a wine-wine situation: rocktown wine and dine festival 2013. yow!

rocktown wine and dine crowdHarrisonburg’s getting pretty good at this festival thing. Between film festivals, music festivals, beer festivals, various heritage and diversity festivals, and wine festivals, you can be festive every month of the year in this town. I LOVE IT. The key to any great festival is inclusivity. Variety. Public interaction. The spirit of welcome. Makes sense that you’d find such qualities in full force on a Saturday afternoon in Harrisonburg.

Because of the awesome collaboration of our local businesses and organizations like Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, Bluestone Vineyard, and Downtown Wine and Gourmet, plus a host of local restaurants, and our always-reliable army of cheerful volunteers, citizens of and visitors to our city were able to enjoy a day where people, wines, and foods of all types engaged in merry mingling.

rocktown wine and dine tasting 1If you were there, you know the weather was absolutely perfect. Brandy, Michael, and I arrived promptly at 2:30, moved swiftly through the entrance line, and in a flash, had our stemless glasses in hand. We threw our stuff under the big tree and headed for the Turner Pavilion. There would be time for sitting later!

We headed for the nearest table, which happened to be number 6. There we found Bluestone Vineyard’s 2011 Rose paired with ( I know it sounds strange) Local Chop and Grill‘s Duck Fat Laced Local Watermelon cubes filled with Feta-Olive Mousse. I was a little wary at first… but then I ate like three cubes. Yes, watermelon and feta sounds like some kind of accidental spill, but those people know how to put flavors together! See? Integration. IT WAS DELICIOUS. We were off to a great start.

rocktown wine and dine watermelonWe got excited when we got to table 4 and saw the word “sriracha.” It’s getting to the point where I need it every day. Billy Jack’s offered a house-made crab cake with sriracha mayonnaise, paired with Don Manuel Chardonnay from William Harrison Wines. The fruity tones of the wine with the spicy crab cake were, again, luscious, and I started feeling a bit fancy.

rocktown wine and dine crab cakes 3Table 2 featured two of our favorites: Crosskeys Vineyards and Beyond Restaurant and Lounge. And I’m pretty sure as I approached the table, I let loose with a “Where are the meatballs?!” Cy kindly informed me that they were at the table across the way. “Beyond has two tables? Ohmygolly.” So we gladly ate the Crispy Vegetable Dumplings with house-made garlic and ginger soy sauce, paired with Crosskeys’ super-crisp and summery Joy White.

Next we got to sample my favorite meatballs in the universe, Beyond’s Teriyaki and Pineapple meatballs. The Tinto Negro Mendoza Malbec from Vineyard Brands was a soft, mild wine that didn’t compete with the meatballs, but complemented them. Which was probably wise because those meatballs kick butt. I remember that we lingered at that table for some time… til a plate of cheeseburgers went by.

rocktown wine and dine wontonrocktown wine and dine meatballsAt table 3, burgers sizzled on Jack Brown’s flat top grill while volunteers poured Edgebaston “The Pepper Pot” Red from Southern Starz Wines. Talk about a seamless integration…  succulent beef with spicy, peppery wine… it was warm as an electric Snuggie. I also liked their Nugan Third Generation Shiraz from Australia.

rocktown wine and dine burgersTable 5 should have sported a map of France. Albert Bichot Wines offered the Chateau Boussargues Cotes du Rhone Rouge (“house…sompn sompn sompn sompn… red”), which was tres délicieux, avec Cotes du Rhone Cured Duck Breast, Red Wine Salt, and Poached Local Apple-Fennel-Raisin Preserve from our Local Grill and Chop House. The combination was… how do you say? Sublime. Ah oui!

rocktown wine and dine crackerContinuing with the multi-cultural flair, because Harrisonburg is so good at integration, we left France and tried Union Station‘s Smoked Jamaican Jerk Chicken Breast with Pineapple Salsa, paired with the Cottonwood Creek Organic White from Bronco Wine Co. This wine was like line-dried linen; it was one of my favorites of the day. Clean and fresh and smooth and beachy. They also offered a Truck Red Blend, which of course we had to try.

