bite me… please: rocktown bites.

burgIMG_2897You know, I feel I know my city pretty well. I’ve been to lots and lots of local restaurants and businesses, many of which you’ve read about right here. But recently Brandy and I did something we hadn’t done before: we went on a culinary tour of our city. Hosted by Regina Hissong, Rocktown Bites conducts twice monthly walking tours to seven (!) local restaurants, shops, and businesses where you get to sample their best food and drink offerings, plus learn a LOT about those establishments and the history of the buildings they’re in. Back in January of this year, Harrisonburg became the FIRST city in Virginia to be designated a Downtown Culinary District! Rocktown Bites will show you exactly why.

We met at the Hardesty Higgins House, all twelve of us — Lindsey, Brandy, Blake, Ella, Ben, Heidi, Aiden, Cal, Bree, Denise, Sean, and me — plus our happy host, Regina. The kids enjoyed the gift shop and the 1862 model of Harrisonburg with all those teeny tiny animals. Once all assembled, we ventured out into the sunshine, a traffic-stopping pedestrian food procession.

burgIMG_2835Our first stop was the newly opened Midtowne Bottle Shop. Owner Lauren Penrod greeted us and quenched our thirst with two Brew Ridge Trail Collaborations — Moon (an India Pale Lager)  and her sister beer, Earth (a double IPA). The kiddos indulged in Flathead Lake Gourmet Soda in black raspberry and strawberry orange. I was kinda excited that Cal, my little soda virgin, had his first soda in my favorite new store. I see a tradition forming.

Not only does Midtowne Bottle Shop offer lots of bottles, but they also have eight taps. You can bring your growler or purchase one of theirs (1-pint, 2-pint, or standard size) for frequent fill ups with no trash. Regina’s husband has a growler holder on his BIKE. WHAT AN IDEA. Despite seeing him often, Lauren didn’t realize this… but she did say she notices he’s sweaty when he comes into the shop.

burgIMG_2855 burgIMG_2857 burgIMG_2852 burgIMG_2843Our next stop was just across the street and the site of the first ever Rocktown Bites love connection. Cuban Burger. Owner Steve Pizarro met his lovely lady when SHE was on a Rocktown Bites tour, and now a year later, they’re proud parents of cutie-pie Charles Harrison! At Cuban Burger we nibbled on… well, the Cuban Burger, and garlicky cuban toast with black bean dip, and we enjoyed Jupiña pineapple soda and a classic daiquiri.

burgIMG_2876 burgIMG_2871On to Clementine we went. If this stop is on your tour, come hungry. I was surprised (pleasantly, of course) at how many “samples” we got to try. First they served us homemade lemonade, which was a real treat for all of us on this warm, sunny day. They estimate that they squeeze 750 lemons per week to make their citrusy concoction, which also contains limes, sugar, water, and mint. Then we “sampled” some food… but really, it was a whole plate of food, including seared scallops with a saffron risotto and spinach pesto, served with roma tomatoes and A.M. Fog mushrooms in a balsamic drizzle. Drooling occurred. Also, I forget what we were talking about, but Denise was trying like the dickens to say “Snap, crackle, and pop,” and she kept stumbling over the words and burst forth with a “Crap Snackle!” which has become my new profanity replacement.

Next we meandered over to Jack Brown’s. We got to eat their AMAZING Wagyu beef cheeseburgers with their addictive special sauce, plus Sticky Nugs from Billy Jack’s, and we got to sample the Apocalypse Ale. We sat sorta near the back… usually when I’m in there I’m at the bar, at basically the first seat I can get my honey on.. but back there, near the back… is DONKEY KONG. As soon as I heard the sounds coming from the machine, my head turned as if in slow motion… I dropped everything I was eating and drinking and shoved the children outta the way: “Watch the master…!” And I saw something else I didn’t know about, too: Jack’s Hideaway.

burgIMG_2915cRemember the scene in Goodfellas, near the end, when DeNiro’s character tells Lorraine Bracco’s character to “go down there,” down the sidewalk to some door where there are some dresses she could have? And Deniro’s standing back there gesturing and looking around, and she’s looking around, and you get this bad feeling… and she does, too…? Well, I had a flash — just a flash! — of that when we were walking to the door of Jack’s Hideaway. It’s around the corner from Jack Brown’s, on Water Street, and it’s down the sidewalk, and it’s just this nondescript door you knock on. But no malevolent force will greet you, you won’t get “whacked” or anything; instead you’ll be escorted into a really, really cool space. It’s where Aaron and Patrice lived when they first opened Jack Brown’s. It’s another bar, quite lounge and swanky, with a lovely view of the street below, a bar, a menu, a second room, and restrooms. It’s open Thursday through Sunday, and I could see spending a lot of time in that secret little place. But the capacity is only a couple dozen, so it’s possible you’ll be turned away if it’s a busy night. Still, put on some fancy duds and knock on that door. It’s truly special, a Harrisonburg treasure.

burgIMG_2924There was more to see, and so we hit the pavement once again. Our pace, and especially the kids’, increased as we got closer to our next destination: Kline’s Dairy Bar. Yesssssss! Did you know they’ve been in business 71 years?? Regina told us that. Mr. Kline would hand frozen custard out the window of his home. The business is no longer owned by the Kline family, but the yumminess continues, as well as the tradition of passing frozen custard through a tiny window. On this day they had one of my favorites — Raspberry — plus the usual chocolate and vanilla.

burgIMG_2935 burgIMG_2929 burgIMG_2926 burgIMG_2928I thought for sure the tour had to be over since we’d had dessert… but no! There was more! We stopped in to Friendly City Food Co-op for a tour and samples of delicious peach poundcake made with local peaches. Steve Cook conducted the tour and told us all sorts of interesting info. For example, local products can be found in every department and on every aisle of the store, from Lucas Coffee to Polyface chicken, from maple syrup from Highland County to popcorn from Dayton, from milk from Mt. Crawford to soap from Charlottesville. They now sell beer and wine (no corporate beer!), and they’re planning a big expansion — the meat and produce areas will double in size and the kitchen will serve hot food. It’s a great place to shop, whether you need full-on groceries, or just lunch.

burgIMG_2949 burgIMG_2945And still, there was more. Regina was really wowing us today! Our last stop was Bella Luna, Harrisonburg’s fairly new wood-fired pizzeria. We ate ravioli with pork, peaches, jalapeño, lemon, and arugula (what a combination!) covered in a smoked paprika sauce, and THEN two kinds of pizza cooked in their 900-degree oven in just three minutes. Plus their chocolate torte — flourless and gluten free — with orange whipped cream and chocolate drizzle. Kate, the manager, talked to us at length about each dish and also about their effort to support local agriculture. They actually ask local farmers to produce certain foods. In fact, just that morning she’d bought grapes at the farmer’s market for that evenings specialty cocktail. The kids tried their vanilla cream soda, and the rest of us got to end our tour with Regina’s all-time favorite cocktail — the vanilla old fashioned. She certainly earned it! Lordy. This wasn’t the first time Brandy and I have been “full up to the collarbone,” as she says, but it was one of the best times, for sure.

burgIMG_2965 burgIMG_2961In summary (ha), you’ve got to go on this tour. The next one is October 25 — the Goons, Goblins, and Grub Tour, in honor of Halloween. It starts at 2pm at the Hardesty Higgins House. But, you have to get tickets in advance, so Regina can let the restaurants know how many to expect. To purchase tickets, just go to the web site and click on the Tickets tab at the top. You’d easily spend the cost of the ticket at just one restaurant; the tour is a great way to sample a bunch of different places, learn a lot, and enjoy the company of Regina, my favorite Harrisonburg ambassador! You’ll have a fine time!

See you out and about!

burgIMG_2886Copyright © 2012-14 · 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.

until we meat again: cuban burger.

customers in restaurant wall of photosrestaurant bathroom Buffy and SteveCopyright © 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.

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.

have a nice flight: wine on water.

I love running into former students and finding out what’s happened to them since high school. In many cases, they’ve furthered their education and traveled around and worked here and there and had lots of enlightening experiences… things I can only dream of accomplishing. And I love hearing what they’ve learned along the way. This was a night I learned a lot.

Brandy, Denise, and I met at Wine on Water last Tuesday evening to sample some wine. Our wine host was the lovely Katrina Hudy, who manages the establishment and graduated from BHS years ago. While Wine on Water is owned and operated by the folks at Cave Ridge Vineyard, they serve more than just Cave Ridge wines (something I didn’t know). They also feature wines from Wisteria Vineyards, Shenandoah Vineyards, Cedar Creek Vineyard, Bluestone Vineyard, and Barren Ridge Vineyard. By doing so, Wine on Water can promote the Valley wine industry: it takes time for individuals to visit several vineyards and sample their wines. This way, customers can taste wines from all over the Valley without leaving their bar stools. Katrina does all the work for you: she travels to vineyards hither and yon and chooses what they’ll serve at Wine on Water. Helloooooo, dream job. I also learned from Katrina that Virginia’s hills and valleys create “microclimates” that allow several different varieties of grape to thrive. This variance in grapes yields a broad assortment of wines… versus a place where the landscape is flat and therefore only produces one or two kinds of grapes. See? Another reason I love my Burg and am grateful I live in this area. It’s the little things, you know.

Wine on Water’s beautiful tasting room/bar is adjacent to All Things Virginia and contains Cuban Burger, which serves food Wednesday through Saturday. Wine on Water is open Tuesday through Saturday noon to seven, and they have Happy Hour on Friday and Saturday from five to seven (ooo, the elusive Saturday happy hour!). You can also ask them to host your private event.

So here’s how it works: you can select three wines from their list and get a two-ounce tasting of each, for $7. This is called a “flight,” and it’s only $5 during happy hour. There are other options, too, including buying by the glass, the half-glass, and others. Not all the wines they carry are available every day that they’re open, but the selection is ample and you’re sure to have a different experience each time you visit. The wines that we chose happened to be all Cave Ridge wines. They were the Fandango Port, the Riesling, Sangria, the Chambourcin, and the Viognier. The Riesling was very good–crisp and refreshing, a good hot-weather wine. The Sangria was made from Rambling Rose, so it was not the dark red Sangria I expected. It also contains guava nectar, pineapple, and cinnamon stick. It was MAJOR yummy. Brandy and Denise both also like the Chambourcin, and Brandy also had the Viognier, which–another thing I learned–is the Virginia State Wine. I don’t know the state bird and flower and all that, but now I know the state grape.

don’t leave a drop, denise!

I have to say… although it was a hundred degrees out that day and Port is not your usual “summer wine,” we loved that Fandango Port. We ended up ordering a glass of it after the tasting. My roommate during my freshman year of college, Darlene, kept a bottle of amaretto in our dorm room, and I’ll never forget one night after a couple of swigs, she said, “I have warm ears.” Port is a “warm ears” wine. It reminded me of the time I was backpacking across Europe and got stuck all night in the train station in Basel, Switzerland. Thank heavens for Port that night. And it makes me think of Jack Kerouac (“life must be rich and full of loving—it’s no good otherwise, no good at all, for anyone…”), and it makes me think of Christmas.

As usual, our conversation meandered along several bizarre paths. Katrina mentioned that You Made It! had a craft day at Wine on Water, and I thought to myself, “See? That’s how it should be. The barter system all the way.” We don’t even need money. Then I had a great idea: all of Harrisonburg should live in a giant castle together and just use the barter system for everything. We have plenty of people to provide food and beverages and entertainment and education and health care. Then we started thinking of things we want in our castle. Brandy wants beverage spigots like the ones at Wine on Water. You could get any beverage you want on this biiiig wall of spigots.

And Denise would want some mode of transportation within the castle, like Segways (“with cupholders!”, inserted Brandy) or maybe those motorized grocery store carts so you can carry stuff around. Then there was some confusion about a matador versus a troubadour… but we want both. And instead of a moat filled with deadly alligators and shrieking eels, the castle could be surrounded by one of those lazy river things they have at nice hotels… you know, for the kids. Because no one would ever want to attack Castle Harrisonburg–we’re the Friendly City, for Pete’s sake!

Where were we?

So, back to reality… Wine on Water is hosting a cool event this Thursday, July 19, called “It’s All About You, Ladies!” It’s not exactly a castle, but it is a getaway of sorts. For $12, ladies (only!) can enjoy wine, appetizers, massages, skincare, and makeovers, plus be entered to win prizes, and receive a complimentary gift bag! This event is sponsored by Shenandoah Concierge, All Things Virginia, and Wine on Water, and only 50 tickets will be sold, so get moving!

And if you can’t make that, be sure to stop in on First Friday, August 3, to hear music by the Harmolodics and see art by Chie Tamaki. Cheers!

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.