eat like a burg: downtown dinner party.


For fifteen years, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance has been working to restore vitality to our history-rich downtown and turn it into the economic and social center it used to be. Millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours later, Harrisonburg residents and visitors can enjoy living, working, playing, eating, shopping, and beer-ing in buildings and streets that were largely empty when I first moved here 25 years ago.

A Great American Main Street Award recipient, Harrisonburg can show other localities a thing or two about challenging suburbia and its glut of corporate-owned chain businesses and getting money back in the local coffers.

One way HDR has paid for all these improvements is through fundraisers. To be honest, that word — fundraiser — makes me cringe a bit. No one likes to ask others for money. No one likes being asked. HDR has a knack for raising money from generous folks who also get something great in return at events like Valley Fourth, the Friendly City Fortune, Skeleton Fest, Rocktown Beer and Music Festival, Renaissance Night, and more. Brandy and I got to attend the newest event — the Downtown Dinner Party — and it did not disappoint. Even the Turner Pavilion put on its fancy duds — long elegant drapes, plants and floral arrangements (from Fine Earth Landscaping and The Wishing Well), and string after whimsical string of twinkle lights. I heard many people refer to the evening as “enchanted” and “fairytale” and “magical.” Yes, the end result might have been magical. But the months of organizing this event involved no wands or potions — just innovation, grit, and sheer will.


It started as a crazy idea, pitched to HDR by Jen Sodikoff and Kirsten Moore of Sub Rosa Supper Club. If you’re not familiar with Sub Rosa, it’s a secret supper club that (roughly once a month) hosts fantastic gourmet dinner parties for 24 people. Guests pay a flat fee, find out only the day before where the dinner party will be, and have no idea who else will be there until they arrive. Then they gobble up a five- to seven-course upscale meal, washed down with cocktails and wine and coffee. Bellies are filled, friendships are formed, and a professional photographer captures it all. Got it? Now multiply what I just described by twelve. (And a half.)


Yep. Kirsten and Jen, over the course of several months, recruited and met with fifteen local restaurants to coordinate dinner for 300 people. Kirsten, you may or may not know, is behind The Hub Coworking space which won the Virginia Main Street Best Business award a couple years ago. Before that she owned and operated the food tour business Rocktown Bites and catering outfit Taste. Jen’s immense management, marketing, and event planning experience (she’s currently the Revenue and Marketing Manager at the brand new Hotel Madison) and hardcore can’t-NOT-do work ethic made this new endeavor a deliciously accomplishable challenge for them both.

Okay, let’s get to the food because GOOD GAWD I want to relive it!

Some of the restaurants represented that evening are new to Harrisonburg. Urgie’s Cheesesteaks, who have basically taken over Harrisonburg’s cheesesteak game, served up their authentic Philly Cheesesteaks with onions, peppers, mushrooms, cherry peppers, pepperoni, Griffin’s hot sauce, American cheese, provolone cheese, and — spoiler alert — Cheez Whiz. Hotel Madison chefs Michael Collins and Brian Bogan offered smoked + sous vide pork belly, pickled foraged ramps, with a damson plum gastrique, charred ramp bbq, and popped sorghum berries. Is your mouth watering yet?

urgies1urgies2madison pork belly

Chef Dilli Dangi of Taj of India brought warmth and comfort with his Chicken Malabar — chicken with coconut cream, Indian spices, onion, and garlic, served with rice and a clay oven-baked garlic naan. If you haven’t had their lunch buffet yet, gimme a call and I’ll join you. And new to Harrisonburg’s bakery scene is Bittersweet Bakery. Pastry Chefs Erica Ray and Alicia Barger presented a beautiful and delicious Ginger Blue-Barb, a ginger cremeux with blue-barb compote, white chocolate and a blueberry crunch. And Shirley’s Gourmet Popcorn was not going to miss this party! They brought their Cheddar Pretzel Ale, Polar Pop, and Afterburner varieties, made with non-GMO kernels from Green Acres Farm in Dayton. Whoever said you shouldn’t snack before, or through, dinner obviously hasn’t tried Shirley’s.


