A few unofficial notes on our visit to Virginia (and time to start a diet again…)

I’ve posted plenty in recent days on my official blog about my trip to Richmond, Virginia where I appeared on something called “The Writing Show.” You can read all about it there, if you’d like. I thought it was a great experience, I thought the show was a great idea, and, because of bad management and squabbles, it sounds like I was on what is likely to be the last version of the show, at least in this format. But that’s a different story.

The story I was going to talk about here was the unofficial stuff of the trip. There was a lot of fun crammed into a day and a half. We got to meet the “friend John” that our friend Mary talks about once in a while on her blog, we had a chance to check out Harrisonburg, we took a sort of mini-trip down memory lane (Annette and I drove by the apartment where we used to live, we drove by Annette’s parents’ old house, which is where we got married, etc.), we went to an absolutely excellent book store in the Cary Town area called Creatures n’ Crooks, and Annette and I ended up staying in a really nice hotel for not a crazy amount of money, thanks to Priceline.com.

But as we were driving back Friday, both Annette and I remarked about the fine culinary experience we had had the previous day. It started with breakfast in Harrisonburg at The Little Grill Collective, which is a co-op/very hippie-like little place. Located off of the beaten path (this is not the kind of place a tourist could stumble across easily, I don’t think), it was pretty darn scruffy, the mismatched furniture in the dining room not a fashion statement so much as a necessity. The food was equally rustic but darn good. I had biscuits with gravy and a darn tasty potato cake (along with eggs), and Annette had that key Southern breakfast staple, grits (which I find yucky, personally). I hope Mary will send me a bumper-sticker.

We had lunch in Richmond at Joe’s Inn. Ah, Joe’s…. When I first moved to Richmond as a grad student back in 1988, the bars my friends and I hung out at were the ones closer to campus, places like Bogart’s and The Village (couldn’t find decent web sites for either one of these joints). But I went to Joe’s too, especially after I was done with VCU’s MFA program, and super-especially when I lived a block and a half away from the place and when Annette and I got together (for example, Joe’s was the first place I met her parents).

Judging from the web site I link to above, a lot has changed for Joe’s since Annette and I moved out of town 12 years ago. Instead of there being just one in The Fan (which is the very large historic neighborhood right in the city I lived in pretty much the whole time I lived in Richmond), there are Joe’s spin-offs out in the ‘burbs now. I guess that’s okay; more places to enjoy the fare.

Annette and I had the meal we had when we were dating way back when: a shared portion of the Spaghetti a la Greek with the meat sauce. It’s a huge mess of spaghetti that is baked with feta, provolone, romano cheese and garlic and then topped with either their marinara or meat sauce . It’s a great dish, nothing too complicated, but with more than enough cheesy goodness (especially with the feta) to make it interesting, and topped off with their excellent meat sauce (0ur choice), well, it brought me back a few years.

The only thing better at Joe’s, in my opinion, is just about anything they serve for breakfast, but that is both another meal and another story.

We didn’t really have a lot of time for dinner because “The Writing Show” gig was at 6:30, so we checked into our hotel and then wondered around the Schockoe Slip and Schockoe Bottom area. To be honest, I remember it being a lot nicer than it is now– or at least I remember a lot more stuff going on down there. My friend Dennis told me that there was a freak flood last year that caused a lot of damage, and I suppose that’s part of the problem. But when I lived in Richmond 15 to 12 years ago, I recall this area being a lot more vibrant than it seemed now.

We did find one great place, Café Gutenburg. They are in the same place that used to house the Main Street Grill, which was a funky/grungey/hippie sorta vegetarian restaurant that I remember going to a lot when I lived in Richmond. I was sad to hear that the Main Street Grill had closed, but I have to say that this new place is quite an improvement.

Café Gutenburg is a combination book store, coffee shop, and wine bar. Frankly, I cannot believe such a place has yet to open in Ann Arbor. As Annette put it when we sat down, “all of my favorite things– I just wish they had chocolate.” It’s a beautifully refinished space with some good used and new books (I picked up a copy of Snow Crash for fifty cents), little and large tables, very Europeanish finishes, and a nice patio area on the street. We each ordered a flight of wine, which was a sampling of three wines of your choice for the reasonable cost of the most expensive wine on their menu– I had white, Annette had red. Like most other places where I have sampled the flights, they bring you notably more than the equivalent of a single glass of wine, so it tends to be a good deal.

