Restaurant of the Week: Bigg Dane and Beale’s Texas BBQ

Bigg Dane and Beale’s Texas BBQ, 7373 East Ave. (at Base Line), Fontana; open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily and 8 p.m. weekends; closed Tuesdays

I read about Bigg Dane’s in late 2015 but only recently sought it out, after 1) remembering and then 2) learning it’s on the near side of Fontana, off the 15 at Base Line Road, a stone’s throw from Rancho, rather than a few further miles out of the way. Actually getting to Bigg’s from the freeway is tricky due to the layout of the intersection, but a couple of counter-intuitive left turns and I was in the shopping center.

There’s a smoker out front, a good sign; inside, you order at the counter and take a seat in the adjacent dining room. The menu has plates with two sides, sandwiches with one side and a few lunch specials. My first visit, I ordered brisket with collard greens and cornbread ($15).

My food was delivered on a metal tray lined with paper: two long strips of brisket, sauce on the side, a plate of cornbread and a dish of greens. It was all good.

Wanting to try the ribs, I returned the next week for the three-rib lunch special ($10) with one side, mac and cheese. The mac was dense and cheesy.

As soon as I picked up the first rib, its heft, density and smell let me know these were serious. The meat was tender but firm and came off the bone cleanly; the taste was excellent. I am no barbecue expert, but I’ve eaten at Franklin’s in Austin, Pappy’s in St. Louis and Bludso’s in L.A., and while Biggs’ weren’t at that level, nor would I expect them to be, they were reminiscent of that level. The ribs have a dry rub and don’t need sauce, and yet the thin, slightly sweet sauce on the side was quite good too.

The dining room is clean and new, a little sterile due to minimal decor. I was surprised how unoccupied it was given the quality of the food. Maybe it’s busier on the weekend. Owned by two longtime friends, it’s a family-run operation, and on one visit a young daughter was stationed at a table, coloring. Gotta like a place like that.

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More art in Montclair Place

This 28-by-14-foot mural went up over the weekend in Montclair Place mall on the upper level near the east end escalators, the work of the anonymous artist Punk Me Tender. It features, according to the mall, “a fashionable woman wearing a dress inspired by an Alexander McQueen design, who is posed among dripping chandeliers while walking her pooches.” The dress was made from 10 yards of silk, taffeta and mixed media.

The mural joins the one completed last month on the parking structure exterior. A third mural is promised later this month.

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Remembering Pomona’s muscle car scene

Photo of ’69 Chevelle Gasser courtesy of Super Chevy

“Growing up in the Pomona Valley during the early to mid-’70s meant being around the baddest muscle cars and hot rods in So Cal,” Nick Licata writes in an article for Super Chevy, a magazine for Chevrolet fanatics.

Licata continues: “On just about every block it was common to see an open garage door on a warm summer night with a few young gearheads listening to Led Zeppelin while wrenching away on a hot rod of some sort.”

Early teens like Licata would ride their Schwinn Sting-Rays on Saturday nights to a vacant lot behind a Garey Avenue Taco Bell, where more than 50 muscle cars would be shown off by their owners. They would be treated as local celebrities by the kids.

Reader Ed Tessier, who sent me the story, says he found its take spot-on. He adds that in south Pomona in that era, “low rider culture was a bigger deal on many blocks and the radios were pumping out Mexican pop.” Not everyone was into Zeppelin.

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Column: Event knit together future of L.A., Claremont

I attended a documentary screening and talk by the LA Times’ architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, in Claremont last week and found its discussion of LA’s future intriguing enough to try writing about it. I hope the results are interesting to the non-architecture crowd. Some Culture Corner items and a Valley Vignette round things out in Sunday’s column.

By the way, after the talk I hung around the lobby reception in hopes of meeting my fellow ink-stained wretch, whose work I follow, but there are some awfully gabby people in Claremont, and Hawthorne was generous with his attention, so eventually I gave up — moments after taking the photo that goes with the column.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Chocolate Bar

The Chocolate Bar, 1520 N. Mountain Ave. (at Sixth), Ontario; open daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A dessert shop, The Chocolate Bar, opened in March in Ontario’s Gateway Center, the one just below the 10 Freeway at Mountain. I recognized the location immediately as a former comic book store, New Age Comics (RIP), that I had patronized. I guess it’s still full of pricey indulgences.

It sells parfaits, cannoli, mousse, cheesecake, gelato, sorbet and more. A friend and I met up there at his recommendation; he’d been there multiple times. We were going to have lunch, but sandwiches have been taken off the menu until after the grand opening, the server explained. So we ate at Chopsticks Wok in the same center, then returned for dessert.

(I thought I’d written about Chopsticks Wok, formerly Chopsticks House, and didn’t take photos of our lunch. Come to find out I never did. Well, it gets a mild recommendation for its decent, standard Chinese food.)

Chocolate Bar is a cavernous space, very long, with a faux brick wall, a communal table, a long sofa and more. Plenty of room to hang out or mill around, or maybe to walk off a few calories.

The server gave us free samples of macarons. I’m not a devotee, but theirs seemed like a good version.

I got a small gelato ($4) with two flavors, dulce de leche and banana dulce de leche, side by side. Very creamy, very rich, and the banana is like the basic dulce de leche, plus banana, and what’s not to like about that?

My friend got a small sorbet ($4) with two flavors, coconut and blood orange. He discerned real coconut and called his dish “refreshing.”