It was fun to see whether Harrisonburg’s “old dogs” had any new tricks. Turns out they did! Matthew Clancy and William Bleeker of Clementine/Ruby’s Arcade showed up with an impressive five-spice beef brisket with shiitake mushroom slaw, wasabi aioli (I mean, daaaaang), sticky rice, chili gastrique, and shaved nori, served with a frisee, citrus, and endive salad with toasted almonds and goat cheese. Somehow, all these things worked together in an exceptionally delicious way. I ran into Kevin Gibson at that table and I literally saw him drool. Straight out of his mouth. Bella Luna’s chef Jacoby Dinges pulled out a much simpler but equally delicious spiced lamb hand pie that was the crispiest, butteriest thing ever, filled with succulent spiced lamb, currants, spinach, and feta.


It was great to see the Friendly City Food Co-op in the house — Melissa Lapp prepared a light and refreshing radish and quinoa salad with mint, cherry tomatoes, and feta cheese. In addition to usual grocery store items (which, by the way, come from more than 150 local vendors), FCFC offers bulk items like dry beans and spices AND a fantastic deli and hot bar where you can get a surprisingly fresh and delicious lunch.

When I saw Thom Metroka of The Artful Dodger serving up artisanal French toast, I was first a little surprised since this was a “dinner” party… but good grief, how many of us have been at the Dodger late enough that it was practically time for breakfast?? So it made sense. And it was absolutely dinner-worthy: fresh hearth bread with a fruit compote, whiskey maple syrup, whipped cream, and nuts. On a side note, the hearth bread came from Bella Luna. I love to see these supportive collaborations among local restaurants.


Chef Cameron Grant of Union Station Restaurant & Bar brought his Louisiana roots to the dinner party with his alligator sauce piquant containing alligator tale and smoked andouille sausage, highlighted by tomatoes, green pepper, onion, and celery, and served over rice, a perfect warm-up when the sun was getting lower and the wind was growing cooler. Old dog Jacktown (Billy Jack’s/Jack Brown’s) REALLY stepped out of its usual game with Chef Mike Sabin’s Jacktown Poke, a beautiful and flavorful dish featuring Hawaiian big eye tuna, macadamia nuts, hijiki, avocado, shoyu, and sesame oil. Not sure they’ll add this dish on their regular menu, but I predict it would be a big hit. Maybe they can make it an occasional special and Aaron can wear his Captain Stubing outfit again.

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Even Harrisonburg classic Tim Richardson of Pulp Organic Acai Bowls and Smoothies whipped out a new sensation: the Vegan Acai Cheesecake, with a date and walnut crust (and perfect cheesecake-to-crust ratio, I might add), cashew and coconut milk, mixed berry sauce, and cacao nibs. Amanda Cannon, owner of one of my fave’s Food.Bar.Food, also brought dessert: an Irish chocolate milkshake make with Kline’s ice cream. Kline’s uses an old-school continuous freeze method that results in an exceptionally smooth and creamy product, perfect for blending into a milkshake. And Kline’s makes their ice cream every single morning so it’s as fresh as it can get. The “Irish” part of the milkshake was housemade Irish cream. All the cocktails being passed around that evening also came from Food.Bar.Food: a sparkling rose with roasted rhubarb-strawberry sorbet, a hibiscus ginger greyhound, and an Indochine soda mocktail with lemon, ginger, and Thai basil syrup.

pulppassed cocktails

And rounding out the restaurant offerings was Chef Isaac Coles of Jimmy Madison’s Southern Kitchen and Whiskey Bar, serving his Hand-Pulled Mozz Caprese with whole wheat focaccia, perfectly sweet-tart rhubarb jam, Turner country ham, and basil grown right on the roof!

It’s worth noting that all of these restaurants and chefs make every effort to use ingredients that are local, fresh, and high quality. That night, we ate products from 18 local or very nearby producers, including Seven Hills Food, Golden Angels Apiary, Edgewood Farm, Wayside Produce, Season’s Bounty Farm, Green Haven Farm, Main Street Farmstead, Turner Ham House, Woods Edge Farm, Wade’s Mill, Autumn Olive Farms, Virginia Vinegar Works, Hickory Hill Farm, Radical Roots Farm, North Mountain Produce, Mt. Crawford Creamery, Virginia Distillery, and Green Acres Farm.


