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….

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