From culinary desert to paradise
When I was a student in Maryknoll College (now Miriam) on Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, Loyola Heights, as the general area was then known, was kind of a culinary desert. About the only place we could go to when we wanted to meet “boys” or just hang out was the snack bar of Shoppersville, a small supermarket, almost directly across from our school. And we went there not so much to stuff ourselves as to see and be seen. If we wanted to dine out, we would usually have to go all the way to Cubao, and even there the pickings were slim.
These days, though, Katipunan has blossomed into a culinary destination in itself. Some old favorites are still around: Cravings, Sweet Inspirations, Tia Maria, even Bacolod Chicken House. They have been joined by branches of established franchises (Teriyaki Boy, Kenny Rogers, Shakey’s, Pancake House), and newcomers like Wooden Spoon. And of course the UP Town Center, a restaurant-centered minimall (joined by the garment store Cotton On) has brought a plethora of dining places to the area.
Not really new to the area is Gino’s Brick Oven Pizza, on the second floor of the same building as Mercury Drug Store, just beside Cello’s Doughnuts, whose owner also conceptualized Gino’s. We first heard of Gino’s from our family friend
Annie Cruz (she is the sister-in-law of my sister Chona and her husband Willy), whose sons Mitch and Angelo are active investors in Gino’s. So
active, in fact, that they even introduced old favorites from Angelino’s, an Italian-theme eatery that their late father Danny put up. When first we visited Gino’s our eyes lit up upon seeing the “Angelizas,” mini pizzas on wonton wrappers that serve as appetizers, a particular favorite in Angelino’s.
“It’s still mainly the Ateneo-Miriam crowd,” Angelo said when asked about the place’s customer base. One would think this makes for a rather thin market, but when we ate at Gino’s most recently, on a weekday evening, the place was crammed with customers, both groups of students and families. (Its market should have expanded by now with a Makati branch in the Salcedo area.)
A wonderful starter would be the burrata, a pouch of mozzarella filled with cream that, in the version we ordered, was surrounded by tomato sauce. Just breaking open the burrata (which means “buttered” in Italian) is an experience, as the soft, steaming cream starts dribbling out of the soft mozzarella ball.
We followed this with orders of salad and pizza. I ordered the bacon and white cheese pizza, but my son insisted on the “SMEGG,” not a particularly appetizing name, which stands for “sausage, mushroom and egg.” An entire egg is broken over the pizza while it’s cooking, and it’s quite a thrill to take a slice and watch the egg yolk ooze onto the crust and topping.
On another visit, we tried the “crack pie,” which is sweet and savory at the same time. Other tempting items on the menu: chocolate-flavored bacon and chicharon, which thicken my blood just reading the words and imagining the zesty, salty-sweet combination. Also deserving of mention is the spicy honey which adds a sweet zing to salads, pizza, and even pasta.
I made a happy discovery around the Christmas season last year when I dropped by UP Town Center to pick up a mango torte for a party at the Dulcelin outlet on the second floor. To my surprise and joy, I found it wasn’t just a pick-up point for the famous pastry, but a full-blown restaurant. At once, I resolved to return to try out the food.
Well, it was only a few weeks ago that we managed to drop by Dulcelin again, and we weren’t disappointed. Whenever I see lengua on a menu, I’m tempted to order it because it isn’t a dish that’s easy to prepare at home. The lengua at Dulcelin was melt-in-the-mouth tender, although I would have appreciated more olives and mushrooms to tickle the tongue.
My husband ordered the putanesca spaghetti, which was suitably zesty and tasty, and even if we both ordered single portions, they were sizeable and filling.
Of course I ordered a slice of the mango torte—I cannot resist favorites despite tempting alternatives—while the hubby wanted a taste of the pecan pie mainly because he wanted to compare it with his own recipe. Suffice it to say he left the restaurant a happy camper.
Soon after the UP Town Center opened, we dropped by the IHOP branch for Sunday brunch, and despite the long wait, the food did not disappoint. We’ve also tried the Steveston Pizza, but I must say, despite the hype, we were rather underwhelmed.
The really good news is that there are many other restaurants, coffee shops, and bakeries in the Center. There are also many other restaurants, stand-alone places along with outlets that are part of franchises, in other minimalls and buildings on Katipunan. I’m really glad I’m no longer a student (or teacher) in Miriam, Ateneo or even UP, as the choices of places for a lunch break or a dinner date are, to say the least, dizzying and daunting.
What a happy development this has been for Katipunan! I still remember being fetched by my yaya on some afternoons and standing on the roadside waiting for close to an hour for a public bus to pass by. The trees then were barely saplings, offering scant shade and little relief from the heat. And there were no doorways or arches to find escape in. It was like standing in a desert, and the loneliness of Katipunan was enough to drive us to despair.
How things have changed, and how so much better off are the denizens of this slice of the city!
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