Category Archives: Eat

Experience: Shockoe in 24 Hours

Urban Farmhouse Market & Café - Richmond, Va.

Urban Farmhouse Market & Café – Richmond, Va.

I was visiting family near Richmond, Va. area over the past few days for the holidays.  My decision to stay downtown was a strategic one because I desperately needed content for TravelReider, and, in 41 years, I have never stepped foot in the city.

Growing up, Richmond was a passthrough from Washington, D.C. to other points south, mainly the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Florida.  From the backseat window traveling north to south on I-95, all I can remember was moving my eyes from the low-rise Robitussin manufacturing facility on the right, to dilapidated row houses on the left, to VCU’s concrete buildings on the right, then to the stately Main Street Station–its rich, brick beauty brutally robbed by an eerie, futuristic interstate–on the left, and finally, the big cigarette welcoming travelers to Philip Morris on the right.

Blink a few times, smoke up if you’re one to indulge, and continue on.  That was Richmond to me.

It wasn’t until I started reading about the Shockoe neighborhood downtown that I became interested in actually visiting the city.

Shockoe, seated on the James River and bordering the financial district to the southeast, has roots dating back to the 1600s when it was used for trading and commerce. Over the decades, it’s been restored, revitalized, and repurposed.

For someone who doesn’t own a car, it’s also a walker’s dream.

Here are some highlights on where to go and what to do while on foot in Shockoe:

  • Arrive:  Oddly, Richmond’s Staple Mill Road Station, located on the outskirts of town, has more arrivals and departures during the day than its Main Street Station.  To reach downtown by train, you will need to book your ticket to arrive at the Main Street Station. In my experience, however, trains from Washington, D.C. arrive in the morning and depart in the evening the next day.  Perfect.
  • Sleep:  Stay at the Berkeley Hotel on East Cary Street.  It’s about a seven-minute walk from the Main Street Station.  The hotel, built in 1988, looks much older style-wise and complements Shockoe’s architecture.  It’s spotless, elegant, and reasonably priced, even during the holidays.  The daytime front desk manager and concierge, Starlett, is a breath of fresh air and offers visitors efficient and much-appreciated personalized attention.
  • Eat:  You’re going to need some food and caffeine for your urban hike around Shockoe. Check out the Urban Farmhouse Market & Café a block down from the Berkeley Hotel at E. Cary and S. 13th Streets.  The café offers coffee, snacks, and lunch options in a cozy, coffeehouse environment.
  • Visit:  Conjure up your days as a student of literature and indulge your gothic sensibility by visiting the Edgar Allan Poe Museum on E. Main Street past the Main Street Station. The building where it’s housed is the oldest standing building in Richmond.
  • Hike:  Follow E. Main Street to Libby Hill Park and hike the steps to the monument. There, you will have amazing views of the James River and downtown Richmond.

I’m sure there are countless places I’ve omitted, particularly as one ventures out to other neighborhoods.  As a result, I have several reasons to return in the future.

Photos will follow soon in the photo galleries.  In the meantime, check out these links:

The Berkeley Hotel
The Urban Farmhouse & Café
The Edgar Allan Poe Museum

 

 

Eat: Amora – You’ll Fall in Love

Amora:  The Near-Empty Jar Says It All

Amora: The Near-Empty Jar Says It All

I confessed in an earlier post that I am neither a food critic nor a chef. However, in Paris, I fell in love with Amora and have been cooking with it since my return.

Amora is a strong Dijon mustard and it’s rumored that the French keep it on hand for regular use.

I experienced Amora when it was brought to me as a condiment when I ordered an omelet at a café in Paris.

I was hooked and brought a small jar of it back with me from my trip in September.

I have found several uses for Amora including omelets, salad dressings, and sandwiches. However, it wasn’t until I stumbled across a recipe from Johanna, owner of Vigor Fitness and Wellness that I thought it was time to update my salty and oily stir-fry recipes with something that had a lot of flair but little fat and less sodium.

The recipe she posted on her Facebook page called for turnip greens.  I swapped them for Bok Choy and added chicken for protein.

Here’s what you’ll need to serve two people:

2 boneless chicken breasts sliced thin
3-4 stalks of Bok Choy (with green leaves)
1/2 onion
2 cloves of fresh, crushed garlic
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
White pepper
Sea salt

Sprinkle chicken breast slices with a pinch of salt to tenderize and get rid of the “funky chicken taste”.  In a wok, add crushed garlic and coat with 1/2 cup of low-sodium chicken broth.  Heat. Add chicken breast pieces and sauté until chicken begins to turn white.

Add onions and chopped Bok Choy with the leaves.  Add remainder of low-sodium chicken broth and white pepper.  Simmer.

When the onions, Bok Choy, and chicken are cooked through, remove from heat and pour/scoop out most of the chicken broth.

Return pan to stove and add two tablespoons of Amora Dijon mustard.  Stir.  Salt to taste and serve over steamed brown rice.

Live alone and have leftovers?  Reheat the remainder in a microwave-safe dish for 2:45 minutes and stir in a teaspoon of Amora to moisten.

This rich-tasting dish is a satisfying departure from traditional stir-fry recipes, so enjoy.

Concerned about the nutritional content of Amora?  According to Myfitnesspal.com, each teaspoon of Amora contains the following:

10 calories
1 gram of fat (zero saturated or trans)
0 grams of cholesterol
0 grams of sugar
110 mg of sodium

Want to know where to get some Amora for your kitchen if you can’t make it to the Monoprix in Paris anytime soon?  Check out these sellers on Amazon.

Bon appétit!

Weekender: Baltimore’s Fun House

Pretzel Bites - Mr. Rain's Fun House - AVAM

Pretzel Bites – Mr. Rain’s Fun House

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit and write about my new favorite art museum: the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.  I made mention of Mr. Rain’s Fun House, the museum’s café located on the third floor.

When I was a growing up outside of Washington, D.C., my parents took every opportunity they could to expose my brother and me to all of the free museums and exhibits the Smithsonian had to offer.  I’m a richer person today because of it.

What I remembered aside from the exhibits was the cafeteria where we’d sometimes stop for lunch. Back then, it seemed like the Smithsonian outsourced all of their food services to a cardboard factory.  Dry burgers served in styrofoam for eight dollars were not a meal.  We learned to brown bag it.

Museum food has changed and now caters to distinguished palates.

On Friday after a train ride, walk, and photo shoot, I was famished.  I knew I couldn’t appreciate any of the mesmerizing visuals at the AVAM without something in my stomach.

Roasted Apple Salad - Mr. Rain's Fun House  - Baltimore

Roasted Apple Salad – Mr. Rain’s Fun House – Baltimore

Enter Mr. Rain’s Fun House.

The “fun house” offers fresh ingredients and imaginative lunch, dinner, and brunch choices served on proper plates with proper cutlery. They also serve booze, so you can complement your meal if you get into that.

I opted for the Roasted Apple Salad that’s oddly not on the online menu.  It should be because it was sweet, light, and well-dressed.

I asked for a wine recommendation and the server suggested the Ciderworks Kingston Black Cider.  At first, I thought it was a hard cider, but it was served in a wine glass and tasted like a succulent, apple-flavored white wine.

Ciderworks Kingston Black Cider - Mr. Rain's Fun House

Ciderworks Kingston Black Cider – Mr. Rain’s Fun House

Whatever your mood, skip the tourist traps at the Inner Harbor and treat yourself to lunch or dinner at Mr. Rain’s Fun House. Don’t forget to order some pretzel bites and brown mustard.

Who said museum food had to be boring?

Eat: Lo-Cal Treats from The Hague

Hopje - The Hague

Hopje – The Hague

I was fishing around my camera bag today in preparation for my trip to photograph Baltimore this weekend and came across a sweet treat from The Hague:  a Hopje.

Last month, I wrote a post about my wonderful stay at the Hotel Petit in The Hague.   Each afternoon, I’d find a personalized note from the housekeeper thanking me for my stay along with a Hopje.

According to history, the Hopje originated in The Hague.  This coffee-tasting candy is named after Hendrik Hop.  Legend has it that Mr. Hop was advised not to drink coffee. Bucking doctor’s orders, one day, he made a concoction of coffee and sugar and overcooked it.

This stove top mess resulted a thick, caramel-tasting treat.  He enlisted a neighbor’s help to create  candy lumps that could be savored, I imagine, without the negative effects associated with coffee.

Over the years, U.S. coffee chains such as Starbucks, Caribou, and Dunkin’ Donuts have capitalized on Americans’ palates for the highly caloric and have concocted drinks containing hefty amounts of sugar and fat, yet only a whiff of coffee.

For example, take the Caramel Macciato, Starbucks’ third favorite drink ranked by customers.  The calorie count clocks in at 140 for the “healthier” 12 oz. tall with nonfat milk to a staggering 340 for a venti with whole milk.  Furthermore, on top of the hundreds of calories, the venti contains 40 grams of sugar and 13 grams of fat, eight of which are saturated.

I’m neither a nutritionist nor entirely slim, but I can imagine what Mr. Hop’s doctor would say about a daily diet of venti Caramel Macciatos.

