Restaurant of the Week: Bert and Rocky’s Cream Co.

Bert and Rocky’s Cream Co., 242 Yale Ave. (at Bonita), Claremont; open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Ice cream and candy shop Bert and Rocky’s started in Upland in 1989 and expanded to Claremont in the late 1990s; the Upland location, by the high school, has closed, leaving the Claremont shop as the mainstay.

It’s a popular spot with a lot of foot traffic, great homemade ice cream and a community-oriented outlook with school fund-raisers and the like.

I’ve gone to Bert and Rocky’s since its Village location opened — not frequently, but probably once a year. It wasn’t until meeting a friend there during October’s heat wave that it occurred to me to make it a Restaurant of the Week.

They’ve got a couple dozen ice cream flavors, plus sorbet and other non-dairy permutations, at any given time, available as cones (their waffle cones are housemade), dishes, sundaes, banana splits, freezes and milkshakes.

I went for Butterfingers and cream in my go-to size, junior scoop ($3.45). Seems plenty big to me.

Bert and Rocky’s also has fudge, bark, caramel apples, chocolate-dipped items, scooped candy and nostalgic packaged candy like Necco wafers. There are a few tables, a bar, some outdoor chairs and, on most afternoons, a crush of customers — but also a friendly and patient staff.

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Restaurant of the Week: Frary Dining Hall, Pomona College

Fray Dining Hall, Pomona College, 347 E. 6th St., Claremont; open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with afternoon breaks

I’ve made a slow circuit of the dining halls of the Claremont Colleges, hitting Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer and Scripps over the past few years. Since they’re open to the public, they’re fair game for a Restaurant of the Week.

The food at all the above is pretty good and varied too, with potentially more vegetarian and vegan options than many restaurants, thanks to the ethical, philosophical and gastronomic attitudes of the college population. And the chance to mix in a collegiate environment may be a nostalgic experience for post-collegians. The dining is almost certainly better than you remembered.

Pomona College’s Frary Hall (hours and menus here) is the granddaddy of the dining halls, opened as it was in 1929. I went there for lunch recently with two friends, one of them a colleges employee.

The environment is the best of the dining halls, a grand space with cream walls, dark wood and a soaring, arched ceiling. It’s the Hogwarts of the Inland Valley. (A Potter fan might really like a meal here.) And you get to see the “Prometheus” mural by Jose Clemente Orozco.

My friend said Frary has the worst food of all the colleges. And the choices that day did not inspire: not one but two nacho bars (if there was a difference, we failed to discern it), pizza and dim sum. Meanwhile, over at Pitzer, they were feasting on blackened pork loin with nectarine avocado salsa and broccoli.

We had nachos and dim sum, which consisted of vegetable spring rolls, pork siew mai, cha su bao and meatless Hoisin meatballs, with three dipping sauces.

It was all acceptable, and washed down with papaya mango iced tea. Dessert offerings consisted of cookies and fried cheesecake. I’ve seen soft serve, hand-scooped premium ice cream, brownies, pastries and more at other colleges. As the president might tweet about the photo below: “Sad!”

Still, for $14 for a visitor, the price for an all-you-can-eat buffet is all right, and the quality beats the inedible Hometown Buffet by a mile. But Frary might be due for an upgrade.

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Restaurant of the Week: Grizzly’s Biscuits and Donuts

Grizzly’s Biscuits and Donuts, 353 W. Bonita Ave. (at Indian Hill), Claremont; open daily 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

It’s the first place in the Village to sell fresh doughnuts (newspapers’ preferred spelling, btw) in this century. Grizzly’s opened in April and was an immediate hit, because: doughnuts. Also because: good doughnuts.

It’s from the team that brought us Pappas Artisanal in La Verne, one of the area’s better dining options. Grizzly’s sells small-batch doughnuts, about six styles per day, from $2 to $3.50, plus biscuit sandwiches from $7 to $9. They use choice ingredients, some of them locally sourced, like Chino eggs, and good for them.

Doughnuts first: I’ve had the glazed, chocolate raised, vanilla crumb, raspberry Nutella, apple fritter and strawberry rhubarb fritter. They got off to a good start with me because the glazed was still warm. There is nothing like a warm doughnut, when the icing is still gooey. Grizzly’s doughnuts are less sweet than we’re used to, but they have more flavor. The only one of the above I wouldn’t get again is the vanilla crumb; the crumbs largely fell off onto the bag as I ate.

Now, biscuits? An unexpected concept — do people go out for biscuits? — but in sandwich form, these are worth trying. I’ve had the Harper (cheddar, sunny side egg, roasted onions, garlic aioli) and the Baseline (bacon, cheddar, sunny side egg, roasted onions, garlic aioli, pictured below), both of which were very good as well as filling, the sort of breakfast that keeps you going past lunchtime. Plain biscuits are $2 each.

