11), a base (white or brown rice, salad, noodles or cucumber), add-ons, fish (up to five selections for a large), sauce and toppings. Or you can save some brain cells and order a pre-selected bowl. Bowls are all they have, except for miso soup and dessert. Note that all seafood options are the same price, a rarity, and that avocado is free, likewise.

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I got salmon, ahi tuna and scallops atop brown rice with moku seasoning, above; my friend had ahi atop a salad with sesame dressing, below. Both were regular sized.

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They were tasty, light but filling. “I think that was a carb-free lunch,” my friend said with satisfaction. Then she pulled out her phone and played Pokemon Go for a minute (her daughter is hooked too) when a virtual creature appeared at the table next to ours.

Yes, fittingly, the poke restaurant is a poke stop.

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Remembering Magic Towers

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Magic Towers opened in Pomona (540 E. Foothill Blvd.) in 1968 and lasted until 1978. As you can see, it was built to be reminiscent of a castle, specifically Sleeping Beauty’s Castle from Disneyland, according to the owner, with four turrets.

I wrote a little about Magic Towers in a column about Friar Tuck’s, the bar that took over the castle in 1990 and changed to Stein Haus after a “Bar Rescue” makeover (and expired in late 2015):

The castle was built in 1968, about the same time as another piece of roadside architecture, a restaurant a half-mile east in Claremont that resembles a fishing boat.

Originally the castle was Magic Towers, a medieval-themed stand that sold knightburgers, castleburgers and the King Arthur burger, touted as a “triple hamburger with dragon sauce.”

Within two years, an addition made room for a diner and ice cream parlor, and the chef, “Monsieur Leonard,” had trained at the Waldorf Astoria, according to a Progress-Bulletin story.

Owner Monte Radlovic had hoped to expand his empire to other cities and nations, but it’s unclear if any other Magic Towers were developed.

I’m giving the restaurant its own blog post because of this photo, turned up by picture maven Darin Kuna and posted recently on Facebook. How could I not share it in all its medieval glory! It shows the castle after the 1970 addition in front.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Mug Shakes

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The Mug Shakes, Victoria Gardens Food Hall, 12434 N. Mainstreet, Rancho Cucamonga

The Mug Shakes, which opened in May, is a locally owned stall in the Victoria Gardens Food Hall, a non-chain that could become one. It created a sensation upon opening with its decadent creations that are served in glass mugs and spill out of them, with long lines reported on weekends. My colleague Neil Nisperos wrote about them. Fox 11 did a feature too.

As is often the case with me, I was curious but didn’t act on my curiosity for a while; it’s not often I’m at Victoria Gardens, and the messy look of the shakes was a little off-putting, even while it might draw in others. I kind of forgot the place was there. And then a friend from North Hollywood visited and posted photos, and, shamed, I made a special trip on a lunch break this week, when the mercury was 100.

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After lunch, I went to The Mug Shakes, where only a couple of parties were in line. I had time to read the menu board, where photos of the shakes scroll by. A few sounded enticing for my tastes: the Nutty Peanut, with peanut butter and Kit-Kats, the Pine Crunch, with pineapple cheesecake, the O’Real Bomb, with Oreo cookies, and the Grasshopper, with mint chocolate chip ice cream. Some shakes are $7 while others are $8, presumably due to ingredients or assembly time, as all are the same size.

I went for the Banana Bang ($7), with bananas and toffee, in part because it seemed like a (very relatively) lighter offering, and somewhat tidy. It arrived about five minutes later.

There were banana chips affixed to the rim and, inside, fresh banana pieces amid the ice cream, plus smears of toffee inside and around the rim and a topping that some say is marshmallow cream rather than whipped cream.

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Two could share one of these shakes. The elaborate, spillover presentation is eye-catching, if not all that appealing to me. What surprised me was that the shake wasn’t made with premium ice cream. I expected more after all the hype and the care spent on the appearance. Overall, my shake was very sweet but didn’t taste that great. It felt like wasted calories.

