Restaurant of the Week: Grill 8

Grill 8, 7890 Haven Ave. (at Church), Rancho Cucamonga; open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Grill 8 opened last year in the northern reaches of the Virginia Dare center, near Cake Among Us and the bike shop. A friend and I met there for a weekday lunch recently. Inside there’s reclaimed wood, an array of hanging bulbs and a communal counter, besides booths and tables. The place was tidy and clean.

The menu has burgers, other sandwiches, wings and salads, plus a soup of the day. They also have local beers on tap and a happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. daily.

You order at the counter. (The website says they have “full-service dining,” but no.) My friend got the turkey avocado sandwich ($9), with havarti cheese and olive salad spread, plus a side salad; I got a turkey burger ($11), with white cheddar, and garlic fries as my side. (A third choice is onion rings.) I scraped off the avocado; sorry, not a fan.

We liked our meals. My burger was a little dry, which can happen with turkey, but it was fine. “Fun atmosphere, good food,” my friend summarized. Agreed. I would go back. I’d rather eat at the more sedate and comfortable Grill 8 than the Five Guys across the street.

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Restaurant of the Week: Burgerim

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Rookery

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The Rookery Alehouse and Grill, 117 W. 2nd St. (at Garey), Pomona; closed Mondays

The Rookery, which opened in 2013, replaced the long-lived Joey’s BBQ at the entrance to the downtown Pomona arts district. It’s been a good change, even if Joey’s was something of a tradition for some of my friends for birthdays and pre-concert eats. The food is arguably better now, and business is up.

The menu is mostly burgers and beer, with a couple of salads and other sandwiches, and a grilled cheese and tomato soup pairing. I’ve eaten here a half-dozen times and generally find the experience on the tipping point between good and okay.

On a recent visit, I got the soup and sandwich ($8), which are about what you would expect, but a decent alternative to a burger. I was back a month later and tried the roasted red burger ($10), which comes with roasted red peppers and goat cheese. Pretty good, and for the first time I got fries as my side rather than the mixed green salad. The fries are thick and blocky, with skin on, a little different than any I’ve had before, and very good.

As for beers, they currently have 16 on draft and 17 in bottles, from all over, including Belgium, but mostly the West Coast. It’s obviously a well-curated beer list.

The previously little-used entry room from Second is now the bar and main dining room at lunchtime, with high and low tables, and a patio toward Garey is a popular spot on warm evenings. The decor includes art of birds and bird-keeping, a rookery being a nesting place for birds, but there’s also a poster with the pilot’s alphabet (bottom).

Service has been a weak spot. On my first visit, with two friends, the server looked at one of the sandwiches on the tray and asked good-humoredly, “Which burger is this?,” a question that involved us as customers on a level that was disconcerting. A friend on a separate visit asked a server if she could sit outside and then was never waited on.

I don’t know if all the kinks have been worked out, but even if it’s not a tight ship, you’ll probably be waited on, and you’ll probably find it was worth the trouble.

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Restaurant of the Week: Septembers

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Septembers Taproom and Eatery, 6321 Haven Ave. (at Lemon), Rancho Cucamonga

In the old McAlan’s Pub building in the Trader Joe’s and Vons centers, Septembers is a welcome gastropub with local brews and better than average food, concentrating on classic American sandwiches.

Reader Dave Paniagua, who had earlier drawn my attention to Ontario’s Corner Deli, alerted me to Septembers, and since I’m now a regular at Corner Deli, I took his tip seriously.

Septembers is quiet on a lunch hour, with a few people around the bar and only a few diners. They have beer and wine, plus some cocktails. The interior is pleasantly industrial, with high-top and regular tables under an exposed ceiling, distressed wood walls and corrugated steel accents.

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Virtually everything on the menu was potentially of interest to me.

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Well, not nachos, but you get the idea. It’s a a well-designed menu, too, isn’t it?

They have several set lunch specials, all for $8. First time I got one of those, a grilled chicken sandwich with fries. It was good enough that I returned the next week to order off the regular menu. I got a sloppy joe — how often do you see that on a menu? — that was made with chuck and brisket on a long roll ($14, first photo below). An excellent version of the old-school classic. The criss-cut fries, with your choice of seasoning (I got sea salt and vinegar), were addictive.

