Restaurant of the Week: Project Pie

Project Pie, 4711 Chino Hills Parkway (at Ramona), Chino Hills; open daily

I noticed Project Pie a year ago while heading to another restaurant within the Commons shopping center. Initially disappointed it was a pizzeria rather than a pie shop, I was open to trying it sometime. A year later, meeting a friend for lunch and a movie, Project Pie came to mind.

It’s another fast-fired pizza place, where your food is cooked in about two minutes. Project Pie has only a few locations; oddly, its website lists three (Chula Vista, Eastlake and Carlsbad) and doesn’t cite Chino Hills. Thankfully I took photos or I might wonder if I imagined the whole meal.

One eye-catching part of the interior is a long wall of quotes, great and small. They seem random, but they can be fun to read. (Pieology is the inspiration here, although its are typeset rather than seemingly hand-written.)

The menu is pizza (most are $9) and salads ($4.50 to $8.50). You can build your own pizza, or choose from the pre-selected options, most of which are white pies, without tomato sauce.

I got the No. 4: sliced tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, parmesan and garlic. Its crust was crisp and charred, more so than at other such places. While I still prefer Blaze to its competitors, including Pieology, Project Pie was among the better ones I’ve tried.

My friend got a spinach salad (spinach, feta, bacon, mushrooms, red onions and honey mustard dressing) and added sunflower seeds. “This salad is unbelievably delicious,” she said. “It’s got so many goodies in it.”

That completed our lunch project at Project Pie.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pizza ‘N Stuff

Pizza ‘N Stuff, 1532 Foothill Blvd. (at Wheeler), La Verne; open daily

I was meeting a friend for lunch at the Vons center a few weeks ago, with a Mexican restaurant our destination. But then it turned out to be closed that day. So we went next door to Pizza ‘N Stuff instead.

I’d been there a couple of times, but it had been a few years, and might even have been before this blog started. In other words, having a chance to write about Pizza ‘N Stuff was a good fallback.

It’s been in business since 1977 — 40 years! — and under the same owners since 1982 — 35 years! Congratulations to them. Their menu has pizza, hot and cold sandwiches, salads and an array of pasta dishes. Don’t confuse them with Claremont’s similarly named Pizza n’ Such, although it’s easy to do.

That lunch, I got a mini pizza with one topping (anchovies) and salad ($8.35). The pizza was cheesy, not bad, but not distinctive. My friend had an Italian beef sandwich ($6.35) plus a side salad ($4). He said the salad was “overdressed and overcheesed,” but he did like the sandwich, even if he’s had better.

I felt like going back to try the pasta and made a point of going in for dinner one evening. I got the linguini with white clam sauce, a la carte with garlic bread ($12.75); as a dinner ($14.65) you would get soup or salad plus a dish of ice cream, but that was more than I wanted. The dish was generous with the clams and tasty.

The seating is interesting. There are tables and booths that get a lot of natural light from the windows, but then there’s a warren of high-backed wooden booths that are fairly intimate, with dimmer lighting. Service was friendly on both visits, and the man at the cash register, probably one of the owners, had a nice touch with everyone, newcomers and longtime customers alike.

While I can’t say I was wowed by Pizza ‘N Stuff, it’s low-key and family-owned, I liked it well enough, and they’re obviously doing something right.

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Restaurant of the Week: Oggi’s

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Oggi’s, 1173 E. 19th Ave. (at Campus), Upland; open until 10 p.m. Sundays, 11 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, midnight Fridays and Saturdays

Founded in 1991, Oggi’s (pronounced “OH-jeez,” and meaning “today” in Italian) opened in Upland’s Colonies Crossroads Center earlier in 2016. There are currently 15 locations. Oggi’s is a pizzeria and sports bar with its own line of microbrews.

I had dinner there with a friend recently. There are a lot of screens (it was a Monday, so it was all football), and a large, well-lighted square bar. A radio station was broadcasting and occasionally offering a quiz for customers with prizes. So it was a little loud.

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The menu is mostly pizza, pasta, wraps, salads and burgers. I got a medium pizza with anchovies (!) and mushrooms ($18), she got a calzone with pepperoni ($10), plus a side caesar ($3).

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Our meals were unobjectionable but unmemorable. My pizza was average: bready and bland, a half-step up from Domino’s but nothing that would make me want to return. She found the ricotta in her calzone (alongside the standard mozzarella) unnecessary and fussy. The salad was better. Overall, her meal “was a 3 on a scale of 1 to 5,” she said. We each took some of our food home.

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A friend later told me he’d been unimpressed on his visit: His wings were “ehh,” the sauce on his pizza unappealing.