Toppings may not impress either: The few, lonely naysayers on Yelp, where Mug Shakes currently has a 4.5 rating, point out that the brownies in one shake are the processed Fiber One brand, not fresh-baked. If they’re going to go to this much trouble, why not use better ingredients and charge another $2 or $3?

“Does it come with a shot of insulin?” one friend asked after seeing a photo of my shake. My NoHo friend said she’d had the Marvelous Mango shake and found it refreshing. “I asked for the calorie counts,” she confided, “and the worker there laughed at me.”

You can take the mug home if you like — the staff will give you a plastic bag for it, since it will be goopy outside and in — or you can return it, which I did. Would I ever go again? Ehh, probably not. At the VG, you might get a better, and certainly more conventional, shake at The Melt (six flavors, including Snickerdoodle) or Johnny Rockets.

Below is a photo from Yelp of a more typical Mug Shakes offering, the Pebble Graham (I think), that may strike you as either challenging or disgusting. I report, you decide.

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A paean to the Pomona Concert Band

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The Thursday night concerts in Ganesha Park by the Pomona Concert Band have been highlighted by me before. But they don’t seem to be as well-known as they should. Mary P. Wallace of La Verne emailed me to make that point.

“They may be the best-kept secret in the valley. It would be a wonderful evening for families in our valley,” Wallace writes. She’s a native of Pomona and has attended the concerts off and on since the 1960s, but has gone consistently the past few years.

To her ears, the Pomona Concert Band is the best community orchestra around. “The reason is that they play wonderful Sousa marches, and other familiar pops music, plus introducing me to new and beautiful music. They are truly a class act, led by Linda Taylor,” Wallace continues.

She and her friend, Jan Van Alstine, have developed a routine, stopping first at the food trucks at the fairgrounds to try something unfamiliar, and then on to neighboring Ganesha Park for the 8 p.m. concerts at the band shell, on White Avenue just north of the 10 Freeway.

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“The park is ‘safe’ and accessible. Just bring a lawn chair,” advises Wallace. She also notes a new feature this year: carvings from the logs of dead trees. There’s a bear rearing up as you approach the band shell, and an eagle perched at the top of a trunk on the rise overlooking the band shell.

As Wallace says, the eagle is “watching over us, enjoying a real piece of Americana.”

I always attend one concert each season and was there last Thursday. (Wallace and Van Alstine saw me and introduced themselves.)

Instrumental music isn’t my thing, candidly, and I’m more of a Glass House person, but the band’s ambition and range is always laudable, from modern symphonic works and showtunes to a classical song by Holst and, yes, a Sousa composition. I like the tradition too, music under the stars at our mini-Hollywood Bowl, something Pomonans have been doing since the late 1940s.

The season’s last Thursday concert is Aug. 25, but there’s a 6 p.m. Aug. 28 concert as well. See the schedule and program notes here. And here is the food truck lineup for this Thursday.

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The Bear Gulch bear

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When taking photos recently of the property around Rancho Cucamonga’s Sycamore Inn for which development is proposed, I paid a visit to the Bear Gulch monument and historical marker, on the western edge of the restaurant property.

The monument was erected in 1932 to mark a resting point of the 18th century. The two overland expeditions by Juan Bautista de Anza from Mexico to Northern California stopped there. Bear Gulch is the local name for the area where, evidently, bears had been spotted on numerous occasions in olden days.

You can check out the plaque below. It’s listed online in the Historical Marker Database.

My colleague Joe Blackstock explored the marker in a column in 2014. He wondered why the marker cites the minor Father Pedro Font when he was accompanying the better-known de Anza, and why the marker says 1779 when the expedition was actually in 1776 — and de Anza had previously been there in 1774.

More whimsically, reader Will Plunkett says he refers to the statue as the Monkey Bear because the bear’s face has a simian aspect.

Check it out sometime when you’re driving past on Foothill Boulevard or eating at the Sycamore, and maybe give a little growl.

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