Man In The Kitchen with Jeff Baker

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Welcome to Norco

How many college students can you fit into a Volkswagen Beetle? Who knows, but I know for sure you can fit the entire state of California into the Pomona DMV building. Anybody that’s been there will attest to that. My license renewal came in the mail recently and I read those dreaded words “Must renew in person.” I had nightmares about taking my place in those lines that protrude out the front door and extend three blocks down the street. Donna suggested I make an appointment at the much-less-busy Norco DMV.

Going to Norco seems like visiting another planet even though it’s only 10 miles from our home. The equestrian community has a strong mid-west feel that provides a nice break from the typical southern California subdivisions. We found a parking spot along Horseless Carriage Road (think about it) and made our way to a building with no visible lines. A small truck parked along the road had a passenger with a notably enormous head. At a closer glance, I realized it wasn’t a human head, rather one of a dog (a very big dog), his chain barely long enough to allow his pumpkin-sized noggin (a very big pumpkin) to hang out the window. Just as I grabbed my camera, the owner approached and introduced us to “Chopper” his bull mastiff.
“Go ahead - pet ‘im” he insisted, daring eyes shooting out from under his worn cowboy hat. Donna didn’t hesitate to brush her hand across the vast surface between Chopper’s ears. The big dog’s eyes glazed over. Once I gained my courage, I slowly moved toward the beast, realizing this Norconian canine could easily render me an amputee in one chomp. His slobbery mouth panted as I rubbed his short red fur.
“In th’ old days, the King trained ‘em to catch poachers, ” the owner said, spitting out a wad of chew. “Other dogs maimed ‘em. These pups just tackled and held.”
Only in Norco.
“Thanks for introducing us to your security guard” I said as we continued our venture.
Sure enough, the Norco DMV lived up to its reputation. I was free to go no more than ten minutes after entering the building (approximately two hours and fifty minutes less than I might have spent in Pomona). Oddly, Donna was suffering DMV stress even though her entire experience was limited to sitting in a reasonably comfortable, state-issue plastic-mold chair. Why? She’d brought each of our three kids to Norco for their driver exams. Just seeing the place gave her anxiety. Understandably, she wanted to release some nervous energy before returning home. We both were a little hungry and I was certain there’d be a good place to get some grub in this town. We drove south on Hamner Avenue, passing a tattoo parlor, a feed store, and two-hundred RV rental yards. We saw ample fast-food outlets, but we wanted something unique – something …Norco-like.
“Polly’s Bakery and Café” Donna read from a sign fastened to the front of a building resembled a small antique mall. I did an illegal U-turn (my confidence had returned after driving for three weeks with an expired license) and headed for another sign reading “Famous pies.” I was happy to see several benches on the deck out front, suggesting that demand for this place was sound. I was even happier the benches were empty this fine Tuesday morning. Inside we found a sizable crowd (always a good sign) scattered among comfy-looking booths nestled under big yellow umbrellas. Our waitress Diana made us feel at home right away by bringing out a giant cinnamon roll. “Compliments of Polly’s – for our first time guests.” Donna and I were shocked, not remembering this level of kindness since the Amish gave me some Shoo-Fly Pie in Lancaster two summers ago. In spite of Diana’s Christmas-In-November sentiment, I wanted to leave room for their pumpkin pancakes (in spite of Christmas decorations that went up everywhere before dawn hit the day after Halloween, some of us don’t want to brush aside Thanksgiving like chopped turkey liver. Eating a giant cinnamon roll AND pumpkin pancakes is a celebration. Really.) Since we had a pancake theme going, I let Diana talk me into trying their signature potato pancakes, which aren’t the crunchy, deep-fried variety, rather soft with a nicely browned exterior – quite flavorful with plenty of spices and fresh green onions. My fork scraped only a tiny bit of the golf-ball sized dollop of sour cream served atop them (gotta sacrifice some place). The pumpkin pancakes were scrumptious. Unlike the dense, rich pumpkin pancakes I’d enjoyed a few weeks earlier, these were light and egg-white fluffy with little treats of raisins inside.

“Pie Raffle!” The team of waitresses suddenly yelled, one instructed us to look at the number written in wax at the end of our table while the other reached into a basket. A scream of delight came from the other side of the room.
Only in Norco.

Polly’s Bakery Café
1799 Hamner Avenue
Norco, CA 92860-2944


  1. Thanks for the post Jeff. I am dying for more man in the kitchen episodes.

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