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

Zinc New Haven

We left early one Friday and took Amtrak to New Haven, CT. We were in town for my cousin Heather’s wedding. I had met some people on the MARC train who used to live in New Haven and who gave me some great ideas. I was told that Zinc was an excellent New American restaurant, so we made a reservation for our first night.

Zinc is a farm-to-table restaurant across from the historic New Haven Green. It has a cool, sophisticated vibe that you can feel immediately upon entering. We started the meal with drinks—I had a pear maple Old Fashioned with James E. Pepper ‘1776’ bourbon, spiced muddled pears and urban moonshine maple bitters. Marnay had a glass of Rioja—she is a big fan of Spanish reds.

We were given homemade pita squares with red pepper ginger dipping sauce. The dipping sauce had a distinctive Thai flavor, with the addition of lime, chilies and (likely) fish sauce.

The best bite of the meal was the braised pork belly with cucumber noodle pickles, tomato jam and a Calabrian chile glaze. The pork belly was so tender it just fell apart as soon as the fork touched it. There was a nice kick from the Calabrian chile glaze as well as sweetness from the tomato jam. I think that our favorite part of the dish was the cool, crunchy cucumber noodle pickle because of the contrast with the warm, tender pork belly.

For the main course, Marnay got a moist filet of pacific black cod with an absolutely perfect crispy skin, made even crispier with a wild rice crust. The cod was in a seasonally appropriate spiced squash broth with PEI mussels, caramelized Brussels sprouts and an IPA jam. The fish was far and away the best part of the dish. The mussels seemed like an afterthought and their addition made little sense but on the whole, it was an excellent dish.

I had grilled Yellowfin tuna with a Tamari cure, vegetable spring rolls, fried spinach wasabi oil and a chile-garlic sauce. It was a beautiful piece of tuna and it was fun to swipe in the wasabi oil for a little kick. The fried spinach was nice, but the addition of the spring rolls was baffling. Simply too much going on, and a piece of fish that good deserves to be front and center!

We had a lovely evening at Zinc with some delicious, high quality food and outstanding service.

Address
Zinc New Haven: 964 Chapel St, New Haven, CT 06510

Dim Sum Garden

We took Amtrak to 30th Street station in Philly on a Saturday morning. When we arrived, we went with Marnay’s Mom to Dim Sum Garden, which is in Philly’s Chinatown. Dim Sum Garden is one of the places that Tom Sietsema went to on his recent trip to Philadelphia.

We had a little trouble navigating the narrow streets of Chinatown with our rolling suitcase, but we eventually found the restaurant. The place was packed—always a good sign. They shoved in a very tight space. To get into and out of our seats, the people next to us actually had to get up to allow us to pass. Dim Sum Garden is known for their soup dumplings. We were excited because we have never had soup dumplings, although we have heard a lot of about them. Dim Sum is still relatively new to us. We weren’t introduced to it until we moved to Maryland since it isn’t that popular in New Jersey.

The three of us ordered what seemed like a lot of food, but which ended up being quite reasonable. We ordered steamed pork soup dumplings, steamed shrimp dumplings, steamed vegetable buns and sweet red bean cakes. Red bean cakes are one of our favorite treats, and they were as decadent as expected. None of us had had soup dumplings before, so we had no idea how to eat them. One method was to just put the whole thing in your mouth. That was delicious, but there was more broth than I expected! The other method was to pierce the dumpling with a chopstick (no forks at this place) and just use the broth as a dipping sauce. Both methods were good!

The shrimp dumplings tasted extremely fresh, as did really everything at Dim Sum Garden. It’s usually a safe bet to go to a Dim Sum Place on a Saturday afternoon, since that’s when they are busiest. We now have a new favorite in Philly’s Chinatown!

Address
Dim Sum Garden: 1020 Race St, Philadelphia, PA 19107