Tag Archives: restaurants

Asheville: driving home via Charlottesville

Sunday came too soon. I gave my conference paper, changed into more comfortable clothes, and we were on our way.

Even though we were taking a quicker route of main roads, the first hour or so out of Asheville was still beautiful, as we drove through some of the eastern ridge of the Blue Mountains, into Tennessee briefly, and down again to Johnson City. We took the I-81 back to Fort Chiswell and from there we were retracing our steps. But we weren’t done with sightseeing yet.

On the way down we had been intent on getting to the Blue Mountains, but now we had a bit of time to stop for a much-needed break at an attraction near Roanoke called the Natural Bridge. The weather wasn’t great, but we still enjoyed our little walk down a gorge to see the ‘bridge’. It’s even possible to walk underneath it, or sit and take in a lecture about the natural wonder – or a sermon…

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Past the bridge there are various nature walks and things to see, including a recreation of a native American village. We figured that this was probably one of those places that Virginian school children get taken to on geography and history school trips.

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Jefferson once owned the land that included the natural bridge, and he began the custom of a guest book that the Virginia State Park authorities keep up to this day. As we learnt about the bridge we became aware that we had maybe seen paintings of it before – maybe at Monticello? I’m not sure.

Talking of Monticello, we had decided that we might as well drive home via Charlottesville and have dinner there. This probably wasn’t the most time-efficient idea, but we hadn’t felt that we had enough time at Charlottesville the last time we were there (I’ll write about this trip another time), and we had been thinking about it ever since. It has a really nice downtown mall (which we would call a pedestrianized high-street in the UK), with lots of really nice places to eat.

So we went for dinner at Bizou in Charlottesville, and it was lovely. After a few days of brew pubs, it was a nice contrast, and we loved the decor. Some of the tables were old-style diner booths with the old juke-box selectors at the table, and the walls were covered in framed old movie posters – I especially liked the one for The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. It was the kind of place that, if you lived in the town, you’d take people there all the time.

But, sadly, we didn’t live in Charlottesville, so we had a 2.5 hour drive home! It was a busy long weekend, but we were happy we’d managed to cram in as much as we had.

(And just in case you thought you’d escaped the country music this time – here are two of our favourite tracks from this trip!)

(Do read the comments on You Tube – predictably, she comes in for some criticism from Christians!)

I think the basic inspiration for this is One Man went to Mow…

Read other posts in this series:

Brunch

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Before I actually moved to DC I must admit that I didn’t get the Americans’ obsession with breakfast food. I’ve never wanted breakfast for dinner (brinner), and although I’ve enjoyed going out for a good fry up or imitation American pancakes, I certainly didn’t make a habit of it in London – partly because it could be financially ruinous. Now though, after six weekends in DC, I understand.

The first Saturday we were here, we thought we should join in with the city’s (and the country’s) tradition, and go out for brunch. We returned to the Diner on 18th Street, as we’d seen good things on the menu and recommendations online. Taking a proper look at the menu, we were amazed by the variety of brunch items on offer, the combinations and the large amount of alcohol recommended to wash it all down. Here’s a taste: omelettes and fritatas with all manner of cheese and meat fillings, including Cajun shrimp and Andouille sausage; pancakes either on their own – with blueberries or chocolate chips, maple syrup, fruit compote and/or fruit salad – or as part of an American fry up of bacon, turkey link sausages, eggs done any way you want them, home fries or grits – in fact anything on the menu at diner can come with home fries, grits, or fruit salad, as well as a choice of toast; a variety of Benedicts and scrambles; French toast; and then there’s the Tex-mex influence – if you please you can have your eggs with tortillas, jalapenos, salsa and guacamole. And at Diner the portion sizes are generous, the prices reasonable, and the service pretty quick. Sometimes you have to wait a little for a table, but when the weather’s nice and you get a table up front by the open windows, it’s totally worth it.

Our first brunch set a high bar for other brunch spots to meet. Some have succeeded – notably the Diner’s sister restaurant Open City in Woodley Park – while others have fallen short. I’ll deal with the disappointments first:

1. Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe. I know criticising this DC institution is heresy, but we did feel a bit ripped off. After the good value of the Diner the admittedly very pretty breakfast here was a bit of a shock to our wallets. If you want pancakes, you have to pay for the $17.75 pancake combo and, while it comes with nice little cakes and bits of fruit, the pancakes are small and the maple syrup comes in a tiny plastic cup – we had to ask for more.

2. Cafe Bonaparte in Georgetown. This features in both lists, as there were good and bad parts to this brunch – and to be fair, their crepes looked very good. But if the chef is going to feature Benedicts as a speciality he really should learn how to poach an egg.