Union Station also set up shop at table 8, where we tried their Smoked Pulled Pork Sliders and House BBQ Sauce. THOSE were excellent!! And they’re so cute and little, you can eat like six of them so fast there’s no time to feel guilty. We washed those suckers down with what I think wins the award for the most creatively described wine at the festival, the Senda 66 Tempranillo, offered by Frontier Imports. Here’s what the program said: “An exotic wine with aromas of graham cracker, blueberry, violet petal, and pastry. It feels lush, grabby, chewy, and slightly tannic with heavy flavors of clove, black licorice, savory berry, and baked plum.” Okay, they managed to get fruits, herbs, baked goods, flowers, and a touch of candy all in one bottle. I-N-T-E-G-R-A-T-I-O-N!

rocktown wine and dine pork 2The final two tables were hosted by Blue Nile. At table 9, we tried their Whole Lentils, Green Peppers, Chopped Lentils, and Bits of Injera tossed in Vinegar, Olive Oil, and Mustard. This dish had quite a kick, complemented nicely by the fresh, lemony Domaine de Ballade Blanc offered by Bourgeouis Family Wines (love that name!). We finished up with Small Vineyard’s Palama Arcangelo Negroamaro, a spicy Italian wine served with Blue Nile’s Collard Green, Stewed Onions, Garlic, and Ginger. The combination was lovely, and I thought it was cool to drink an Italian wine with my Ethiopian food.

rocktown wine and dine tasting 3Suddenly, it was 5pm, and we were ready to head to the lawn to hear the jazzy musings of the Rick Olivarez Trio, a band out of Charlottesville influenced by eastern European and French musicians, among others. Once out there in the sunshine, we saw more evidence of inclusivity. Chefs Alex and Jon were conducting cooking demonstrations. Their two dishes were Charleston Style Shrimp served on a Pan-Seared Grit Cake with Watercress and a Pomegranate-Thyme BBQ Glaze; and, Grilled Poundcake with Balsamic Marinated Strawberries. Well, I wasn’t going to miss that! Dozens of people stood around watching the demo, asking questions, and then being treated to a generous sampling. AND, Grilled Cheese Mania was there, too, in case you had a serious craving!

rocktown wine and dine musicrocktown wine and dine chef rocktown wine and dine chef 2rocktown wine and dine salad rocktown wine and dine skillet rocktown wine and dine strawberryrocktown wine and dine GCMAnother new thing this year? A beer garden. What?? Yes, a beer garden at the Wine Festival, provided by Specialty Beverage. This was a nice gesture to the companions of wine lovers who wanted to enjoy the festival together. Inclusivity! I love the idea of a beer garden. As if you can plant seeds and little taps will sprout up in your yard. Someone please invent that. So… why not? It was warm, I was thirsty, and there was corn hole. Beer and corn hole go hand in hand. Since we were a party of three, I teamed up with a total stranger to take on Michael and Brandy. And that’s how we spent the rest of our evening: playing corn hole, listening to great music, and making friends with strangers. Just another day in our friendly city.

rocktown wine and dine BEERrocktown wine and dine corn hole1rocktown wine and dine tasting 2 rocktown wine and dine tasting 5Thanks, Burg, for a beautiful day. Thanks to the volunteers, the vendors, the sponsors, and the organizers. You are very much appreciated, and very much a part of what makes our home special. A la vôtre!

rocktown wine and dine goofballsCopyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. 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.

loud & clear: MACRoCk 2013.

MACRoCk tee shirtOn Sunday, April 7, I saw this post on Facebook and laughed out loud:
macrock facebookIt was like 8pm.

Not surprising. God bless those folks who once again brought this two-day music conference and thousands of people to Harrisonburg. I can’t even imagine where to start putting something like that together. If I can get rice, chicken, and green beans to be ready at the same time, I’m impressed with myself.

We attended MACRoCk on Saturday, the second night. And actually, the day started early, at the Larkin Arts first-ever Art Market (read about that here). More than a dozen artists plunked their wares on tables outside the Denton building. It was sunny and bright, people were chatty and cheerful, and the burg was a-bustle with locals and visitors alike. A happy morning.

Many Nights AheadAfter a bit we made our way to the Blue Nile for the label expo, where we saw books and upcycled clothing, tee shirts, buttons and stickers, pottery and “animal-friendly taxidermy,” and, refreshingly, lots of vinyl.

