Restaurant of the Week: Sweet Dough Cafe

MOVED TO VICTORIA GARDENS

Sweet Dough Cafe, 360 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Redding ), Upland; open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except Saturday

They make cinnamon rolls at Sweet Dough, which is in the Foothills Kitchen incubator in the space that used to have Bert and Rocky’s. It’s a walk-in operation with limited seating. Most people evidently want to eat their cinnamon rolls out of sight, maybe with the container open on their lap, where they can huddle over it in privacy.

At any given time the display case probably has eight rolls, but the full list is 50, and the staff says it’s more like 80. The basic rolls are $4, with specialty rolls $4.45 or $4.95.

Among the rolls: the Elvis, Butterfinger, caramel macchiato, Snickers, caramel apple, cinnamon horchata, maple, salted caramel and Nutella butter cookie.

I’ve had the Valencia orange, the original cinnamon and one that was more clearly a dessert than a breakfast item, the peanut butter and chocolate. They’re pictured below in that order.

These are proportionately like cupcakes, but bigger, rather than disc-shaped. I liked them, the first two more than the more elaborate peanut butter and chocolate, which may be more a reflection of my no-frills taste than commentary on the rolls themselves. One thing’s for sure, Sweet Dough’s orange beat Pillsbury by a mile.

The staff is friendly, particularly the woman I believe is the owner. Her young son helped ring me up on my last visit.

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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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Restaurant of the Week: Below Zero Shaved Ice

Below Zero Shaved Ice, 583 E. Foothill Blvd. (at 5th), Upland; noon to 7 p.m. daily

A friend with Upland knowledge asked if I’d been to Below Zero Shaved Ice, and I had to admit I’d never heard of it. (It opened in 2011.) So we met up on a recent hot afternoon for dessert.

It’s in a strip mall, the same one with Ashirwad vegetarian Indian restaurant. I noted approvingly that Below Zero uses Thrifty ice cream. But wait, isn’t this a shaved ice spot? It is, but it has ice cream too.

The menu board has the ice flavors, and the ice cream is in labeled tubs like at other ice cream parlors. A specials board lists pre-selected combinations. To save the fuss of choosing, which is after all why combinations exist, I went with the No. 1, a root beer float; my friend got one of her usuals, pina colada (small, $3.75).

What arrived were dishes with generous servings spilling out over the top of the bubble top. Mine had vanilla ice cream, root beer and vanilla shaved ice; hers had coconut-pineapple ice cream and pina colada-flavored shaved ice.

From above, you think it’s like a twist, where you get equal servings of two flavors. Or maybe that you would get shorted on the ice cream in favor of the less-expensive ice. But no. “Don’t worry, there’s plenty of ice cream,” my friend said as I dug in. And she was right: The ice cream fills one side but also layers the bottom. Eating them equally, I ran out of shaved ice before I ran out of ice cream.

Anyway, this was a low-cost, delicious treat. After dessert, we parted, and I went out for lunch. As the saying goes, “life is short, eat dessert first.”

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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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Restaurant of the Week: Rita’s Italian Ice

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CLOSED

Rita’s Italian Ice, 15870 Soquel Canyon Parkway (at Los Serranos), Chino Hills

Rita’s is a Pennsylvania-based chain of 600 locations that recently opened one in the south part of Chino Hills. There aren’t many places around here to get Italian ice or frozen custard, its two specialties. For a break from Sunday’s 107-degree heat, I headed to CHills for some chills.

Rita’s is in a small center off the 71 Freeway with a Wells Fargo, Rite Aid and a handful of other stores. Inside, I was greeted promptly, by the manager no less, who asked if I’d been to a Rita’s before. I hadn’t, so she gave me the spiel about the menu and product. They have a dozen flavors of Italian ice at any given time, made fresh daily. They have frozen custard usually, except due to bird flu, they have only one flavor (I think); the others are soft-serve ice cream.

You can see the daily menu of flavors on the website. That day the ice flavors included cotton candy, birthday cake, root beer, margarita and blue raspberry.

I ordered a Gelati, which is part ice, part custard (or ice cream), choosing blood orange ice with orange and vanilla twist ice cream (large: $4.79 with tax). The large size was more than I needed, as it turned out, but it was an excuse to stay there and enjoy the air conditioning. There was a layer of ice cream on the bottom, a middle layer of Italian ice and another layer of ice cream on top. The flavors paired well.

They have another combo, the Blendini, which is ice, custard and a mix-in, and a beverage called the Misto, which is the Gelati put through a blender.

On Yelp, some people prefer Frostbites, a similar shop in Chino that has Italian ice, custard, sorbet, ice cream and more. Well, I’ll have to give that a try too. On a brutally hot day, though, Rita’s hit the spot.

* Update: I returned the next week for a Misto ($4, bottom) at reader Eric’s suggestion. Among the ice flavors this time: green apple, horchata, mango and iced coffee. I combined a root beer ice with vanilla ice cream for a sort of root beer float slushy — and what part of “root beer float slushy” doesn’t sound good? On another blazing day, it hit the spot.

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Restaurant of the Week: Wahfles

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Wahfles, 1502 Foothill Blvd. (at Wheeler), La Verne; also 5751 N. Pine Ave. (at Butterfield), Chino Hills

My colleague Pete Marshall alerted me to the existence of Wahfles, a dessert and coffee house in La Verne, which opened in February. It turns out the original opened a year ago in Chino Hills. It’s a mom-and-pop. One recent morning I ventured to the La Verne location, which is in the Vons center, for breakfast.

Well, it’s not really a breakfast spot. (It’s no Waffle House.) They have some lunch waffle sandwiches and dessert waffles. Other than a coffee bar, the only thing that works for breakfast is one waffle. I had that: the Breakfast Sammy ($4.45), with ham, Swiss, fried egg, mayo and honey mustard. It was cut in half and could be eaten like a sandwich. And was. Very good.

I liked the vibe of the place: dark wood tables, rugs, some leather chairs, a sofa, a coffee table, magazines to read and locally produced art on the walls. So I returned one afternoon for a dessert waffle, the kind that make up the rest of the menu.

Mine had speculoos (described as “cookie butter” — what’s not to like?), bananas, ice cream, whipped cream and cinnamon sugar ($4.45 for a half, $5.95 for a full; I got the half). Delicious. Rather than get a fancy beverage, I cheaped out with a free water from a dispenser on the counter.

Wahfles (there’s an umlaut over the “a,” incidentally) is a neat addition to the area. Their website has a menu.

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Restaurant of the Week: Sub Zero Ice Cream and Yogurt

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Sub Zero Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt, 10590 Town Center Drive (at Haven), Rancho Cucamonga

I’d never heard of or noticed this place, but DebB mentioned Sub Zero in a blog comment recently. Sub Zero uses a similar liquid-nitrogen process as the new N7 Creamery at Victoria Gardens. Rancho Cucamonga is practically all-nitrogen, all-the-time.

So I ate lunch at Panera at Haven and Foothill one recent afternoon and then drove north in search of Sub Zero, which is past where you’d think it would be, above the Town Center shops and behind the Mobil station in a small building with no other tenants.

Inside it’s a clean, modern space. I was the only customer at the moment — a few more came before I left — and an employee explained the process. They make their own ice cream in front of you, mixing the flavors in a bowl and then quick-freezing it with nitrogen from a giant tank. Sub Zero is coming up on its second anniversary in Rancho. The Utah-based chain is in seven states. Its founder has a chemistry background.

The menu has 55 flavors, plus mix-ins, or you can simplify things by ordering one of the combinations. Overwhelmed, I did so, getting the Bernoulli Brulee, with caramel, dulce de leche, vanilla and cinnamon flavor, Heath and Twix added. A small was $5.80 and came in a waffle bowl inside a cup.

She mixed the cream and ingredients in a bowl, telling me the ice cream is creamier in their process because it doesn’t have air bubbles. The nitrogen blast had a dry ice effect as vapor swirled around the counter. Perfect for that Halloween spirit.

I shot a video. (It came out sideways. Forgive me. But you’ll get the idea.)

Three scoops of ice cream was a lot for a small size. It tasted pretty good. Actually, I’m very happy with simply having someone hand-scoop my ice cream, and U look askance at Cold Stone and the whole mix-in trend, so I’m not sure I’ll ever go out of my way again to come here. (Although my receipt offers $1 off my next visit.) But the novelty was fun.

Now that I seem to be taking Rancho’s nitrogen ice cream parlors in chronological order, I’ll get to N7 sometime.

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