Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Fresno loves its barbecue, here’s one more restaurant serving it

I feel like all I write about lately is barbecue restaurants opening. Here’s one more. The latest Dickey’s Barbecue Pit opens in Clovis Thursday in a former Blockbuster at Herndon and Fowler avenues near Vons. This is the small, quick-service Texas-style barbecue joint (that means no tri-tip) that also has restaurants in the El Paseo shopping center, Tulare, Hanford, Visalia and Porterville.

In what Dickey’s folks are calling a “three day party,” they’ll be gift card giveaways on Thursday, a visit from “Mr. Dickey” as they call the chairman on Friday complete with $2 pulled pork sandwiches (that’s one at right), and more giveaways on Saturday.

If you’re burned out on Dickey’s, here’s some other happening barbecue restaurants in town:

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Tailspin Tommy’s closes, new Mexican restaurants open

Tailspin Tommy’s Aerodrome Eatery has closed — but maybe not for long. The little cafe at Chandler Airport where you could eat a burger and watch small planes land and take off closed Friday. The owners, who both have full-time jobs outside the restaurant, said the restaurant rarely paid for itself and they ended up paying bills out of their own pockets. Once the staff — including the purple-haired worker who had a sweet goodbye on Facebook — got other jobs, they decided with a heavy heart to close it.

But, they are close to finalizing a deal with an owner-operator who may have an easier time keeping the place afloat. I’ll keep you updated on that. The restaurant has been Tailspin Tommy’s for about three years, but a restaurant much longer than that.

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Couple hopes to bring ice cream shop to Tower

Update No. 2: The Ampersand Kickstarter campaign has met its $20,000 goal. Earlier this week, the couple behind the effort said that if the campaign reached the $10,000 mark, “the remainder will be taken care of.” It did and it was. The ice cream shop will open in May. The couple is already installing equipment and working on the space. You can track their progress on the Ampersand Facebook page.

Update: The folks behind Amerpsand have signed a lease to take over the P*DE*Q space across from Fresno High and next to Dusty Buns restaurant. Click here for a pic. The Bennetts plan to open in May. And they say they have the money to open whether or not the Kickstarter succeeds.

The Tower District needs an ice cream shop. At least that’s what Jeff and Amelia Bennett say and they’ve embarked on a campaign to make it happen. The Tower residents make their own ice cream and have started a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to get the money to open an ice cream shop. Regardless of whether they meet their goal or not, they say they plan to open a shop in or near Tower. Here’s their video about it:

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Castillo’s Mexican restaurant coming to Tower District

If the internet could jump up and down with excitement, it’d be doing it over news that Castillo’s Mexican Restaurant is coming to the Tower District. Castillo’s announced plans to open at 568 E. Olive Ave. (which used to be Rousseau and Frankie’s 568, next to Bourbon & Taps). The family is shooting for a March 7 opening date. You can follow their progress and see the comments of excited customers on this Facebook page or its grand opening page.

Technically, this is a return to the Tower District for the family. Patriarch Kino Castillo once had a restaurant in what sounds like what is now the Million Elephant space. It’s been closed for well over a decade. Anyone remember it?

If the Castillo name brings to mind other restaurants, that’s because there are more. So, feel free to sketch a family tree while I pass along what Gino Castillo, 51 Aces bass player and son of Kino, explained to me. His dad Gino opened Castillo’s Mexican on Ventura Avenue, which is still open but has been handed down to other family members. He recently sold the Castillo’s at 4386 W. Shaw Ave. near Costco. He then opened Casa Castillo, a smaller restaurant at 3628 W. Shaw Ave. At one point, there was another at Blackstone and Shields. “He actually tried to retire like three or four times,” Gino says. “People keep offering him restaurants and he keeps opening them up.”

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Kwirkworld closing, Hobby Lobby may be coming, more food and shopping news

One of Fresno’s quirkiest and most-loved stores is closing, but there’s news of a lots of openings in the works too. Here’s a rundown on what’s happening the shopping and eating world in Fresno and Clovis.

Closing: Kwirkworld. The River Park store known for novelties such as stick-on hipster mustaches and socks that say “bacon” is closing. Owner Kirk Psenner is returning to selling real estate. He said Wednesday: “When I look at the economic picture, it’s the difference between just skating by and going back to my passion that I was hugely successful at.” You can see the full story here and read the announcement Kwirkworld posted on its Facebook page here. The store will close sometime in March and is already having a sale.

