Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Los Angeles' Best Eats: Eastside Edition Part 6

A lot of American food businesses are the story of immigrants. Greeks came and opened diners...here in California, they went into the burger stand business although we still have a bunch of Greek diners, too.  Tommy's, Farmer Boys, Jim's...those are all classic Greek burger stands in our area.

Chinese restaurants, Italian restaurants and pizza parlors, the ubiquitous Mexican restaurants...the food business is a common stepping stone for immigrants into the United States economy.

When the Cambodians came after the Vietnam War, it was no different. Instead of bringing their homeland's cuisine, they went into the donut business.

Go into just about any donut shop in Southern California and you'll find a Cambodian...or sometimes Laotian...family running it.  They are also doing it very, very well.

(As an aside, the world famous and justly popular Donut Man in Glendora is owned by a Japanese American...it is also one of the best, especially their fresh strawberry and peach donuts served in their respective seasons but since it makes just about every other list, we'll just link to it and go on.)

The donuts in this area are superb. Here are some of our favorites.

Miss Donuts, on the corner of Bonita and D Street in La Verne is perfectly situated to give the students and professors of the University of La Verne a good sugar rush on those late nights in the study hall.

I'm not sure if they're a chain, but there are a few Miss Donuts around, including another one in this city up on Foothill Boulevard.  The one by the college is a cut above, though.

Cooking up fresh crullers, twists, raised, and plain donuts pretty much all day, you'll find the freshest donuts in their large display case.

Tim and I will usually go with a glazed twist and a chocolate bar but sometimes I'll shake it up with one of their delicious cinnamon rolls. Whatever we get, it'll be soft, like that kind of softness you get with a just-cooked donut. It'll have just the right amount of moistness...not dry but not the kind that makes the donut dissolve in your hand. And it will be sweet and tasty. Oh, so tasty!

While they would hold their own with any expensive gourmet donut out there, they're still under a dollar. What great cheap eats (and don't forget the donut holes)!

In addition to donuts, they bake bagels. No, they won't be as good at the bagels you'll get in Brooklyn but they're about the best you'll get on this coast. Their sourdough bagel, which they run out of very early each day, is a yeasty heaven. Slap a little cream cheese on a slightly toasted one and you'll be in sour, cheesy bagel heaven.

Speaking of cinnamon rolls, it'd be a shame to not mention Sweet Jill's in Seal Beach (there's another location in nearby Belmont Shore in Long Beach, too).  Just a few feet up Main Street from the Seal Beach pier, this bakery specializes in them and always has a tray of fresh baked rolls sitting right next to the cash register. Get 'em hot and have them pour that delicious glaze on it just before you take it outside to eat.

The thick squares of cinnamon flavored dough are in a big tray, just out of the oven, like your grandma would make. Pick the best looking square and dig in.

In addition, Sweet Jill's is a full-service (if tiny) bakery. You'll also see cookies, cupcakes, lemon bars, slices from a variety of delicious cakes. They're all very, very good.

We'll frequently eat dinner among the many fine restaurants here and pass on dessert so we can walk over to Jill's and take some sweet treats over to the pier for a waterfront happy ending.

If you live in the Los Angeles Area and haven't heard of Porto's Bakery, you're either a newcomer or living under a rock. Consider them the In 'n Out of baked goods. The Porto family immigrated from Cuba in 1960 after being thrown out of work for asking to immigrate. With nothing to their name, the mom started baking while the dad delivered the cakes at night after his daytime shift working as a mechanic.

The cakes became popular so the family opened up a small bakery and the rest is history. The main store in Glendale is huge. Still, block long lines form outside for people waiting to get in to buy some of their treats. And, oh, what treats they are.

Being a cinnamon roll lover, I love their weekday version (only available Monday through Friday) but will gladly take one of their tarts or lemon bars on the weekends.

My workday is made when a coworker puts a box with the Porto's logo on the lunchroom table for us to pick through. It's a vast baking empire inside each of the chain's three locations (Glendale, Burbank and Downey). Another long awaited location is to materialize on the location of a former strip club next to the West Covina mall.  We are drooling over the prospect.

