Chicago recap

During the long Columbus Day weekend, we took a train trip to Chicago! It was another overnight Amtrak trip, this time on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited.

Friday

Friday was a travel day. Our train left Union Station at 4:05pm with a scheduled arrival of 8:45am Saturday. The Capitol Limited starts in DC and then heads through Maryland, West Virginia, returns to western Maryland and then turns north through Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Finally, it takes a more direct route through northern Indiana before arriving in Chicago.

Paul sitting in the Capitol Limited train from Washington DC to Chicago

Our sleeping car was a little more modern than the Crescent, which we took to Greenville. The Capitol Limited is a double-decker train and our bedroom was on the top level, which made for some great views. We ate dinner in the dining car as we arrived in Martinsburg, WV. Even the food was better on the Capitol Limited. In particular, Marnay’s vegetarian pasta with soy chorizo was a hit.

Capitol Limited dining car

The Capitol Limited also has an observation car! It has huge floor to ceiling windows and seats which face outward. We watched the sunset there until we arrived in Cumberland, MD and then went back to our room. The last stop we saw before setting up our beds was Pittsburgh, at around 11:30pm. Time to call it a night! Unlike Greenville, we had the added bonus of getting a full night of sleep instead of waking up at 4:00am.

Saturday

Good Morning from Indiana! We woke up at 7:30am and pulled open the curtains to watch the farmland go by. It was so much fun to wake up on a train! We skipped the sit-down breakfast in the dining car and instead opted for the free coffee in the hallway of our sleeping car.

Capitol Limited Amtrak train stop in South Bend, IN

We arrived at Chicago Union Station around 9:15am and were ready to hit the ground running. We ran right to Firecakes Donuts, in fact! The donuts were delicious but not as good as Blue Star. It’s an unfair comparison but we had Blue Star so recently, we can’t help but make it.

donuts

We checked into our fantastic Airbnb, located just steps from the Logan Square L station. After resting and regrouping, we met our friend Rachel at Portillo’s, one of the most famous places for Chicago-style hot dogs. If you aren’t familiar with Chicago-style dogs, a true Chicago-dog has: all beef hot dog, yellow mustard, chopped raw onions, neon green relish, tomato slices, a dill pickle (spear), sport peppers and celery salt. In my opinion, the celery salt is what makes the hot dog so tasty.

hot dog

Our big plan for the afternoon was to take an architecture boat tour of the Chicago River, rightfully one of the most popular ways to see Chicago. One problem: it started to pour about 30 minutes before our boat was scheduled to leave! No worries, though, we found ponchos at Walgreens and were good to go! It was amazing to learn about the architecture and history of Chicago. The best views on the boat are from the top deck, but we took shelter from the rain on the indoor lower level for the first half of the 90-minute tour. During the second half the rain started to clear up and we made it to the top deck. We even saw a rainbow! There were so few people on the top deck that it was practically a private tour!

Chicago architecture boat tour skyline

For dinner, we had an Opentable gift card at the Publican, one of Chicago’s hottest restaurants. We enjoyed our time, but weren’t blown away. Best bite: the Iowa ham steak, smoked with hay and then flash fried.

Sunday

Sunday was biking and exploring day! We grabbed breakfast at Intelligentsia coffee and then walked through some tree-lined neighborhoods to pick up a Divvy bike, Chicago’s bikeshare system. The bikes are exactly the same as Capital bikeshare, so it didn’t take any getting used to.

Marnay biking on a Divvy bike in Chicago

We biked on the 606, a former elevated train line, now a biking and walking trail. It goes east-west from Logan Square to West Town. I would really classify it as more of a linear park than just a trail, as it was quite wide and there was lots of greenery and benches for hanging out.

The trail dropped us off under a freeway, so we walked through the Lincoln Park neighborhood and got lunch at Budlong Hot Chicken. I got “spicy” chicken and it was so hot I was tearing up! Marnay’s hot chicken tenders were also crazy hot! All and all, it was a delicious lunch and it gave us energy for the rest of the day.

Budlong Hot Chicken in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago

Post lunch, we made a beeline for North Avenue Beach and dipped our toes in Lake Michigan. The azure water was cold! It was like 80 degrees outside, though, so we didn’t mind. After drying off our feet, we walked along the Lakefront Trail and then biked back west into town, eventually taking the 74 bus back to our place.

Marnay and Paul on a pier in Lake Michigan in Chicago

Marnay found a place called Cruz Blanca, a Rick Bayliss creation that was a combination brewery and taqueria. It was a really cool concept: You order food at the counter, get your beer at the bar, seat yourself and they bring everything out to you. We got a particularly prime seat on the sidewalk patio. We shared an awesome Oaxacan-style taco plate with half chorizo, half carne asada, drank our beers and people-watched. I think this was one of our favorite memories of Chicago.

Cruz Blanca brewery and taqueria

We weren’t ready to call it a night, though. Instead, we headed back to Logan Square and to Lost Lake, a tiki bar. We love tiki bars!! Lost Lake had delicious tiki drinks and a very cool, laid back vibe. Despite being a well-known bar, it had the feeling of a neighborhood spot. Most important: Marnay’s drink came in a parrot glass!

Lost Lake tiki drinks in a parrot glass in Chicago

Lost Lake neon sign in Chicago

We had a nightcap of malort at Longman & Eagle. What is a malort? After Chicago-style dogs and deep dish pizza, it’s one of Chicago’s most famous culinary tradition. It’s an extremely bitter liquor made with wormwood. Ninety percent of all malort is consumed in Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago. We had never had it before and we felt that it was something we needed to try before leaving Chicago. It was BITTER, and I can’t say that it ever got less bitter or had a pleasant aftertaste. But it was a fun cultural experience!

Monday

Even though we were out late Sunday night, we woke up early so that we could appreciate our last few hours in Chicago. We got a small bite to eat at Intelligentsia and then took the L downtown.

One of the major tourist attractions that we had yet to do was Millennium Park and The Bean (aka Cloud Gate). It was very cool! Mainly, it was a nice day out and it was fun to get some walking in.

