gone cuba diving: cuban burger!

restaurant signSomehow this summer I just didn’t get enough “Brandy time.” Maybe we really hadn’t seen each other in a while, or maybe it just felt that way because summer FLEW by, but here we were, the last weekend before returning to work, and we felt compelled to squeeze in a quick dinner before life turned upside down again.

Don’t get me wrong, we had some great times in the burg this summer. Dinner at the Chop House, canoeing, Valley Fourth, Grilled Cheese Mania, Ten Thousand Villages, the Cupcake Company… but we had some misses, too. I missed Art Lotto (dammit!!) because I was at the beach (yay!!), she had some weddings and little trips out of town, and for a few weeks we just barely saw each other at all. I was soooo excited to finally sit down with her again (and a plate of food) and catch up! And Cuban Burger was calling our names.

Michael and I met Brandy, Ben, Blake and Ella there and they quickly accommodated our party of six. The place looks great. If you haven’t been in yet, they occupy what was Wine on Water (and Cuban Burger operated out of there in the beginning) and the All Things Virginia shop. The bar is located on the Wine on Water half, and the dining room extends into the Virginia shop half. Once we arrived, people filled all the tables and we watched with drooling eyes as plate after plate of sumptuous food passed us. A large mural of Cuba covers one rustic brick wall, and Zac Nafziger’s stained glass glimmers in front of a light fixture. Everything is neat and clean, yet warm.

people sitting at bar server taking orderFirst, we caught up on all the news. This just in: Brandy’s dryer shorted out. “How shocking,” Michael chirped, followed by about eight more electrical puns, like “switch” and “short” and “wired.” Finally he put a “plug” in it. Ha. Thankfully Brandy’s house and clothes are all fine. Then we talked about Art Lotto. I’d gone into the Dodger when I returned from the beach to see the portraits. Amazing. They’re still up, if you haven’t seen them yet, and you can see photos of the event at the Art Lotto site. Talking about all that talent led us to Rachel Herr, who was featured in a recent issue of Edible magazine!! (Go to the link, click on the cover with the multi-colored pepper on it, and you can see the article on page 30.) Yay, Rachel! Brandy and I both noted her ability to just “know” when two (or ten) seemingly opposing ingredients will work together. Rachel’s a MacGyver in the kitchen, plain and simple. And Brandy has a bit of this instinct, too. When baking Ben’s birthday cake recently, she realized she was out of vegetable oil, but what did she have handy? Fresh bacon grease. Worked out fine. Put that in your recipe file, people.

The food arrived and we dove in. Michael and I both ordered the Buenos Dias… a burger containing beef and pork, topped with bacon (!), a fried egg (!!), CHEESE, and little matchstick fries. I pretty much ingested my three-meals-a-day in one sitting. I like efficiency. Thankfully the server cleared our empty plates before we licked them.

server serving food burger with riceBlake got the Original burger, and declared it was “the best burger I’ve ever eaten.” Brandy and Ben shared the El Jefe, a burger topped with assorted meat. Brandy quickly admitted that sharing was a mistake, and one she won’t make again. The food, all of it — the burgers, the rice, the fries, the bacon-garnished grits — was unbelievably delicious. Flavorful, cooked to perfection, succulent, and whatever other synonym you can think of. I remember thinking that if I worked within walking distance of that place, I’d have a real problem on my hands, and I felt grateful yet devastated that I don’t. Still, I find myself thinking of when I can get in there again. Lord, that food was good.

burger with gritsThe server asked if I wanted another Sol. Hmmmm… two souls. Wouldn’t that be convenient. That’s when, on the recommendation of our server, Brandy ordered a Caipirinha. It’s the national cocktail of Brazil, containing sugarcane liquor, sugar, and lime. All he had to do was say “mushed up” and Brandy was sold. It, too, was delicious. They have a full bar and offer lots of specialty drinks, and personally, I was comforted by their ample beer selection. And not that it matters all too much, because I’d probably pay $50 for another Buenos Dias right now, but it’s all very affordable.

drinks on a table bartender with shakerCuban Burger, we are so glad you’re back. We needed you. You can find Cuban Burger on West Water Street (next to Beyond). Go hungry!

street scene restaurantCopyright © 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.

thanks a brunch: taste of downtown at clementine.

It occurred to me as I parked the car and dashed through the rain with my kids that we’ve had a pretty rainy spring and summer. And I have proof of it right here in these pages. It rained when we covered Bongo Restaurant, it rained A LOT at the Rocktown Beer and Music Festival, and it absolutely poured at First Friday in June at the Yellow Button. It rained at Fridays on the Square with the Judy Chops, and when we visited Cat’s Cradle, and for Blake’s LEGO Art in the Park. The rain just barely held off for the Brew-B-Que and for Art Lotto, but the Caleb Stine show was rainy, and so was our latest adventure. As a teacher, I can only hope this moisture continues and translates into feet of snow this winter. !

We decided to go to Clementine Cafe last Sunday because Taste of Downtown was coming to an end and their brunch deal looked really good: one of three brunch dishes plus a carafe of Bloody Mary or Mimosa for $12. The choices were two eggs cooked to order, a frittata, or a burrito, each with side items. We couldn’t choose, as usual, so we got one frittata–it has avocado–and one burrito–it has spicy yumminess. Plus one of each carafe. And the kids split an order of pancakes. It was all delicious–fresh and cooked perfectly and just the right amount.

We gobbled it down quickly and finished up what the kids left behind. They’d brought along a veritable arts and crafts station, what with scissors, paper, tape, markers–and they worked happily for quite some time, but then they got  antsy, and Brandy and I still had lots of chit-chatting to do, so she sent them on a scavenger hunt!

Some of the items they had to find and draw a picture of were
* something blue (a painting called “Jupiter Storms”)
* something green (a skull and crossbones)
* something related to children (some sort of winged, cherub-like angel thing)
* something small (we can’t remember that one, or make out the drawing)
* something related to food but not edible (a blender)
* the names of two people who work there (for this, Bree wrote down “Sit on it!” Ouch!)
* their favorite piece of art (the drawing looks like a fish with giant teeth, but I can’t guarantee that).

That kept them busy and also gave them a chance to explore the place, including the upstairs bathroom. Have you seen it? With its luxurious velvety chair and that sleek sink? That was Bree’s favorite thing in the whole joint. That and the disco ball.

But there’s more about Clementine that we love:
1. The avocado-bacon burger, which is usually what I order when I’m there. It’s the best I’ve ever had, hands down.
2. The portions. They give you just enough food, so that you don’t have to wrap it up or waste it. And then you can enjoy dessert without being “full up to the collarbone.”
3. They use the local-est ingredients they can, and if that means rotating seasonal items in and out of the menu, that’s what they do. Fresh and local are priorities.
4. Music. Between the two of us, Brandy and I have seen zillions of great shows there, from Yarn and Larry Keel and Steel Wheels to Caleb Stine and Andy Friedman and Invisible Hand, and two of my favorite bands I saw first at Clementine: Lake Street Dive and Kopecky Family Band.
5. While we’re on that topic, Brandy appreciates the restaurant’s use of color: the brightly painted stage backdrop unlike no other, and even the use of complimentary colors outside (yellow and purple). Brandy uses a photo of the storefront when she teaches that concept in her art classes.

6. And let’s not forget Ruby’s Lounge downstairs and their awesome specialty nights. Tuesday through Thursday you can find $2 and $3 specials!
7. The beautiful new patio!
8. We also like how they advertise tons of local events and happenings in the lobby. Clearly, they love their burg, too. :)

We finished our carafes and gossip and waited out the rain as long as we could, but it just didn’t seem to stop that day. You can join them for brunch on Sundays from 10 – 3pm. If you don’t want to wait that long, you can come tonight at 9–Chris Howdyshell will be making a bunch of noise with a mess of people… Or Blue Rock on Saturday night… should be pretty fun. See you out and about!

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.

serving up simple: jack brown’s beer and burger joint.

It was an unplanned outing. If fact, we were already “outing” when I had an attack of burger desire so severe that we had to march straight to Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint.

The place is usually pretty busy, partly because it’s small, yes, but also because it’s a great place. So my burgerdesire attack nearly turned into a panic attack when we saw no available seats at the bar or unoccupied tables. Thankfully, a kindhearted fellow named Phil must’ve sensed my desperation and invited us to sit at his table. The Friendly City :)

Jack Brown’s serves hamburgers, cheeseburgers, several specialty burgers (like the Chiflet, the Elvis, and the Greg Brady), fries, and of course, their legendary fried Oreos. Did I say beer? Oh, yes, and beer. The special that day: The Big Jack. I ordered it with a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Brandy had a Paulaner and the Shocker–an innocuous-looking little number with jalapenos on it.

crinkle fries always make me smile and think of my first grade teacher.

The Big Jack has two patties, ample cheese, and lots of sauce. It’s one of those “can’t put it down burgers,” because if you do, you look like a 15-month-old in a high chair trying to pick that messy thing back up.

Here are some things we love about Jack Brown’s:
1. It’s simple. They manage to offer 100+ beers accompanied by a simple menu of burgers. This clearly shows they have their priorities straight. If you want wings, you can walk two doors south to their sister restaurant, Billy Jack’s Wing and Draft Shack.
2. The disco ball that hangs in a space with no room to dance. Unless you dance on the bar. And maybe that’s how all those bras got up there.

3. Expensive wallpaper. Har har.

4. The Utfart sign that hangs near the restroom. And maybe there is an exit back there (“utfart” is Swedish for “exit”), but it makes more sense for it to mean “restroom.” I traveled to Europe a couple of times and I can’t tell you how many times I saw the utfart sign and thought it was a restroom. Silly Americans. I’m 40 and I still giggle at the word “fart.” Geez.

Jack Brown’s with its cozy interior and mellow patio is a good choice for lunch, dinner, or an obscure beer variety. Not to mention their 100-Notch Club and frequent FIELD TRIPS to Virginia breweries. !!! Visit them at 80 South Main Street, Harrisonburg. They’re open 11am to 2am daily.

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.

beers, burgers, and broads no. 17: capital ale house.

Not everyone knows this, but I struggle sometimes when making decisions. This is why I hate to shop–I love everything and it’s hard for me to choose. I’ve gone to shoe stores and tried on twenty pairs, only to walk out empty-footed. I’ve had eight paint samples taped to my living room wall for two years. Recently I had to buy a TV to replace my old, broken Sony, and the only thing that saved me from complete paralysis was that the store was closing in twenty minutes and I had to decide.

So when presented with the beer menu at Capital Ale House, I felt a smidge overwhelmed. You can see it here–it’s a freakin’ PDF, for Pete’s sake. Thankfully, it’s organized by type of beer, so as not to make my party wait thirty minutes while I read every word, I went straight to the IPA department and chose Devil’s Backbone. Very nice. Brandy ordered an Allagash and we were on our way. Crisis averted.

The charming and hospitable Griffin Johnson delivered our brews and told us a bit about the place. We had a minor debate about whether we could truly call it a “local” business–that is the focus of this blog, after all–but, as the restaurant originated in Richmond ten years ago, and as we liked it an awful lot, and as we’d already ordered beer and taken photos, we decided it was local enough. Turns out there are three other locations: Innsbrook, Midlothian, and Fredericksburg, all opened after the original downtown Richmond store. At our Capital Ale House, you can also make use of their banquet space, darts and billiards, and rooftop deck.

While we waited for our food, Brandy asked Griffin if she could get some exclusive shots of the heart of the establishment: the coveted Keg Room. Griffin replied, “Oh, yeah. I’ll take you back there.” Rowl. No, not because Brandy was alone with the charming and hospitable Griffin, but because she got to be alone with ALL THOSE KEGS.

The food arrived and it was delicious. Brandy had the Smokehouse Chicken Burger, which draped abundantly over its bun, and I had the Baja Burger, which I affectionately renamed “Guac-a-Mobile.”

I love guacamole and any vehicle that delivers it to my mouth. It was so good, I laughed: “BAJAJAJAJAJAJAJA!” Oh, dear. Actually, it was so good that we got window-stalked by a couple of passersby. What are YOU lookin’ at??

Just kidding. We know them.

And just when we thought we were wrapping up our evening at Capital Ale House, the lovely Sarah Murphy appeared and joined us.

So we ordered another round and, after much lively conversation, found ourselves hungry again and shared this giant piece of chocolate cake.

And by the end of the outing, I was feeling quite smitten, with my friends and the conversation we shared, with the warm radiance of the bar and my full belly, with the sin of chocolate cake, with my sweet city, and with that glorious keg room.

Thank you, Capital Ale House. We’ll see you again soon. That’s an easy decision to make.

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.

terminally harrisonburg no. 11: union station.

Katie and Jen

You know how it is when winter starts to lift. You’ve finally taken down the Christmas decorations, just in time for St. Patty’s day; daylight streams into your house at a different slant and intensity; your kids have been bickering for weeks, having been cooped up with each other since October; and you’re going crazy. That’s how it was a couple of weeks ago for Brandy, Jen, Danielle, and me. When I drove away from the sitter’s house on that chilly but bright afternoon, I breathed a sigh of relief that stretched across the entire city. An evening with the girls–finally! Even if only til 7pm. Even better, it happened to be Harrisonburg’s Taste of Downtown week. This glorious event in Harrisonburg provides an opportunity to try local cuisine–lunch and/or dinner–for seven days in a row and snag some really good deals. Right now, while you’re thinking about it and before you read any further, mark your calendar for August 12 – 18–the next Taste of Downtown week.

We decided on Union Station. They were offering a specialty burger (a different one each night of the week) served on a frisbee plus four 4-ounce draft beers, all for $12.    $12!!!   (They offer this special every Monday, by the way, but I can’t guarantee which burger they’ll feature.) The specialty burger this night had Girls’ Night Out written all over it: a patty topped with spinach, feta, and tomato. And we got to choose which four beers we sampled. That evening they offered Stella Artois, Dogfish IPA, Hoegaarden, Weeping Radish, Jefferson Reserve, Brooklyn Lager, and Legend Lager.
The beers were served on cute wooden paddles, which took me back to my elementary school days. Ah, public school in South Carolina. My second grade teacher–yes, YOU, Mrs. Ross–paddled me one day for sharpening my pencil without asking permission. In my defense, it was my FIRST DAY of school in South Carolina, having recently moved from New Jersey, and I didn’t know the pencil sharpening policies. Nor had I ever seen a paddle in my life. You can imagine my surprise when she came up behind me and hit me with that thing–I scraped my forehead on the pencil sharpener, screamed “STOP KILLING ME!” and ran like some kind of wild animal up and down the hall, just trying to get OUT OF THAT CRAZY PLACE. My dad had to pick me up early… it was a mess. Years later, Mrs. Ross moved into my neighborhood. I bet there’s STILL toilet paper hanging from her trees. Nevertheless, I went back to school the day after that fiasco, and here I am today. Ta-da! Anyway, that memory faded as the beer glasses emptied and our conversation turned to other topics. Girl topics. Like that show The Biggest Loser. How much Jillian Michaels scares us, how no one liked that one blonde trainer (Kim Lyons), and how Bob is just awesome.
At this point my memory gets blurry and my notes sparse… apparently I said a few embarrassing things you won’t read here. That’s the advantage of being the writer, see? When I say something stupid, it doesn’t get recorded. I vaguely remember Brandy saying something like, “I wish I was writin’ this crap!” Sorry. Heh heh! But when I got home, I found spinach in my teeth. Ah, karma.

Then “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac came on, and I thought of my dad, and then there were some tears. And Jen nearly broke her glass. Finally Cassie Baker–owner of Union Station–came over and organized our conversation.

Katie, Danielle, Jen, and Cassie
(Brandy's behind the lens)

When Cassie bought the property, she spent some time researching its history and wanted to do all she could to preserve that history for her clientele. She certainly succeeded there. Not only is the building beautifully renovated with many architectural details of the 1930s and 40s, but the servers at the restaurant provide brief lessons about certain historical landmarks around the city. Union Station was the name of a train depot built by B&O in 1911. It was actually located where the jail now stands. The Wetsel Seed Company purchased the property in 1944 and retained ownership of it until eminent domain rendered it city property in 1991. If you’ve not been there, it’s truly a beautiful restaurant, with a large dining area, an ample bar, a cute backroom, and a new banquet room that can seat 65.

dining room

We couldn’t leave without asking about the big math error in that back room.

1991 - 1911 does not = 89.

Cassie told us it was just a joke left by the painters, long ago.

It was nearing seven o’clock and we all had to get back to our real lives. We were so silly that evening we knew we had tons of ridiculous photos to share with you all. That reminded us of the photo of Brandy and me at Beyond in which Brandy thinks she looks like a man (puh-lease!), and I feel I have too much flesh between my sternum and my chin. What is it with my excessive neck-y-ness?? Ugh! Jen sternly told me, “Oh, Katie, that’s just your throat!” Well, that doesn’t make it any better, friend. So, thanks for reading and not looking (click here and scroll all the way down). And for the rest of this week, we’ll feature more photos we wish didn’t exist.

Union Station is located on the corner of Liberty and Market Street (Rt. 33) in downtown Harrisonburg. See you there soon!