I was in college working at 52.5 Records, and had become obsessed with John Darnielle and the Mountain Goats when I discovered a little album released on Absolutely Kosher Records titled Martial Arts Weekend by The Extra Glenns. I quickly learned that the Extra Glenns was a collaboration between John Darnielle and Franklin Bruno. This was in 2003, and since then I have followed both of their careers.
Franklin has been busy with solo recordings, various books and other writings, and his new band the Human Hearts over the past couple of years.
The Human Hearts are about to release their new album on the legendary Shrimper Records, but the vinyl edition is being self released by Franklin and funded by Kickstarter. The new album, called Another, features Franklin Bruno (guitars, piano, organ, and other keyboards) and Matt Houser (drummer/percussionist), with Peter Hughes (electric bass) and Dmitry Ishenko (acoustic bass). They are joined by a long list of special guests as well!
Franklin recently took a trip to California’s Inland Empire, a part of the country he is very familiar with, and wrote a food guide for the Great Pumpkin! I can not express how excited I am that Franklin wanted to work with me…and the result is an amazingly detailed and thoughtful guide to wonderful eats! I’m not sure if this is Franklin’s first foray into writing about food, but I surely hope it is not his last. Settle in, maybe hit play on one of the mp3s below, and take in Franklin’s words.
Lots of information about the Kickstarter, the new album, and the Human Hearts in general is available after Franklin’s amazing guide!
The next section of this post was written by Franklin Bruno.
Since 2008, I’ve lived in Jackson Heights, Queens, generally acknowledged as an epicenter of cheap, cosmopolitan eating in New York. Food isn’t the only reason I’m lucky to have landed there, but I’ll admit that it’s nice to feel close to the cutting edge, as, for example, more Tibetan restaurants (Phayul!) pop up in the Indian enclave around 37th Ave. and 74th St. (By the way, did you know that the 7/E/F/R/M station at 74th is officially known as the Victor Moore Terminal, named for a great comic actor who appeared in George M. Cohan’s Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway in 1906 before making films with Mae West, Bob Hope, and Astaire and Rogers? But I digress.)
I could go on about my JH/Elmhurst favorites (“big tray of chicken” at Uncle Zhao’s, fresh angolotti at Louie’s Pizza, and let’s not even get started on Flushing, a few stops away), but these are well known to Chowhound/Sietsma initiates.
So I’ll tell you about where I eat when I go back to where I grew up: The so-called Inland Empire, the ex-citrus and –grape growing area about 40 miles east of Los Angeles (and about the same distance from Palm Springs in the other direction.) I guess the region is really the Pomona Valley or Chino Valley, depending on who you ask – “Inland Empire” is a somewhat grand chamber of commerce label that has stuck. I’m writing from there now – I generally come out every summer to see my parents, my hundred-and-one-year-old grandmother (who can still beat me at cards two games out of three), and various friends from the heroic era of the Claremont/Shrimper Tapes scene. It was mostly orange groves out here, years ago, and it’s gradually become a typically sprawly-but-spacious Southern California xeriscape of tract homes and chain-anchored shopping developments (how many Beds, Baths, and Beyonds can a community sustain, anyway?), and I imagine it’s hard for visitors or new arrivals to locate the individual character, much less the history, of the area. I’m a creature of habit, so I’m mostly going to mention places (with one or two exceptions) where I’ve been eating since high-school or college, if not childhood. Several don’t even have dedicated websites, since anyone who needs to know they’re there already does, and they’re not fancy: outside of a couple of places in the village surrounding the Claremont Colleges (The Press, Walter’s), “fine dining” in the area isn’t that interesting.
Might as well take them in morning-to-night order:
I’m actually writing most of this at the questionably named Koffee Klatch, a local roaster that also runs three coffeehouses in the area. It’s a fairly new business, but the Rancho Cucamonga branch that I frequent is housed in one of the remaining buildings from Thomas Brothers Winery (originally run by a friendly competitor of my mom’s father, as it happens), so there is a bit of an Old California vibe. I’m no cupper, but they do a perfectly respectable pour-over by my inexpert standards. The real sentimental favorite, though, is Some Crust Bakery in Claremont, which, aside from its oatmeal scones and fancy cakes, has been serving stand-your-spoon-in-it brew for longer than I’ve been caffeine-dependent. Musical connection: the coffee used to be made by Thom Furmann, who was and still is in Savage Republic, the tribal-noise band that was arguably Los Angeles County’s answer to the Swans. Thom now runs a Pasadena-based roaster of his own, Monkey & Son, which ships everywhere, and that’s what Some Crust serves to this day.