Millennium Park and The Bean (aka Cloud Gate) in Chicago

After walking for a while, we were hungry! Since we only had a few hours left in town, we decided to get another Chicago hot dog, this time from U.B. Dogs in the West Loop.

Besides the traditional Chicago-style dog described earlier, Chicago also has a traditional of Polish sausages, historically centered on Maxwell Street in what’s now University Village. I got a Polish sausage that was charred, placed on a poppy seed bun and topped with the traditional griddled onions, mustard and sport peppers. The flavor was just outrageous, easily one of my favorite bites of the trip.

U.B. Dogs Chicago-style hot dog and Polish sausage

After lunch, we took a stroll on the Riverwalk and then headed back to our Airbnb to relax for a bit before heading to the airport. What a trip!

Things we did and places we visited

Firecakes Donuts: 68 W. Hubbard Street Chicago, IL 60654

Portillo’s: 520 W. Taylor Street Chicago, IL 60607

Chicago Architecture Foundation Boat Tour

The Publican: 837 W. Fulton Market Chicago, IL 60607

Intelligentsia: Logan Square 2642 N. Milwaukee Avenue Chicago, IL 60647

The Budlong: 1008 W. Armitage Avenue Chicago, IL 60614

Cruz Blanca: 904 W. Randolph Street Chicago, IL 60607

Lost Lake: 3154 W. Diversey Avenue Chicago, IL 60647

Longman & Eagle: 2657 N. Kedzie Avenue Chicago, IL 60647

U.B. Dogs: 185 N. Franklin Street Chicago, IL 60606

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Northwest Vacation Recap: Seattle

Welcome to our second post from our Northwest Adventure in Portland and Seattle. You can read our Portland recap here. We already posted a sneak-peak of our Seattle adventure with our review of JuneBaby, the fantastic Southern restaurant in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood. It wasn’t just JuneBaby that excelled, however. We ate well and had fun our entire time in Seattle.

Thursday

Our favorite activity in Seattle was walking up the giant hills! We got started right away, since the bus from King Street station dropped us off at the bottom of the Fremont neighborhood. Our Airbnb was at the top of the hill, so we had to walk with all our suitcases on what felt like a vertical sidewalk. I do not think we will ever forget the hills of Seattle!

On Thursday night, we stayed in Fremont and went to Revel, from acclaimed Seattle chef Rachel Yang. We sat on the outdoor patio and enjoyed our dumplings and noodles, particularly the handmade noodles with Dungeness crab. So good! Afterwards, we had a nightcap at Barrel Thief, a local bar with a great whiskey selection.

Revel handmade noodles with Dungeness crab

Friday

I think now would be a good time to mention that our Airbnb hosts raise hens in their backyard! We could see their pen from our kitchen window. When we woke up on Friday, we spent some time just watching the hens and all their funny, herky-jerky movements.

Seattle Airbnb hens

Friday was ferry day! When we think about Seattle, I think the thing we will remember most is taking the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. The ferry ride was magical! The deep water and foggy skies felt very true to the Northwest. We started out standing near the front of the boat but it got really windy. We then made our way to the back and got some amazing views of Seattle as we drifted further and further away.

Marnay and Paul on the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island

The ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island

We did not spend too much time on Bainbridge Island but we did walk around the main street and explore the shops. The town was very quaint and had that maritime charm. Lunch was at Bruciato, a place on the main street that specializes in Neapolitan pizza. We would have been fine with just a solid lunch, but we were both extremely impressed with Bruciato. The plate of gorgeous local tomatoes with basil and a little bit of salt was excellent and our prosciutto cotto pizza hit the spot.

Bruciato prosciutto cotto pizza in Bainbridge Island

Friday night was when we had our dinner at JuneBaby. Afterwards, we walked around the Ravenna and Roosevelt neighborhoods for a while. Although we had plenty of Oregon wine during the trip, we hadn’t actually had any wine from Washington. We found a Whole Foods, picked up a bottle of Yakima Valley Riesling and some snacks and drank it back in the apartment!

Saturday

Our last full day of vacation. I made some coffee in the kitchen and took some time to watch the hens. They’re just so entertaining! We still hadn’t done any “touristy” activities in Seattle, so we got that out of the way by going to the Chihully Museum, home of the works from the famous glassmaking artist Dale Chihully.

Chihully Museum

Marnay and Paul at the Chihully Museum

The other ultimate touristy thing we did was go to Pike Place Market. We are really glad that we went, but the market was OVERWHELMING. We did get to witness the fish toss, at least. We walked up and down some more hills and then took the bus home for some much needed relaxation.

Pike Place Market famous fish toss

Prior to dinner, we walked around Fremont and finally got up close and personal with the famous Fremont Troll. It’s a sculpture of a troll located underneath the Fremont Bridge. This was just so quirky and unique.

Fremont Troll underneath the Fremont Bridge

For the last meal of our Northwest Adventure, we headed to Sitka and Spruce in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Tom Sietsema has been recommending Sitka and Spruce for years, so we were excited to go. Its focus is on Northwestern cuisine, and it did not disappoint. Our best bites: West Coast oysters and local Ling Cod in a tomato béarnaise sauce. Yum!

Sitka and Spruce West Coast oysters

Sitka and Spruce local Ling Cod in a tomato béarnaise sauce

We had an absolutely epic time in Portland and Seattle. I do not think we could have gone much longer, we just had so much fun and did so much! While we unfortunately had to leave Seattle on Sunday morning, we will always have our memories!

Northwest Vacation Recap: Portland

We have just returned from a Northwest Adventure in Portland and Seattle, our first trip to the West Coast since our honeymoon (in 2014!) where we traveled to San Francisco and Sonoma. We look forward to telling you about our favorite activities and of course our favorite restaurants! First up, Portland!

