Cold Night, Warm Stomach
By Bill Gerdes
Grazie’s in Upland has all the wine, Italian food and sports that you’ll ever need
I could start off this review by going on about how Grazie’s in Upland is a throwback Italian joint, a family-style place that hearkens back to the time when most American’s thought of Italian food as garlic bread, pizza and heavy pasta, maybe rigatoni. And Grazie’s is that restaurant—it’s got a salad bar after all. The truth though is that most Italian dining in the Inland Empire isn’t exactly innovative or interesting—places that still keep a musty bottle of Earnest and Julio Gallo around, and load up their marinara sauce with sugar and pepper.
That doesn’t always equate to a lousy time eating, though. Grazie’s makes up for any sins of omission by providing food and drink in abundance. If you leave here hungry you weren’t really trying. The first event that clues me into its generous spirit is the pour I get on my glass of Merlot. It’s a large pour, we’ll just say. The wine list is somewhat weak, mostly focused on $15-bottles that’ll be familiar to any Trader Joe’s shopper, but the restaurant certainly doesn’t skimp on the vino.
Salad bars intrigue me, from the apparatus that hangs over them, the “spit-guard” if you will, to the basic truth of them—the salad you are likely to create will not be a good one, unless you’re a huge fan of iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots. Instead I sampled the Stuffed Mushrooms appetizer—stuffed portabella mushrooms, stuffed with spinach, bread crumbs and enough garlic and butter to well . . . make a hell of a lot of garlic bread. How you feel about this depends on your butter and garlic tolerance level. Mine is high, and thus I quite liked these, with the small caveat that they’re a smidge salty.
The menu features pizzas, calzones and an array of pasta dishes, as you’d likely expect. Tempted by the calzone selections—calzones seduce my senses in much the same way as Brody’s wife in Homeland—I instead opt for the Tuscan Sausage Rigatoni with cannellini beans. Dishes like these saw many a cold Italian peasant through chilly winter nights on the Abruzzi plains, and I found it as equally comforting on the chilly night I went to Grazie’s.
The spicy pork sausages in the dish are quite tasty but even more lovely is the way the intact tomatoes interact with the beans hovering near the bottom of the bowl. It all melds into an impromptu Italian stew, the type that demands to be eaten with a thick soup spoon or wiped clean with bit of serious baguette. The only flaw in the dish is Chef Mark Bolan’s commitment to provide peppery heat, a move that almost overwhelms the rest of the dish.
It’s also worth noting the service was extremely professional, the food is reasonably priced and the restaurant is connected to what seems like a quirky “sports bar,” a fact proven when I looked in to see my beloved Lakers and Eagles both losing. The people inside seemed to be basking in the spirit of the season and the drinks were flowing on a crisp night in early December.
Grazie’s Italian Restaurant & Sports Bar, 1615 N. Mountain Ave., Upland, (909) 981-9224; www.graziesportsbar.com. AE, D, MC, V.