Next visit I got a shrimp po’boy ($14, second photo below). Served open face, it was overstuffed and strictly knife and fork. Good, yet maybe too much of a good thing. The side of mac and cheese was excellent.

I’ve gone back three times since, making this one of the best-researched Restaurant of the Week posts ever. The Italian panini melt ($14) was a little boring and so big I couldn’t finish it even if I’d wanted to. The classic burger ($11, third photo below) with onion rings was very good; two onion rings don’t sound like much, but they were very large. That time I finally had room for dessert, getting the apple crisp a la mode ($5, bottom); as you can see, they didn’t skimp on the ice cream. And most recently, the fish and chips ($12) were meaty.

I’m not a drinker, so in that sense this may be the most poorly researched Restaurant of the Week ever, but I can tell you they have local brews such as Dale Brothers and Hangar 24. Margaritas are $3 on Mondays, wines are $3 on Wednesdays and you can get a $6 sampler paddle of beers on Thursdays.

If no dish has wowed me, everything has been solid, and my impression of the place is positive. I appreciate that the chefs are using quality ingredients and raising everything up a notch. A sandwich and an iced tea will set you back about $20 with tax and tip. If you can splurge a little, it’s worth it.

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Restaurant of the Week: The Back Abbey

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Photo by John Valenzuela

The Back Abbey, 128 N. Oberlin Ave. (at 2nd), Claremont; closed Sundays

The Back Abbey opened in June 2008 behind the Laemmle theater in Claremont’s Village Expansion. The building, which dates to at least the 1920s, was an ice house that chilled citrus bound by rail for other states. The small, distinctive structure was saved when the Expansion was being planned and sat, window-less but full of promise, until early this year when renovations began.

Well, it’s a neat little building and the Belgian pub that occupies it is a great addition. A friend and I went in for dinner a few days ago. It has a lived-in look, dark and rustic. The metal rafters are exposed and the hanging lights look industrial. There are tables inside, and one long high table with bar-style chairs, good for individuals, plus seating outside.

The beer menu apparently doesn’t exist. The food menu is on a chalkboard posted high above the bar. It consists of salads, burgers and bratwursts. It’s upscale bar food.

I had the Back Abbey Burger (at $13, possibly the most expensive burger in the Inland Valley) and my friend had the Grilled Vegetable Burger ($11), a portabello mushroom with eggplant, feta cheese, zucchini, red bell peppers and another item or two I got tired of craning my neck to read off the menu. It proved far more interesting than a Gardenburger.

My burger came on a brioche bun and had mustard aioli, microgreens, caramelized onions and a type of bacon whose proper name I couldn’t read. Well, it was a heckuva burger and worth the $13, if you’re the type of person who doesn’t blanch at a double-digit burger.

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The presentation and price, not to mention the setting, invite comparisons to Father’s Office in Santa Monica and Culver City.

The half-order of fries I can recommend unreservedly. They come in a paper cone with three dipping sauces. The sauces are OK; the fries are amazing.

As for the beers, the Abbey has some 30 Belgian beers on tap. This is apparently A Big Deal in the beer community, Belgian beer being considered among the best and having it on tap being a rarity. There’s no beer list, annoyingly, so you may be hard-pressed to know what to get. My friend tried a couple and liked them. Beer doesn’t appeal to me and a sip of one didn’t change my mind.

But if you’re into it, Back Abbey is almost like a wine bar for beer. It’s very non-909 and Claremont’s lucky to have it. The clientele ranged from the 20s into the 60s that night, and it will be interesting to see this fall if Claremont Colleges students adopt the place and its $7 to $9 beers or whether it remains more of a beer snob/foodie hotspot.

About my only criticism is that it’s very LOUD. It’s not TVs, it’s not music, it’s just conversation that makes the interior almost as noisy as a nightclub. I don’t know if there’s anything to be done about it, other than timing your visit to off-hours.

You can read reviews on Yelp and on the M-M-M-My Pomona blog.

Update 2016: I go here two or three times a year and have yet to have a bad meal. At lunch on a weekday, it’s sedate, and there’s a nice outdoor seating area too.

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