I associate the big eggs-plus-pork-plus-pancakes/potatoes/biscuits breakfast less with my present existence in Queens (where I’m on more of a steel-cut oats plus flaxseed and fruit regimen) than with my California past. Sort of a “farm” thing, I guess – although, not being a ranch hand, there’s no excuse for the number of most-or-all-of-the-above platters I’ve eaten over the years, mostly at BC Café. It used to be located on Holt Boulevard in Pomona, in a building resembling a Cadillac showroom. This was where Nothing Painted Blue used to take touring bands the morning after a nearby show; I still recall Laura Ballance braving the jam-stuffed French toast in 1992. BC’s moved into a disused HoJo’s closer to I-10 some years ago, and also opened a location (officially called Kick Back Jack’s, no relation to a North Carolina bar-food chain) in Rancho Cucamonga, which is where I usually go now, maybe once per trip. It’s still very good (you will want those home fries with peppers and onions), though a bit Red Robin-ish in appearance and atmosphere. The funkier but still excessively-portioned morning choice is Red Hill Coffee Shop, which looks and feels like the kind of roadhouse Lana Turner and her doomed husband ran in The Postman Always Rings Twice. (This stands to reason, as it’s on a stretch of Foothill Boulevard that’s contiguous with the Route 66 of song and story.) Basically, we’re talking grill-made omelets that appear to involve four to six eggs rolled around a considerable amount of ham, sausage, or chili, and pancakes that could to swaddle an infant. It closes around 1 or 2 p.m. most days; the proprietors run an adjoining barbeque (take-out-only, I think) that emits a woodsy aroma for the rest of the day – a bit surprising, as this isn’t a specialty of the area.
Kick Back Jack/BC Café
701 South Indian Hill Blvd.
10123 Foothill Boulevard,
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Red Hill Coffee Shop
8111 Foothill Boulevard #A
My gold standard tacos are mostly in L.A. proper (several stands in the Grand Central Market, and El Parian on Pico, to say nothing of the al pastor trucks one might encounter anywhere), but the Empire is, as you’d guess, studded with tacquerias and birrerias of every description, not to mention rambling combination-plate faux-haciendas like the venerable La Paloma on Foothill Boulevard, which still does a healthy business. A few old favorites have changed beyond recognition – El Pavo is now an Alberto’s, and El Merendero near the Pomona Mall has lost its soul, I fear, with a change in location. Fortunately, Juanita’s, a flat-top joint with a walk-up window and two plastic tables (and an “A” health certificate, by the way) on Indian Hill Boulevard, endures, even in the shadow of a combination Carl’s Jr./Green Burrito that Das Racist missed. I hadn’t been to Juanita’s for a few years, so I checked it out for this post, and I’m happy to report that the pudgy chile verde burrito was as good as I remembered it, though the looseness of the beans made the package sloppier than some might like. My other pick is Los Jarritos, a minimally decorated sit-down place that’s been in a shopping center on Garey for who knows how many decades. I’d always get chili colorado, machaca, or barbacoa plate – the same stuff is in the burritos, of course, but somehow I prefer it this way, here – along with snappy chips, a great red salsa that’s closer to meatless chile (in the New Mexico sense) than the chopped, tomatoe-y kind, and maybe a simple salad with cheese and avocado.
1735 Indian Hill Boulevard
3191 North Garey Avenue
I’m pretty sure that the first Thai food I ever ate, circa 1987, was a bowl of “General’s Noodle” at Sanamluang, about a two-base hit from Juanita’s, above. Basically, this was some sliced duck over noodles and bean sprouts, and wasn’t spicy at all. So, on my second visit, lulled into complacency, I ordered yen ta fo – a fish-based hot and sour “red soup” that nearly killed me, though I finished it out of sheer cussedness. My tolerances have increased since living near Hollywood’s Thai Town (where there is another branch) and, currently, a ten minute train ride from Woodside’s famed SriPraPhai, but I cut my teeth here, and I think it still stands up. In the course of many visits, I’ve settled on a few favorites: rahd nah (Chinese broccoli and rice noodles; I’d have difficulty explaining exactly how this differs from pud see ewe), see yai neau sub (another noodle dish, with minced beef, tomatoes, and an optional raw egg, that isn’t on that many menus), and koo chai (chive dumplings topped with fried garlic, which I prefer steamed to fried). The Indian curry noodle (which, I now realize, is basically Malaysian) is also good, if you don’t mind having statin inhibitors in your future – I can’t believe that I used to eat it at 1 a.m.
