Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Where to get “Wicked” eats

FresnoOpera_Wicked-306x250The Broadway show “Wicked” is returning to the Saroyan Theatre starting Wednesday. It’s bound to attract lots of people who will be looking for places to eat beforehand. This week’s Eating Out column is about where people can eat dinner downtown before the show. You can read the full column here, but I thought I’d highlight a few restaurants that are doing something special for “Wicked”. Neither the column nor this blog is meant to be a comprehensive list, so if there’s someplace you like to eat downtown that isn’t on here, be sure to tell us in the comments.

  • Sumtin’ Ta Eat. The owner of this “home cookin’” restaurant on Kern Street is getting her good witch on with a $9 meal special. But you need to call ahead of time and use the word “wicked” while making your reservation. It won’t work if you say it when you walk in the door. Call (559) 572-2328.
  • The newly reborn The Downtown Club will open for dinner during the run of the show. It’s usually just open for lunch and special events. To make sure you get to the show on time, the restaurant will have a buffet for $19.95.
  • Umi Sushi is serving up a “Wicked roll” — as in sushi. The roll’s contents are a surprise (though that may be just because they haven’t figured out what they want to put in it yet). Umi is the new place at 2321 Kern Street across from the Fresno Convention Center.
  • Joe’s Steakhouse is expanding its regular hours to be open for lunch during the run of the show. Reservations aren’t necessary, but they’ll take them.

The fallout from the BRT vote yet to be seen

While we have yet to see the full fallout from last week’s 4-3 council vote, it looks like Bus Rapid Transit isn’t gone for good. Which makes last Thursday’s fiasco (if you doubt my wording, read the live tweets) seem that much more of a waste.

The silver lining here is what The Bee predicted in one of two editorials it ran prior to the vote: The council (or at least four of its members) have proven their intentions disingenuous and that their motives can’t be trusted.

Even those opposed to BRT shouldn’t see the vote as a victory. Because BRT was never the issue. Neither was the appropriation of tax-payer money. No, this was about something else. Council member Lee Brand said as much in this quote from Friday’s story in The Bee: “BRT wasn’t the issue,” Council Member Lee Brand said. “The issue was the general plan.”

As reminder, this is the general plan that the council approved in 2012. It’s the general plan that focuses on infill development and curbing sprawl and one which certain council members (and developers) now want to see changed (at a estimated cost of $2 million or more. As reminder, that will also be taxpayer dollars spent).

So, that is the kind of politics the city is dealing with. Here’s hoping it will be remembered by voters come June.

Warnors Center ends year in the black

2012-09-08 20.31.24 (1)If you want a sign that downtown revitalization can happen, there’s this: The Warnors Center for the Performing Arts, the nonprofit organization that operates the Warnors Theatre and the accompanying venues and commercial spaces, ended the fiscal year in the black.

The amount was minimal, for sure, but it’s the first time anyone can remember the nonprofit making money since it took over, says Christopher Dutrey, acting executive director and interim CEO for the complex. Dutrey took over when Dan Fitzpatrick left at the end of last year.

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Umi Sushi restaurant opens downtown

Umi 024Kern Street has a new sushi restaurant, Umi Sushi. After its predecessor, Sushi Hana, shut down its spot across from the Fresno Convention Center several months ago, some sushi fans were quite bummed. But Umi has taken over that same spot and opened last week. The restaurant is a full-service sushi bar. One highlight, according to the owners: the “soft shell crab wonder,” with deep-fried crab, spicy tuna and cucumber. After learning that the Chinese chicken salad at Sushi Hana used to sell out, they made sure to put it on their menu. There’s also bento boxes, salads, soups and vegetarian rolls.

And you may recognize the sushi chefs behind the counter. Ketut Sutama and Wan Takian have worked together at Sushi Day and then Roll One for Mi. Co-owner Tracy Wayte (who is also Ketut’s wife) playfully calls them the “Odd Couple.” (Ketut’s cousin married a cousin of Wan’s, so technically, they’re family.) And don’t be surprised if they fix up something new based on what regular customers like. “They like to play with food,” Tracy says. “Sushi is art.”

The owners hope to have their beer and wine license soon. The restaurant is open 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Saturdays during special downtown events and performances.

Bandgeek: Big Sandy, Brother Luke and an 806 Invasion


The latest in the Hunger Games saga opens tonight. At midnight or something. There are people who are excited. Others will be more taken by one of the bands playing through next weekend. For those I present another installment of the weekly (in this case it spans closer to two weeks) music roundup known as BANDEGEEEEK!!


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Watch this: Anti Labs production reel

Fall 2013 Production Reel from Anti Laboratories on Vimeo.