Let's not forget those hot summer days. Forget the donuts, cakes, and rolls...you want an ice cream and while any local can rhapsodize about Thrifty's Ice Cream (now available at Rite Aid drugstores, soon to be a Walgreen's company), we head out to Claremont for our favorite.

On the corner of Yale and Bonita Avenue in the heart of the Claremont Village, you'll find Bert and Rocky's pumping out over two dozen flavors of ice cream everyday. Not to mention a healthy variety of sugar free ice cream, too.

We'll head here after a dinner of delicious burgers from Eureka! for dessert. A scoop of caramel pecan, mint 'n chip, cookies and cream along with their ever expanding custom flavors created in house.

It's delicious, cheap, and a fun way to end up not only dinner but this post.

While there are many worthy bakeries and donut shops in the region, these are the ones that stand out for us.  If you've got a couple of bucks and a sweet tooth, these stellar shops will fit the bill.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Great White North Finally Lives Up To It's Nickname

We've come prepared for the worst weather but we've had remarkably clear skies while here in Canada's third largest city and, for the most part, up north in the Canadian Rockies for the week before this. Maybe a sprinkle here and there but nothing more than mild and temporary.

Waking up on this last morning in Calgary, I look out the window. Fall and the sunny weather is nowhere to be seen. There is a blanket of snow on everything and it is still falling steadily.

Hilton gave us a late checkout (2pm) and we'd planned on doing a couple of things around town before heading to the airport for our later flight home tonight at 7:00.

Those plans are pretty much dashed by the weather so we lazily spend the day packing up, eating the rest of our snacks, and gradually getting ready to go.

Finally, it's 1:45 so we'd better checkout.  I get the car from the lot across the street. It's now very windy to go with that steady snow and it's freezing outside.

Gingerly, I transfer Tim into the front seat of our rental Ford Escape.  This is where he'll stay until we pull into the rental car return later which is, thankfully, indoors and under a roof.

I have to gas up the car before we get to the airport so we find the nearest Costco where we get two pieces of bad news.  The first, a mild letdown, is that our Costco Visa card nor our Costco membership card will work on the gas pumps up here. They use a Costco Mastercard up here and, despite our card being called Costco's 'Anywhere' card, we can not get it to work.

The other, more tragic, bit of news we find out while Tim and I sit in the car while Letty runs into the main Costco store to look around...we hear that one of our favorite musicians, Tom Petty, had died of a heart attack.

A Tom Petty marathon suddenly breaks out on the FM station that we're listening to. I find another station for gas and slowly make our way to the airport listening to a playlist of the best of Petty.

We check the car back in with Enterprise, make our way into the terminal, change out of our winter clothes back into something more suitable for L.A., and check in our bags.

One thing that's nice and convenient for U.S. travelers here in Calgary is that TSA, ICE, and Customs are all stationed here at the airport so, once you clear those three (which goes by surprisingly fast and easy), once you deplane in the U.S., you're free to go straight to baggage claim and leave the airport without any additional barriers.

Inside, we while away the waiting time at a very nice Belgian cafe in the departure lounge before taking a very easy and quick flight home.

Catch up on the rest of our Canada posts below:

Jasper National Park
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Cocktail Hour: Canadian Beer Taste Off

This was so much harder to put together than our recent Canadian Whiskey taste off. Canadian beer is pretty darn hard to find here. Originally, I had wanted to pit Molson Canadian against Moosehead but I really could not find anyone selling the Canadian here.

Watch the Video!

A trip to the beach last week meant we could stop at Total Wine and More, our local 'everything' liquor store...much more selection than, say, Bevmo...so I was able to put together three bottles from our neighbors to the north.

The contenders...Labatt Blue, a pilsner from Toronto; Moosehead, a lager from St. John's; and Blanche de Chambly from Unibroue in Quebec.