I’m also not asserting that the Hopje provides any nutritional value.

However, each piece contains 15 calories and can be an occasional caramel-coffee alternative to the gut-busting and wallet-draining “coffee” drink from a chain.

Free yourself from the excess calories of a coffee drink and enjoy a Hopje or two instead.  On occasion.

Want coffee that doesn’t come in a wrapper?  Check out my top five coffee destinations.

The easiest way to order a package is through Amazon.  However, you can also order from Hollands Best and The Sweet Life.

Special thanks to Absolutely The Hague for providing an overview of Hendrik Hop’s culinary misfortune that evolved into a fortune.

Eat: Gettin’ Greedy in Mile End – East London

Greedy Cow - East End, London (Photo Courtesy of @greedycow - Twitter)

Greedy Cow – East End, London (Photo Courtesy of @greedycow – Twitter)

If you’re visiting London’s East End, you must eat at the Greedy Cow.  Period.

Let’s step back for a second.

A lot of first-time visitors to London may be worried about food choices given the long-held generalization that British food is bland and boring.

However, over the years, London has traded in its tarnished medal of culinary dishonor for a shiny gold star–and in many cases, several.  The city is culturally rich and there’s no better place to take advantage of its diversity than in the East End.

I mentioned in my last post that I had been traveling with my parents in London.  After a lot of walking and sightseeing, we needed a restaurant that served hearty food to accommodate everyone’s palates.

The Greedy Cow on Grove Road, located a block from the Mile End Underground Station (Central, District, and Hammersmith & City lines) offered fresh, satisfying food, a comfortable atmosphere, and choices ranging from new twists on old British favorites to the exotic.

The restaurant’s website states that its mission is to provide food that “fills your stomach without emptying your wallet”.  The Greedy Cow delivered on its promise.

We started with the fish cakes and an order of potato wedges.  The portion size was just enough to sample without all of the greasiness of traditional fish and chips.  The side condiments of garlic mayonnaise and dill sauce were great complements and didn’t weigh down the food.

On to the main dishes:  the Greedy Burgers.  The Greedy Cow serves beef that is raised in Britain, and also offers more exotic meats such as kangaroo and crocodile, to name a few.

I opted to stay a little on the safe side and ordered the Jamaican burger.  It had the kick of jerk seasoning mixed with a sweet, refreshing mango chutney.  I was overwhelmed by how clean and flavorful the burger was without the taste mixtures being too overpowering.

In addition to the new spin on old favorites, what I also liked about the restaurant was that it was intimate with well-paced service.

During our seven-day stay in Bow, we ate at the Greedy Cow twice for dinner and were not disappointed on either visit.

If you are staying in or visiting the East End and expect traditional food to be bland and unimaginative, think again.  The Greedy Cow delivers flavor, value, and pleasant service.

The Greedy Cow
2 Grove Road
London, E3
http://www.greedycow.com

Interested in snaps from London?  Visit the photo gallery.

 

 

 

Weekender: Not the Standard Brunch & Brew

Starr Hill Brewery - Crozet, Va.

Starr Hill Brewery – Crozet, Va.

I haven’t owned a car for six years.  It’s both a benefit and a drawback.  Not owning a car forces me to be creative and make concerted efforts to leave Washington when I can.

Charlottesville, Va., home of the University of Virginia, is about a three-hour train ride from Washington and costs a fraction to visit compared to New York or Philadelphia.  Enterprise will also arrange to pick you up at the train station so you can rent a car to see the city and points nearby like Crozet, Barboursville, Ruckersville, and Stanardsville, to name a few.

Virginia is known for its wine and it produces some of the best in the country.  However, did you know that Virginia is home to over 60 breweries with several in the vicinity of Charlottesville?

If you like brunch and beer as I do, you won’t want to miss The Standard on Main Street in Stanardsville for brunch and Starr Hill brewery in Crozet for a tour and tasting.

The Standard - Stanardsville, VA

The Standard – Stanardsville, VA
Photo Courtesy of Kris Seale

In a previous post, I stated that I am not a food critic.  What I do know is that I enjoy clean, local food served in a welcoming environment.  While its name is a bit of a misnomer, The Standard offers both.

The Standard promotes community involvement.  The day I visited with my family, meals were being served by a group of middle-school students who were raising money to go to the Galapagos Islands on a service project.  Great food and the opportunity to encourage students to explore the world while helping others?  I couldn’t have tipped enough.

After a filling and lazy brunch, we hopped in the car and headed for Crozet, which is a scenic 50 minute drive from Stanardsville.

Crozet, Va., is the home of Starr Hill brewery.  Starr Hill was founded in the late 90’s and I’ve found their products in Washington at Whole Foods Market and other restaurants and bars around town.

What marked the experience as a “must do” was the well-organized tour of the facility where you are taken through the brewing process from grain selection to distribution.  Starr Hill also offers a tasting room where you can sample their year-round and seasonal brews.

Did you grow up in the Mid-Atlantic and want to feel nostalgic?  Grab a bottle of Starr Hill malt vinegar to put on home-cooked French fries and remember those days spent on the boardwalk at the Maryland and Delaware beaches.

Charlottesville isn’t your standard college town.  Drive around and you’ll see.  Be sure, however, to ask residents about their favorite destinations.  You may find some out-of-the-way treasures like The Standard or Starr Hill brewery just a short distance from Charlottesville, Washington, and Richmond.

Also, don’t sweat not owning a car.  Get creative and get there:

The Standard
76 Main Street
Stanardsville, VA

Starr Hill Brewery
5391 Notch’d Road
Crozet, VA

Eat & Sleep: Francs and Beans

bdennisreid

bdennisreid

Switzerland can be yours for fewer francs than you may realize.

The landlocked country offers limitless opportunities for sightseeing and experiences for those who love to get out and explore the natural world.  From hiking through the snow in Leysin, to climbing a church tower in Bern or Fribourg, boredom has a scant chance of creeping in during a visit.

Ask a person what they think of when you mention Switzerland, and they’ll probably respond with:  The Alps, chocolate, knives, and watches.

However, how do you respond when the person clutches his or her proverbial purse strings and responds with “a post-vacation diet of beans”, like a friend of mine did when I mentioned I was traveling to Lake Geneva with my parents last May?

My friend’s response was somewhat fair.  According to Mercer, a human resources consulting firm, Geneva, Zurich, and Bern have found themselves in a Top 10 list of the most expensive cities for expatriates in 2013.  A quick cost-of-living comparison on Numbeo, a site that itemizes expenditures such as meals at restaurants, transportation, apartment rentals, and groceries, among others, confirmed that our destination in Lake Geneva was going to be higher than Washington, DC and much higher than coastal North Carolina where my parents live.

Even though other countries in the euro zone surround Switzerland, its form of currency is the Swiss franc, abbreviated as CHF.  Back when I was planning the trip, research confirmed that compared to the U.S. dollar, there was about a one-dollar-to-one-Swiss-franc exchange rate with a few extra pennies thrown across the Atlantic in the direction of Switzerland.  The comparison gave me some relief that the trip wouldn’t result in being “travel poor” even though goods and services are more expensive than what I was accustomed to in Washington.

I argue that frugal travelers can live rich while on vacation when they subtract expensive hotels, extravagant meals, and pricey tourist traps, and add free outdoor sightseeing excursions, low-cost cultural activities, and flavorful regional meals at cafés, sandwich shops, and walk-up food kiosks.

Minus a few meal splurges, we used our trips to the Coop and Migros supermarkets to our advantage.   First, we bought fresh fruit and non-perishables for breakfast and on-the-go snacks.  Second, several supermarkets have restaurants where we ate salads, quiches, sandwiches, and hearty meals (served on ceramic dishes and not on paper plates or in wrappers) while overlooking Lake Geneva into France.  Compared to full-service restaurant dining, we dined on fresh food for about 15-20 CHF per person.

Lodging wise, Geneva was out of the question not due to price, but availability.  Affordable hotels and apartments just weren’t available for the dates we selected.  Widening the search, I discovered Lausanne, the second-largest city on Lake Geneva.  Staying in Lausanne proved to be the best choice because it offered easy access by bus, light rail, train, and boat to the sites surrounding the Lake since it’s location is a little more than halfway between Geneva and Montreux.

Out of our choices, the Ibis Lausanne Centre won. Like any chain, I had heard good and bad things and had experienced excellent service and cleanliness in one city, and near paltry conditions in another.

The Ibis Lausanne Centre is a newer property with modern room decor, fresh bedding, wood floors cleaned daily, a large shower, and best of all, a price tag that allowed for separate rooms for my parents and me.  Much like its environs on Lake Geneva, the hotel is immaculate.  It also offers an efficient check-in/out process and coffee service in the morning that complemented our light breakfast.

As a bonus, the property throws in a public transportation pass (Lausanne only) for the duration of the stay, which came in handy for those days when we were too sore to hike from the train station uphill to the hotel via Avenue de Beaulieu.  The 3 and the 21 buses service the Lausanne Gare station and stop next to the hotel.  Also, the Riponne light rail station on the m2 line is a short walk from the hotel in a bustling shopping district and in a six stops will take you Lake Geneva.

The only complaint was that the rooms didn’t cool off during the first few days of the visit.  We were told by a front desk attendant that there was a hotel-wide outage with the air conditioning system.  However, the issue was fixed within a day and lucky for us, the remainder of the trip was cool and rainy making sleeping at night comfortable in an otherwise stuffy room.

One word about the flight cost to Geneva…I am not United Airlines’ biggest fan.  I’ve been delayed several times when traveling overseas and have found the response from employees to be lackluster as if delays are the norm and not the exception.  However, my non-stop flight from Washington, Dulles was only $950, and my parents’ flight that originated in Norfolk and connected through Dulles was around $925 per ticket, making it a cheaper destination for the time of year over other destinations such as Paris.

Therefore, consider Switzerland and rest easy knowing that you can fly, buy, eat, and sleep without becoming “vacation poor”, thus allowing you to experience all that this stunning  country offers.

In my next posts, I’ll discuss “leaving” the EU and high-altitude anxiety.

Interested in snaps from Switzerland and the Lake Geneva area?  Visit the photo gallery.

Eat: The 100+ Year Old Sandwich

I’m neither a foodie nor a cook.  I enjoy exploring regional cuisine when I travel, but my tastes are fairly simple.  I like a lot of flavor, clean food, and a small price tag.

It has been said that the Netherlands consumes the most amount of bread in Europe.  I also know that during visits to Paris and Belgium, I’ve consumed more bread than when I’m at home.  Europe can be difficult for a gluten-free individual, but there are options.

The Dutch are known for their broodjes which are sandwiches.  You can also find broodjes in Flanders as I experienced on a trip to Antwerp, Belgium a few years ago.  Typical broodjes consist of meat, cheese, and toppings, like most sandwiches in the U.S.  Occasionally, as I experienced, a broodje can contain a light meat or cheese kroket or croquette, if you’re more familiar with the French variation.

On my trip to The Hague, I was lucky to experience a Dopmeijer broodje.  Dopmeijer’s is an out-of-the-way broodje shop that reminded me of a friendly neighborhood deli I’d find in Philadelphia or New York.  It is also an institution in The Hague.  It’s been operating for 104 years and in 2009, Dopmeijer’s celebrated with the publication of a book containing newspaper clippings and photos of the century-old shop.

My new friend and gracious tour guide Paul took me to Dopmeijer to experience a little bit of local food history.  There, we met John, one of the owners.  Ravenous, John introduced me to a variety of broodjes as well as a homemade goulash that was stomach-warming and spicy—perfect for cool and overcast September day.

My favorite broodje was the bal, which reminded me of a small meatball sandwich mixed with several spices, perhaps garlic and cinnamon.  The closest taste I could compare it to was a meatball I bought from Whole Foods that contained Moroccan spices.

I was still a little hungry, so I ordered a meat kroket broodje.  It was also rich with flavor and surprisingly light.  I’m not a huge fan of mayonnaise, so John made my broodjes with brown mustard and pepper.  You can have your broodje with either condiment and both are popular.

My friend Paul asked if I wanted to try something new.  Since I’m always up for an adventure, I agreed.

I then sampled a cow’s udder broodje.  Now, I’ll preface my reaction with the fact that I’m pretty funny about food textures.  For example, as much as I wanted to try the tartare broodje, I politely declined since I don’t care for the consistency of raw meat.  In hindsight, and for adventure’s sake, I should have gone for it.  Lesson learned.

The cow’s udder broodje was an experience.  On one hand, it tasted surprisingly good when mixed with mustard and pepper.  On the other, it had a chewy consistency as well as coloring similar to deli-sliced turkey.  My reaction was a 50/50 mix, but by then, I had had two bal broodjes plus the goulash and was becoming full.

The service and hominess at Dopmeijer is welcoming and efficient.  The shop is unpretnetious and you can eat cheap if you’re watching your money.

Dopmeijer is an institution in The Hague and I was glad I was introduced.

If you are in The Hague and want to try something new that comes with a long-standing history, stop by Dopmeijer.  You can easily access it by the Van Musschenbroekstraat tram stop or within a few blocks from the Holland Spoor station.  Also, be sure to ask John if you can purchase a book of clippings for nine Euros celebrating the 100th anniversary of Dopmeijer’s.

Dopmeijer
Rijswijkseweg 151
2516 HB Den Haag
Web site:  www.dopmeijer.net

Interested in snaps from The Hague and Amsterdam?  Visit the photo gallery.