I first wrote about Anti Laboratories in 2009, and even then it was clear that the marketing company was on to good things (its headquarters was downtown for one). Their works was (and is) fresh and bold and contained a completely unique perspective.

Along with its design work, the team has stepped up its video production work this year, as evident in its 2013 production real (which you can see above). It’s is impressively done and chalk full of Fresno-centric music (F.U.S.E., 40 Watt, Fashawn), food (Carthop) and culture (the Atomic Assault roller derby team). See if you can’t catch it all.

Then, click on over to Antilabs blog site to get perspective from director Punit Dhesi.

You review: F.U.S.E. Fest 2013

image (12)

Overheard at F.U.S.E. “I don’t know why Collecto would want to cover that up in a robot suit?” Apparently, he is handsome.

Each year the Fresno Urban Sound Experience packs 30-plus local bands into a few close blocks of downtown, then lets fans meander from venue to venue to venue like its some kind of audio buffet. You may hear a blues band, followed by some hard-core punk or a couple hip-hop MCs. You might hear folk music, or EDM or some shoegaze.

The sixth installment of the annual music festival (often referred to as F.U.S.E.) took place Friday and Saturday, despite competition from a sold-out college football game and a freak wind storm. Attendance felt low, but those who came out were enthusiastic about connecting with the local music scene. It was a nice opportunity for uber fans to sort of geek out. For many, it was also their first time inside the Warnors Theatre, which was worth the ticket price.

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Bandgeek!: Screaming Queens, Trails and Ways and a Girl in a Coma

1185734_592522900805632_836577651_nUnlike downtown grocery stores, when it comes to live music this weekend, I’ve got choices. Possibly too many. If you don’t believe me, look at this: It’s another installment of your weekend music roundup. It’s another BANDGEEEEK!


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Tonight: Jazz Hop


Tonight is Jazz Hop, FYI. I sometimes don’t give it the attention it deserves. So, here’s a quick rundown of where to go tonight.

Fresh & Easy closings: Does the concept work?

FreshEasy and Capos 014Fresh & Easy’s experiment in the American grocery store market has come to end. The British parent company Tesco is selling off the stores and managers have confirmed three in our area will close. They are:

The downtown store at Tulare and R streets.

The Shaw and Willow avenues store in Clovis.

The Delano store.

The 25% off sales have already started. The remaining stores will stay open under the ownership of Yucaipa Companies LLC, an investment firm headed by Southern California billionaire Ron Burkle. The Fresh & Easy chain simply never made enough money for Tesco to keep it going.

The Fresh & Easy stores brought something different to Fresno, with their small format, limited selection and self-checkout stands. It’s a bit of a European style of shopping — pick up what you need that day on the way home — that contrasts with our giant big-box shop-for-a-week-all-in-one-go grocery stores.

So the unanswered question is still this: Does the concept work? Plenty of people have professed their love for Fresh & Easy recently, particularly the downtown one. Some downtown residents in places like Iron Bird and the Vagabond Lofts say it’s their favorite place to shop. Yet still others shun the stores altogether, saying they hate the self checkout that requires customers to scan and bag their own groceries. And people with large families tend to flock to the WinCo and the FoodMaxx with their bulk discounts. What do you think?

Sneak preview of Peeve’s Public House

Peeves 025While lots of people are talking about potential plans to rip up the Fulton Mall for traffic, the sneak preview for one little piece of the mall — Peeve’s Public House & Local Market — happened last night.

I know lots of you were there, so feel free to add your impressions. In the meantime, here’s a little recap of how the business is shaping up. (As you may recall, Peeve’s takes over for the much beloved Fresno Brewing Company, which closed about a month ago.) Former city official Craig Scharton is planning to open the spot — he’s shooting for Sept. 16 — as a restaurant, bar and market selling locally made goods. Peeve, by the way, is his dog (“pet peeve” — get it?).

The dark pub feel has been brightened up a bit with some green and yellow paint. There are new wood benches and wainscoting made from salvaged wood.

Peeve’s will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with outside food providers coming in to serve the food. The food will be “hyper local,” meaning it comes from farmers markets and the like. The restaurateur behind Mabel’s Kitchen downtown (which has closed, sadly) will be providing breakfast, for example. Others are still being finalized. Guest chefs will come in about once every two weeks to serve a special dinner. The wide variety of craft beers will stay on the menu (check out that photo below, that’s a lot of beer).

The market in the little slice of building next door will carry locally made food, such as P*DE*Q‘s little Brazilian cheese bread balls and Ooh de Lolli‘s ice pops. A Kickstarter campaign will start soon to pay for the shelves, refrigerators and freezers.

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Fresno Urban Sound Experience announces lineup

2013Disclosure: I am part of the committee that puts on the Fresno Urban Sound Experience each year.

The proof in the pudding of any music festival is the official line-up announcement– that moment when you finally get to see just who’s playing. This morning Fresno Urban Sound Experience announced the lineup for its 2013 festival, which takes place Sept. 20-21 in several downtown venues.

This is the festival’s sixth year and while the number of bands is slightly smaller than in years past, it’s a diverse mix that keeps with the festivals idea of creating a musical smörgåsbord. There’s noise rock (Cabin Fire), hard-core (Farooq), hip-hop (Kooleidoscope) and whatever it is that Clatterbox does. There is folk (Boxcar Figaro), indie-rock (123 Death) and the ’60s-inpsired pop of Blake Jones and the Trike Shop. There’s reggae (Irie Sun), folk-punk (Murder Park) and straight-ahead radio rock from Sea of Sound.

Take a look at the entire line-up on the jump and tell us what you think? How does the line-up compare to year’s past? How does it compare to the city’s other downtown festival? More importantly, who are you excited to see?

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Upload: Flowing with Famous, Episode 18

Downtown Fresno saw two well-attended and super-cool events happen within one-month’s times. That’s the jumping off point for the latest episode of Flowing with Famous, the podcast for the Fresnophile in all of us. Once again I am joined by podcast guru Mike Seay.

Also of note: An old-school blog war, Fresno Brewing Company says goodbye and a new owner says hello, Sahab as the musician of the episode and more.

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Upload: Flowing with Famous, Episode 17

It was a big weekend down on the Fulton Mall, so it’s fitting that the latest episode of Flowing with Famous is heavy on the Fulton-Mall talk.

For those who don’t following along, Flowing with Famous, is a long-running Fresno-centric podcast, where I sit down with podcast guru Mike Seay to talk about the city’s culture, media, music and politics.

In the episode we talk about:

As always, slightly (or more than slightly) NSFW. With audio editing by Reid May.

To hear all that and more, stream or download now.

Flowing With Famous is also on iTunes and Stitcher for those that like listening options. Just search ‘em up and subscribe.

Upload: Flowing with Famous, Episode 12

Uploaded for your listening pleasure: Another episode of the all-things-Fresno podcast Flowing with Famous. Once again, I am joined by Fresno podcast icon Mike Seay, and once again we hit on all our favorite topics.


  • Fresno vs. Clovis
  • Some local music scene news
  • Fresno Grizzlies and the state of downtown

Plus, we’ve named another band of the episode. Spoiler alert: It’s Light Thieves.

And once again, the whole thing is slightly NSFW (sorry).

W/audio engineering by Reid May. You can stream or download the episode here or find it on iTunes, Sticker and the like.

New downtown lunch spot Mabel’s Kitchen

Mabels kitchen 014In the mood for a panini? Maybe a bierock, or a luscious brownie that’s almost a meal itself? Mabel’s Kitchen recently opened in a funky corner of downtown carrying all those things.

The restaurant, open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, is at 1445 Tuolumne St., which is west of the train tracks (map here). It’s actually inside Tuolumne Hall, a little building inside a chain link fence that’s rented out for quinceaneras and other events on the weekends.

But Tuesday through Thursday, you can get lunch to go or eat at one of its four tables. The paninis are the star of the show here, like the Cuban — roasted pork, Black Forest ham and Swiss cheese with a mayo & mustard spread — along with a turkey panini with roasted tomato and a few other options. Owner Susan Valiant makes her own bread, including a pickled sweet pepper bread that really adds flavor to the sandwich. Bierocks are for sale only on Tuesdays.

You may have had Susan’s cooking before. She’s sold her brownies and bierocks at the Vineyard Farmers Market, the Clovis farmers market and block sales around town in the past. For a while she was supplying those big fat brownies to a Dean & DeLuca gourmet food store in St. Helena.

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Upload: Flowing with Famous, Episode No. 10

Just posted: Another episode of Flowing with Famous, the city’s original Fresno-centric podcast. Once again I join local podcast guru Mike Seay to talk “all things Fresno.” In this episode we hit on the Fulton Mall, sprawl, Tioga Sequoia’s birthday bash and more. Plus guest commentary from Hilary Malveaux (from Creative Fresno). Audio engineering by Reid May.

Click, click, click to stream or download.

You review: Tioga Sequoia’s second anniversary party!


Photo borrowed with thinks from Tioga Sequoia

Beer drinkers of the world, unite and take over.

From the turnout at Tioga Sequoia‘s second anniversary party (and the first for the Ozmosis radio show), it looks as if Fresno may be quickly embracing the craft/micro-brew scene. The crowd at the brewery’s downtown headquarters (just south of the Chukchansi Park) was large and diverse and for the most part not stumbling drunk, which was a welcome surprise given that this was a beer event and what I’d heard about similar events in the past.

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Gig review: Napoletano Tap Takeover@F.B.C.

Dovves@F.B.C. (photo from Matt Napoletano) Fresno Brewing Company has done a good job of establishing itself as a hub for the craft beer set (also as a more-than-decent music venue, but that’s a different post). For those who care about things like IBUs and ABV percentages, this is the place to go and last night was perfect case in point. The Napoletano brothers (Matt and Nick) took over for the evening and showed off some of their favorite brews, including some kind of super-special keg of Tioga-Sequia’s Sugar Pine Cocoa-Vanilla Porter. I had the Obsidian Stout from Deschutes Brewery.

There was also some music, fire-eating and general good times had.

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Saigon Deli opens, pays homage to Tommy’s Hamburgers

photo(25)The new Saigon Deli opened last week at 944 Fulton Mall, just north of Tulare Avenue. It’s a Vietnamese restaurant in the longtime Tommy’s Hamburgers spot with the wooden porch out front.

Tommy died last October in a drowning accident and the restaurant was closed. You can read his obit here.

The new folks have a menu full of Asian food like pho, noodle bowls, rice dishes, spring rolls, and banh mi — Vietnamese sandwiches.

Some of Tommy’s old customers requested the restaurant keep their favorite hamburgers and the family agreed. In addition to the regular menu, a “Tommy’s Classics” menu is up the wall, featuring all kinds of burgers. Chili cheese burger, anyone?

The restaurant doesn’t have a website yet, but is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday (which means yes, they serve breakfast too). They are still figuring out their weekend hours. Here’s some photos from my recent experience there.

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A letter from the new Mike Oz


For those following the count-down clock, we’ve hit the zero hour (to the chagrin of at least one user). Those following me over from my previous gig at Fresno Famous will need no introduction, but the rest of y’all probably want to know what I am about.

First off, I like lists. So:

  •  Downtown. When the Vagabond Lofts were built in 2006, I was the first to move in. Literally, the very first resident in the complex (OK, I had a roommate). I was what then-council member Henry T. Perea called an urban pioneer. I fully buy into the idea that a city is only as good as its downtown, and that Fresno can be (heck, it already is) a vibrant, cultural hot-spot. To that end, I’ll be keeping up with the city’s efforts to get people back to the urban core. For now, check out I Believe in Downtown Fresno. You don’t have to take the pledge, but you can at least get informed.
    To keep from being all north Fresno vs. south, I also have an affinity for Fig Garden Village and the Tower District and have no problem hanging out at River Park when I need to.

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Updated: Twee boutique is closing


Twee owner Melanie Davis Unguez, center, in her shop near Warnors Theatre, with Kim Burly Schoelen, left, and Annemarie Bell, right.
Photo: Twee

UPDATE: I heard from Twee owner Melanie and she told me a little more about why she’s closing.

“We’re not profitable,” she said, noting that the store was doing about the same at the Tuolumne Street location as it did in Tower. She’s also hasn’t recovered financially from a flood at the old location.

But we haven’t heard the last of Twee. She promises more big Twee news soon. Her Fresno-themed products will also soon be for sale at the All Things Fresno store and the Downtown Fresno Partnership offices at 845 Fulton Mall. And special events selling handmade goods are in the works, too.

She’s still loyal to downtown and will be joining the Downtown Fresno Partnership’s marketing committee.

ORIGINAL POST: Twee, Fresno’s favorite artsy, crafty downtown store, is closing at the end of March.

Owner Melanie Davis Unguez broke the news on the business’s Facebook page this morning. She says:

“We are moving on to new adventures. For the time being, Twee will be closing up shop at the end of March at the Tuolumne location. We will be moving to a more mobile business, with an online shop, as well as setting up at Farmers Markets.”

Twee will be selling its jewelry, T-shirts, cards and other goods at The Market on Kern on Wednesdays beginning in April.

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Fresnans have lots to say about a downtown public market

Opinions are flying across the internet today about a potential public market downtown. Fresno could have its own version of Seattle’s Pike Place Market — with an emphasis on locally produced food — if these plans get off the ground.

You can read today’s front page story about the idea here. In the meantime, check out some of the tweets and comments on the story by some riled-up folks. (Parking is once again a hot topic issue.)

So what do you think, Fresnans? Would a public market downtown work? Would you go? What would you like to see?