Possibly opening: Hobby Lobby. The craft retailer that makes headlines for other things confirmed it is looking to open in Fresno. “We are actively looking for a location in Fresno but nothing has been signed as of yet,” says spokesman Vince Parker of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.

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Ooh de Lolli goodies return to Fresno

After Ooh de Lolli Take Away Cafe closed at Gazebo Gardens, several you said something like “But wait! Where can I get that yummy food?” Now I have an answer for you: Mia Cuppa Caffe, starting Saturday.

In case you missed it, Ooh de Lolli closed at the end of December and coffee shop Cafe Van Ness has opened in its place already. (And P*DE*Q Corner has a new tenant too, with the Ampersand folks planning to open an ice cream shop there.) Ooh de Lolli owner Donna Mott has agreed to supply her savory goodies to the Mia Cuppa coffee shop (formerly the Revue) in the Tower District. She’ll be stocking their cases with salads, sandwiches — including the cashew chicken salad sandwich — spinach puffs (at right), egg fritatas, scones and her “power packed bars.” The “ever popular breakfast pudding” with avocado, banana, cocoa, chia seeds and sweetened agave nectar will be there too. All of this will be alongside other food providers, including Fresno Bagel and La Boulangerie.

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What’s your favorite appetizer in Fresno?

Restaurants are doing such innovative stuff with their menus lately, especially with appetizers. That’s a category that seems to attract a lot of creativity, plus it usually has lots of tasty fried stuff. I’ve seen kimchi fries at Little Leaf Bar, fried pickles at Westwoods, fries with jalapeno popper dip at the newly opened Bulldog Burger Bistro, and apparently the Vintage Press in Visalia is known for its wild mushrooms cooked in a cognac cream sauce and served on puff pastry.

So it got me thinking, what’s your favorite appetizer to get at a Fresno-area restaurant? Is it something new and different? Or is it an old standby, say, french fries, that are just really delicious? Whether fancy or down home, at an independently owned place or a chain restaurant, doesn’t matter, just let me know in the comments. This part is key though: tell me why you like it so much. We may feature a few beloved dishes in a story for print. 

Is the Central Valley the tech alternative to “sexist butthole” Silicon Valley?

Newsweek recently stirred the pot with a cover image and story about “What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women.” The story is about the guy-in-a-hoodie “frat boy” (some say “rapey”) culture in the tech industry where women are a minority. It’s a heck of a read, with details about the sexist jokes and sexual harassment women face, along with the difficulty in getting funding for their startup companies.

In the aftermath of that piece, a couple of women in Fresno are metaphorically waving their hands and saying, “Hey, ladies in tech, come over here.”

Fresno doesn’t have that bro culture, they say. “It’s night and day,” says Irma Olguin, who has worked in Silicon Valley and here. She’s the co-founder of Bitwise Industries, a company that’s a focal point of Fresno’s small but growing tech industry. She says things are different here. Of the 50+ people who work fulltime in the Bitwise building for more than two dozen tech companies, about 40% are women. That’s a vast improvement on Silicon Valley’s gender breakdown and Google, for example, where 17% of its tech sector employees are women.

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Small bites of food news: dessert, vegan cheese, free pizza and free coffee

I’ve been bombarding you with news of new restaurants opening lately (see here, here or here), but sometimes the ones that have been around a while have news to share too. So here’s a smorgasbord (heh, see what I did there?) of food news at Fresno restaurants.

  • The Daily Grill has revamped its dessert menu, cutting back on prices and portions. The traditionally big desserts were a lot to stomach after a meal, so the north Fresno restaurant shrunk them. The prices also dropped from $10 to $13 down to the $6 to $7 range. A carrot cake bread pudding was added to the menu, which still features favorites such as a brownie sundae, Key lime pie, sugar-free cheesecake (that’s it at right) and a daily cobbler that’s currently made with strawberries and apples.
  • Pieology Pizzeria, the custom pizza chain that opened in Fig Garden Village in October, sent a press release to reporters today announcing it is introducing vegan cheese. It’s news that surely would have excited local vegans and the lactose intolerant, except for one problem: There won’t be any vegan cheese at the Fresno location. Fresno doesn’t appear on the list of 29 locations that will carry it. It doesn’t say why, but apparently Fresno is just not enough of a hotbed of veganism like, say, the Portland area or Southern California, which will have the cheese. 