They also served a number of topas-styled dishes (basically, large appetizer portions based on a popular Spanish style of eating), which was perfect for us since we weren’t ready for a full meal after Joe’s but we needed to eat something before “The Writing Show.” We had a couple of filo-dough wrapped sorts of things, both of which were excellent.

And then, just to make matters better, it turns out that Café Gutenburg does have chocolate and in the form of an extremely rich flourless chocolate tort. We shared a piece and I had a cappuccino to wake up a bit (EXCELLENT coffee, by the way), and it was a perfect way to cap off eating in Virginia.

Well, not exactly. Annette and Dennis and I enjoyed some cheese dip over drinks and bitching about things after “The Writing Show,” but the food and beer at this brew pub wasn’t that notable.

I really have nothing to complain about in terms of dining options around Ann Arbor (despite what Bill says, there really are a ton of great restaurants around here), but I missed eating in Richmond, too. And really, I’ve just scraped the very tippy-top of the iceburg of the food options available in this former capitol of the South.

Anyway, we’re back home, and after all this eating and the bad eating on the road home (and all the eating in various trips before this one), we are both ready for a diet, a serious diet. We’re back on the South Beach plan as of tonight. I still think it’s a bit of a gimmick and it is a diet I for one stalled on previously, but it is the only diet I’ve been on in the past that I that was relatively easy for me to stay on and it’s the only one where I lost any significant amount of weight.

We’ll see how it turns out; ideally, I’d like to lose about 10 pounds before the start of school in a month. In the mean-time, I have my travel and eating memories….

This is SO wrong…

You Are a Soy Latte

Yeah, you’ve got a bit of that healthy hippie thing going on
But you’re more Kate Hudson urban bohemian than Phish groupie
You’re worldly and well traveled… and you know where to get the best coffee in town.
All your experience makes you a compassionate person – and a caring girlfriend.

What Kind Of Coffee Are You? Take This Quiz :-)

Find the Love of Your Life
(and More Love Quizzes) at Your New Romance.

Soy Latte?!?!

Of course, this was a quiz intended for women, so maybe that was the problem with me taking it….

The Sidetrack burger is #19!

According to this list of “The 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die,” the “famous burger” at Ypsilanti’s very own Sidetrack Bar and Grill.

The Sidetrack does indeed have a very good burger; I mean, I don’t know if it’s a must eat before you die (that’s a mighty high standard), but it is what I often get when I go there.

I think such a memorable hamburger is really based on atmosphere and place and such, so for my money, the “best burger” is actually at the Hamburg Inn #2 in Iowa City. But back in those days, I didn’t think a whole lot about calories, fat levels, cholesterol, etc. Like I said, it’s a lot about time and place.

Damn you, Borders parking validation…

We went out to dinner tonight and followed it up with a stop at American Spoon for the excellent gelato. Dinner was at Palio, which was the first time we had been there, actually. Pretty good stuff.

Anyway, while the family was finishing up the gelato at American Spoon, I ran across the street to Borders to get my parking validated. I am accustomed to doing this when I am in this part of dowtown and I have to park in the deck there. If you buy something in the store, they will validate you for two hours. If you don’t buy anything, they will validate you for one.

Or, more accurately, they used to do this.

I went up to the register and the young person started into a well-rehearsed speech. “I’m sorry, but we no long validate parking without a purchase. If….” When he got to this part of his speech, I picked up a piece of chocolate at the register. “Oh, well thanks for doing that,” he said.

“When did you guys started to do this? And where is this posted?” I asked.

“Yeah, it sucks, doesn’t it? It’s posted here,” he said, pointing to a completely unreadable piece of paper posted far behind the register. “They’ve posted it for us but not for anyone else.”

“So, can I still get two hours if I buy anything?”

“No, just an hour now,” the kid said. “They told us it had something to do with competition from other places giving validation.”

“No one around here validates parking.”

“Really?!” said the kid, realizing that once again the corporate line from the Borders managers lied to him. At least I think they lied to them; to the best of my knowledge, there is no other restaurant or store or anything that validates parking in town. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, please.

Anyway, this will make me think twice about the need to go into Borders the next time I have to park in the deck. What’s the point?

For your Iowa City food needs

I came across the web site for John’s Grocery in Iowa City, IA today because a friend of mine (actually, the same friend who sent me the bit about the Monty Hall puzzle) sent me a link to an article about a guy who used to be a roommate to this friend, a guy who is now the wine guy for John’s.

Funny how things change. Now, John’s Grocery describes itself as “Iowa’s Epicurean Oasis,” a claim I suspect is reasonably accurate. When I was in college, John’s was a good place to get beer and that was about it. I guess they had some gourmet items, but since my cooking skills back then were limited to tuna cassarole made with Kraft macaronni and cheese, I didn’t notice. And back then, everybody referred to it as “Dirty John’s” because it was one of the first places in Iowa to sell Playboy magazine.

“May the farm be with you”

I don’t know if this is worth the download time or not, but it’s kind of cute:

(Grocery) Store Wars

Personally, I like to buy organic whenever I can and whenver it is practical, and I’m willing to spend at least a little more money on organic foods. But sometimes, it’s just way too expensive and/or impractical. I guess we all do what we can, right?

Will’s food rating system

We had lovely family dinner at Gratzi last night; it had been a long time since we had gone out to dinner, so we decided to go to someplace nice. A good meal was had by one and all.

Will’s dish of choice at Gratzi is penne pasta with an alfredo sauce (or is that alfrado sauce? I’ve seen both spellings), and he thought it was great. “How would you rate that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best thing ever?â€? Annette asked.

“I’d say… 9 and four-fifths,â€? Will said. And he then proceeded to give ratings to several other foods. Here’s a selection:

Asparagus: 0

Regular Milk: 2

Licorice flavored jelly beans: 2

Broccoli with ranch dressing: 4

Hot dog with bun: 5

Strawberries: 6

Chocolate milk: 7

Hot dog without bun: 7.5

Gratzi pasta: 9.5 (or 9 and four-fifths, though this morning, he said that was a 10 too)

Vanilla-flavored milk: 10

Most kinds of candy: 10

“Waiter, I think there’s a drag queen in my pasta”

So, I’m killing a little time while eating this morning while watching this episode of Molto Mario on the Food Network. Mario’s show features three “guest” diners who ask Mario (what I presumed are usually scripted) questions about the food he’s cooking. Normally, the guests look like very well-heeled and well-goomed New Yorker yuppies, the sort that probably frequent his restaurants.

But this morning, one of the guests was a woman who looked kind of like Linda Richman, the Mike Myers character from Saturday Night Live way back when. Then she started talking, and she sounded like Mike Myers doing Linda. Okay….

Long story short: it became clear as the show went on that she was probably a he. Mario seemed unusually uneasy during the show, and at one point, he referred to his guests as “the fellas.” One of the other two men tried to gently correct him. “Ah, Mario,” he said, “you mean you two fellas.”

Mario’s response? “Well, let’s say two and a half fellas.”

As Jerry Seinfeld famously said “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” but not the sort of thing you’re expecting from a cooking show.

Check out “Pound”(y), and don’t miss the Weight Watchers cards

In the course of surfing around yesterday while I should have been working on my textbook, I visited this post by John “A Writing Teacher” Lovas about blog writers who got book deals. I’m mostly interested in this for “official” (aka, English professor job) reasons, but I thought I’d post here because it was that post that took me to Wendy McClure’s web site “Pound,” which actually is http://www.poundy.com. Apparently, “www.pound.com” was taken. Anyway, on John’s web site, there’s a link to a San Francisco Chronicle article about how it was McClure’s blogging that lead to a book deal.

McClure has a memoir coming out called I’m Not the New Me, which I know nothing about other than it is a pretty good title. But personally, the part of her site that will keep me coming back is this collection of bizarre Weight Watcher recipe cards from the 70s. What ugly food they used to eat.