An editor here got the Le Monde (egg whites, mushrooms, roasted onions, spinach, swiss cheese, chickpea garlic sauce) and was both wowed and relieved our office isn’t next door.

That said, one Claremont loyalist put off by the pricing told me she’d rather get one of Some Crust’s famous egg sliders for a couple of bucks less, and if you just want a dozen doughnuts for the office, you might be better off going to Yum Yum for a wider variety at a cheaper price. (Or to Cake Among Us in Rancho Cucamonga.) But if you’re the foodie type, Grizzly’s is the best spot this side of Glendora’s Donut Man.

There’s limited seating. Also, you may find a line out the door, especially after my colleague Liset Marquez’s feature story on the business a few days ago, but don’t be deterred: Because the doughnuts are displayed right inside the door, any time there’s more than, say, three customers, one of them will be outside. Good marketing.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Upper House

The Upper House, 352 S. Indian Hill Blvd. (at Arrow), Claremont; open daily until 11 p.m.

Located in Peppertree Square, the center most of us visit only for the Peruvian restaurant Kykirykithe Upper House opened in January, replacing Royal Panda, which by all accounts (I never ate there) was your typical quick-serve Chinese restaurant.

The Upper House, by contrast, is a sit-down spot, and it serves real Chinese food. I met some friends there for lunch on a recent Saturday.

Inside it’s all blond wood, light and airy, and the service was exceptionally friendly. The menu is long, typical for a Chinese restaurant, but not absurdly so. In an unusual touch, the lunch menu ($8 to $10) is good seven days a week. But we ordered off the regular menu: cumin lamb ($14), pineapple chicken ($10, below), combination noodle soup ($10) and vegetable lo mein ($8).

We all liked our food; one, in fact, even liked the water: “This water is so good. Write it down.” [I dutifully complied.] “It’s got jasmine in it.” [Note: Water not pictured.]

Speaking of his soup, one declared fulsomely: “It was a delightful combination of flavors and textures.” Once that was out of the way, he said: “It was really good.”

A second said of the chicken: “Mine was also delicious.” Chiming in about her lo mein, the third said: “Ibid.” (Yes, she really said “ibid.” The water must have gotten to her.)

I got the cumin lamb, a dish I’ve had at a couple of other restaurants, one in Chino Hills, the other in Alhambra, and this version was their equal. By my standards, then, the Upper House is among the handful of authentic Chinese restaurants in the Claremont-Pomona-La Verne area.

(That said, while the menu avoids orange chicken and cream cheese wontons, it does, confusingly, have a section labeled egg foo young, another, dated signifier of Americanized food, But who knows, maybe they put their own spin on it.)

As for the name the Upper House, we asked and were told it doesn’t really mean anything. But it’s more interesting than the generic Royal Panda.

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Restaurant of the Week: Dr. Grubb’s

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Dr. Grubb’s, 353 W. Bonita Ave. (at Indian Hill), Claremont; closed Sundays

Dr. Grubb’s opened in the Village in the mid-’00s, taking a spot that had been occupied by a short-lived empanada restaurant that I really liked. Grubb’s, a healthy option where you pick a “protein,” a sauce and a side, didn’t wow me on my one and only visit, pre-blog, and in fact struck me as slightly weird and unsatisfying. Did I want a foam plate with chicken, couscous and a sauce, to be consumed with a plastic knife and fork, for a couple of dollars more than I wanted to pay? I didn’t.

But Dr. Grubb’s has hung in there and became a favorite with the college crowd, and it recently moved into larger quarters two doors west, the former Salad Farm space. Some friends and I gave it a chance for lunch on a warm afternoon recently.

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The interior is impressive, with a long, polished bar at which you can eat taking up most of the length of the storefront. There’s some regular seating too, and patio seating as well.

The menu is larger, but it’s still a protein, sauce and side operation. (They also have four beers on draft.) Proteins include salmon, shrimp, tofu, chicken and steak, with one-side combos ranging from $10 to $14. The idea of selecting a protein, which was an eye-roller for me originally, seems mainstream in the Chipotle era, by the way. We ordered and adjourned to the patio.

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Whereas Dr. Grubb’s had at first seemed somewhat provisional, now they give out plates and actual silverware. I liked my salmon with lemon thyme sauce and white rice ($12) and may have made the best choice of our group.

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One got shrimp with sun-dried tomato pesto and vegetables. The latter were bland, the former “fantastic.” “The sauce kind of makes it,” he said. “I wouldn’t have expected sauce to be a choice. Don’t neglect the sauce.” He smeared leftover sauce on his vegetables and they were improved by the addition.