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Free frozen yogurt today — with chocolate.

As if you didn’t eat enough deliciously yummy food on Super Bowl Sunday, here’s an excuse to eat something else that’s yummy. The Yogurtland in River Park is giving away free frozen yogurt from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 2 for National Frozen Yogurt Day. That includes free toppings and a “limited edition Hershey’s collectible spoon” which appears to be a spoon that looks like it’s made out of chocolate.

This year’s Frozen Yogurt Day includes the debut of two new flavors created in a partnership with Hershey: York Peppermint Pattie and Hershey’s Chocolate Milkshake. There’s also two new toppings: York Peppermint Patties Minis and Hershey’s Mini Kisses.

If you go, be prepared. Last time there was quite a big line. 

And on a sidenote, Fresno will be getting another Yogurtland. The same people who own this one are opening a second one at the under-construction Campus Pointe development next to Fresno State. It will open in the coming months. As usual, I’ll keep you updated on it.

New life for Coarsegold’s Broken Bit?

If you’re like me, every time you drive to the mountains on Highway 41, you get intrigued by the run-down Broken Bit restaurant and bar in Coarsegold. Besides being an awesome name, it just looks like the type of place that was once a hopping hub of activity.

It was. And it may be again.

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Even more new restaurants opening

So I’m hoping you caught my Saturday story about all the new restaurants opening in Fresno — all 25 of them. The problem with doing stories like this is that there’s always someone you leave out or discover after publication. So, in addition to the new hofbrau, sushi and burger places in that story, here’s a few more that are coming.

The people behind REV’S California Cuisine contacted me this week to say they’d be opening in April. The restaurant is under construction in a building on Clovis Avenue near Fifth Street. Check out the menu on its site — rib-eye burger ground in house with bacon, a 2-day brined chicken breast, escargot and lobster mac n cheese. I’ll keep you updated as more details come to light.

The Painted Table is opening a restaurant — two, in fact. First, the catering company that operates out of the former Daily Planet space in Tower Theatre will open part of the dining room as a restaurant. It will serve the same “Fresno-centric” cuisine as the catering (which actually is a huge variety). Look for a March opening. (That picture is just a mock-up, by the way.)

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Free and cheap food on National Pie Day

It’s Friday and it’s much more fun to talk about food than actually get work done, am I right? (Excuse me while I wipe the donut crumbs off my shirt.) So, I bring you three free and cheap food options available today.

First, the newly opened Dutch Bros. at Blackstone and McKinley avenues is having its grand opening today. You can read all about the new location (and how it’s pronounced “bros”) here. It’s selling $1 16-ounce drinks all day today. All the money you do spend goes to Valley Children’s Hospital.

Did you know today is National Pie Day? Yes, it’s a thing. There’s no free pie, unfortunately, but there is cheap pie. Marie Callender’s $7.99 whole pie sale is today.

Also, Chipotle has a not really free food deal that starts Monday. First, you have to pay for a dish with its organic tofu Sofritas on Monday, Jan. 26. Bring the receipt back between Jan. 27 and Feb. 28 and you get a free burrito, bowl, salad or taco — made with Sofritas or any kind of meat you want. Details here.

Silver Dollar Hofbrau is closed. What’s your memory?

The news of the Silver Dollar Hofbrau closing has hit Fresno hard. In case you missed it, the restaurant and bar on Shaw Avenue closed its doors for the last time Tuesday after more than 35 years in business. The building is being sold to a new owner. You can read the full story here.

Ever since the news came out, people have been sharing all kinds of stories and memories about the place. So far, I’ve heard about swing dancing, bad dates, 21st birthday parties, former Fresno Bee newsroom employees who would head over for a drink after their shift and one story about a pimp in a fur coat nearly causing a fight.

So, what’s your story of the Silver Dollar Hofbrau? What memories do you have to share?

Is this guy hotter than your girlfriend?

File this one under news of the weird. Reporter Jim Guy’s story today about a pair of back-to-back robberies at the Super Mall on Olive Avenue and Golden State Boulevard (the former Kmart) is bizarre enough. You can read the full story here, but here’s the Cliffs Notes version of what the cops say happened: Some guys stole some jewelry from the store. As a security guard left to chase them, another guy snatched a woman’s purse in the store. One of the first robbers happened to have a gunshot wound from a separate incident last weekend. And the guy who stole the purse jumped into a stranger’s car in the mistaken belief the driver would help him get away when instead he took him back to the cops instead.

But the best part of this odd tale is in the photo Jim Guy took. The alleged purse snatcher is wearing a T-shirt that reads “Hotter than your girlfriend.” I’m pretty sure that shirt is meant for a woman, first of all. But I’ll let you decide if the T-shirt’s sentiment is true.

Here’s what’s up with Pinot Wine Bar

Pinot Wine Bar in the Tower District has been closed for a while now and some of you have been wondering what’s up. The picture at right is the sign that’s posted in the window.

Well, here’s what I know. A while back Juan Leija bought the business from Daniel Renteria, the wine lover who founded it, as Daniel wanted to spend a little more time enjoying his retirement. Leija has said from the beginning that he planned to shut down for a few weeks, do some work inside and reopen under a new name and concept. That’s happening a little sooner than expected, sped along by the transfer of the liquor license. 

“Pinot in and of itself as wine bar is no longer in existence,” Leija says.

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Facebook photo of the day: Baby jaguar and photographer version

Sometimes, Bee photographers get really fun assignments. This photo is proof.

This is Bee photographer Craig Kohlruss, who was getting some photos of the baby jaguars for this story at Project Survival’s Cat Haven in eastern Fresno County. Staff gave him permission to get right in the enclosure with the 2-month-old jaguars. They climbed all over Craig and Cat Haven president Wendy Debbas snapped this shot. The jaguars are named Nacho (the black one) and Libre (the spotted one) after the Jack Black movie “Nacho Libre.” 

Keep scrolling for a video of them at play, which I guarantee will be the cutest thing you see all day. 

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No reservations on New Years Eve? How about some good grub instead?

The problem with procrastinators like me waiting until now to make New Year’s plans is that lots of celebrations may be booked up. It might even be tough to get a seat at a restaurant (call to find out). You can read more about the big bashes that restaurants and others are having here, blogger Joshua Tehee has a ton of options and Elephant Lounge (hello Bollywood!), SchoolHouse Restaurant and the newly opened Zen Wok are celebrating too.

But what if you can’t get a reservation? Or if you’re the type to avoid the big swanky bashes? That’s what I set out to tackle in this week’s Eating Out column. But I have to say, it turned into a “check out this yummy restaurant that I haven’t had a chance to write about yet” type of column. Now, let’s be clear: These are not places you dress up for or will even be celebrating New Year’s. These are down home places, some that can best be described with words like hole in the wall and taqueria. Some are take-out only. Here’s the full column and a few latecomers that didn’t make it in.

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What was your favorite book of 2014?

There were so many good books to read in 2014: new books, old books made into TV shows and classics that are still getting some love. We at the Beehive want to know what your favorite book of 2014 was. It doesn’t matter when it was published, just tell us what the best book you read in 2014 was. Here are our favorites.

BETHANY: “The Cold Dish,” by Craig Johnson. This was the year I fell in love with Sheriff Walt Longmire. He’s the main character in my new favorite series of books. I sped through the first seven this year. Longmire is a laconic widower who is grief-stricken and screwed up and somehow hilarious. His young, snarky female officer and best friend Henry who lives on the Cheyenne reservation are just a few of the other strong characters in this crime mystery series. The setting of rural Wyoming and a strong Native American presence are like their own characters in the books and create a world that I actively miss between books. These are the type of books that you fly through and don’t feel like work at all.

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Tassels in Fig Garden Village closing

Tassels, the locally owned store in Fig Garden Village selling all kinds of elegant gifts and home decor, is closing. The store’s lease is up and the women who own the store say they decided not to renew it. They’ll be starting a big sale soon and closing when the merchandise is gone, but expect to be open through much of January. 

“We have a heavy heart,” says co-owner Suzanne Yengoyan. “Our lease was up at the end of December and after just several years of contemplating what we should do, felt it was best to move on.” The location was a good one for the holidays, but a little removed from the heart of the center for the rest of the year, she says. The space is up for rent.