Incidentally, gelato flavors included two types of pistachio, one of which has chunks of pistachio, for the purists.

The Chocolate Bar seems like a nice addition to the dessert landscape (mmm, dessert landscape). I wonder a little about the name, having seen an unrelated Chocolate Bar at Hollywood and Vine last weekend, and with a search for Chocolate Bar turning up a chain with four U.S. locations chosen seemingly at random, plus one in Kuwait.

But perhaps the name will stick, just like chocolate to your fingertips.

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Column: Local man made sure Hollywood Sign would last

Illustrating once again that there’s a local angle to everything, a longtime Upland man, Cornelius Van Dam, was the structural engineer who oversaw the new version of the Hollywood Sign in 1978. The modest Van Dam, long retired, now lives in a retirement home in Ontario and says he was never a publicity hound. Nevertheless, at his wife’s urging, he talked to me for Wednesday’s column.

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Roman holiday

Roman “Roach” Foronda was honored at the Lemon Festival, where the guitarist was performing with three bands, Blue Highway, Gene Pool and Backstreet, the latter of which he founded in 1973. The native Uplander still lives on the street where he grew up. The certificate of recognition from the City Council ends: “Thank you for providing melody and harmony for all to enjoy.” He’s also due to get a proclamation from the City Council at its June 12 meeting.

Here’s a 2015 video of Backstreet performing “Europa/Oye Como Va.”

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Reading Log: April 2017

Books acquired: none

Books read: “Bloodhounds on Broadway and Other Stories,” Damon Runyon; “Reporters: Memoirs of a Young Newspaperman,” Will Fowler; “The World of Jimmy Breslin,” Jimmy Breslin; “You Know Me Al,” Ring Lardner

I spent my reading time in April on old-time books by or about journalists. A convergence of factors was at work.

I’d been hoping to read Fowler’s book because there’s a long chapter on Jim Murray, one of whose collections I read last year. But then Breslin died in March, and his book, on my shelf for eight years, demanded to be read. The Runyon and Lardner books were among my oldest unread books, and while they’re not journalism exactly, both men were journalists, and Breslin once wrote a biography of Runyon. So it all made sense, in my mind at least, and thus was a month of reading born.

It’s also possible that my 20th anniversary at the Bulletin, and subsequent 30th anniversary in newspapers, played a role as well. In any event, this proved to be one of my best all-around months for the ol’ Reading Log, as I liked each book, some quite a bit.

The Runyon book collects 20 of his Broadway stories. He has such a distinctive writing style — present tense, no contractions, narrated by someone who is trying to be precise and elevated (an Adam Gopnik New Yorker article lays this out delightfully) — that his work is almost immediately recognizable as his, and that almost any sentence is funny.

The stories themselves are generally upbeat and end happily, or at least neatly, so this isn’t great literature in the approved sense. But Runyon is worth reading as a stylist, if nothing else.

Fowler’s memoir of working for various LA papers in the ’40s and ’50s is recommended to journalists and devotees of that period of LA’s history, but no one else; the writing and copy editing are often dreadful. Flawed as it is, his book is really eye-opening about the sort of access reporters had to crime scenes, the hospitals and the morgue, and how newsrooms operated. Fowler was first on the scene of the Black Dahlia murder scene, and that’s an interesting, if gruesome, chapter.

(There’s a Pomona anecdote in the book that will make my column sometime.)

Lardner’s book, from 1916, is written as a series of letters from a neophyte, and dense, pitcher to his hometown friend, Al, about the game, his relations with management and his personal life. They’re full of charming misspellings and self-delusion. It would be wrong to call the result hilarious, but amusing, sad and infuriating, yes. Jack Keefe, the pitcher in question, will take no advice from anyone and will never admit a mistake, blaming every loss on his teammates. He might be presidential timber.

Lastly, Breslin’s book, published in 1967, comprises the best of his New York Herald Tribune columns from ’63-’67, with some fond and hagiographic commentary by his editors. I found this book remarkable. Three columns about JFK’s assassination rise to the top, including the understated one about the gravedigger, the piece for which Breslin is best remembered. (Instead of following the pack to the funeral, he’s the only one getting the gravedigger’s perspective.)

But then there’s also his reporting from Harlem, and a series from the march on Montgomery, and from Vietnam, all amazing, detailed and seething with quiet anger. Two on the dying Winston Churchill also are powerful. Some of the ones from Breslin’s own cranky perspective, like on how he hates his neighbors, kind of put me off, but overall, I finished this book wanting more. (It appears he might only have one other collection of columns, amid his myriad of novels and single-topic nonfiction, but perhaps a Jimmy Breslin Reader, or somesuch, will be in the offing now that he’s gone.)

I may write a column on Breslin, if space permits, but if not, this will stand, and you blog readers will have the exclusive (to keep the journalistic theme going). I won’t make a blanket recommendation of “The World of Jimmy Breslin,” but you might like it; certainly you ought to read the gravedigger column, which can be found online here; “A Death in Emergency Room One,” his account of Kennedy’s death, is equally gripping and can be read here.

I’ve had the Runyon and Lardner books since the late 1980s, and boy is it nice having them out of the way; Fowler’s was bought at Anaheim’s Book Baron during its closing sale in 2007, and Breslin’s was picked up at St. Louis’ Dunaway Books in 2009.

How was your April? Was it the cruelest month? I hope not.

Next month: a vacation to the islands

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