Also in the house were Bluestone Vineyard serving a chardonnay, a vidal blanc, and their 2015 Market and Main, Old Hill Cider pouring Yesteryear, four Harrisonburg breweries (Pale Fire, Restless Moons, Brothers Craft Brewing, and Three Notch’d), and coffee drinks from Black Sheep, Broad Porch Coffee, and Shenandoah Joe. As I milled about, eating and drinking, it struck me that this is like, you know, having a friendly potluck dinner at your house. Everyone brings something to share.  Except in this case, all your friends are professional chefs with access to amazing ingredients, a wealth of knowledge and experience, and exceptional talent. Miles and miles and miles beyond a crockpot of meatballs, y’all.

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I was so distracted by all the tastes and smells surrounding me that I didn’t notice the cute little photo booth at first. The Rosy Co. mobile photo booth is a bright red 1968 Shasta Lo-Flyte travel trailer outfitted with a camera, a bunch of props, and a printer. All night long, guests of the dinner party enjoyed getting in that thing and being silly, sexy, or serious and were thrilled when they got to take their photos with them for free! You can rent this adorable vintage photo booth for your event, too. It’s great for outdoor events and the rental fee includes free prints for everyone. If your event is indoors, you can opt for the open air photo booth, which can accommodate larger groups than the trailer.


The musical stylings of Ryan Clark provided the soundtrack for the evening. While everyone was eating, his original piano compositions filled the pavilion, punctuated by laughter and conversation and excitement.


You know, this evening IS starting to sound magical, but we can’t forget the reasons for this event: to celebrate HDR’s 15th anniversary AND to raise funds for their continued efforts. It was time for the auction, hosted by auctioneer John Puffenbarger. Each announcement of an auction item brought hoots and cheers from the crowd — seriously some of the most unique auction items I’ve ever seen, and ALL LOCAL. Local items made by local people being used to raise money for local initiatives. It’s a new level of local. It’s, like, meta-local. Auction items included a beer-brewing session from the Friendly Fermenter where you get to leave with your own unique beer accented by a custom label created by Matt Leech. Pottery sensei Kassy Newman offered a 25-piece pottery set plus six private lessons for four people!! If you haven’t seen her work, you must.


Mossy Creek Fly Fishing and Jacktown owner Aaron Ludwig donated a full-day fishing trip for two, dinner at Jacktown, and a free night in the all-new Jacktown loft. AND there’s beer in the fridge waiting for you. !!! How about a private Off the Eaten Path Ride and Dinner for ten? This bike-to-farm-to-table event was generously provided by Dusty Burchnall. Next up, an item from event co-planner Kirsten Moore, Amy Nesbit, and Taste catering — a day enjoying the Shenandoah River followed by a low country shrimp boil and gourmet s’mores around the firepit. Other outdoor items included a farm-to-table dinner for twelve at Second Mountain Farm accompanied by live music from The Walking Roots Band, or a 3-hour plein air painting lesson from local artist Erin Murray at Showalter’s Orchard, plus a French picnic provided by Heritage Bakery and Cafe.


Not feeling so rugged? Hotel Madison and the Arts Council teamed up to donate a private 8-person dinner prepared by chefs Collins and Bogan at the Smith House Gallery with music by Mark Whetzel. The Romantic Downtown Getaway, provided by Hugo Kohl, Local Chop & Grill House, and the Joshua Wilton House, starts with AN ACTUAL PIECE OF JEWELRY! Put on your new sterling silver and blue sapphire bracelet and take your hungry self + 1 to the Chop House for a fantastic dinner, followed by a night at our beloved Joshua Wilton House. What a treat!! Rounding out the auction items was something that got all the Dukes in the crowd pumped up — twelve football tickets to the season opener in September, parking passes for tailgating, and Urgie’s Cheesesteaks catering just for you!


After the auction, Ryan Clark stood up from the piano and put on his DJ-ing hat, spinning vinyl while we all spun on the dance floor. Sometimes, there are no words.