Moosehead was the smooth, skunky smelling beer I remember from my younger days. It's good, it's smooth, but the importing time in those green bottles definitely skunks the beer.

The less said about Labatt the better. Just nothing to taste there at all.

Unibroue's Blanche de Chambly, a Belgian style white ale, was delicate, flowery, and delicious. A great beer for a hot day where...as you can see in our video above...it was 84 degrees when we tasted.

Watch the video above for more in depth reactions, we'll catch you next time.

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Friday, November 24, 2017

A Couple of Adventures Still Looming Over Us...Literally!

Previously, we toured the Canadian Rockies...catch up at that link.


Part One
Part Two
Part Three

There's one thing I do not want to leave Alberta without doing. This is Canada's premiere cattle country. There's the world's largest outdoor rodeo here each summer. The land is filled with ranches, cowboys, and oil workers.

I want a good steak before I leave.

Watch the Video!

In addition to that, there's been something looming over us at almost every step we've taken here.  At over 450 feet above downtown, there's the Calgary Tower.

If you know Tim, he just can't pass up a good, tall tower. He's been above the skyline in Seattle; to the top at the CN Tower in Toronto; gazed over the Empire State in it's eponymously named building in Manhattan; and even been to the top of the orange tower at Magic Mountain.

It's Sunday and quiet in downtown Calgary. The weather's cooling off from the glorious few days we just had. Calgary's patios and pubs are nowhere near the hive of humanity they were on Stephen Avenue just yesterday.

A couple of stops on the C-Train get us to where we need to be. Actually, two stops would have but we went three and now we have added another couple of blocks to our walk.

Eventually, we make it to the corner where the tower sits.

After paying our admission, the elevator takes us pretty quickly up to the observation deck at the top of the tower. As soon as we roll out of the cab, we see the star attraction.

At 450 feet above the street, standing on a glass floor is not what you naturally want to do. It's bad enough to see other people do it but getting out there yourself is another matter.

Tim gives me a week's worth of butterflies when he rolls right onto the glass.  I instinctively grab his chair with one hand and a pole with another as if he were to suddenly crash through the glass I would somehow be able to hold him and his chair in midair until rescue were to arrive.

Realizing the folly of that, I let go and Tim is no worse off because of it.

I gingerly step out onto the glass. We take some pictures and then proceed to soak in the views from above Calgary.

From here, we can take in the Stampede and the surrounding buildings that were raised for the 1988 Winter Olympics hosted here.

The Bow River and Fort Calgary can also be easily seen.

Several buildings down below have their names painted on the roof so people in the tower can find them when they get down.  The Palomino Club entices me for a drink later.

After seeing the sky-high view of the city, we exit through the gift shop and make the trek over to the nearby Inglewood neighborhood. It's here where Letty can browse one of the local yarn shops while Tim and I chat over a beer.

Later, it's time for dinner. One more thing...we head to the Keg, which is in the lobby of the Westin Hotel, for some of that Alberta beef.

I'm torn between deciding on the New York strip and the prime rib but the roast eventually wins over the steak. 

Letty gets a top sirloin topped with shrimp and scallops.

Tim gets some prime rib sliders.

It's very delicious and easily satisfies my cravings for that Alberta cow I've been dying to eat.

Darryl Musick

Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick

Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 20, 2017

Flaming the Jets...It's Hockey Night in Canada

Previously, we toured the Canadian Rockies...catch up at that link.


Part One
Part Two

The one big activity we have planned while we're here in Canada's third largest city is to go see a hockey game. It'll be the most Canadian thing we do while we're here.

It's Saturday night, which is hockey night in Canada, and the Calgary Flames are hosting the Winnipeg Jets in their final pre-season match before the season starts next week.

Watch the Video!

We had learned from our adventures yesterday that it would be just as easy to walk the half mile from our hotel as to take the train. The weather report is a bit threatening but when it's time to leave, it's still dry. Walking it is, although we'll leave the return by train option open if the weather has turned nasty after the game.