Saturday

We arrived in Portland late Saturday night, tired from our flight but definitely ready to do some exploring. We were staying at an Airbnb in the North Mississippi/Williams neighborhood, a hip neighborhood in Northeast Portland bustling with nightlife. One of my friends had told me about Alibi Tiki Bar, a 1940s tiki bar that is still in existence today. Our impression is that it felt very “Portland” – quirky and laid-back. Basically, the complete opposite of life in the Northeast. We were starving, so we ate a little bit of food – I would describe it as vaguely American Chinese food. This may sound odd, but the original tiki bars served an American version of Chinese food, considered exotic in the 1930s.

Alibi Tiki Bar neon sign

Sunday

Portland is known for being the premier biking city in America, due to having decades of bike-friendly policies. It should be no surprise, then, that we mainly got around the city by Biketown bike, their bikesharing system. The orange bikes were lighter than Capital Bikeshare, plus they had a basket which made running errands easy. You can also dock Biketown bikes at any public bike dock, which is incredible.

Marnay on a Biketown bike in Portland

We biked across the Broadway Bridge and arrived at Ken’s Artisan Bakery. Ken’s is one of the best and most well-known bakeries in America. Of all things, we shared a locally made hot dog on an incredible baguette-like bun and some incredible macarons. A great way to start the morning in Portland.

Ken’s Artisan Bakery macarons

Portland has an aerial tram. It goes from a medical school and doctors offices to the corresponding hospital, on top of a hill. Still, it offered some incredible views of the Willamette River below and I’m glad we did it!

Portland aerial tram

 

Dinner that night was with one my old MARC train friend, Marcel, and his wife Martha. In June, Marcel moved to Portland from DC for work, so it was awesome to see them. We met at Tusk, a Middle-Eastern restaurant that Food & Wine Magazine recently named one of the best new restaurants in the country. All of the food was communal and it made a great way to catch up. All four of us agreed on a best bite: Melons, cucumbers, celtuce, pepper (hot!), cilantro and pepitas.

Tusk hummus with tehina, paprika and cumin

Tusk melons with cucumbers, celtuce, pepper, cilantro and pepita.

Marnay, Paul, Marcel and Martha at Tusk in Portland

It had been a long day, but we fit in some walking through the Laurelhurst neighborhood and a trip to Base Camp Brewing for a nightcap. A long but exciting day.

Monday

One requirement for Portland was that we needed to stay in an Airbnb that was walking distance to a Blue Star Donuts location and luckily we were two short blocks away from their Northeast Portland shop. We shared their signature Blueberry Bourbon Basil and their incredible Apple Fritter. So darn good!

Blue Star Donuts in Northeast Portland

Next, we headed to Portland’s Waterfront Trail, and biked along the Willamette River. We ended the ride by crossing the river over the Tilikum Crossing, the country’s first pedestrian and transit only bridge. It carries bikes, pedestrians, buses, light rail and streetcars. How amazing is that?!

Paul biking on the Tilikum Crossing bridge

That night, we had a nice bike ride through a few different neighborhoods en route to Han Oak, a Korean-inspired restaurant from chef Peter Cho. We were second in line, so we were able to sit at the chef’s counter right in front of the open kitchen. What a view! On Sunday and Monday nights, Han Oak has dumpling and noodle night. However, that night they had a guest chef cooking Indonesian Barbecue. Our best bite, and possibly the top bite in all of Portland, was the Indonesian Barbecue platter.

Han Oak dumplings

Han Oak Indonesian Barbecue

After dinner, we did some walking through nearby neighborhoods and then biked to Stormbreaker Brewing, just outside of our apartment. We stopped to pick up a growler so that we could enjoy it at home with the rest of our donuts. There wasn’t a TV, so we watched Portlandia on Netflix! Another fun night!

Blue Star Donuts, Stormbreaker Brewing growler and Portlandia on Netflix in our Airbnb in Portland

Tuesday

Tuesday was wine country day. But first, we had breakfast at Pop Bagel, a small bagel shop where all the bagels are pretzel bagels! It was a cool concept. The location, inside of an office building, made me jealous because my office building doesn’t have anything like this!

Pop Bagels

We took an Amtrak bus from Union Station to Salem, the capital of Oregon and our jumping off point for exploring the Willamette Valley. Once we arrived in Salem, we headed straight to Brooks Wine, Riesling specialists located in the Eola-Amity Hills subregion of the Willamette Valley. Before we left for Oregon, I read a wine column from a national columnist about wines to get for special occasions – one of the wines was from Brooks!

Brooks Wine vineyard

Brooks was incredible, the best winery we have ever been to. Since they specialize in white wines, we made sure to both get white wine tastings. Our favorites were the Sweet P Riesling (the one that was recommended in the column) and the Amycas, a blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Riesling. We came away with a bottle of each.

After Brooks, we headed to Domaine Drouhin, in the Dundee Hills subregion. The Drouhin family is originally from Burgundy, home of the best Pinot Noir in the world. You can understand why we took home a bottle of their 2014 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir.

Paul and Marnay at Domaine Drouhin

We took the very retro Amtrak Cascades train from Salem back to Portland. Although we were tired, we were hungry after a day of drinking wine! When we were back in Portland, we grabbed Biketown bikes and picked up takeout from Pok Pok Noi, part of the amazing Pok Pok family of restaurants. The boar collar and Vienamese wings were delicious!

retro Amtrak Cascades train from Salem to Portland

Wednesday

Our last full day in Portland. We got an early start by heading to Blue Star Donuts for another apple fritter. The best fritters ever! We took Biketown bikes and ended up at the iconic Powell’s Books, a must visit in Portland.

Lunch was at Maurice, a really cool European-style café that is only open for lunch. They serve French-Danish food plus vermouth, wine and sherry and incredible desserts and pastries. I do not think that we have been anywhere in America like this, it was really unique.

Maurice cardamom kissed squid

Maurice scone and pepper cheesecake

After our midday meal, we got some hiking in at Washington Park, a huge urban park in a particularly hilly section of Portland. We explored the Hoyt Arboretum and the International Rose Garden. Conveniently, the MAX light rail has an underground stop in the heart of the park and there is a free shuttle bus that can take you to the different attractions.