1648 Indian Hill Blvd #C
I sometimes think that no one who has not eaten at Vince’s Spaghetti can entirely understand me, or the Inland Empire. I exaggerate, but only slightly. The sign, depicted on the cover of Charles Phoenix’s pop-architectural guide Cruising the Pomona Valley) is emblematic of the area’s boom times, and the original restaurant is a legendary local institution, having famously metastasized from a seven-stool counter, opened in 1945, to take over a huge chunk of the block by the 1960s – the main building extends far past the right edge of the picture here. This, and a few offshoot locations, are all still run by members of one extended family, the Cuccias, and a meal here is in some ways as unalterably tradition-bound as a Zen tea ceremony. (As are the hours: Vince’s has been closed on Wednesdays since the Truman administration.)
You will sit in on green banquettes and order from place-mat menus that also tell you how many miles of spaghetti they serve each year. You will eat either a few yards of this spaghetti or an equivalent mass of mostacholi (like broad-guage penne rigate, but cut straight rather than “pointed”) with meat sauce (rich, simmering all day, grandmotherly), tomato sauce (which I believe is just the meat sauce, strained a bit, so why bother?), or buttered (though I don’t know anyone over four who orders this). The other option is a French Dip sandwich, which I’ve ordered maybe three times in thirty-plus years. Your dinner will be preceded by a small cup of beef-vegetable soup and a completely ordinary salad with French dressing or vinegar and oil (again, the introduction of blue cheese, twelve or so years ago, was practically headline news), and will be accompanied by grilled garlic or cheese roll. If you’re swinging for the fences, you will also have a single meatball in a puddle of extra sauce on a separate plate, and perhaps a half-carafe of Zinfandel, which you will drink out of a little water glass. There will be no sausage, no lasagna, no vegetables outside of the salad, and certainly no pesto.
You will ignore the dessert menu, because if you’re my family, there is cake back at the house. (If you’re my father, in fact, you will tell the waitress, “We have cake back at the house.”)
This was nearly the only restaurant that various Brunos, DiTomassos, and Cordascos (particularly the men) of my grandparents’ generation could be convinced to eat at for much of my youth, and I still end up there about twice a year – at this point, I cannot be objective about whether most people would even think that it’s good, but it is a great comfort in a changing world, and I’m relieved that my girlfriend Bree “gets it,” because I could no more have a lasting relationship with someone who turned up their noses at a big plate of oversauced macaroni than I could with someone who hated my parents.
I can’t say that I ever got to see a proper Extra Glenns show(or Extra Lens as they are called now), but several years back I got to see John and Franklin perform together on the tiny little stage in the old location of Sound Fix records in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It felt like such a long time coming, and it was the first time I ever got to see Franklin on stage.
Since Finding the Extra Glenns I ventured into Franklin’s back catalog, and found out what exactly what Tullycraft meant when they sang “Cause you and me got Heavenly and Nothing Painted Blue.” Nothing Painted Blue had a profound influence on the pop music I love today, and Franklin was one of the three people behind those songs.
I finally saw Franklin play solo in 2009 in the very intimate Pete’s Candy Store, and I have listened to the Human Hearts since then.
The Human Hearts Kickstarter has already reached it’s goal of $5,000, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of some of the hard to get bonus items that Franklin is offering as rewards for pre-ordering Another through the Kickstarter. Learn all about it here:
These rewards include Another pressed on double 10″ record (mp3 or CD if you prefer), his book of poetry The Accordion Repertoire, his 33 1/3 book on Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces, Nothing Painted Blue’s Monte Carlo Theory, unlplayed copy of his debut Shrimper cassette Etudes for Voice and Snackmaster, a private songwriting lesson given by Franklin himself, and various other gems both vinyl and CD from Franklin’s past, present, and future.
You only have until July 20th to get in on it…so do it fast!
Listen to “Cheap Sunglasses” from Another:
Franklin also sent over the track “Love Starved” that is about (emotional) nourishment to fit into our ongoing food theme:
Franklin is very generous, and has many songs available for free download here…check those out too!
Support the Kickstarter, and if you want to find out more about Franklin Bruno you can do so in these places: