comfort station: grilled cheese mania.

cold drinkThe last week or so has presented me with events that fall into the category “It Could Have Been Worse.” First, my cell phone started acting up. Well, wait, FIRST, I thought everyone in my world was ignoring me because I hadn’t gotten any texts or calls all day. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case; it was my lame phone. (I have a three-year-old Samsung slider that AT&T gave me for free when my previous lame phone finally pooped out.) On further investigation, however, it WASN’T my lame phone; it was AT&T’s tower. Aha! So, it could have been worse: I could have had to buy a new phone. Or get new friends.

I have a small TV in my bedroom. I actually watch it more than the big one in the family room because I’m usually in bed before I get a chance to watch any TV at all. A few days ago, the color started wigging out, and now everything I watch is gold and blue. But… the TV’s not dead; it could have been worse.

And the real kicker happened Sunday, when my son was pushing some other kids on a bench-style swing, and he somehow tripped and got tangled up underneath it and gashed his head open. Blood. Lots of blood. I threw my lame phone at some lady who called 911, the ambulance came, and we scooted to the ER. He’s fine. He has staples in his scalp, but he’s fine. It could have been much, much worse. In fact, after I knew Cal was okay, the hospital visit was actually enjoyable. Everything went very quickly, the doctor was excellent, and our nurse was pleasant and funny. She’s worked as an ER nurse at RMH for 37 years. She had to wrap Cal’s head in this big, white, gauzy apparatus, and she told him enthusiastically that he would be King Cal for the day and wear “this cool crown!” And then she laughed and said, “Who am I kidding? You’re gonna look like a Q-tip and there’s nothing I can do about it!” Meanwhile, Michael and the other four kids waited patiently in the lobby and greeted Cal with cheers and hugs and a giant stuffed shark when he emerged through the double doors. Really, it could have been much worse in many ways.

Monday morning I washed the dried blood out of my son’s hair and then met Brandy and her kids for some comfort food. Between my near-disasters and her Art Lotto event quickly approaching and 4287473892 photos to edit, the two of us needed some ding dang comforting!

red food truck with logored food truckWe met at Grilled Cheese Mania and my mouth was watering before I got out of the car. Owned by Kathleen Mania-Casey, the truck has been in operation less than a year and has already been ranked by Tripadvisor the BEST restaurant of 108 in Harrisonburg, and voted Best Food Truck 2013 by Harrisonburg residents. I stared at the menu for quite some time while the girl at the window waited patiently, smiling. Choosing was excruciating, because I wanted them all, but I decided on the Larold. My kids got Classic Johnnys, Brandy got the Mama Mania, and Blake got his with tomato. We also got a couple sides of mac & cheese, and Kathleen was gracious enough to let us sample the chili and the tomato soup. Both are excellent. I especially like the tomato soup. Some say its flavor smacks of pizza, but I think it’s about halfway to salsa.

cheesy sandwich mac n cheese cheesy sandwich overhead view of foodgrilled cheese sandwichKathleen’s niece was visiting and helped her aunt serve our food under the tent where we sat. And we each got a pair of official GCM sunglasses, which the kids happily put on so they could all be fully expressed as the maniacs they are.

woman and niece kids at picnic tableWe gobbled our sandwiches in relative silence. “Simple Comfort Food” is the perfect slogan for Grilled Cheese Mania, because there is something uniquely nostalgic about a grilled cheese sandwich. Every time my mom visits, she wants a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup. And when I sit down and eat it with her, I’m six years old again, not worrying about cell phones or deadlines or scalp infections. You know that scene in the movie Ratatouille when Anton Ego takes the first bite of Remy’s ratatouille and is instantly transported back to his mother’s kitchen? It’s like that. You simply cannot be UN-comfortable when eating a grilled cheese. And Kathleen’s sandwiches beat the heck out of any grilled cheese I’ve eaten or made. Everything on the menu is made from tried and true family recipes using only the freshest ingredients.

chiliboy eating grilled cheese girl eating grilled cheeseKathleen’s goal is for her customers to be happy. My guess is she means not just happy with their order, happy with their food, but happy altogether. Like a true mom would. When you miss your mom and need a little comfort, know that Grilled Cheese Mania is just down the road. Or, when you just want a really good sandwich.

After a trying week of bizarre events, FINALLY, something couldn’t have been BETTER. Grilled Cheese Mania is located on Rt. 42 south, between the Food Lion shopping center and Tangier Seafood. Go hungry.

women in sunglassesCopyright © 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.

ding dang delicious: local chop and grill house.

group of people at restaurantYou know that feeling, when you’ve been out in the sun all day — at the pool or at the beach — and you’re a little scummy, a little sticky, your skin’s a little dry and sting-y… and you return home and take a refreshing shower? And then you realize how hungry you are because it was so hot all day you didn’t feel like eating much? And you can’t wait to sit down to a big, yummy meal?

I love that feeling. It’s one of my favorite parts of summer time. It’s akin to anticipation, which is another sensation I love. So a couple weeks ago when Brandy and I went canoeing, knowing that night we’d go out for a birthday dinner at one of our favorite restaurants and eat some delicious food, including a surprise birthday dessert made just for us by Rachel Herr, I found myself in a delirious state of anticipation all day. I’d been looking forward to this day for weeks, and it didn’t disappoint. One of the best days ever. :)

After getting cleaned up, Michael and I met Brandy, Ben, Danielle, and Tammy at the Local Chop and Grill House for our birthday dinner. Our server, Rob, brought out bread with olive oil and truffled popcorn for us to nibble on, then brought a round of beverages.

truffled popcorn waiter in red apronThe first order of business was to talk about our canoeing adventure that day. I didn’t have my notebook with me in the canoe, so I didn’t take any notes. And even though Brandy was the one with the PBR concussion, I couldn’t seem to recall much from just a few hours earlier. So we sorta recreated the day’s events right there at the dinner table.

It took some time for us to order because the menu at the Chop House is excellent. So, so many choices and options to ensure you get just what you’re craving. You choose the cut of meat, you choose the rub, you choose the sauce, you choose two side dishes… it’s a lot to juggle, but you will not be disappointed when your plate arrives. We each ordered something different: salmon, Polyface chicken breast, pork chop, NY strip, Twin Oaks Tofu, and the local chuck burger, and an assortment of side dishes like collard greens, duck fat fries, asparagus, smashed potatoes, broccoli, and mac & cheese.

plate with chicken and mac n cheese plate with pork chop and collard greens plate with tofu and asparagus plate with salmon and asparagusBrandy suggested we play a word game. Someone offers a random word, and everyone tries to tell a story or memory related to that word. Michael piped up with “esophagus.” And I instantly had a story, which is this: George W. Bush and I have something in common. We both nearly choked to death on a pretzel. I don’t know all the details of his story, but I was alone in my dorm room at Clemson, sitting in my papasan chair eating pretzels and drinking a Snapple. A curved portion of a pretzel became lodged in my throat and I found myself legitimately choking. Alone, in my room. It was the middle of the day and hardly anyone was in the dorm at all. First I tried flinging myself on various items in the room, like a self-imposed Heimlich, to try to dislodge the pretzel. That didn’t work. I was panicking and starting to think, “This is it. This is how I die. Choking on a pretzel in my dorm room.” My vision was getting dark on the edges. I decided to just run out of my room until I found someone to help me, and when I did, I was flailing through the hallway so wildly that I DID loosen the pretzel and managed not to die. Shew.

The highlight of my evening was when Brandy asked if I’m the same age as George W. Bush. ???

group at dinner tableBrandy had her own choking story. In elementary school she started choking on a hot dog. Of course she didn’t want to call attention to herself and make a scene, so she just sat there trying to deal with it herself. At some point the teacher noticed her esophageal struggle and hit her, hard, on the back. The hot dog flew out, and Brandy was okay. But the other kids thought the teacher just hauled off and hit her for no reason, so they all started giving her their food to make her feel better. :)

Then we started talking about weird things we say. By that I mean, weird things Brandy says. Like “no dip,” meaning “no duh.” And “I font know,” which is the byproduct of an autocorrect malfunction that stuck. Whenever she would text “I dont know,” her phone would correct “dont” to “font,” so now when she doesn’t know something, she says, “I font know.” Of course, I have a weird word, too. It’s “ghee.” It’s not “gee” — no, it’s pronounced with a hard “g” like in gorilla, and it’s usually preceded by the word “oh.” It’s one of those handy profanity replacement words that keeps you from bursting forth with a “Oh, d*mmit” or “Oh, G*d” or even worse right in the middle of, say, my classroom.

But the best new word of the night belongs to Brandy. It’s “ding dang.” As in, “Man, I left the ding dang flat iron on!” or “I can’t get this ding dang jar open!” or “Mom, where are my ding dang socks??” And since that night, my kids and I can’t stop saying ding dang. And I challenge you to incorporate it into your own vernacular. I guarantee it will bring a volume of joy to your life you’ve not experienced.

two women and birthday cakeAnd that brings me to our ding dang birthday surprise! We knew Rachel Herr, who is the pastry chef at the Chop House (and an artist, mom, and all-around awesome individual), was going to make us a special birthday dessert, but we weren’t expecting a WHOLE DING DANG CAKE! Our server brought out this gorgeous cake — chocolate cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting and chocolate crumbles, and raspberries !! with a cherry brandy sauce. Did I mention the chocolate?

rachel herr birthday cakeAnd we sang the birthday song and blew out the candles, and then the server took the cake away. For a moment I had a feeling similar to the one I had after giving birth, when they whisk the baby away to weigh it and do that APGAR thing, and I might have even said, about the cake, “Where’d they take the baby?” But then they brought it back, served on two specially decorated plates:

birthday cake platesWow. What a treat, and how special we felt! The cake was delicious, the dinner was amazing, the service was excellent, and the whole thing lived up to my weeks-long anticipation. Brandy announced she was “full as a ding dang tick.” Yes, ding dang it, we all were. It was time to go home and take a ding dang nap. Thank you, Chop House, for our birthday party! You were just what we wished for.

blowing out birthday candlesCopyright © 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.

music lessons: chris howdyshell and superfriends and their ground-breaking rock-n-rollishness at clementine cafe.

It was an educational evening, indeed.

Of course, it started stupid enough–the two of us yakking it up at the bar, gossiping and such about things I can’t memorialize on the Interwebs–sorry. I can say that at one point the chatter veered back to our visit to Wine on Water and how we look forward to cooler weather and going back there for some PORT. In fact, Brandy declared, “I want to drink port in a scarf,” and I (here comes a stupid part) imagined her fashioning some kind of fabric drinking vessel. How cultural, I mused, wondering if perhaps in some exotic country, people drink wine this way.

Then I got it.

We were soon rescued from our idiocy. That night Clementine served up something mind expanding for sure, something called Chris Howdyshell and SuperFriends and Their Ground-Breaking Rock-N-Rollishness.

The first of the SuperFriends was Ellen Atwood. And even though she’s young–just a junior in high school–I think I will dub her Queen of the SuperFriends. One, it was her first public solo gig, ever. Two, she’s a one-woman show, just her keyboard and her voice. Three, her voice is… angelic. She was goosebumps-on-your-face good. She played and sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart” (Coldplay), and one of her originals. And four, she’s just a kid yet. And being a teacher and a general fan of teenagers, I love to see a kid who’s been able to cultivate her passion and talent in spite of all her school responsibilities and pressures and just the agony and emotional clumsiness that pervades adolescence, and still have the guts to share it with a room of (mostly) strangers. Yet there she was, shining in the hot white light. And after three short songs, I was quite moved. So thank you for that, Ellen.

Then the rest of the SuperFriends took the stage. It wasn’t quite the Dish Dogs because Michael Bowman and Lara Mack weren’t there… but it also wasn’t the new band, Dr. How (whom you can see here at Clementine on September 22)–it was… just… the SuperFriends. Namely, Chris Howdyshell, Mike Howdyshell, Ashley Hunter, Josh Vana, Doug Pitts, and Kyle Oehmke once his shift in the kitchen ended and he could join them. Untie the apron, strap on the bass. Chris had on his bedazzled hat and every person in the band wore glasses. Not, like, sunglasses, but actual “I need these to see” glasses. I could make some kind of “gettin’ old” joke, but really it was endearing because we’re all just humans with flaws doing the best we can. As Ram Dass said, “We’re all just walking each other home,” even if we can’t see where the hell we’re going.

They played a couple of old Dish Dog favorites, and things really picked up after “Tom Weights.” It seems like a hundred more people came in during “It’s Not Your Fault.” Drew, Harrisonburg’s resident hugger, danced in front of the stage (we love Drew!); more people joined the dancing during “Bird” and “She’s An Artist” and “The Tuning Song”–ha ha. And Chris took a moment to say he had two things to ask of us:
1) “You’re here.” (check!) and
2) “Don’t be afraid to dance. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your feet on the floor!”

In walked several  young men in suits, to whom he commanded, “Men In Suits–DANCE!” Which they did. Then he came down and danced with Alice, and Ashley came down and danced, and Grayson and Annie danced, and other folks I don’t know… and I remembered a New Year’s Eve Dish Dogs performance… there was this couple dancing. They’d obviously been together a long time. She danced with her eyes closed, and I thought that was the most romantic thing I’d ever seen–how they knew each other so well…

Nothing like that happened at this show, but it sure was fun!!

And educational. Remember when I said that earlier? Because between numbers, Chris would tell us interesting facts and use impressive vocabulary. Like “evolutionarily.” EV-UH-LOO-SHUN-AIR-UH-LEE. Something about woodpeckers and black flies and how, evolutionarily, they strayed from the norm and neither fared well. His lesson: “Do what you always do or you’ll die, at least in woodpecker world.” I also learned that Lance Armstrong ate oatmeal “filled with oxygen.” And most importantly, “Every time you eat bacon, you’re only losing a year of your life you didn’t care about in the first place.” Plus you get to eat bacon.

And he closed with this thought: “I really want a dog, but I don’t want to clean up the poop.” Amen to that.

The evening wound down with a smattering of other songs, including “Whiskey’s More Warm Than A Girl” and one about forgetting things (I don’t remember the title–seriously) during which Josh Vana played slide with a piece of broken glass. You gotta do what you gotta do, MacGyver.

So Dr. How debuts at Clementine on September 22 and will feature at least some of the SuperFriends. And I hope you’ll all attend.
Because you will learn stuff.
And you will dance.

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.