Oggi’s had offered me a free meal if I made an appointment, which was unacceptable since I would have been identifying myself rather than eating anonymously, but I said I’d accept a gift card that could be presented at the end of the meal.

(That’s only the first or second time that possibility has come up, but it was nice to not be paying for one of these Restaurant of the Week meals entirely out of my own pocket.)

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The service we got as average joes was substandard in one important aspect: friendly enough, competent, but no one ever asked if we wanted refills on our iced tea or Coke. We could have asked but preferred to see how it played out. We were there nearly two hours and no one offered. Hmph.

I can’t judge the microbrews, but if you’re into that sort of thing, and like sports, Oggi’s might be your thing. If you want to watch a game with friends and eat, this would be a better spot than many, but based on what we had, the food isn’t good enough to go there for on its own.

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Restaurant of the Week: Nancy’s Pizza

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Nancy’s Pizza, 2855 Foothill Blvd. (at Falcon), La Verne

As a native of Illinois, although not of Chicago, I’ve had Chicago-style deep dish pizza a few times in my life, mostly in the Midwest. Only a couple of times have I had it in California that I recall: once at a Pizzeria (or maybe Numero) Uno outlet in San Francisco, and once three years ago in Placentia. It’s pretty rare out here.

But a few months ago, a Nancy’s opened in La Verne in the mixed-use La Verne Village center on Foothill that used to be the site of Person Ford. I’d never heard of Nancy’s, but they’re based in Chicago, and they claim to have invented the stuffed pizza in 1971.

Evidently, deep dish was invented in the ’40s or ’50s, and the stuffed pizza claimants are Nancy’s and Giordano’s, in the ’70s, the difference being “deeper topping density,” according to Wikipedia.

I delayed visiting in part because I wasn’t sure Nancy’s was legit, and also because going out solo for deep dish pizza is an undertaking, like scaling Everest.

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Finally I dropped in for lunch on a recent weekend. There’s a visit to Chicago in my near future and I had to get in shape. Unless you’re ordering to go, you take a seat.

The menu has salads, sandwiches, pasta, cannoli and pizza in several varieties, including thin crust and pan pizza.

The waitress explained that the stuffed pizza — the one described as 2 1/2 inches tall — is the traditional Chicago style with the toppings inside. (More to the point, as I read later, under the top layer of sauce it’s got a thin layer of crust, besides the bottom layer, which is why it’s described as stuffed.) So I got one of those, a small Rocco’s party pizza, with sausage, mushrooms, onions and green peppers ($23).

It arrived after about 20 minutes, fairly speedy for pizza this thick.

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If you haven’t had Chicago-style pizza before, you might think, $23 for a small? But take a look at the photo, with the parmesan dispenser included for perspective. The pizza is almost as tall as the dispenser.

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I was hungry and could eat only two slices. The rest was taken home and consumed over two meals. This was pretty good pizza, perhaps not as good as Tony’s in Placentia but with the crisp, buttery crust and high edges that fans love. I would go back.

Update July 2016: And I have. Having run out of time to get an Italian beef sandwich in Chicago, I got one in La Verne. Oh, that garlic bread. This was an excellent sandwich. Also tried the meatball sub, another winner.

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Restaurant of the Week: Yeast N’ Flour Pizza

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Yeast N’ Flour Pizza, 231 N. Euclid Ave. (at C), Ontario

I’d seen the sign on this downtown Ontario storefront for weeks and puzzled over the name, which was probably not tested with a focus group. Evidently the crust is made with nothing but yeast, flour and water. But I was curious about the place, downtown being light on restaurants. After my movie night at the library one evening, two friends suggested we try it out. One had been there twice and liked it.

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Yeast N’ Flour is a fast-fired pizzeria, but not a chain. They also have wings, subs and a couple of salads. Of course we went for the individual pizzas ($8.19). You can choose your crust (original, gluten-free), sauce (red, spicy red, white) and cheese (mozzarella, gorgonzola, parmesan, ovalini), and then can choose from an array of toppings.

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Employees all dress in referee-type uniforms. They make the pizza in front of you and then shove it in a gas oven. You pay and they bring it to your table in about five minutes.

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The interior has high ceilings and an industrial chic look. There are a few TVs, but not a lot. The walls are otherwise bare and the atmosphere doesn’t quite match the referee look.

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The pizza was very good. The crust was particularly fine, with a crispness and char that you get at real pizzerias but rarely at fast-fired places. I’m surprised myself to say that I liked this pizza better than Blaze and Pieology. I ate half and took the rest home.