Paul walking on a trail at Washington Park

Dinner that night was our favorite dinner in Portland. We started at Jaqueline, in the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood, where we enjoyed $1 West Coast oysters along with a $2 Rainier tallboy and a $3 Topo Chico. So cheap! After our happy hour, we biked to Ken’s Artisan Pizza to grab some pizzas to go.

Jaqueline oyster happy hour

Back at home, we ate our two pizzas and drank the bottle of Brooks Sweet P Riesling. The Riesling had an aroma of petrol that reminded us of that bottle of Hermann J. Wiemer from Tail Up Goat. The two pizzas we ordered were: Handmade – hand-pulled fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, garlic, fennel seed and chile flake and the Brooklyn – tomato sauce, mozzarella, capicollo, pickled jalapeño and honey. The Handmade pizza stole the show. A simple yet perfect pizza.

Ken’s Artisan Pizza and Brooks Sweet P Riesling in our airbnb in Portland

Thursday

We were taking the Amtrak Cascades to Seattle, although our train did not leave until about 3:00PM. That meant that we had plenty of time to partake in one of Portland’s favorite activities: brunch! Sweedeedee, a little less than a mile from our apartment, is known for their pie selection, in addition to more traditional breakfast food. The catch is that you order all of your food at the counter, but you are served pie immediately. What a concept! We shared a slice of peach pie with cream, which was divine. By the time our real breakfast arrived, we were nearly too full to eat. Marnay’s bee pollen biscuit sandwich with ham was memorable, though.

Sweedeedee peach pie

After brunch, we took a meandering walk around the neighborhood and then one final Biketown ride before heading to Union Station. On to Seattle!

Click here to read all about our Seattle adventure!

Aldine

We were on our way to our annual beach trip in Margate and had some time in Philadelphia in between our Amtrak and NJ Transit trains. That meant that there was no better time to check out a new-to-us restaurant. We made the 0.5 mile walk from 30th Street Station to Aldine, located just outside of Rittenhouse Square in Center City.

Aldine, from owners George and Jennifer Sabatino, is creatively wedged into a second floor space between two storefronts. The front door leads to a staircase that takes you practically straight up into the restaurant. Inside, the space is airy, full of dark wood and surrounded by windows on almost all sides. From our perch, we were able to look out onto the bustling street life below.

Aldine restaurant interior in Philadelphia

When we first entered the restaurant, we noticed a plaque hanging outside the door. The plaque was from Philadelphia Magazine and it was the award for “Best Non-Vegetable Restaurant for Vegetarians”. I don’t know if we have eaten at enough Philadelphia-area restaurants to have an opinion on this, but I feel comfortable saying that Aldine is a good spot for vegetarians and pescetarians.

The restaurant was empty when we arrived, possibly a result of it being a summer Friday. In spite of the calm, Marnay and I got the party started with glass of Spanish rose and a truly interesting housemade cream soda. The sweet but not too sweet soda had vanilla beans floating on top and the server instructed me to stir them for maximum flavor.

Aldine Spanish rose and a truly interesting housemade cream soda

Aldine is a small plates restaurant and we want to thank them for flawlessly coursing out our meal without us having to say a word. The pace of the meal felt more fine-dining than small plates. There were two plates that we were most excited about ordering: the poached shrimp crudo and the corn custard. Neither disappointed. The custard was savory in the sense that there were no added sugars, but the fresh corn gave plenty of natural sweetness. The dish is topped off with crunchy hazelnuts and tart pickled corn kernels and pickled mushrooms. The shrimp crudo, made with chilled poached shrimp, sat on top of a crisp bed of fennel salad and aioli and then was topped with everything spice, the spice of the moment right now.

apps

The braised purple cabbage with black-garlic glaze was an example of how Aldine can make vegetables the star of a dish and was as good as any dish at Vedge. The thick slices of cabbage were layered in a broth that tasted like soy, mirin, sugar, plus a few other ingredients.

cabbage

We rounded everything out with a culotte steak. The steak came with grilled peaches, cucumbers and black garlic chips, and really, the non-steak components were the best parts of the dish. The steak was fine, just a little chewy. We are not against ordering steak at restaurants, but often times steak feels like a throwaway item that restaurants put on a menu, intended for less-adventurous diners. For more on this, I recommend this article from former Washingtonian food critic Todd Kliman on how to read a menu like a food critic.

That being said, you really can’t go wrong with anything that Aldine serves.

meat

Best Bite
Paul: Corn Custard
Marnay: Shrimp Crudo

Address
Aldine: 1901 Chestnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19103

Ultimate Greenville Weekend: Part 2

Note: We divided our Ultimate Greenville Weekend into two posts. Click here to read Part 1.

Saturday

Because we were so tired on Friday, we went to sleep early but also woke up early. We left the house and walked to Methodical Coffee, a third-wave coffee shop located in an office building downtown. We sat upstairs, listened to tunes on their record player and ate one of the best almond croissants we had ever had. Afterwards we checked out the farmers market on Main Street and purchased a drawing of the Swamp Rabbit Railroad, which is now the location of the Swamp Rabbit Trail. We talked to the artist for a while and she said that it took her 40 hours to draw, using only dots!

Methodical Coffee with an almond croissant in Greenville, SC

We had been carrying helmets around all morning so that we could try out Greenville’s bikeshare system, B-Cycle. Greenville has a good amount of bike lanes and a tremendous amount of bike shops, which reflects a healthy biking culture. We rode east from downtown, down a large hill on Washington Street and then into Cleveland Park, home of the Greenville zoo. We dropped off the bikes and walked around but then headed uphill back into town. It was time for lunch!