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Humphrey Station to get new life

Do you remember Humphrey Station, the historic stage coach stop turned restaurant waaaay out on the outskirts of Clovis on Tollhouse Road? It’s been closed for the better part of a year but it will reopen soon. The property had gone into foreclosure, but new owners bought it, work is underway and it will reopen early next year.

Chef Sean Dunn is heading up the restaurant and working on a menu. “Basically I’m going to do the French Laundry meets the Clampetts,” he says. That means good, but down-to-earth food with a fresh, local emphasis. Think housemade cinnamon rolls, lots of soups with ingredients from local farms and other entrees. You might remember Dunn from Peeve’s. He was most recently working as executive chef/food director for Gold Arrow Camp on Huntington Lake.

There’s lots more in the works and I’ll tell you about it when the place opens.

Where to eat out on Christmas Day

My column about where you can eat out on Christmas ran Monday, but there’s a few more restaurants open that day that have since come to my attention.

One is the brand new restaurant Zen Wok at Palm and Herndon avenues. It’s a second location for the folks who run Zen Wok Fusion in the Tower District, but this one is bigger, has a bigger menu with several vegan items and a huge selection of craft beer and wine. You can read all about the restaurant here. Zen Wok will be open Christmas Day from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

Ducey’s on the Lake at Bass Lake is also having a traditional Christmas Day buffet from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will feature lots of entrees (hello baked salmon with truffle butter!), salads, sides and desserts and have a carving station with roast turkey with cranberry-orange relish and prime rib with creamy horseradish. Details here. Cost: adults $35.95, seniors 55+$27.95, children 4-12 $17.95. Make reservations by calling (559) 642-2585 x.444 or (800) 350-7463.

Of course, I know there are restaurants out there that aren’t included in my list. Where do you like to eat out on Christmas? Feel free to tell us in the comments.

Fresno High neighborhood losing P*DE*Q Corner, Ooh de Lolli Take Away Cafe

People in central Fresno are getting two doses of bad news: P*DE*Q Corner across from Fresno High School is closing and so is the Ooh de Lolli Take Away Cafe.

P*DE*Q Corner will close Dec. 23. The P*DE*Q Gluten Free Bakery at 435 N. Clovis Ave. will remain open. P*DE*Q Corner on Echo Avenue was the launching pad for the brand founded by owner Flavia Takahashi-Flores who transitioned from a home-based business. The delicious little balls of Brazilian cheese bread were made there at first. But the company has grown and she’s since hired Wawona Frozen Foods to make the P*DE*Qs, which are now sold in 23 Costco stores. The P*DE*Q Gluten Free Bakery has become the hub of the company’s gluten-free activity, and can do a lot more, including making and selling cupcakes, pies, cookies, bread and the PIZZA*Q line of gluten-free pizzas and dough. “We want to focus our energy on creating more product and focusing on just one store that we can view as a model store for franchising eventually,” she said.

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Where do you shop local?

My buy local gift guide was on the cover of Sunday’s Spotlight section with lots of gift suggestions. These are not just local, but super local: locally grown and locally made. We’re talking purses made in a downtown art gallery, “Fresbro” T-shirts printed in a Tower shop and chocolate-dipped apples rolled in M&Ms at the California Gourmet Co. 

But this is by no means a comprehensive list. Lots of places are selling locally made goods and lots of stores are locally owned. Where do you go to buy local and what do you like to buy there? Tell us in the comments.

PCH Subs in Clovis closing Sunday

PCH Subs is closing Sunday after about 13 years in business. The surf-themed sandwich shop — PCH is short for Pacific Coast Highway — at Herndon and Fowler avenues in Clovis just couldn’t make it any longer, says Guy Foell, who runs the shop owned by his parents, Dick and Chic Foell.

The shop’s lease is up and it’s been struggling since the Blockbuster next door closed and people stopped picking up sandwiches to eat during their movie, Guy says. Rising minimum wage and other factors played a part too, he says. “I think it’s just tough for mom and pops to compete and [with] the price of everything going up … it’s just tough,” he says, noting that there’s seven sandwich shops in a two-block radius of his restaurant.

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