The other newcomer liked his pie. He thought the interior was too stark and said the menu board is placed too high on the wall for comfort. The veteran said she’s glad to see a pizzeria downtown. She’s had the white sauce, which she said was ranch-y, and the spicy red, which is garlicky.

One further burst of nit-picking: the spelling. The menu has “gorgonzalo,” “oergano” and “pepperonie,” A promotional card at the register gave the location as “downtwon” Ontario. It wasn’t until writing this that I noticed my receipt, on which I’d scribbled notes, spells the restaurant as “Yeast N’ Falour.” I don’t know if this is inattention or a language difficulty, but it’s the sort of thing that erodes confidence that a business knows what it’s doing.

Which is too bad, because the pizza was good, and I intend to return. But I also intend to pronounce the name among friends as “fuh-lure.”

Update July 2016: I’ve gone back a couple of times, and not only is the food still good, they’ve got some actual decor in now. And the menu board has been replaced. It’s not perfect (“tomatoes sauce”), but it’s a vast improvement. The family, by the way, is Egyptian, and nice.

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Restaurant of the Week: Eddie’s Pizzeria

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Eddie’s Pizzeria, 1065 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Towne), Claremont

Eddie’s replaced a Straw Hat Pizza a dozen years ago in the Stater Bros. center in Claremont, and I had slices there at lunch a few times before moving on. In more recent years, a friend has raved about the place. Finally we met up for lunch.

The interior is much as I remember it: a faux New York with ceiling fans, street-like signs and lampposts. Cute. We settled into a red booth and examined the menu, which has pizza, pasta, salads, soups and sandwiches, including burgers.

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We decided to share a medium Eddie’s Special ($17.45), which has sausage, onions, tomatoes, black olives and ricotta, and also an order of bruschetta ($8.45), which my friend said was a personal favorite that had rotated onto the menu again.

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The bruschetta was pretty good, a nice appetizer. The pizza was good too. “I love the ricotta. It’s like little bursts of creaminess,” my friend rhapsodized. We each took home two slices, and mine made for a light dinner a few nights later.

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The sign says Eddie’s New York Pizzeria, the original sign, but the website (eddiesnypizza.com) calls the place Eddie’s Pizzeria and Eatery. I wouldn’t say the pizza is New York style, but it’s thin crust, and it’s good. There are some weekly specials that are tempting, like cioppino on Fridays ($19), roasted half-chicken on Mondays ($14) and meatloaf Italiano ($14) on Sundays, each with roasted potatoes or fries, quinoa or the daily vegetable.

Since its opening, Eddie’s, which I believe from the start was an offshoot of Spaghetti Eddie’s in Glendora, has been folded into the group that owns the well-regarded Tutti Mangia in the Village, which may account for the upgrade. So, while I’m not raving about Eddie’s, I’m glad I returned, and I may be back again.

Near the entrance, by the way, there’s a Ms. Pac-Man machine.

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Restaurant of the Week: JoJo’s Pizza Kitchen

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JoJo’s Pizza Kitchen, 2923 Chino Ave. (at Peyton), Chino Hills; open daily

JoJo’s has been in Chino Hills since the 1990s, practically the dawn of time by that city’s standards, operating from the Crossroads Marketplace shopping center in the north part of town. I’d had takeout pizza from there once with friends who lived nearby but visited for the first time recently for lunch with a fan of the place.

The menu has pizza, pasta, salads, calzones, sandwiches and entrees, some of which are unusual or unique: Italian mac and cheese, risotto bowls, shrimp diavolo.

I had a mini, 8-inch pizza with anchovies and mushrooms ($9.65) and my friend got angel hair pasta with marinara sauce ($9) plus a side salad ($3). Hearty pizza, generous with the anchovies; the pasta was proclaimed worthy, and some was taken home. Asked what else is good here, she recommended the stuffed artichoke, focaccia salad, caprese salad and cannoli.

JoJo’s is said to not be as quality conscious as when the original owners had it. People on Yelp are of two minds, with some saying it’s overpriced or the service is poor and others praising the food and service. Our service was acceptable, although a cup of coffee took 10 minutes to procure, and was delivered not on a saucer but on a plate. That was a little weird.

There are also locations in Brea and Mira Loma. But those are farther away.

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Restaurant of the Week: Pizzita Circle

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Pizzita Circle, 4047 Grand Ave. (at Pipeline), Chino; open daily

Actually, I was looking for Al’s Italian Beef, which I’d been meaning to find since its opening in 2014, but it wasn’t where I thought it was. An Internet search in the parking lot revealed that it had been elsewhere in that center, but had closed over the summer. Too bad. It was the Chicago-based chain’s only local location.

I was parked on the southwest corner in front of Tamarind, previously featured here, and Phillys Best, a chain at which I’ve eaten elsewhere. But the curiously named Pizzita Circle, located between the two, was a new one.

Well, what the heck. I was in search of lunch and might as well try it.

They serve 1) pizza and 2) Mediterranean food, an unusual combination, in a fast-casual setting. The latter included pita sandwiches, salads and plates ($8 to $11), while some of the pizzas were traditional and others had Mediterranean-type toppings. As the website puts it: “With our main specialty being our outstanding pizza and pita, we arrived at our present name, Pizzita Circle.”

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Splitting the difference, I got a Mediterranean pizza: lamb, beef, onion, tomato and peppers ($9). All pizzas are 10 inches. And you know, it was pretty good. I wouldn’t call it New York pizza, as they do, but it was tasty, the crust airy and crispy on the bottom, and I ate the whole thing. The restaurant also has beer and wine as well as a selection of bottled sodas, unusual for an eatery of this type. And they deliver.

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The woman behind the counter, probably the owner, was personable and told me there are two locations in NYC, family-owned. She moved west, missed the food and opened one here in mid-2014. There’s a photo mural of the Manhattan skyline focused on the Empire State Building.

Pizzita Circle probably won’t put you in a New York state of mind, but I enjoyed my meal. And the website includes a poem about their food, in six stanzas.

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Restaurant of the Week: Blaze Pizza

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Blaze Pizza, 7833 Monet Ave. (Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga

Fast-fired pizza specialist Blaze Pizza opened over the summer in Victoria Gardens, the sole local outlet for now. The chain is based in Pasadena. Because I wasn’t around for the opening specials, the company sent me two coupons for free pizzas, which a friend and I recently redeemed.

Blaze is on Monet, the street undergoing a hipsterification. The pizzeria is a good fit for the street, which is being designed to appeal to the younger crowd.

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The setting is casual and lively, with some high-top tables. Because of the high, open ceiling, the room is a little loud, which must be how the young people like it. Only semi-populated on a weeknight, the noise level didn’t impede conversation.

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Like Pieology, you can order a pre-designed pie or customize one from a long list of ingredients (but not long enough to include anchovies). And much like at Subway or Chipotle, you move down a line past ingredients that a series of employees will add at your request. You pay at the end of the line, your pizza is popped into an oven and your number will be called in about five minutes.

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We each ordered “signature” pizzas: The White Top for her (white cream sauce with mozzarella, applewood bacon, chopped garlic, oregano and arugula) and the Link In for me (Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, sauteed onions, mozzarella and red sauce), typically each $8.

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These were pretty good pies, about the right size for one person. “On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d say it was a 4 1/2,” my friend said. “Because I wish the crust was a little thicker.” I can appreciate that, although the thin crust is what allows it to be baked so fast. I liked Blaze and its crust better than Pieology’s. Neither compares with going to an actual pizzeria, but the experience is novel and you can be in and out in a lunch break. I would go back.

Oh, yeah, and we sprung for the S’mores dessert ($2.50), a sort of cookie filled with chocolate and marshmallow. You might want to try one.

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Restaurant of the Week: California Pizza Kitchen, Victoria Gardens

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California Pizza Kitchen, 12517 N. Mainstreet (in Victoria Gardens), Rancho Cucamonga

CPK was one of the original tenants at Victoria Gardens upon the center’s 2004 opening and more than a decade later, it’s still serving up barbecued chicken pizzas and more.

I’ve eaten there a few times, in part because it’s one of the most affordable sit-down restaurant at the VG. Recently I had dinner there and figured, well, why not take photos and write a Restaurant of the Week? CPK is pretty much the same everywhere, but we’ve only got two of them (the other one is at the Shoppes at Chino Hills) and the VG is a popular spot. Besides, I like CPK.

The menu has small plates, salads, soups, pastas and various pizzas, both usual and unusual, with gluten-free crust an option. And they have alcohol.

I got the wild mushroom pizza (price forgotten, but about $14), which has four types of mushrooms and two types of cheese, and I got it on whole wheat crust, which I’m not sure I’ve done before. That was a good move and made for a heartier crust. If you like mushrooms, this is a pretty good pie. Feeling flush, I spent $1.50 on a few drops of truffle oil; to be honest, any difference in taste to the pizza was negligible.

Service was friendly. It was a Monday evening, early, and the quiet was welcome. The faux rock wall, broad booths, focused lighting and open kitchen with a counter for solo diners add up to an ambience that could almost be described as swank.

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