Burb’s Eye View: A taste of giving and community

In a year of dining in Burbank, I have only sampled a fraction of the culinary tapestry that invites diners to explore different cultures downtown. Sure, my wife and I have our favorites, but there are only so many Market City breadsticks one can stuff down a gullet.

Next week, though, the gauntlet will be thrown down. Burbank is daring me to try them all with the Taste of Downtown Burbank, a 40-restaurant showcase of snacks and savories ready and willing to give my taste buds their greatest challenge ever (and you’re reading the guy who sought out and conquered the hottest habañero-infused concoctions at the Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo, N.Y.).

The event, now in its eighth year, encompasses four city blocks. The admission ($10 to $45) goes to help families participate in programs at the YMCA — though folks tell me the event is about much more.

When he first opened North End Pizzeria on Orange Grove, Dominick Scarola partially chose the location so his fledgling eatery could partake in Taste.


“It’s being part of doing something bigger,” he told me as we sat in the restaurant’s dining room. “It’s about being a part of this community.”

For him, it’s a street fair like the ones he remembers from living in Boston and New York. He models his shop after the neighborhood pizza joints that he grew up with — the walls are adorned with Burbank memorabilia and little league team photos and thank-you cards from a local hospital. Each time he’s asked to donate to a community cause, Scarola only asks for something in return to hang on his wall, and after four years in business, that collection is growing.

While North End Pizzeria’s walls may reflect Burbank neighborhoods, J.C. Holt hopes the event itself adds something else to that community.

Holt is the chief executive of the Burbank YMCA, which uses the roughly $40,000 earned at the event to provide financial assistance to families who may otherwise have difficulty paying for services at the nonprofit.


“The idea of the Y is strengthening a community,” he said. “You have to teach giving back and philanthropy, and all that’s embedded in all the programs we do.”

In this, the YMCA is vastly different from a private gym. It goes beyond letting people “play with the toys,” Holt tells me. It’s about making changes in your life that help support healthy living.

Suddenly, I find myself scaling back my goal of hitting every booth at Taste. I just received an email from my arteries who are already thanking me.

The YMCA also provides child-care services and after-school programs, and fundraising from events like Taste of Downtown Burbank help about 5,000 families join the Y without ever using other members’ fees to subsidize them.

For Danette Dugas, that means a safe, reliable partner that helps her raise her family.

Dugas is a single mom who adopted three children (ages 9, 8 and 5, making for a home “louder than you can possibly imagine”). She told me “you have to put yourself out there emotionally and financially to do this,” so with the YMCA’s help, she was able to give her kids the kind of experience she had at the Burbank YMCA when she was growing up.

“Failure isn’t an option for [the Y]. They had a strong commitment to the individual needs of each child,” she said.

Continuing that commitment next week will be hundreds of fellow gastrophiles offering people like the Dugas family a hearty helping of healthy living, even if we have to eat 1,000 gooey North End pizzas to do it.


Irony is a dish best served with melted cheese.

The Taste of Downtown Burbank will take place from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 6. For more information, visit

BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he’s not working off some pizza pounds at the gym, he can be reached at and on Twitter @818NewGuy.