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Things were winding down. Everyone was feeling exhilarated and exhausted and joyful and a bit sweaty. Maybe Ryan felt we were all too hepped up to get any sleep that night, or maybe he thought we’d never leave if the music kept playing, or maybe he was just inspired by the energy in that moment, but his piano serenade at the end of the night was pretty magical. Everyone fell silent and just listened, buzzing with connection.


What the HDR team and the Sub Rosa Supper Club were able to create using only locally- available resources was not “magical.” It was not lucky or superhuman or miraculous or even unbelievable. It was innovative. It was intelligent, creative, intentional, and inspired. It was meticulously planned and organized by a group of smart, dedicated individuals willing to commit to a large project and donate their time and goods and services to their community.


Innovation is not new to Harrisonburg. I remember when Calhoun’s first opened. I thought, “Holy cow, we have a BEER FACTORY right downtown!” It made Harrisonburg unique. And since then, lots of folks have introduced all kinds of innovative ideas, products, services, and experiences. Like Harrisonburg’s new Pedicab. New shopping experiences at Agora Downtown Market and Bring Your Own. New art experiences like Art Lotto and the Super Gr8 Film Festival. New community initiatives like the Northend Greenway and improved bike lanes. I can buy beer at a movie theater, and there’s a living, breathing permaculture community on the north end of town, Vine & Fig. All because people had an idea and worked hard to make it happen.

If you missed the Downtown Dinner and would like to contribute to the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, you can do so in multiple ways. You can purchase Downtown Dollars — gift certificates that can be redeemed at many downtown locations. Keep your dollars local! You can also by a Friendly City Fortune raffle ticket — $100 buys you a chance at winning cash, a vehicle, a vacation, a shopping spree, and more! Or you can just click the big ol’ Donate button and give what you can!

The next HDR event is Valley Fourth. See y’all there!


Copyright © 2012-18 · All Rights Reserved · Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.


class and principals: harrisonburg education foundation gala.

HEF Gala klines mill2In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, which was last week, we’d like to tell you a little about an event we recently attended that celebrated everyone involved in the educational process and raised funds for educational endeavors in our Harrisonburg schools – the annual Harrisonburg Education Foundation Gala.

While we probably all agree that education in itself is important (i.e., learning is important, curiosity is important, cultural progress is important), our educational system has become highly politicized during my fifteen-year career. Supporters of teachers have for years bemoaned the paltry salaries of teachers, asserting that teachers work far more hours than most full-time employees and receive, hour for hour, far less pay. Others believe we do nothing but “babysit” kids all day and then get a three-month vacation. But I’ve always believed that if you made teaching a high-paying job, it would attract the wrong kind of person to the profession. Because let’s face it: to be a teacher, you can’t really be selfish. Or greedy. Or materialistic. You wouldn’t last a day. You can’t apply a capitalist, profits-driven model to public education. We welcome all students – not one is turned away – regardless of whatever gifts or shortcomings they have, and we take them as far as we can. Period. We get no bonus for exceeding some quota of successful students. That’s proof enough that we don’t do it for the money. We do it because we love young people. I know, because I am a teacher, and so is Brandy. And not to toot our own horns, but teachers are givers, not takers. We’re givers – we give to students, give to our colleagues, and give to the community, maybe more than you know. And we don’t have a ton of resources with which to give, and neither, it seems, do the politicized entities who employ us. So we find a way to provide for each student’s needs, regardless of who’s in office or the political climate or whatever. We find a way because we love the kids.

And because public education is a non-profit enterprise, it needs to raise funds from time to time. That’s where organizations like the Harrisonburg Education Foundation come in. Their sole purpose is to supplement local, state, and federal support by raising funds to “award grants, provide scholarships, and support enrichment opportunities in the Harrisonburg schools” that otherwise might not be possible. And especially when money’s tight and budgets are slashed, Harrisonburg Education Foundation’s work becomes absolutely vital. They keep programs in place that might otherwise fall victim to a crappy economy and apathetic politicians. Harrisonburg students’ education is better because of HEF and the folks—companies and citizens alike—who graciously donate to it. With the help of volunteers and donors, they throw one humdinger of a party, celebrating everyone involved in our schools and collecting some much-needed funds, too.