Another got tofu with lemon thyme and vegetables. Finding them both “tasteless,” she also heaped praise on the sauce for rescuing her meal. “Thank goodness for the sauce,” she said.

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The last, but not least, of our group got chicken with mango sauce and penne pasta. It was good, he said, but he rued his choice of mango sauce: “The guy recommended the garlic aioli and I probably should have done that.” (By contrast, I asked what sauce I should get and followed the advice. I am not bigger than the counterman.)

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Everyone said they would consider going back, even the vegetarian, although I don’t know that anyone would order the vegetables again. I dodged a bullet on that one. At this point I go to Dr. Grubb’s once a decade, but I may pick up the pace. Final thought: Don’t neglect the sauce.

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Restaurant of the Week: Poke Dot

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Poke Dot, 175 N. Indian Hill Blvd. (at 2nd), Claremont

The poke craze, like the Pokemon craze, has hit Claremont. Poke Dot, whose only other location right now is in Irvine, opened last week in the Village (or the “new Village,” depending on your outlook). A “coming soon” sign for Oke Poke is hanging outside the Old School House.

A friend alerted me that Poke Dot had a half-off deal for its opening weekend, so rather than let the place settle in, I headed over on Sunday. It was busy, not surprisingly. The restaurant, whose name is a pun on “polka dot” if you need help with the pronunciation, is between Jamba Juice and a skate shop and replaces a gift shop that moved a couple of doors north.

As with Oke Poke, whose Chino Hills location was featured here recently, you line up like at Chipotle or Subway to make a series of possibly bewildering choices. Regular or large bowl, OK. Salad or rice, yes. By the time you decide whether you want masago or furikake, or both, you may be flying blind.

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I opted for a regular bowl ($9), brown rice, a mix of cucumber, onion and cilantro, then tuna, scallops and the seasonal fish, yellowtail. The seasoning and sauce question was answered cilantro twist, and for toppings, I got masago, furikake and green onions. Combined with a canned soda, I’d normally have paid $11.

The bowl was quite good, and while I had liked Oke Poke, the fish seemed to be of higher quality here. Which is good for me, since Poke Dot is closer than Chino Hills, or even the Old School House. At this point, the only other Poke Dot is in Irvine.

After your meal, you can play Pokemon in the neighborhood — the fountain in the courtyard plaza is a hotspot, as is 2nd Street between Harvard and Yale.

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Restaurant of the Week: House of Pong

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House of Pong, 1077 W. Foothill (at Towne), Claremont

This small brown building squeezed between a Shell station and the Stater Bros. center was home to Inka Trails for many years and Jeni Wren’s for under a year. It’s now House of Pong, an Asian fusion restaurant, although you could be forgiven for reading the Gothic script of the sign as something slightly racy.

Someone else had recommended it to me as a great small plates place, but I was skeptical, figuring the restaurant would close before I could get there anyway based on the location. But months later, it was still open when a friend suggested it for dinner based on the 4.5-star Yelp rating. So we took a chance.

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The rustic interior has been redone, and a bar has been added. It was a slow weeknight and we were the only customers for a long stretch. The server was attentive, but then, she didn’t have anything else to do.

The menu has salads, soups, sandwiches and entrees, many seafood-based, including ramen, udon, yakisoba and rice bowls. It was tricky figuring out what combinations of plates from the wide-ranging menu might make a satisfying meal.

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We split an appetizer, Flamin’ Cheesy Cheetos ($7), which were mozzarella sticks covered in crumbled cheetos, and strangely addicting. My friend had the soft-shell crab sandwich ($13), served on Hawaiian bread. He said there was a lot of crab but that he mostly tasted the breading.

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I had the salmon skin salad ($8) and Under the Sea soup ($7). The soup, with scallop, clams, mussel, shrimp, zucchini and onion, was lukewarm and seemed made up of individual ingredients. The salad was better.

Some of the Yelp photos look better than what we had, so we might just have ordered poorly. That said, the rapturous reviews didn’t match our experience, and I can’t recommend the place. Cute chalkboard, though.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Meat Cellar

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The Meat Cellar, 665 E. Foothill Blvd. (at Claremont), Claremont; closed Mondays

Located at the eastern entrance to Claremont, in the plaza with Blue Fin Sushi, Meat Cellar is a butcher shop that also cooks food to eat in or to go and sells wine. As a frequent visitor to the Starbucks next door, I noticed Meat Cellar as it was going in earlier this year and have been in for dinner three times — which will tell you right there that I like the place.

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There’s simple seating and you order at the register, past the butcher case. There are a half-dozen specials on the board plus a short printed menu, and they will also cook anything in the case that catches your eye. On one day, the specials were lamb chops, salmon tacos, BBQ pork sandwich, halibut, and muscles mussels with fries, ranging from $12 to $21.

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Twice I’ve had steak frites ($19, above), a hanger steak atop a bed of fries, the first time because it sounded good, the second time because I remembered how good the first one was (I was not disappointed). My other visit I got herb-crusted tenderloin with mixed greens ($17, below), another winner.

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Generally I’ll eat a steak maybe twice a year. I’m not one for the formality, or pricing, of a steakhouse, or one who wants to get a mediocre steak at a cheesy family restaurant. Meat Cellar makes it simpler for me. Also, due to ordering at the counter, tipping doesn’t seem necessary, which makes the meal more affordable (by, well, 15 to 20 percent, right?).

They serve beer (from nearby Claremont Craft Ales) and wine. On my visits, the music has been cool, with lots of Bowie, Tears for Fears and the Smiths. The restaurant has no freezer, with all items delivered daily, and all the meat and poultry is organic, antibiotic-free and, as appropriate, grass-fed and pasture-raised.

I like it — but then, I said that up top.

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Restaurant of the Week: Snow Station

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Snow Station, 1 N. Indian Hill Blvd. (at railroad tracks), Claremont

Claremont is a good ice cream town, or more accurately frozen dessert town, for which it doesn’t get enough credit. In the Village there’s Bert and Rocky’s (traditional ice cream), A La Minute (nitrogen ice cream), 21 Choices and Yogurtland (frozen yogurt), with another 21 Choices and a Baskin Robbins near each other on Foothill. And now there’s Snow Station.

Formerly a Verizon store, and then Pie St. pizza, this little shop is at the south end of what we might call the American Apparel building. Blink and you’ll miss it. Snow Station appears to be winning the battle despite its location.

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It’s a franchise of a slightly different concept, a vegan ice cream parlor, although it’s not billing itself that way. The offerings are described as a blend of ice cream and frozen yogurt, both non-dairy because soy milk is used. “No longer do vegans and lactose intolerant individuals have to watch while others enjoy ice cream or frozen yogurt,” the back of the menu reads. The result is said to be lighter in calories, which I can believe, because it’s not dense.

Flavors and toppings are reminiscent of Yogurtland.

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There are three sizes: mini ($4), baby ($6) and hungry ($8). My first visit was with a friend, and we each got the mini size, which looks like the kind of cup in which you’d get two scoops. For that price you get your choice of ice cream, topping and drizzle. I went with peanut butter, bananas and honey; my friend got raspberry, Heath bar and nothing. (She was a fizzle on drizzle.)

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What you get is snowy, almost like shaved ice, snow with milk or homemade ice cream from the days when you churned it yourself. (Have you had the latter two? I have, although it’s been decades.)

“This is very refreshing, isn’t it?” my friend said. “It’s very tasty. This doesn’t give you brain freeze, either.” I agreed.

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I liked it enough I went back a couple of weeks later. This time I got pineapple with strawberries and honey, another good combo, at the same size. I will say Snow Station isn’t quite as satisfying as traditional, dense ice cream, or even frozen yogurt. Another customer was heard to say, by way of praise, “It’s almost fluffy.” But it’s unique, light and very good.

Also, it’s kind of cool when a Metrolink train goes by.

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Restaurant of the Week: Zaky Mediterranean Grill, Claremont

 

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Zaky Mediterranean Grill, 806 S. Indian Hill Blvd. (at Auto Center Drive), Claremont

Zaky has locations in Rancho Cucamonga and Upland, both of which I like for casual Lebanese food. They took over the former World Famous Grill (!) in what some call Claremona, the portion of Claremont below the 10 Freeway. There’s a Starbucks and Denny’s next door.

I hadn’t been to this one, but it’s similar to the others, only a little more stylish (what would you expect from Claremont?), and with a visible grill. That’s the first thing you see upon walking in, before you even get to the counter to order.

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Zaky’s has wraps, kabob and shawarma plates and rotisserie chicken. Baklava was displayed in a case.

I got the two-skewer chicken plate, with hummus and rice as my sides ($12), plus a small soda. They have a Coke Freestyle machine where you can mix and match. (For the record, I got Vanilla Coke Zero.)

Immediately, a skewer of chicken was put in the grill before my eyes.

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My food took a little while, but it was well worth it the wait. Chicken is their specialty, and they know what they’re doing. The sides, pita bread and garlic sauce — oh, that garlic sauce — were all fine too. My only regret was getting two skewers: One would have been plenty.

They’re now selling pork kabobs too. The owner gave me a couple of pieces to try. Unusual, but well done, even though the traditional chicken and beef are my favorites.

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