Straight as an arrow, we walk the street from our hotel to the Saddledome. As we're approaching, a police officer points us to the accessible ramp to enter the arena. It's pretty well hidden and it's no wonder we didn't see it on our walk yesterday.

"It's the only way you'll get in," he tells us.

Collecting our tickets from Will Call, we proceed inside. Of course, this only accessible entrance is almost exactly on the opposite side of the arena from the wheelchair seating so we have to walk halfway around to get to our seats.

At least, this gives us a chance to see what kind of food offerings are available to us for this night of hockey.

We get to our seats which are located on a row across three or four sections at the top of the first level. Basically, in this old arena, they just cleared out a spot on the concourse for wheelchairs. There is no 'built in' seating.

Another thing is that Canada today is like the U.S. was 15 years ago in companion seating requirements. We are only allowed buy one companion seat to go with Tim's wheelchair. I give that to my wife, my assigned seat is about 10 rows away.

I decide to sit in the empty seat next to Tim until and unless the ticket holders for that seat show up...with the usher's blessing, of course.

(As a side note, the ADA was amended a few years ago for the United States where is is now law that you must sell up to at least three companion seats for every wheelchair seat but, of course, this is not the United States)

The pregame activities begin with a warning that there will be fireworks. This turns out to be nothing more than flames shooting out of the scoreboard but it's still a nice effect.

The game starts and about halfway through the first period, I feel a tap on my shoulder. A lady and her husband in a wheelchair are here to claim their seats. I immediately get up as nicely as I can but still get the wish-of-my-immediate-death stare from the caregiver.

Jeez...is this an example of the famous Canadian hospitality I've heard so much about?

I move to the other side of Letty and Tim. Pretty soon, a mother and her disabled son show up to claim the seats I'm sitting at.

"No worries," she says, "we'll just scoot down one spot and you can continue to sit with your family."

That's more like it.

A little while later, an able-bodied man and his four able bodied kids encamp in the seats on the other side of the mom (the usher said it was OK but he'd have to move to his assigned seats if someone else showed up).

When the mom and the kid take off to the bathroom, that family immediately scoots over to take the seats they just vacated.

OK, this is getting a bit ridiculous. The lady was so nice to me that I feel obligated to defend those seats. This is a big, burly, mean looking guy but someone has to say something and it looks like it's going to fall to me. I steel myself up for a confrontation...

"Excuse me, but those seats are already taken," I tell the gent getting ready for the inevitable shouting match.

"Oh, I'm sorry...come on kids, let's scoot back over here," came his gentle and courteous reply.

I guess that the first caregiver that gave me the death stare was an anomaly. There really is a overwhelming courteousness to these people.

The game continues on. I get some hot dogs and popcorn for Tim and me...which were really very good...while Letty has some pirogi poutine. She says it's the best poutine she's had the entire trip.

It's a hard fought game with the lead changing a few time.  At the end of regulation, the game is tied 2-2. At the end of a five minute overtime, the game is still tied 2-2.

If you know hockey, you know what comes next.  Each team takes a turn sending a lone player onto the ice to shoot a puck at a lone goalie from the other team...it's the shootout!

It's a very exciting and quick way to decide the match.  A Jets player shoots and missed. Same with the first Flames player.  Another Jets player misses. A Flames player scores. The games over and the audience goes nuts!

Horns blow and more flames shoot out of the scoreboard.

We make our way out and it's just starting to rain with a steady drizzle.  We decide it's not too bad and walk back to our hotel.

Hockey Night was a very fun night for us here in Calgary.

Darryl Musick

Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 19, 2017

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: The Calgary Pub Crawl

It took us a little while to find where the pubs and bars of Calgary were but Stephen Avenue in downtown was filled to overflowing with all the watering holes having extensive happy hours there.

Watch the Video!

While we didn't have time to partake in the beginning, we finally got around to doing a crawl before we left but then we found out why the pubs were so crowded on the preceding days...the weather was gorgeous, fall, "perfect temperature", outside weather and Calgarians were spending what would be the last of that great weather on their patios.