HEF Gala Klines mill1 HEF Gala people collageSo Brandy and I were honored and excited to be invited to this year’s HEF Gala at the Barn at Kline’s Mill (one of Early Katering’s two venues). This place is lovely. Located in Linville, the Barn sits on ten gorgeous acres with inspiring views. It seats up to 250 people and can be used for all sorts of occasions, from weddings to family reunions. They have another location in town, on Evelyn Byrd Avenue, which seats about 120 and has a more traditional rather than rustic atmosphere. Or, they can cater your event wherever you desire to have it. Their menu is HUGE, and having attended several events catered by Early’s, I can safely say that every item is delicious. Being teachers who are used to wolfing down half a Lean Cuisine in 16.5 minutes each day, Brandy and I were probably more excited about the ample buffet than anything else.

We donned our country and western duds and drove on out to the barn for a fun evening of dancing, eating, drinking, socializing, and money-giving! I listened to Black Sabbath in the car beforehand to prepare for a heavy dose of country music, and on the way, we were greeted by this rainbow:

HEF Gala rainbowThe inside of the Barn is clad in beautiful, light-colored pine walls and lit with large, soft white globe lights. Scores of dining tables filled one side of the barn and a bar, food tables, bandstand, and dancing area comprised the other side. Plenty of room for mingling, glass clinking, face stuffing, and boot stomping.

HEF Gala auctionThe evening went like this: a silent auction, followed by a line-dancing lesson, and then a live auction, delightfully interspersed with meatballs and artichoke dip and fresh fruit and trips outside to gaze at the beautiful landscape and bleat at nearby sheep.

Dozens of businesses and individuals donated auction items, including
* Movie night for ten with popcorn
* Drum lessons
* Whine-and-Dine with the Superintendent
* a wagon full of gardening tools and supplies
* lift tickets to Massanutten
* several gift baskets (one for dogs, one for cats, one called Family Game Night, one called A Day at the Beach)
* exercise-related packages from RMH, Crossfit, Hot Yoga
* a river trip
* JMU tickets
* tutoring sessions
* tickets to HHS events
* and a whole bunch of other prizes. Like 60.

You could also purchase a bottle of wine for $20 and possibly win a prize that way! The line dancing was a hoot – the instructor yelled, “Grape vine! Kick! Stomp! Shimmy!” but the pupils did more like shuffle-bump into the person next to you-stumble-laugh… at first, anyway. Then they got the hang of it and were really quite good!

HEF Gala line dance1 HEF Gala line dance3Lots of people attended the party, and I couldn’t help but notice that many of them – most of them, probably – were teachers, raising funds for their own profession. And I wondered how many of them would drag themselves out of bed the next morning — Sunday — and go diligently to their classrooms to prepare a few more things for the week… taking time away from their own families to serve the greater good.

Look, there are still like three full weeks of school left, so if you (woopsie) forgot to appreciate a teacher last week, there’s still time. Trust me — we accept thank you’s, tokens of appreciation, and free stuff ANY TIME. If you don’t currently have a teacher, think back over the teachers of your past and surprise one of them. If you are a teacher, pat yourself on the back, pour a glass of wine, thank God the year’s almost over, and know that we love you, very very much!

HEF Gala outsideCopyright © 2012-14 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

won’t you take me to funkytown? collins center disco gala.

I love playing dress up.

As a kid, I did it a lot. See, my mom has worn the same size clothing for like 60 years, and so when she was 45 and I was 10, she had an impressive wardrobe spanning more than two decades–and two good ones at that… the sixties and seventies. I remember her long dresses and outrageous shoes, and I especially remember putting on every piece of costume jewelry contained in the top drawer of her dresser. Then I’d put Dolly in the stroller and push her around the house–in style.

As luck would have it, I am still the same size as my mom. And as luck would even more have it, she gave me some of those clothes years ago. The rest is gone… to rummage sales, to church clothing drives, and to avaricious neighbors who borrowed and perhaps forgot to return.