Paul biking with B-Cycle in Greenville, SC

We met my parents at their hotel and then drove to Swamp Rabbit Café. Unlike Friday morning, when we made a very brief stop there, now we had time to check the place out. The outdoor pizza oven was open so my Dad and grandfather shared a nice thin-crust pie. Marnay and I ate picnic-style, choosing from the selection of mostly local products in the market: La Quercia prosciutto (delicious but not local), housemade stecca, a focaccia-like bread, local salami, local mozzarella and local strawberries. It was truly a feast! The mozzarella, made just up the road in Travelers Rest, was the star of the show. That and the bread!

Swamp Rabbit Cafe picnic in Greenville, SC

My parents dropped us off at our Airbnb, but we were not ready to rest. We walked about two miles through some interesting areas to the Birds Fly South Ale Project, which when we looked at the map later was actually very close to Swamp Rabbit Café. The brewery had garage-style doors that looked out onto a grassy lawn and it was a great place to spend the afternoon hanging out, drinking some brews.

Our dinner reservation that night was Jianna, the much-anticipated new Italian restaurant from Chef Michael Kramer. The second-story views overlooking Falls Park could not be beat, but our server was not well trained and had no idea what he was doing. The food wasn’t bad, but what will remember the most was server, especially compared to the incredible service at Anchorage the night before.

Jianna

Post-dinner, we walked to Falls Park on the Reedy, the beautiful park that is the centerpiece of Greenville. The only other place that we’ve been to where it seems as though the town was built around the waterfall is Niagara Falls. The best way to view the waterfall is from the pedestrian-only suspension bridge.

Falls Park on the Reedy waterfall in Greenville, SC

Sunday

Sunday was unfortunately our last day in Greenville. It was only a partial day, as we had a 3:00pm flight home. We woke up early (6:30am) in order to make the most of our time. It was lightly raining, the first non-sunny day since we arrived, but we still set out on foot and headed towards Methodical Coffee. We enjoyed their coffee but unfortunately they did not get their delivery of pastries until after we left.

Marnay at Falls Park on the Reedy in Greenville, SC

After having a snack on the go, we spent more time walking through Falls Park. It’s clear that the city put a serious investment into the park, and boy did it pay off. You could say that the entire town is built around the park, much in the way towns are built around transit. We capped things off by sitting on a wooden swinging-bench and took in the sights for one last time. Until next time, Greenville! If you are interested in visiting Greenville, I strongly suggest taking the train at least one way. It is a unique experience and while it takes longer than flying, it is much more comfortable.

Places we visited
Amtrak Crescent

Swamp Rabbit Café 205 Cedar Lane Road Greenville, SC 29611

Swamp Rabbit Trail

OJ’s Diner 907 Pendleton Street Greenville, SC 29601

Anchorage 586 Perry Avenue Greenville, SC 29611

Methodical Coffee 101 N. Main Street Greenville, SC 29601

B-Cycle Greenville

Birds Fly South Ale Project 1320 Hampton Avenue Ext Greenville, SC 29601

Falls Park on the Reedy 601 S Main Street Greenville, SC 29601

Jianna 600 S Main Street Greenville, SC 29601

Ultimate Greenville Weekend: Part 1

Thursday

This Memorial Day Weekend, we took Amtrak’s Crescent from Washington, DC to Greenville, SC. That’s right, we took at 10 hour, overnight train to South Carolina! We stayed in a sleeper car, which included our own bedroom and own bathroom. When we boarded the train, we met our extremely helpful sleeping car attendant who showed us around our room, gave us bottles of water and then made a dinner reservation for us.

Paul boarding the Amtrak Crescent train at Union Station

The room was nicer and more spacious than we imagined. We had bunk beds, although they were folded up at this time. The bottom bunk folded into a couch and we also had a fold-out chair along the window. There was a sink next to the couch, which was a minor inconvenience but not a big deal.

Amtrak Crescent train sleeper car room

We boarded the train at 6:15pm and at 6:45pm, it was time for dinner in the adjacent dining car. The dining car is community seating, so the attendant matched us up at a four seat table with our new friends, Al and Sheila (names changed), a retired couple from southwest Virginia. Our tablemates were great and very interesting—they were on their way back from Seattle so we got to hear what it’s like to ride the rails cross-country. We talked a lot about beer, one of our areas of expertise, and I let Al know about the soon-to-open east coast location of Deschutes, which will be in Roanoke. Al is a stout fan so I told him about the Abyss, Deschutes famous Imperial Stout, and he made sure to write the name down for future reference.

The décor of the dining car reminded me of a classic Jersey diner, although believe it or not, the Amtrak menu had more interesting options than traditional Jersey diner food. Plus, all of our food was cooked in a real kitchen located in the dining car. None of it was like the café car food in Northeast Regional trains, which gets “cooked” in the microwave. I ordered the Amtrak signature steak cooked to medium, which came with a side of succotash. The steak was a tad overcooked but still tasted good and the succotash tasted fresh. The best bite of the meal, in my opinion, was Marnay’s seared shrimp, served jambalaya-style. Marnay’s meal had some serious kick to it.

Amtrak Crescent train dining car dinner

After dinner, we went back to our room to relax, listen to Spotify and watch the Virginia scenery fly by through our huge windows. When it was time for sleep, our sleeping car attendant made our beds and gave us bottles of water. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was arriving in Danville, VA around 11:30pm. We had a short night of sleep ahead of us, since we were going to arrive in Greenville at 5:00am on Friday.

Amtrak Crescent train sleeper car beds

Friday

We got off the train in Greenville very early Friday morning and made our way to downtown. Of course, it was before 6am so there was not much that we could do. We were able to at least get some coffee at a hotel Starbucks to keep us awake and energized because we had a full day of exploring ahead. Fortified by coffee, we took a local Greenlink bus to Swamp Rabbit Café.

Marnay and Paul at Greenville station with the Amtrak Crescent train

Swamp Rabbit Café is a local produce market plus has prepared sandwiches and coffee and is located along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a transformative rail trail that runs through the region. The Swamp Rabbit Trail has spurred a lot of development in the area, particularly in Greenville and the nearby community of Travelers Rest. The café is an extremely popular stop for bikers along the trail, as it also hosts a bike shop. We sat outside at the café’s outdoor tables and relaxed for a while, then put on sunscreen and went for a walk!

Swamp Rabbit Cafe in Greenville, SC

The Swamp Rabbit Trail follows the Reedy River, and it was pleasant to walk along the shaded trail and watch as the water goes by. There is something about moving water that is just so relaxing. From the café to downtown Greenville, it is a little under 3 miles.

walking

However, we were not headed back to our Airbnb, located in a residential neighbor just north of downtown. No, we were headed for OJ’s Diner, a classic Southern meat-and-three. A meat-and-three is usually a buffet-style restaurant where a person chooses a meat option, usually fried chicken, pork chops, ribs, etc. and then three sides. Everything is scratch made and very inexpensive. To be honest, we were a bit intimidated because it was our first time and we didn’t even know how to order.

OJ's Diner in Greenville, SC

As it turned out, the staff at OJ’s could not possibly have been any friendlier. Our sweet teas were never empty for more than 30 seconds, as a server kept making her rounds. At the cafeteria-style line, I ordered fried chicken with turnip greens, pinto beans and a biscuit. Marnay ordered fried croaker along with turnip greens, rice and gravy and cornbread. From now on, when we think about fried fish, this is what we will think about. OJ’s is a place we would HAPPILY go back to.

fish

After some much needed sleep at our Airbnb, we made our way to dinner at Anchorage in West Greenville with my parents and grandfather. (Read our full review for Anchorage here.) Anchorage is a modern American restaurant that serves whatever is available and in-season from local farms. The restaurant is helmed by Greg McPhee, a Husk-alum. The outside of the restaurant is one large farm-themed mural, full of fruits and vegetables, and it is really quite beautiful.

Anchorage large farm-themed mural in Greenville, SC

The menu is mainly made up of small plates, and I believe that we got every single one to share among the 5 of us. The best bite of the meal was the Bahamian Salted Fish Fritters, which we liked so much we go two orders!

Note: We divided our Ultimate Greenville Weekend into two posts. Click here to read Part 2.

Ultimate Richmond Adventure: Part 2

We usually go to Richmond two to three times per year, once in the summer and once during winter. As you may recall, it was about 100 degrees on our last visit to Richmond. This time, even though it was only February, it was nearly 60 degrees outside. I had thought of a bunch of indoor activities for the day, but since it was spring-like weather, we had to take advantage of it.

Rapp Session

From Main Street Station, we walked west through downtown a grabbed brunch at Rapp Session, the more casual sister restaurant to Rappahannock Restaurant. Travis and Ryan Croxton, the owners of Rappahannock Oyster Co. and local oyster gods, also own Rappahannock Restaurant and Rapp Session. Marnay got the hangtown fry, a 19th century San Francisco creation, which is scrambled eggs, cornmeal crusted fried oysters, bacon and salsa verde served with a green salad. I have never loved fried oysters, but this dish may have turned me into a fried oyster convert. I got the absolutely addictive sourdough beer-battered fried local catfish sandwich with tartar sauce and vinegary slaw on crusty buttered bread. We try not to repeat things on our Richmond visits since there is so much to explore, but it will be difficult not going back to here next time.

Rapp Session brunch

Exploring

Because it was so nice out, we set aside our plan to go to the Virginia Museum of Fine Art and instead spent the afternoon walking and exploring. We walked down to the James River onto Browns Island and the brand new pedestrian bridge across the river to the south side, where we took in the views of downtown from the river bluffs.

Richmond James River pedestrian bridge

We made our way back across the bridge, through the Oregon Hill neighborhood, the bustling VCU campus and the Fan District. When all was said and done, we walked 10 miles! The neighborhoods would alternate between reminding us of Capitol Hill and the more quirky Hamden in Baltimore.

Sugar & Twine

When we reached Carytown, we briefly paused to have mid-afternoon snack at Sugar & Twine, a confectionary from a Portland ex-pat who decided to set up shop in Richmond. We sat on a sidewalk table off West Cary Street and people-watched while devouring a heart-shaped meringue cookie, a peanut butter brownie and an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.

Sugar & Twine cookies

Isley Brewing

Each time we visit Richmond, our train back to Union Station leaves at 6:30pm. Even though we had done a lot on this trip already, we still had a surprising amount of time left in the day. After finishing our treats, we walked to the Scott’s Addition neighborhood, Richmond’s de facto brewery district. The area used to be industrial but one by one the warehouses are being converted into lofts, breweries, distilleries, CrossFit gyms, etc.

We checked out Isley Brewing, a family-owned brewery that opened in 2013. It had been a while since we had sat down and our legs were a little tired, so we grabbed a stool and enjoyed our Need for Greed black IPA and the quaffable 1708 ACDC Belgian IPA.

Isley Brewing Company

Metzger Bar & Butchery

After finishing our beers, we ubered to the Union Hill neighborhood, just east of Main Street Station. Metzger Bar & Butchery is a small German restaurant, which, just days after we dined there, was named a semi-finalist for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef Mid-Atlantic Category.

Metzger Bar & Butchery cocktails

Marnay started out the meal with a very refreshing cocktail called the Land of Flowers, with gin, mandarin thyme cordial, lime, fino sherry and luxardo bitters while I went with a bone dry Riesling from Pfalz, Germany.

Metzger Bar & Butchery striped bass crudo

Food-wise, we ordered the house bread basket, striped bass crudo and pork schnitzel. The bread basket was superb, especially the buttery parker house rolls and the pretzel rolls. I mean, if you are a German restaurant, you really need to have good pretzel rolls and Metzger delivered. The star of the show, though, was the outrageously delicious, transcendent striped bass crudo with red pepper flakes, sea salt, citrus, chives and pickled cabbage. Seriously, we could have easily eaten three plates of the crudo.

Metzger Bar & Butchery golden pork schnitzel

The finale was golden pork schnitzel, another traditional German dish. The schnitzel was glistening when it first came to the table and believe me, it tasted as good as it looks. We couldn’t linger at the restaurant on account of our train, but we will definitely be back to Metzger on our next Richmond trip.

Video Recap

 

Places we visited:

Rapp Session: 318 E. Grace Street Richmond, VA 23219

Tyler Potterfield Pedestrian Bridge: North end at Browns Island

Sugar & Twine: 2928 W. Cary Street Richmond, VA 23221

Isley Brewing Company 1715 Summit Avenue Richmond, VA 23230

Metzger Bar & Butchery 801 N. 23rd Street Richmond, VA 23223

Ultimate Staunton Weekend

Friday

Staunton weekend was birthday weekend for me. We picked out Staunton because of the fact that we could take Amtrak there and because there was a restaurant that we wanted to try. Of course, we have taken Amtrak many times. However, we had never taken this line or been on these tracks before. I was SO excited!

On Friday morning, we got Shake Shack breakfast at Union Station. We enjoyed our greasy (in a good way) sausage and egg sandwiches and before we knew it, we were boarding Amtrak Cardinal train 52 en route to Chicago. The trip took a little over four hours and it brought us through the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia. We got some picturesque views of the Shenandoah Valley after we left Charlottesville.

Once we arrived in Staunton, we walked from the station to our Airbnb. I would describe it as a fancy treehouse located on the fourth floor of a 19th century mansion, with a scenic rooftop deck.

Staunton Virginia Airbnb

We started our tour of Staunton by scaling the steep streets to the highest point, Mary Baldwin College. The main building of the college is a great example of Greek-revival architecture, slightly resembling the White House.

Mary Baldwin College

Hungry from our journey, we had an early dinner at Taste of India where we enjoyed two different types of naan, Lamb Rogan Josh and Aloo Tikka.

Taste of India

We happened to go to Staunton during their annual holiday event, known as Sparkles & Sweets. All of the stores on Beverley Street are open later than usual and they give out cookies and refreshments. Many have live music and events. Our Airbnb host owns an antique store, which was having an art show that night in their “Artisans Loft.”

Later on in the night, we checked out Yelping Dog Wine, a retail store which also served wine by the glass. Each of us had two glasses of Virginia wine. After that, we were tired and ready to call it a night.

Yelping Dog Wine

Saturday

We woke up early to go to the Staunton Farmers Market. There were a lot of vendors selling root vegetables, as you would expect this time of year. More surprising was a food truck serving Salvadoran food, which I would not expect in this corner of Appalachia.

Next, we took a self-guided tour of the 19th century homes in the Gospel Hill neighborhood. There is some truly stunning architecture in this area.

Staunton Virginia architecture

Staunton Virginia architecture

After traipsing around Gospel Hill, we walked north and checked out Gypsy Hill Park and sat around the duck pond. We watched the birds and the children trying to play with them.

Paul standing at Gypsy Hill Park

On the walk back, we shared a maple bacon doughnut from Rolling Pin Pastries. Rolling Pin is only open 3 hours a day, 3 days a week and the doughnut was one of my best bites of the weekend.

Rolling Pin Pastries: maple bacon doughnut

Still hungry, we shared a bratwurst sandwich with local sausage from By & By. At this point, we had done a lot of walking and a lot of snacking, so we headed back to the treehouse to nap. The big activity of the day, anyway, was dinner at The Shack.

The Shack lives up to its name; it really is a shack, and in a less than desirable location at that. These factors allow the chef, Ian Boden, to focus on food rather than trying to make rent. By the way, our Airbnb hosts were actually the chef’s parents! They were very nice and welcoming to us.

We went with the four course pre-fixe meal at The Shack. Both the food and the hospitality met our high expectations. Some highlights included crispy sunchokes and sweet potatoes with black garlic and chile dressing, squid ink rigatoni with pesto, crispy garlic chips and bottarga and an apple fry pie.

The Shack: Squid Ink Rigatoni

The Shack: Farro Pappardelle

The Shack: Lambchette

The Shack: Wild Black Bass

Sunday

On Sunday morning, we made coffee and enjoyed the mountain views from our Airbnb’s rooftop deck one last time. Next, we walked down the hill on Beverley Street for bagel sandwiches at the By & By.

By & By bagels

Fortified by breakfast, we walked up a very steep hill in the Sears Hill neighborhood. Our reward was the overlook at Wilson Park, where we got a view of the entire town. We stopped in Gospel Hill to see the homes and then got a quick lunch to go at Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery, a natural foods store.

Wilson Park

At 2:03pm, exactly on time, Amtrak Train 50 stopped at Staunton and we started our journey home. I am emphasizing the fact that it was on time because the train left Chicago at 5:45pm Saturday!

Staunton makes a great weekend trip from the DC area and is accessible by public transportation. It has a perfect combination of history, nature and food. We highly recommend it!

Ultimate Staunton Weekend: Marnay and Paul

Where we went
Taste of India: 105 West Beverley Street Staunton, VA 24401
Yelping Dog Wine: 9 East Beverley Street Staunton, VA 24401
Gypsy Hill Park: 600 Churchville Avenue Staunton, VA 24401
Rolling Pin Pastries: 302 N Central Ave Staunton, VA 24401
By & By: 140 East Beverley Street Staunton, VA 24401
The Shack: 105 S Coalter Street Staunton, VA 24401
Cranberry’s Grocery & Eatery: 7 S New Street Staunton, VA 24401

Ultimate Richmond Weekend

We woke up at 5:00am on a Saturday to get ready for our 7:00am Amtrak train to Richmond. Unfortunately, our train was an hour and 15 minutes late getting to Union Station.  It was fine, though, as it allowed us to walk around the station a few times before sitting on the train for over 2 hours.

Richmond Main Street is one of the nicest, cleanest Amtrak stations that we have ever been to.  The station itself is one of our favorite parts of visiting Richmond.  We left and walked straight to one of our all-time favorite lunch places, Grace Noodle. Marnay got miso ramen with ground pork and I got a rich vegetable ramen.  I am getting right now hungry thinking about it!  On top of everything, the place is ridiculously inexpensive.