Patios to Calgary are what biergartens are to Munich...great, outdoor drinking spots where local go to mingle and imbibe.

Our day was decidedly chillier and most of those Calgarians seemed to be home in front of a cozy fireplace.  No worries, we're still out and about, let's go see what we can find...

Starting off nextdoor to the hotel, we're at a popup beer garden put up by the National restaurant chain at evJunction, a container park with little shops in each shipping container and entertainment via a local hip hop group.

The selection is a little limited, a blonde and a berry based brew are the canned choices here, and Tim and I lean toward the blonde while Letty likes the berry beer.

The C-Train gets us over to Stephen Avenue where we hit three more pubs, all within a block of each other.

Our first stop is Bank and Baron, a huge pub in a former bank. The bartender invites us to go to the basement to see the old vault and take pictures.

Tim and Letty go with the mimosas which are on special this day while I get my Molson Canadian fix. 

Yeah, it's a cheap beer but it's better than most of our cheap beers back home.

Across the street, we visit the James Joyce Irish pub

Here, we find a little privacy at a wheelchair-accessible nook near the entrance (while their 'secret' wheelchair accessible bathroom also comes in handy mid drinkathon).

Tim goes fruity with a strawberry colada, Letty goes with their special Moscow Mule, while I have a reserve Canadian Crown Royal whiskey shot with a Shock Top beer chaser (picture at the top of this post).

We end up around the corner at the Palomino Smokehouse where we have the best, juiciest brisket we've ever had. Seriously delicious food here.

As for drinks, Letty has a Rock Creek cider and I go for a local craft brew, a Big Rock Traditional Ale.

From here, it's not a long walk back to the hotel. Wobbly, maybe, but not far.


Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 17, 2017

Experiencing History at Calgary's Heritage Park and the Elephant in the Room

Previously, we toured the Canadian Rockies...catch up at that link.

And this link will take you to Part One of our Visit to Calgary

Darn. I have to finally get the rental car out of the parking lot for today's excursion. I was hoping I wouldn't have to drive again until we went to the airport but it is quicker, by far, to get to today's destination of Heritage Park by car rather than transit.

The reason I'm not so happy about that is that it requires me to transfer Tim into and out of the car, not to mention folding up his chair and fitting it into the hatch of our rental car. I can do it...I have been doing it mostly up in the mountains...but it does get tiring and takes its toll after awhile.

Watch the Video!

It's a bit cloudy and threatening but for the moment it's not raining. We take the drive to Heritage Park, find a spot to park, and head in.

I downloaded a two-for-one coupon at the hotel before leaving.  At the ticket window, I ask if they have any discounts for the disabled. I'm told no but a caregiver can go in for free so Tim and I get in for the price of one while Letty gets in for free.  We get to pay for one ticket for the three of us.

(As an aside, I've noticed that no one will volunteer that a discount is available at attractions while were here in Canada. Only when I've asked did I receive them. One lady at another attraction told me "you'd be surprised that no one asks for discounts." My response is "maybe you could volunteer that information?")

A plaza is next to the ticket booth with a restaurant, cafe, and a couple of shops. An automotive museum called Gasoline Alley is just inside the gate. It's about a quarter mile walk from here to the heart of the park. up a slight hill.

We walk up. There is also an accessible bus that will take you from here if your unable to.

At the top of the hill, there's a windmill, a train crossing, and a lake off to the left. Crossing the tracks, you are now in the village. It's kind of like a combination of Knott's Berry Farm and a museum.

It's possible to make a big loop and take it all in so we break to the left which takes us by some rentable party tents before getting to the antique midway.

Old rides, such as this caterpillar ride with wooden wheels, are available to ride on.

There's also a swing ride, a carousel, ferris wheel, and a few others.  None are accessible.

We watch for a few minutes before I see a station for the old steam engined train that makes a circuit around the park.

"Let's go see if that train is accessible," I tell Tim.

We see nothing to suggest it is, there's even a sign that strollers must left at the station.  I ask a gentleman working there if it is.