While I had my mom’s old 1974 maxi dress with the empire waist, Michael had a hard time scraping together an outfit. Even from his dad’s closet, which surprised me (no offense, Frank). So on Saturday, October 20, we set out on a mission: to find him some funky threads suitable for the Collins Center Disco Gala… which would start in less than four hours.

It didn’t take long. Butterfly collar–check. Garish blazer–check. Pimpish sunglasses–check. Extra-tight pants–check check! And as he put those shiny sunglasses on his face, I could almost hear his pants ripping.

Harrisonburg’s Beyond Restaurant and Lounge was transformed for one evening into Studio 54/The Soul Train when they hosted the 13th Annual Collins Center Disco Gala. People put on their most groovy garments (or some just dressed up and made the rest of us look silly!) for an evening of gettin’ down… but also to raise money for a beloved Harrisonburg organization.

The Collins Center used to be CASA (Citizens Against Sexual Assault). Though they’ve been in operation for more than twenty years, they changed their name in 2007 to honor Shirley Collins, a Harrisonburg resident who died from injuries sustained during a sexual assault back in 1987.

The Collins Center has increased its services and its presence in our community over the years. They provide victims of sexual violence medical, psychological, and legal assistance. They operate several programs dedicated to the prevention of violent crime, and they also help provide mental health services to residents in need. Lastly, their Child Advocacy Center offers treatment to children affected by abuse. The Annual Gala (now in its thirteenth year!) raises money for all these programs and more.

So Brandy donned her funky frock and met us at Beyond at about 6:30 that evening. While the cause is serious in nature, the atmosphere was anything but. Beyond was closed to the public that night but filled with revelers ready to sing and dance and eat in support of the Center. The bar downstairs stayed busy all evening, while servers strolled through with delicious little things on trays. Like chicken curry puffs. And little bitty crab cakes. And cucumbers with stuff.

Upstairs there was more food–a casual buffet of sushi, shrimp, cute little to-go boxes of yummy noodliciousness, and, my favorite–MEATBALLS. And I discovered something new–bacon-wrapped asparagus. Therefore, I learned something new–wrapping foods in bacon is a great way to get your kids to eat them. And, I love anything wrapped in bacon.

As more people arrived, dressed like they just stepped out of an episode of Baretta, Brandy and I started giving them nicknames–like “Sparkly Man,” “Pink and Black Superhero Girl,” and “Denim Leisure Suit Guy.” I wanted to ask him how Tennille was doing. I poke fun, yes, but I haven’t forgotten how I looked that night, trust me.

Upstairs was a silent auction comprised of seriously impressive donations from the event’s seventy-two (!) sponsors. Up for grabs were several paintings, Massanutten lift tickets, a ukelele, two toy baskets, a skateboard and passes to Westover Skate Park, several spa gift certificates, professional photo sessions, cosmetics, and much, much more. Someone had placed the wine baskets, chocolate assortment, and massage gift cards on the same table. I stood there for a little while.

The three of us went in on a $20 raffle ticket for a chance to win a thousand bucks. And there were only a hundred tickets sold, so we had a good chance! We did not win. Eh. Onto the live auction! This part was really exciting. To be honest, I’ve never actually attended an auction before. I’ve seen TV shows like Storage Wars and Auction Hunters, and I can see how easily one can be swept up in the excitement of bidding and beating that other guy over there who keeps trying to outbid me! The items up for bid were worth fighting over. Like the sunflower sculpture by Keith Morris. And the weekend at Snowshoe that fetched $400. Or the four Disney passes that went for $350, a pet portrait session for $275, or Rhoda Miller’s exquisite glass mosaic which brought in $475. People shouted and cheered and held up their numbers… auctioneer Justin Michael would get sooo close to saying “Sold!” and then another hand would go up. It was really quite something to see. Folks went home with some beautiful items and the satisfaction of helping a needed and cherished part of the Burg.

And what else can we say? After that, the music got loud, the dancing got wild, and the pen and camera were put away. Thanks for the memories!

Beyond Restaurant and Lounge is located downtown on Water Street by the garage. The Collins Center is downtown on Main, next to U Made It pottery and Clementine. Should you need them, you can reach them at 540-432-6430.

Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved · Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.