While it was almost 100 degrees outside, we were prepared for it and went for a walk to the Manchester neighborhood, on the south side of the James River.  We normally like to organize activities ahead of time, but this was completely unplanned.  We stumbled across a train museum with a huge model train set which volunteers had spent years building.  We also found a modern art exhibit space called ArtWorks Richmond in a former industrial space.  In general, Richmond is doing an excellent job taking obsolete factories and turning them into lofts, artists spaces, etc.   Thirsty after all of this walking and exploring, we headed to BlueBee Cider and enjoyed a drink.

Next on our jam packed Richmond adventure we ubered to Hardywood Brewing for some more cold ones and to take advantage of their air conditioning.  We spent a lot of time at Hardywood enjoying the beer and staying cool.

By 4:00pm, we were absolutely starving, so we headed to the Roosevelt for our 5:00pm reservation.  Before we actually got to dinner, we stopped across the street at Sub Rosa, an incredible bakery, for some baked goods to help tide us over.  Our dinner at the Roosevelt was a tad inconsistent but we had a great roasted rockfish dish.  Most importantly, we were full for our long train ride home.

Richmond is easily doable as a day trip from Silver Spring/DC.  Plus if you take Amtrak like we did, you can sample as many drinks as the city has to offer without having to worry about driving home!

The Roosevelt cocktails

Places we visited
Grace Noodle: 1823 E Main Street Richmond, VA 23223
Old Dominion Railway Museum: 102 Hull Street Richmond, VA 23224
Art Works: 320 Hull Street Richmond, VA 23224
Blue Bee Cider: 212 W 6th Street Richmond, VA 23224
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery: 2408-2410 Ownby Lane Richmond, VA 23220
Sub Rosa: 620 N 25th Street Richmond, VA 23223
The Roosevelt: 623 N 25th Street Richmond, VA 23223

Ultimate Jersey Shore Weekend

Saturday

It seems like we travel somewhere at least every weekend during the summer.  It’s either to see family or to a wedding or, occasionally…for fun!  On Saturday morning, we took an Amtrak train to Philadelphia on our way to visit Marnay’s Mom in Margate, NJ.  Margate is on the same barrier island as Atlantic City, just two small towns to the south.

It takes about 2 hours to get to 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. We grabbed a bite to eat in the station and then sat outside at The Porch at 30th ( @theporchat30th ) while we waited for our NJ Transit train.  The Porch at 30th is an urban oasis on the formerly barren sidewalk outside the train station.  It is a beautiful example of placemaking.  They transformed the sidewalk by adding swinging porch chairs, public art, things for little kids to climb and some impressive plants.   I would hang out there on my own even if we weren’t waiting for a train.

The Porch at 30th

When we arrived in Atlantic City, we met two college friends and went to Barrels of Margate, your standard Jersey Italian red sauce joint…the kind of place that we grew up with.

Barrels restaurant, Margate, New Jersey

Afterwards, we headed to the Ocean City boardwalk.  We walked almost the entire thing and made sure to get some famous frozen custard from Kohr Brothers.  The ice cream definitely made up for a so-so dinner.  We walked some more but at 11:00pm everything shuts down in Ocean City, so we knew it was time to head home.

Ocean City boardwalk

Sunday

We woke up and walked to get some bagels from Margate Hot Bagels and coffee from Wawa, which are right next to each other on Ventnor Avenue.  Ventnor Avenue is the “Main Street” of Margate, Ventor and Atlantic City.  I got a sesame bagel with nova and Marnay got an everything with an egg.

Margate Hot Bagels and coffee from Wawa

Fueled by our bagels, we took a 3 mile walk on the beach to Longport, the next town south.  I need to mention how incredible the weather was all weekend.  Low 70s with a sea breeze and not too much sun.  We could have stayed outside the entire day in this weather.

We decided to have lunch at Aversa’s, an Italian Deli on Ventnor Ave.  I got an Italian sub which had amazing housemade bread, but otherwise bland ingredients.  The others had meatballs and said that they were not great, either.

After relaxing, we headed for dinner at the Greenhouse, mainly a spot for pizza and drinking.  Greenhouse is next to the most famous attraction in Margate, Lucy the Elephant…a 65 foot tall elephant!  Lucy was built as a tourist attraction in the 1860s and as a way to generate interest in the area.  Today, she is a National Historic Landmark.

Lucy the Elephant

Margate is very narrow and has the ocean on the east and the bay on the west.  We got delicious ice cream from the Margate Dairy Bar and then walked over to the bay side to enjoy it.  We sat on the dock long after we had finished our ice cream and watched an incredible sunset, along with fireworks from the towns on the other side of the bay.  It was well after dark when we headed home to the apartment.

Monday

On Monday morning we headed home.  We made a quick trip to Wawa for some coffee on the way to the Atlantic City train station and then took NJ Transit to Philadelphia.  Once again, we had lunch on the swinging chairs at the Porch at 30th.  Then, we took Amtrak back to Union Station.  Miraculously, there was no track work on the Red Line and we got a metro to Silver Spring immediately.

NJ Transit: Atlantic City train station

The food on our Ultimate Jersey Shore Weekend was only OK.  But the scenery and the walks were certainly made it an ultimate weekend!  There’s no denying, however, that we were happy to be back in Silver Spring.

Places we visited
The Porch at 30th: 2955 Market St, Philadelphia, PA
Barrels of Margate: 8409 Ventnor Ave, Margate City, NJ 08402
Kohr Brothers: Wonderland Pier, Ocean City Boardwalk North End, Ocean City, NJ 08226
Margate Hot Bagels: 9414 Ventnor Ave, Margate City, NJ 08402
Wawa: 9300 Ventnor Ave, Margate City, NJ 08402
Aversa’s Bakery: 9309 Ventnor Ave, Margate City, NJ 08402
Ventura’s Greenhouse Restaurant: 106 S Benson Ave #106, Margate City, NJ
Margate Dairy Bar: 9510 Ventnor Ave, Margate City, NJ 08402