 

But that’s really it for negatives… Onto the list of our favourite places so far:

 

1. The Diner. This place could really fill two spots, first for the omelettes and home fries, second for their pancakes. The very opposite of Kramerbooks, we received a stack of four large, warm, spongy blueberry pancakes and doused them liberally from the full jug of syrup that was placed on our table. Heaven – for less than $7 (about £4).

2. Open City. Like the Diner, this place has a frontage that opens out onto a terrace and we were lucky enough to sit right by one of these windows in the sunshine. The feel of this place is very family, a little bit rustic, and just very comfortable. The standout breakfast item for us here were the hash browns – far from the little Birdseye triangles of dried out potato, these were plump, beautifully brown bricks of potato and onion served either on the side of Rich’s tasty breakfast burrito or actually inside my wonderfully savoury cheese and bacon omelette.    

3. Cafe Bonaparte in Georgetown. They make a really good omelette, but the real star was their Bloody Mary. Far spicier than I’d dared to hope, this was the first time we’d indulged in the alcoholic side of the brunch experience and we just had to order a second.

4. Tonic. This was pretty much on the campus of George Washington University, which felt rather strange, but the service was lovely out on the sunny patio and the pancakes were almost as good as at the Diner – and I do love the combination of sweet maple syrup and salty American bacon. Apparently the breakfast burrito was pretty good too.

 

As you can see, we’ve only just scratched the surface of what DC has to offer in the form of brunch delights. One thing on our list to try is the bottomless Bloody Mary brunch at Cashion’s Eat Place, and I still need to bite the bullet and try the spicier Mexican style breakfasts. And I might just get so addicted that one of these days I’ll just have to have breakfast for dinner.

First impressions – mainly food

The first thing my sister, Rhiannon, asked me about moving to Washington was: ‘What have you eaten?’ So here is a blog post devoted to our first American meals. I’m afraid I’ve been too busy eating to take photos of the plates, so you’ll just have to make do with my descriptions.

Anyway, our first night we went to Diner (18th St NW). Our host had recommended this place as somewhere that was open 24 hrs, and they seemed to do everything, so we thought it was worth a try. Looking at the menu, and being informed by the guy at the next table that ‘everything here is good’, it seemed only right that our first meal in America should be burgers, washed down with American beer. Rich ordered us two ‘PBRs’, which turned out to be cans of Pabst beer (points to anyone who can remember how this beer featured in an episode of the West Wing), and the waitress brought over two glasses of water – it’s very easy to stay hydrated in this town. The burgers themselves were great – sweet American buns, great meat, and good chips (I use the term advisedly – they actually were much closer to UK chips than the fries I was expecting). The service was good, and the guy at the next table was very friendly – though it was rather surreal to be having a conversation about his forthcoming cruise to Sevastapol and the crisis in Ukraine on our first night in this country that I had been led to believe was fairly insular.

Unadventurously we went to Starbucks the next morning for breakfast, but we made up for this by buying our lunch from one of the food vans Washington’s population are apparently all crazy about. This one was on Farragut Square, and as it had just stopped raining we bought two of their chicken burritos with chips and salsa and ate them in the square as the sun came out. We probably could have shared just one – I’ve always found burritos in the UK rather large, these were huge. Also with hot sauce and fresh jalapenos (rather than the vinegary pickled ones we get in the UK) they were really tasty! Though I really shouldn’t have, I think I ate nearly all of it, and then felt full for the next six hours.

In fact, by the time we got to happy hour at the Lucky Bar (Connecticut Ave NW), around 5pm, I really couldn’t imagine being able to eat the really tempting pulled pork sliders (at $1 each who could help being tempted?), but an hour and a couple of really good IPAs later I’d seen the error of my ways, so we did.

After another IPA (just so you know, American pints are smaller than UK ones), we went to find somewhere for dinner. As we hadn’t yet, we felt we should experience that other American staple – pizza – and the Mellow Mushroom (18th St NW) welcomed us with open arms. Our server was warm and friendly, the atmosphere was fun, people queued for take-aways, and couples made use of the patio heaters, enjoying their dustbin-lid sized ‘pies’ alfresco. Not having learnt from earlier, we ordered the house special in the large size – and it almost defeated us. But it was too delicious to give in, so we persisted with the fresh tomato and garlic sauce, the layers of ham and sausage, and, best of all, the sweet and smoky bacon until we could barely move.

Happily the next day we found the supermarket, and a bakery that just does very plain, cream-cheese bagels, so we gave our digestive systems a bit of a break. I will write separately about the fun and games of attempting to shop and cook healthily in America (I think part of the problem is palm oil…) and, once we’ve had time to sample a few, I’ll post about the great Washington DC traditions of brunch and salads. At this moment Rich is sitting next to me making notations in the Zagat guide to Washington DC restaurants, so I think there will be plenty of food posts to come!