Restaurant of the Week: Iron Skillet

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Iron Skillet, 805 N. Euclid Ave. (at H), Ontario; open daily, 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

One of Ontario’s most distinctive restaurants, the Iron Skillet dates to 1959 and was built in the Googie style, with a low-pitched roofline and expansive windows, not to mention an old-fashioned counter with swivel seats. Originally a Spires, it’s been Iron Skillet, under various hands, since about 1980.

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After a period in the doldrums, it’s perked up in recent months under new owner. A reader advised me to give it another try, touting the freshly baked bread, pies and home-cooked food. So, after a long period away, I’ve gone in a couple of times for lunch.

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First visit I got a special, the BBQ brisket sandwich ($9), which was a mistake. I forgot that kind of sandwich is basically chipped beef. The fries were better than average, though.

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Next time I got the half-sandwich special ($11, I think), which came with two sides, from among a choice of soup, salad or pie. I got a tuna melt plus a Caesar salad and apple pie. (There were three flavors available.) It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I got pie, or that I opted for my baseline diner sandwich.

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This was a filling meal, and pretty good too: big salad, hearty sandwich even in a half-portion and, after a few minutes for everything to settle, a slice of pie. While the pie was along the lines of the type you get in a supermarket, i.e., not spectacular, it was pie in a diner, where the ambience improves the experience. I’m not sure why it was served with a spoon rather than a fork.

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Everything is homemade, including the pie and bread, my server told me. Breakfast is served all day, they’re open for dinner and, after 4:30 p.m., dinners come with ice cream on the house. Perhaps no other restaurant in Ontario can make that claim.

The menu has a variety of breakfast items, sandwiches and salads at lunch, and chicken, steak and seafood items for dinner (including, for those who find this appealing, liver and onions). Unexpected beverages include Italian sodas, Shirley Temple and Roy Rogers.

The Skillet is worth a fresh look if you like classic American diners. It’s nice to see them trying again.

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James Hueter, ‘Explorations’

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James Hueter, one of the Claremont artists from the GI Bill era, has a one-man show, “Explorations,” that opened Saturday and continues through June 1 at the Bunny Gunner gallery, 230 W. Bonita Ave. It’s got a couple of dozen works in various media: paintings, drawings, sculptures and assemblages.

Hueter, seen at right above, turns 91 on May 15 “and continues to make new work in his studio in Claremont,” daughter Barbara Schenck told me. I attended the opening, as did many others, including a lot of local artists there to pay obeisance.

Hueter is the last survivor of the “Four Friends” group of Sam Maloof, Rupert Deese and Harrison McIntosh. One of his pieces was acquired recently by the Huntington Library for its permanent collection.

His most recent solo show was at the Claremont Museum of Art in 2009. “It was a 60-year retrospective — and that was seven years ago,” Schenck noted.

 

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Column: Comic in DC crosshairs is from 909

Comedian Larry Willmore speaks at the 102nd White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington, DC, on April 30, 2016. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM        (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Comedian Larry Willmore speaks at the 102nd White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington, DC, on April 30, 2016. / AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Friday’s column starts with an item about the buzz-worthy White House Correspondents Dinner, where Larry Wilmore roasted the president and everyone else. Wilmore, who took Stephen Colbert’s place on Comedy Central, grew up in Pomona. I’ve also got a half-dozen Culture Corner items and more.

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Restaurant of the Week: BC Cafe, Claremont

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BC Cafe, 701 S. Indian Hill Blvd. (at San Jose), Claremont; open 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily

Drive by BC Cafe any weekend morning and you’ll see people standing in small groups outside, waiting for a free table. It’s a big-breakfast spot, with roots dating to 1959 in Pomona, where it was named Breakfast at Carl’s, before moving north and shortening its name at some later point, the ’80s or ’90s.

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The name is somewhat confusing, incidentally. The owners attempted to brand the place as Kickback Jack’s, with a cartoon mascot of a Jimmy Buffett-like jackrabbit, but that’s only stuck at the second location, in Rancho Cucamonga. The website for both is KickbackJacks.com. But a change of the Claremont sign lasted a couple of weeks before the BC Cafe name was hastily restored.

I’ve eaten at both locations but primarily at Claremont’s, although not for years. For my birthday in March, though, I decided to treat myself to banana pancakes there.

BC was just as I’d remembered, even if the Howard Johnson’s behind it is now a Knights Inn. On a Monday morning, there was plenty of seating. The breakfast menu is extensive. They also have a variety of smoothies, not to mention a variety of milkshakes, on a beverage and desserts menu.

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I got one pancake, plus egg and bacon ($9.03). (You can get two pancakes with egg and bacon/sausage for $11, or the two pancakes alone for $9, but two would have been too many.) The sides were fine and the pancake very good, with bananas cooked right in, as I’d recalled, rather than placed on top as an afterthought, as at most restaurants.