"No, it's an antique train and it's impossible to adapt it to wheelchairs," is his answer.

Now, we've been on plenty of antique trains south of the border that have very easily been adapted for wheeler with the addition of a portable lift at the station. This line of reasoning is not dealing with reality and points the way to assume that park management just isn't that creative when it comes to its disabled customer base.

We move on to the train shops and locomotive turntable, which are accessible, and check out some of the antique coaches and equipment stored within.

Back in the village, we find accessible points on the boardwalk and are able to go into a few of the shops but the majority are still inaccessible to wheelchairs.

It's not long before we're heading back down the hill.

We make a stop at Gasoline Alley which is completely wheelchair accessible and take in some marvelous pieces of automotive history.

The complex is named for a large row of restored antique gas pumps that you can wander down in addition to seeing the old autos and trucks.

This Cadillac is left unrestored so patrons can get a look at what the vehicles looked like before restoration.

A couple of Auburns take their place at the head of the large room.

A family wagon and travel trailer are on display in a special 'family vacation' exhibit.

We make our way out, and eventually back to Calgary when done. To address the elephant in the room, however, we do note that while Canada seems more progressive and inclusive for the most part than we are in the U.S., we continue to note that they seem to be a few years behind us in inclusion for those with handicaps.

This visit to Heritage Park brings it home for us, much of this park can easily be made accessible and adapted for those with special needs without destroying the historical nature of the buildings and equipment but the attitude is 'it's history and your kind wasn't accomodated back then so we won't do it either.'

Along with a real trial to find a good, accessible room in Jasper and the afterthought of the wheelchair seating at the hockey game, it's getting a bit hard to ignore (as was the inaccessible subway in Toronto a few years back).

We hope that Canada, which is a wonderful country populated with wonderful people, can address some of these shortfalls soon. We can say that the transit in Calgary, the sidewalks, hotels, and many other attractions are greatly accessible but there are still a few glaring examples out there that need improvement.

Well, we don't want to knock it when so much else is perfectly fine so we'll end today's report here and get back with some more accessible adventures on the next one. At least they only charged us for one ticket.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

TRANSIT REPORT: Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Calgary is the 3rd largest city in Canada. It has a well-defined city core, which helps in transit planning.

The transit system here is made up of three components. The C-Train is the system's light rail service. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) serves future, planned light rail line routes, and local bus service makes up the rest.

The C-Train has two lines but acts like four lines converging on downtown...the Red and the Blue.

The Red Line reaches Tuscany in the northwest portion of the city, transits through downtown, then continues on to Somerset in the southeast section of the city. 

The Blue Line covers the other two points on the compass, coming from Saddletowne in the northeast to 69th Street in the southwest after going through downtown.

Each car on the C-Train has a dedicated door for wheelchairs/walkers/scooters. There is no designated spots on platforms where these doors line up with so you need to watch the train as it arrives to determine a) which door has the wheelchair symbol on it and b) where you need to go.

The accessible doors have a well-marked button that you press, which deploys a ramp so you can wheel in from the platform onto the train.

Both trains travel down 7th Avenue in downtown Calgary where they share eight stations from City Hall in the east to 8th Street in the west.

There are five BRT routes. BRT serves the airport but C-Train doesn't. Line 300 is the airport line, 301 comes in from North Pointe, 302 Comes from Cranston Avenue south of the city, 305 goes from Olympic Park in the west to Ellison Lake in the east, 306 travels from Westbrook Centre, just west of downtown, to Heritage Station south of town. All BRT lines, with the exception of 306, converge on the downtown corridor.

160 local bus lines reach the rest of the city.

All the buses are wheelchair accessible.

Local fare (in CDN) is $3.25.The airport line (300) is $10.00, which is basically a day pass since it is the same price and allows you access to all transit in Calgary. As stated, a day pass is $10.  The downtown zone on the C-Train between City Hall and Downtown West/Kerby is free.

Find more information here: Calgary Transit

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved