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.

heaven on wheels: costume bike parade 2013.

Bike Parade 1Oh, suburbs, you’re killing us all.

The invention of suburbs was one of those “seemed like a good idea at the time” developments of the modern era. People could move out of those crowded, noisy, dirty cities and into a larger home on a sizable lot and enjoy peace, quiet, relative privacy. It sounded divine at the time and was quickly accepted as “a good idea.” But, as humans are wont to do, we didn’t think about the consequences… longer commutes in the car, more gas, more time, more water and other resources all for the sake of having a slice of real estate all to yourself. And the cities, vacated, simply fell apart. Businesses left. Factories closed. Crime increased. What a mess.

Then postmodernism came along and showed us that we don’t know jack. We have no foresight. We bulldoze along without thinking of ramifications down the road. At least we started to become aware of our lack of awareness, right?

And now we’re in some kind of post postmodernism where we’re trying to stem the tide of all those bad consequences. For example, we woke up to the fact that cars use too much gas, and the hybrid was born. Yay — fuel conservation! But what do I do when the battery in my Insight poops out?? I can’t just throw that thing in the landfill… And plug-in electric cars that require no gas at all — what a great idea! But if you’re plugging it in to an outlet fueled by coal, then… there’s not much environmental advantage. These are the problems we now see and are trying to fix… but when we fix them, will we finally have developed some foresight so we don’t create yet another new problem?

Problems like this reach an apex, where they’ve been worsening at an exponential rate and they start to double-back on themselves… and the only option is to start over. Get back to basics. We probably all recognize, on some level, that we can choose to simplify now, or we can wait until conditions deteriorate so badly that we’re forced to. Here in the burg we’ve been working on simplifying for some time. We have a number of community farms, like Port Road Community Garden, Collicello Gardens, and Our Community Farm, to name a few. The folks at The Natural Garden will actually arrive by bike to work in your yard. We’re a town of co-ops and collectives and local businesses and farmers markets. All of these endeavors underscore Harrisonburg’s desire to get back to basics: to reduce urban sprawl and make it easier for people to ditch their cars and walk or bike to work and school. To spend money locally. To undo some of the damage we’ve caused and try to conserve a little here and there. And to work as a community to solve our own problems, rather than leave those solutions in the hands of strangers. Slowly but surely, this community is gaining ground.

Bike Parade kids 3To that end, it’s Bike Month in Harrisonburg, kicked off on May 3rd with a Costume Bike Parade downtown. As I headed to the Turner Pavilion to meet Brandy, I saw the first cyclist of the evening: Noel Levan, sporting Kermit The Frog socks and a clown nose, among other silly items. Little by little bike enthusiasts started rolling in. Some of the costumes included a Banana, Mario, and a shiny metallic sword-bearing Robot (Nate Shearer). Some type of fox-like animal, which might have been a kangaroo because I heard him refer to himself as marsupial. An old man in a bathrobe, a spring fairy, and a cat with a bull horn. A cow wearing a boa, a butterfly, and a disco sompn-or-other.

Bike Parade group 2 Bike Parade group 4There were a dozen or so kids — a little Spiderman, Pebbles, a doctor, a knight, a couple of fair princesses…

Bike Parade kids 2And there were a few scoundrels — one who looked like Captain America but might have been a sinister Gladiator… gun totin’ Blue Bullet and the Bandits (they actually had a horse head on the bike)… and <eeek!> Jason.

And let’s not forget Tony Lopez being assaulted by Dark Spiderman!

Bike Parade group Bike Parade group 3After the parade, participants attended Singletrack High and the Adventure Seen Cycling Film Festival at Court Square Theater. What a night!

Bike Week theater 1 Bike Week theater 3But that’s not all. The month of May is full of bike-related events to bolster support for our ever-growing cycling community. Just last week Harrisonburg enjoyed Bike to Worship, Bike to Work, and Bike to School events, as well as the annual Ride of Silence. Still to come, an Ice Cream Ride, Sunday the 26th at 2pm at the Wolfe Street Kline’s, and if you donate to the Northend Greenway this month, you could win a bike with accessories! And the burg has lots of long-term bike initiatives in place, including Rocktown Trails, Bluestone Trail, the Northend Greenway, and the Bike-Ped Plan, all in the name of improving safety and accessibility for cyclists and pedestrians.

Bike Week theater 2When we look at the world, or rather, our corner of it, it’s easy to see the problems, the destruction, our detachment from nature, other people, and ourselves. But little things, like this event, start as a seed of hope in one person’s heart, germinate into an idea hatched among friends over a few cups of coffee or mugs of beer, grow into a community event, and then evolve into a movement. Action. Awareness. Progress. I moved here nearly twenty years ago. I was a 21 year old wearing a huge set of blinders and didn’t know squat about art or the environment or social consciousness. I essentially grew up here; most people do mature a great deal between age 21 and 41. But this city made me evolve; it made me aware; it woke me up. This is where I learned to care about things way bigger than I. I am so grateful my kids are learning, too. So grateful this is my community. So grateful for all of you.