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Figuring I ought to try them for lunch too, I returned a few weeks later, at about 1 p.m. There’s a sizable menu of sandwiches, burgers and salads. There’s also something called the “dirty” menu for both breakfast and lunch, where all the items have “dirty” in their names. It’s evidently less healthy items, although that’s muddied by “dirty kale Tuscany salad,” which hardly sounds like an indulgence. The print version is poorly designed and really should be rethought. Also confusing: The back of the staff T-shirts promote “dirty donuts,” but they’re not on the menu that I could tell, and I forgot both times to ask about them.

I ordered off the specials menu, a half Frisco baguette ($8.89), which is a roll with chicken, onions and mushrooms, all grilled. What is “Frisco” about this sandwich is unknown; it’s a chicken Philly without cheese. It came with fries, plus soup or salad.

There was a problem here: The first soup I ordered wasn’t available, and as for the second, the server returned and reported that they’d all been sitting for a while without heat and that she wouldn’t serve them. She recommended a salad, which I got, and which was fine. This may be a fluke, but it doesn’t say much for the kitchen. It does, however, say a lot for the server.

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Naming issues aside, the sandwich was quite good, and I don’t know how I would have eaten the full version. Besides the salad and fries, there was a cute little cup of tapioca pudding (awww), a pickle slice, an orange slice and a teensy box with two pieces of Beechwood gum. Such a deal.

So, BC Cafe has awfully long menus, the sort of thing that leads to suspicion of overreach. Except both my meals were really good.

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Column: New heart, new life, same spirit

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Allen Callaci was dying of heart disease at only 46 when he qualified for a heart transplant. Four years later, he’s doing well and has just published a memoir about the experience. The story is in my Wednesday column. Above, this is the six-inch stoop that seemed almost insurmountable in the days after his return home. You can listen to an interview with him on KSPC here.

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Reading Log: April 2016

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Books acquired: “Empire,” Lewis DeSoto.

Books read: “Heart Like a Starfish,” Allen Callaci; “Empire,” Lewis DeSoto.

Only two books this month, neither one very long, but there are two unusual aspects for me: 1) both are local and 2) both were published in 2016. Who says I can’t mix it up?

“Heart Like a Starfish” is a memoir about a librarian/rocker’s heart transplant (at age 47) and his recovery (coming along excellently). It’s no Lifetime movie tie-in: Callaci, who lives in Claremont, purposely jumbles the timeline and he works in plenty of references to his passions, which include Springsteen and Star Wars. He’s a friend, one about whom I’ll be writing in my column, and this is published by my own publisher. But it’s pretty good.

“Empire” is a photo book about the Inland Empire by native son DeSoto, a professional photographer and artist, and published in collaboration with Riverside’s Inlandia Institute. The photos emphasize nature, desert and the less-lovely aspects of the Empire: dead grapevines, river washes, an auto scrapyard, the Salton Sea. I can imagine many people flipping through it and thinking, “What the hell?”

But I could appreciate his viewpoint, his single-frame photos and his panoramas, and his essays are arguably as strong or stronger than the images, as the longtime Napa resident recalls his San Bernardino boyhood. He writes of grid streets, stucco boxes, smog, asthma, mountains, canyons, the electrical feeling before the Santa Anas blow and the vineyards and orchards that were replaced by big-box stores, warehouses and parking lots.

“No place I have experienced,” he writes in the introduction, “offers the full range of elements that compel and inspire — the vast public works, the neighborhoods both grand and beat down, the air fragrant with citrus and acrid from smog and industry. Cool pine breezes waft off the snow, and hot blasts of wind are scented with creosote. It is the Empire. It is everything.”

Many photographers, by the way, can barely spell, so to have one in DeSoto who writes better than me is, frankly, discouraging. I may have to quit and go into retail.

Or maybe just sit home and read. As this two-slim-book month attests, my reading life is in a kind of lull. I’m 100 pages into a 500-page book, and 160 pages into a 300-page book, with hopes of finishing both this month. (Both are from the 20th century and have nothing to do with this area, putting me back on familiar ground, in a weird way.) Over the weekend I read a total of about 10 pages, in between CD and Blu-ray booklets, newspapers and comic books, all of which are reading but none of which count. Matters improved Monday, when I read 40 pages. Maybe I’m back on track.

How about you folks? How was your April, and did you read anything good? Or at least more than 10 pages over the weekend?

Next month: two books, if I get off the dime.

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Tribute in purple

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Flowers and a candle were placed on a ledge outside Claremont’s Rhino Records by a fan to accompany the poster in the window, turning the whole thing into a makeshift, and touching, memorial. The singer (and so much more) died April 21. That day, the Prince bin quickly emptied as people snatched up the CDs in stock. Fans filled the space in the P section with flowers, another sweet touch. The interest was even greater than when David Bowie died in January.

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