Label ExpoLabel Expo Label ExpoThen Brandy had to scoot out for a bit, and Michael and I headed to the Dodger. By now it was 2:30. We’d already been downtown for four hours and had ten hours yet to go. When we arrived there, Pachangacha was on stage and the place was packed. We found a tiny sliver of space at the bar. It was funny to watch the crowd come and go. After Pachangacha finished, this massive throng of people vacated, chasing the next show, and some seats opened up. We quick planted ourselves at a table. We enjoyed a performance by Amanda X — three ladies out of Philly: Cat Park, Kat Bean, and Tiff Yoon. They released their first EP back in August. Have a listen! Then sure enough, the mass of spectators shoved through the doors, and this time we scored a booth!!

Artful DodgerNext up was a band from New York called Lvl Up whose latest album Extra Worlds had JUST been released that very day. And they were loud as ohmyfreakinears. In a good way. And with quiet segments that would build to some kind of sonic boom. They’ve got two guitars, a bass, and drums, and they took turns singing or sometimes all three of them sang. I heard a little hint of Weezer at times. They were really great, and it stands to reason that we liked the next band, too — Sirs — because the two bands share some band mates.

MACRoCk Dodger 8 MACRoCk Dodger6Seat update: After Lvl Up we snagged the coveted “circle booth” at the Dodger. We knew Brandy would be coming with Danielle and Ben, and I was right tickled to know that everyone would have a seat. So we moved ourselves and all our stuff one last time, and stayed there through two more bands.

Artful Dodger 3As I was saying, Sirs played next and then Monument, from Maryland. Both bands were awesome, freakishly loud, extraordinarily tight. Brandy (sporting her MACRoCk press pass…. eeeeeee!), Ben, and Danielle arrived and we all mouthed “hello” to each other. Then we had a conversation about where to go for dinner by passing around a spiral notebook. Yes, it was that loud. Louder even. I felt like I was stuffed with cotton. In a good way.

press passIt should come as a surprise to no one who ever reads this thing that we ended up at Beyond. I don’t remember a whole lot about our dinner conversation, probably because I couldn’t hear ANY of it. But a good portion of it was devoted to the fact that Beyond had just gotten a keg of Juju Ginger beer, and Brandy got THE FIRST GLASS OF THE SEASON. This was better than the press pass, I think.

Juju JujuWe also talked about the band descriptions in the MACRoCk program. Some of our faves:

Black Mask – If you’ve never been curb stomped, Black Mask is probably the closest you’ll come without doing the deed. Metallic hardcore from Punxsutawney, PA for fans of early Converge, Nails, and Black Breath. Makes you wanna puke blood in the best way.

Barbelith – Atmospheric depressive black metal inspired by the wrathful elder gods, soiled by the scummy streets of Baltimore.

Borrowed Beams of Light – Borrowed Beams are a soundtrack to the perfect sunny summer indie-rock barbeque that you and all of your friends want to get drunk at.

Dope Body – Noise-rock freakcore from Baltimore. Do you ever think that your punk could use a little more metal and your metal could use a little more funk and that your funk really should be garage rock and not funk? You’re on this band’s wavelength then. Noisy guitar spazzouts are cut with freak hybrids of punk and funk rhythms.

Legs Like Tree Trunks – Mellow guitars with a side of reverb-heavy twinkles and soft-sung, dreamy vocals. Sounds like taking your shoes off after a long day of work.

Shat Shorts (omg) – Very, very weird punk. Blends hardcore, noise-rock, and thrash into one ridiculously chaotic package. Rhythms jump and shift drastically, and this one guitar is just spazzing out the whole time.

Other than that, the only really notable part of the conversation was when Brandy asked, “Wait. Is Jimmy short for James?”
Beyond Restaurant Beyond sushi

fansUnlike the hordes of people who zigzagged through downtown, moving in and out of venues like kids on a scavenger hunt, we tended to stay a while. So our second and last stop of the evening was Court Square Theater, where we saw Wynter Poe, Half Circles, and Timbre. That place is so comfy, what with its cushioned rocking chair-ish seats, age-defying lighting, and beer, there’s just no good reason to leave. We got there at about 7:15 and found seats on the front row. Good for photographs, and good for leg room.

Wynter Poe was unexpectedly awesome. I mean, we really had no expectations, but she impressed the crowd. The band — four people including Wynter — played at least five instruments: a couple of guitars, a bass, drums, a dulcimer. Here and there they sounded a bit like The Sundays, and Wynter’s vocal quality reminded me of Christina Perri. Other than that, the band defies comparison.

Wynter Poe Wynter PoeWynter Poe Wynter PoeIt was fun to see Half Circles, an eclectic Harrisonburg band who played far more instruments than they collectively had hands for. The guitar at times smacked of The Cure; another description that comes to mind is “bluesy Smashing Pumpkins,” but neither of those comparisons can pin down their multi-dimensional sound because suddenly there’d be a melodica or a xylophone or a flute to change my mind. Honey-laced vocals by Dan Baker and the unassuming, hands-in-pockets Amanda Styer led each tune and provided a solid foundation for their instrumental concoctions.

Half Circles Half CirclesWe fell in love with Timbre last year and couldn’t wait to see her again. And hear her, too, of course. But part of a live show is the visual aspect. And when one band member is seated behind a cello, one is seated behind a harp, and one behind a drum kit, you might not expect much in terms of a visual experience. BUT, that cellist was amazing to watch, Timbre looked beautiful in her gown behind that gleaming harp, and the drummer (who played a gorgeous wooden Whitney kit) actually danced while he played. They were all obviously quite happy on stage and love what they do. So they looked great. Add to that their incredible, crystal clear sound. They are made for live performance because their hypnotic music fills the space so well.

Timbre TimbreAdd to THAT their lyrics. Lines like “No one will know you long enough to sing your song back to you when you’ve lost the tune” juxtaposed with “Pain can be beautiful, my dear.” And a song inspired by the George MacDonald story “The Day Boy and the Night Girl” about light and dark and how they came to discover each other. The song centers around her perspective, from her dark cave. Her lamp, and the only light she’s ever known, breaks. She finds a way out of the cave and sees the moon for the first time. Then she meets Day Boy, and he shows her the sun. She wants the light, even if it hurts or kills her. He wants to be unafraid of the dark. They need each other’s strength. As the song says, “If I have seen only the night, can I imagine the day?” We see what we know; we know what we see. Sometimes we must step out blindly, even when it’s scary.

And on that “note,” (oh, ha!), we stepped out into the dark night with the moon shining and music playing in the distance and people laughing and our minds buzzing and our ears ringing. In a good way.

See you next year, MACRoCK!!

Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. 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 · ilovemyburg.com. 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.

your presents requested: beyond restaurant and lounge.

This is one of those posts where the photos tell more of the story than the words. Because in a crowd of people, one can only observe so much. The camera, though–well, nothing escapes it. Here’s a little foreshadowing, heh heh:

The plan was conceived weeks earlier. Danielle and I were completely idea-less for birthday gifts for Brandy. She’s not really a materialistic person–she lives simply, she doesn’t have a lot of stuff… Last year I got her a gift certificate to The Studio Salon and Day Spa, which she liked, but I didn’t want to repeat that. And really, she appreciates people and experiences more than objects or possessions. I figured a group of us would go out to eat somewhere, probably get some sushi… And that’s when I thought of it–a gift that contains people + food + experience.

So I emailed Praserth at Beyond Restaurant and Lounge, and–what the heck, it was worth a shot–asked if he or one of their sushi chefs would come to my house and teach Brandy to make her favorite sushi. And to my delight and squealing excitement, he agreed! WOW!!

Danielle and I went about inviting some folks (I really only had room for about ten people for this kind of thing), all of whom very enthusiastically accepted AND showed up, and we picked up a few appetizers and such around town. All Brandy knew was that her birthday present was “happening” at my house at 5ish. A few days earlier she had somehow tricked me into playing twenty questions, and before I figured out what she was doing, I had answered like ten questions… but thankfully she still didn’t figure it out and I managed not to flake and spill the beans.

That day, Anneke and Danielle came over early to help set up. :)

Then Praserth rolled in and took over my kitchen like he makes sushi in strangers’ houses every day.

All the guests arrived including the birthday girl, and the party started. First Praserth told us what rolls we’d be making: the Dukes, New Orleans, Japanese Breakfast, California, and White Knight. Then he gave us some pointers.
1. It’s easier to roll sushi with gloves on.
2. Lube up your glove with oil so it doesn’t stick to the sticky rice.
3. Pressure is important. Apply too little pressure and the roll will fall apart; squeeze too tight and stuff will come out the end (oh lawdy).
4. When you cut the roll, dip your knife in water first. Cut til it gets stuck ( ! ), and then dip your knife again.

Wait, now I know what everyone was giggling about! Geez! Poor Praserth–in front of an audience of women+Todd Yoder.

Anyhoo, after the demo, we all got a turn, and then we got to eat what we’d made! It was sooooo much fun! :)

Around seven, Praserth was done with the lesson; we thanked him and bade him farewell. We sang “happy birthday” and ate yummy cake.

We sat around and giggled. Brandy opened her presents. Then someone broke out my copy of Cake Wrecks (if you haven’t seen this book and/or website, stop reading this and do it now) and we laughed our butts off at that for a while. Rachel Herr especially liked it because, well, she’s a baker, you know.

…if that IS your “real name”

I also have Awkward Family Photos, which is so awkward at times it’s almost hard to laugh at it. Well, not really. We laughed pretty hard. And then we started googling “awkward” everything and anything and found all sorts of things. I highly recommend “awkward graduation photos” and “awkward pet photos.”

Ultimately, those who remained ventured downstairs to the basement where we had a pillow fight. Ha! Just kidding. But I did end up wearing my pet rabbit in a sling.


I guess the moral of the story is that you don’t have to go anywhere fancy or exotic to provide a memorable experience for someone’s birthday. You can stay right here in Harrisonburg and see what services our local businesses are willing to provide, even if it’s something they don’t usually do. Thanks again to Beyond for going above and… beyond. What a treat!!

Photo credits: Brandy Somers, Danielle Campbell, Rachel Herr, Todd Yoder. Stay tuned for more photos!!

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

down by the river no. 22: riven rock park.

Like I’ve said before, something strange always happens.

It was a spur-of-the-moment plan. The air was thick, and the day was hotter than two cats fighting in a wool sock. Still a week before Westover Pool opens, and the kids and I were craving water. The sprinkler–even the fancy one with twelve settings–just wasn’t gonna cut it.

So I decided to take the kids to Riven Rock Park for a cool dip in the river. I texted Brandy, and she agreed to meet us there with Blake and Ella after they finished up at a friend’s birthday party. We got there first. The park was busy. Not overly crowded, but lively. Lots of families with the same idea.

So you’ve read a few paragraphs now and might be wondering, “Where the heck are the photos??” Well, you see… about that…

Brandy and her kids arrived. We saw them pull in and ran to greet them. And amidst the hugs “hello” and the retrieval of bags and towels and such from her car, she–woopsie–locked her keys and phone (a.k.a, the “river camera”) in the trunk. You KNOW that oh-my-gosh-i’m-a-complete-idiot-i-can’t-believe-i-just-did-that feeling. We’ve all had it. In fact, one time I flushed all my keys down a public toilet. It SUCKS, that feeling. Then she remembered her spare key, tucked up under the car somewhere. See? It pays to think of these things. Only the key was severely eroded and bent, and it nearly broke off in the door lock (but it didn’t, thank heavens!), and so we were back to that horrible hyphenated feeling. <sigh> Seeing as how we were all there, and the kids were dying to get in the water, and even with my phone we couldn’t have called anyone because we were out of cell range, and it was just too darn hot to stand there and worry about it, we decided to enjoy some time there and deal with it later.

Our first plunge into the frigid water involved lots of slipping and falling and shrieks and giggles. For some reason that now escapes my memory, we decided to cross the river (not very wide, maybe thirty feet, and only shin deep), and I swear it took half an hour to help four kids teeter across. Then–yep–we had to go back across. Still, along the way we saw a crawdad or two and some minnows, and we were refreshed by the cool water, the warm sun, and the beautiful surroundings. After that tiring endeavor, we got out and hiked up the trail a bit. On the way back down, Brandy spotted a place where a calm, three-feet deep pool had formed, surrounded by nice trees and rock formations and some mild rapids downriver from us. Blake and Bree jumped right in and were able to swim around. Cal is a bit short and couldn’t touch the bottom, so I hauled that fifty-pound boy up on my hip and used a giant stick (a branch, really) to balance myself on the slippery river bottom. We were going along just fine until Cal got wiggly, and I got slightly off kilter and lost my footing… and then lost one flip flop… and then lost my stick. By now Cal had practically climbed on top of my head to get to safety, but thankfully, my feet found a grip and we were all fine. Sheesh.

So it was time to finally deal with the car situation… the kids were tired and starving (and the adults, too), and we’d all had enough sun. The car thing turned out to be no big deal at all. We piled into my car and drove back into cell phone range, called AAA, let the kids play on a playground while we waited (not long at all), drove back to the park, got the car unlocked, swung by Beyond for some sushi (by the way, I realized on the way to Beyond that I was wearing a bikini top and a wet skirt. Woops. I actually called to see if they just wanted to meet me in the street, but they were cool with it.), picked up some pizza, came back to my house and enjoyed a very much deserved feast on my deck. Hence, these photos–the only proof you have that any of this actually took place.

okay, so imagine we are standing on the bank of the river, and not on my front porch.

sooooo freakin’ hungry.

gone in like ten minutes.

a warm spring evening on the deck.

all that worry and sweat and she’s still this pretty.

konked out before she even got home.

So, you’ll have to visit Riven Rock Park and see for yourself. Just be careful not to lock yourself out of your car, slip on the rocks, or lose your stick. But even if you do, it’ll still be a great day.

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

city legend gets a different drummer no. 20: bongo restaurant and lounge.

Something strange always happens.

Brandy and I were excited to attend the invitation-only pre-grand opening on April 18 of Bongo Restaurant and Lounge on South Main Street in Harrisonburg. We were greeted at the door by a friendly hostess who pointed us in the direction of the bar. Once settled on our stools, we ordered a couple of drinks and started chatting it up. Servers carried trays of appetizers around the busy restaurant while people mingled, laughed, and enjoyed themselves. It was a very comfortable atmosphere.

I turned to grab a quesadilla from one server’s tray when I heard her say, “Ms. Mitchell! I haven’t seen you in years!” It was Jordan, a former student of mine from way back when. I was instantly reminded of the time she helped me break up a fight between two kids at my school years ago…. Scratch that, she didn’t help me—she did it single-handedly while I stood there helplessly screaming, “Ladies!” at the two girls rolling around on the floor outside my classroom. It was a strange scene—the two girls were engaged in an all-out brawl complete with eye gouging and hair pulling… in total silence. It was like two mimes fighting. I asked a male student nearby to help me break it up and he just smiled and said, “No way.” Heh heh. And just when I was going to push the red oh-dear-Lord-someone-get-down-here-and-help-me button on the wall, Jordan sailed in (in my memory, she’s glowing and moving in slow motion) and ripped them off of each other. When I got back from walking the two girls up to the office, I noticed clumps of hair all over the floor. Ick. After that school year, I didn’t see Jordan again until this night. Small world.

Originally Lloyd’s Steakhouse (and same owners), Bongo serves traditional American classics and Latin American food. To guarantee a successful reinvention of the establishment, they hired celebrity chef Ricardo Cardona  to shape the menu and train the staff. Hailing from New York City where he serves as head chef to the New York Yankees and owns four Manhattan restaurants, Cardona brings twenty-five years of experience and skill to our friendly city. He even stars in the TV show Mission Menu, and Brandy and I got to interview him!!

But first we settled in at the bar to sample the goods. The all-girl bar staff offered three specialty drinks—a margarita, Bongo Punch, and sangria—as well as a few varieties of beer and wine. As this was their preliminary opening, they had a limited menu, but now their menu (they serve lunch and dinner) is extensive and they have a full bar. For their complete menu, visit the Bongo web site. We nibbled on all sorts of lovelies prepared by Chef Cardona, including chicken quesadillas with guacamole and sour cream; chicken and beef empanadas (what happy, puffy triangles!); the Bongo burger; meat on a stick with barbeque sauce; and chicken skewers, with which I managed to stab my tonsil. By the end of our binge we had quite a collection of sharp, pointy sticks, but before Brandy could get a photo, our conscientious bartender scooped ‘em all up.

Before long we were invited into the kitchen to meet Chef Cardona. We didn’t want to bring all our purses and raincoats and such into the kitchen, so we left our seats at the bar and asked a group of strangers to watch our stuff. Eh. It is the Friendly City, after all.

We introduced ourselves. “I do the photos!” Brandy announced. “I do the writing!” I added. And Chef Cardona replied, “I do the cooking… and the yelling!” He was a bit busy, so Brandy took a few photos and we got out of his hair.
A bit later he was able to sit down with us in a separate room, the lounge. The lounge is a really large room with an urban, swanky feel. A long
bar runs along the front half of the room with tons of seating in an adjacent dining area; the back half of the room is a spacious dance floor and a DJ booth. They host dance parties on Thursday and Friday nights—Thursday nights are for college students only—and Latin dancing on Saturday nights.

We were so excited to sit down with Chef Cardona, although he had just a few minutes before he had to get back to the kitchen. He explained to us that his role at Bongo is that of consultant. He lives in New York, where, as mentioned earlier, he owns several restaurants but also consults with other restaurants in hopes of improving them, which is the premise for his upcoming show, Mission Menu. The show’s five cast members, including Cardona, find restaurants in need of help and overhaul their menus to bring in new life and flavor. Cardona has done this for Bongo, too. He consults with the Bongo staff on a bi-weekly basis to help them consistently provide delicious and interesting food and build a strong customer base.
Since he’s spent so much time in the Burg, we had to ask him… “What’s your favorite restaurant here?” (Other than Bongo, of course.) He hedged a bit, stating that we have many, many wonderful restaurants (yay, Burg!!!), but his favorite is Clementine, with Beyond getting “high marks,” too. Ya can’t argue with that, can ya, Praserth?
So after lots of delicious food and a fun chat with the chef, it was time for us to call it a night. Thanks, Bongo, for the lovely evening. Visit them soon at 2455 South Main next to Kline’s Dairy Bar, open Tuesday through Thursday til 9pm, and Friday through Sunday til 2am.

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

sushi and the city no. 5: beyond.

I’ve been trying to keep this under wraps, but I can’t live with this secret any longer. I’ve got a clandestine obsession… an addiction almost… to meatballs. And not just any. It’s those saucy, spicy, cute little teriyaki and pineapple meatballs at Beyond. On their menu, they’re called simply “Meatballs.” They should be called “Holy-Moly-I-Could-Eat-Ten-Orders-Of-These-Things Meatballs.” That’s just my opinion.

Brandy and I frequent this place… well, frequently, and not just for the food. I mean, the sushi (and meatballs) is the number one reason we go, but there are other reasons: birthday parties, bachelorette parties, revenge parties, and good ole’ girl talk. In fact, on this particular evening, we sorta forgot our purpose for going—this post—and fell into our usual Beyond habits—talking, sharing, laughing, and eventually crying… which ALWAYS happens. Not sure why, but I think it has to do with sharing food. Their menu is broad and varied—there’s truly something for everyone—but it also contains many items that are easily shareable. So there’s a sense of commune in that place, of being one with the food and the people and the surroundings… very Zen, if I may say so. And so there we were, eating and catching up with each others’ lives, taking few photos and notes. Sure, it’s less material for the blog, but it’s more material for our friendship.

Angry Salmon

We ordered the Curry Puffs—really delish; the Meatballs—I ate them all before Brandy even uncapped the lens (sorry); and two rolls: the Dukes and the Angry Salmon, both of which are excellent. We also like the White Knight, the Danny roll, and Japanese Breakfast. When the food arrived, we also ended up with the Rainbow… we’re not sure why, but let’s just call it karma. That’s a lot of food for two small people, and I was ready to curl up under the bar and take a little nappy-poo.

The Rainbow

To drink I had a Fat Tire Amber draft and Brandy had a Blue Moon, which is what she orders when there’s no Juju Ginger beer. Now, it’s not Beyond’s fault—Juju is one of those “limited production” seasonal beers, and when it does make it to the burg, you’ve gotta be pretty sly to get to it before Brandy. To Beyond’s credit, they did go to extra-great lengths to have it on hand for her birthday party last June.

The highlight of the evening was hearing Dan sing The Cranberries song “Zombie” every time he made that drink. “… what’s in your head? in your head? zombie, Zombie, ZOMBAY-AY-AY!” Thanks for the ear worm, Dan. Just kidding. We love ya!

Beyond is located on Water Street across from Shank’s Bakery. Oh, and here’s the recipe for a Zombay-ay-ay:

1/2 oz Bacardi® 151 rum
1 oz pineapple juice
1 oz orange juice
1/2 oz apricot brandy
1 tsp sugar
2 oz light rum
1 oz dark rum
1 oz lime juice