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.

be there and be square: the corner.

the corner sign bwAs I got ready that evening, I wondered if I was dressed too fancy for dinner at The Corner and an opening at Larkin Arts. I texted Brandy, “I’m bling-ier than usual…” And she replied, “Most girls do that when they’re on their way to the corner.” Touché. And so I left my outfit as it was, got the kiddos in the car, and headed downtown.

blingy katieOn the way Bree recited the entire Bowflex Treadclimber commercial. And then one for AARP. And then she said, “Mom, you’re old. Maybe you need life insurance from AARP. It’s just pennies a day.” I made a mental note to chop the power cord to the TV when we got home.

Then another text came through: “At Food Co-op. Locked keys in car.” Oh, dear. And I thought about that time last summer when Brandy locked her keys in her car at Riven Rock Park. No big deal — it was summer and we had no schedule, really. But today we had little time for error… we had to get to The Corner where we were having a quick meeting with Kai, then get to the art opening at Larkin, and get home before the kids started fighting in public. By the way, when I told Bree and Cal that Kai would be joining us, they said, “Kai — the ninja??”

“Yes,” I told them. “He’s a ninja.”

the corner kaiAt the Food Co-op we piled into my tiny car like a clown family and drove to The Corner. Brandy had called someone to come unlock her car, and we figured we probably had time to eat before they arrived at her car and got it unlocked. The hostess showed us to a table upstairs. If you’ve not been in there before, they have a spiral staircase. I’ve always wanted one of those. I kinda like the sensation of being lost as I go up… the serpentine design prevents you from seeing the top step until you’re on it, but I always stare at my feet anyway because I’m so clumsy I’m sure I’ll fall down. Later the kids enjoyed tossing little notes they’d written down the spiral… <sigh>, at least they were nice notes.

the corner stairsUpstairs we sat in a booth, and no sooner had we unloaded all our stuff (notebook, pen, purse, camera, camera bag, crayons, paper, LEGOs, coloring books, lip gloss, Angry Bird hat, etc.) than the locksmith called and Brandy’s car was ready. She decided to run up there (from West Water Street to East Wolfe Street! In the windy cold! In boots!) and retrieve her car. I tried to tell her we could drive over there after dinner, but she insisted it would just take a sec. And out she went.

I ordered an Allegash for her, a 471 IPA for myself, and drinks for the kids. The waitress brought the kids free popcorn (yes, people — they give your children free popcorn from the cute machine downstairs!!) while I perused the menu. And I swear, during the four minutes it took the server to bring our drinks, Brandy ran to her car, settled the transaction, drove back, parked, and was sitting in front of me like she’d never left. That girl can RUN! Maybe SHE’S a ninja. Then she stood up on the booth and starting taking photos. No one ever questions her.

the corner popcorn bwThe Corner has a great menu. Simple, tasty food, but with lots of choices. We ordered a Philly, Mac and Cheese, cheese pizza with applesauce, a Make-Your-Own Nachos, and a Make-Your-Own pizza with chicken, onions, and jalapeños. And when you make your own pizza, you don’t have to order an entire pizza — you can just order one slice. I love that. Because when you order pizza in a group, someone always gets shafted. Not at this restaurant!

the corner basketsThe kids announced that “you guys need your space” and moved to a nearby table. Ha! No argument here! In fact, they read my mind. Personally I think they were concerned that a ninja was on his way.

There’s always some signal that it’s time to go. On this night, Cal and Ella bumped into each other getting more popcorn and spilled it all over the place. But Cal assured me as he shoved handfuls into his mouth, “Don’t worry. I picked it all up and put it back in my basket.” Yep. Time to go.

the corner popcorn 1We made a quick pit stop on the way out.

the corner collageVisit The Corner next time you’re downtown. They are located at the, um, corner of Water Street and Main, across from Oasis Gallery.

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.

treasure hunt in the burg no. 16: first friday.

When I thought of the title for this post, I got all excited about the pirate jokes I could make. But I don’t want my corniness to get on everyone’s nerves, so I’ll just say a few words and then leave it alone: Booty. “Mate.” Poop deck. Ho. Spanker. There–what a relief.

No, this post isn’t about swashbuckling ruffians who pillage innocent communities; it’s about a bounty of people who, through their unique vision, give to our community in beautiful ways.

Brandy and I attended the first First Friday of the season on… well, the first Friday in April. It also happened to be MaCRoCk weekend, so downtown was very much alive and swarmy. Throngy. But in a festive way, not in a Walmart-the-day-before-Thanksgiving way.

First Friday is a free and family-friendly celebration of culture and community hosted by the Arts Council of the Valley. From 5 – 8pm on the first Friday of each month, you can stroll through downtown Harrisonburg and enjoy numerous art exhibits and performances. What results is a treasure hunt of sorts, seeking out the art featured at various locations. What we also discovered, however, is that the artists themselves are local treasures.

Friendly City Food Co-op
Meet Pat Jarrett–a guy who would make any self-respecting pirate quake in his boot. Why? Because he’s the president and founder of the Beard and Mustache Society of the Blue Ridge. (It’s true, people–it’s on Facebook.)

His colorful photos hung throughout the store and included subjects such as Swiss chard, peaches, apples, bread, cows at night, and a guy named Steve wearing plaid flannel and manhandling a carcass of some sort. But my favorite was the photo of the guy holding his rooster, next to a description of the Low and Slow philosophy of meat cooking. I’d say holding your rooster against your body until he’s cooked is plenty slow. Seriously, Pat’s eye for the sumptuous beauty of daily life is what makes him a local treasure.

Ten Thousand Villages
I’ve seen several of April Sedeen‘s paintings before–usually large, striking portraits with bold lines and colors–but I was not expecting to see framed “doodles” (as she calls them) when I entered Ten Thousand Villages. Yet there they were, all lined up in rows and columns along the wall. Who knew this jewel-eyed lass was soooo funny?

So I sat on a giant stack of rugs and laughed my butt off at her doodles. Like the one that’s just a dot, entitled “Modern Art.” Or the one of the king standing next to a toilet–“Royal Flush.” Or this one, where the veggies are eating humans.
I wanted all of them, displayed in my house just as they were that day. If you want daily doodles (and, I mean, who doesn’t??), you can like her Facebook page Doodle Du Jour.

Wonder
The next local treasure we encountered was Sarah Murphy. That woman supports everything in this town. I see her everywhere. For three years, Sarah has organized the Art Auction for Haiti–a sale of local art that benefits St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Gonâve, Haiti. Artists donated their work, others bid on it, and as there were no costs associated with the auction, all proceeds–nearly $1000–went straight to the orphanage. Everyone involved–Sarah, the artists, and the buyers–are treasures.
A side note: The art was displayed in this hallway that runs the length of the store. I never knew that was there! Ya learn somethin’ new… Brandy managed to win Kevin Edwards’ “Turd Piece” (sorry, Kevin, that’s the information I got) AND, Elliott Downs has opened a record shop inside Wonder (post forthcoming!). I saw sooooo many good albums there, including the Molly Hatchet one I had in 5th grade. Why did I like them? Because they look like pirates. Or Vikings. On horses.

The Yellow Button–post forthcoming!
Meet Nicole Martorana, a writer/photographer/videographer who’s dabbled in just about every art-related line of work, including stints at Harrisonburg Tourism, Court Square Theater, the Arts Council of the Valley, and now the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance. Still she finds time for her photography, beautifully displayed at the Yellow Button.

Her exhibit included pieces from an ongoing project called Show Your Face. During each exhibit, she takes polaroids of people who’ve come to see it, asks them to write short descriptions of themselves, frames the snapshots, and adds them to the collection for future display. If you’d like to see or participate in the exhibit, you can find Nicole at the RubyRed Shoe Boutique on Friday, May 4.
The Lady Jane
And there was Sara Christensen, the lovely, knowledgeable proprietor of The Lady Jane, who could tame an entire fleet of scallywags with one batch of brownies and sew a Jolly Roger better than any wench in town. Her exhibit was unlike the others in that it was not only aesthetically pleasing but also instructional. It reflected what she does for a living every day. She called the exhibit a “Mood Board,” and it was a collection of design elements (fabrics, colors, pictures of furniture, etc.) that revolved around a certain theme or style (in this case it was Rustic Vintage meets English Cottage). It’s a simple way to teach design to customers, and she even provided handouts containing advice and other resources.

Mint
Alas, our treasure hunt is nearly complete. But Harrisonburg would not be the treasure trove it is without Denise Kanter-Allen. You know how when you’ve been indoors in the air conditioning for several hours on a warm day, and you’re starting to get a little chilly, how good it feels to get in your warm car? That’s how it feels to be around Denise. Warm. Welcoming. Relaxed. She’s always open to collaborating with others and supporting other artists–she’s done joint art shows with Brandy, Elliott Downs, and Lynda Bostrom, to name a few. And she and Brandy are responsible for Harrisonburg’s first Art Lotto.

Her gorgeous collection of paintings called Leap is still on display at Mint, through the end of the month. All of the paintings feature people jumping for some reason… Brandy’s daughter Ella jumping on the trampoline, Denise herself jumping into the Aegean Sea (no doubt to welcome the pirates ashore), among others, all of which convey beautiful grace and movement.


And that concluded our search for hidden treasure; the next First Friday is Friday, May 4. We came home with a chest full of precious memories, lasting impressions, and meaningful encounters… all given freely by our priceless Harrisonburg.

Harrisonb-ARGH. Ha.

Sorry.

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.