happy blogiversary, with love: little grill collective.

little grill menusIn case you didn’t know, today isn’t just Valentine’s Day. It’s ilovemyburg.com’s 2nd anniversary! Yep — Brandy and I launched the site exactly two years ago, on a date we felt appropriately expressed our feelings for the Burg. Of course, we all love this city all the time, not just on one day of the year, but it sure is fun to celebrate milestones. In our second year, we published 156 posts, each one a testament to Harrisonburg’s awesomeness. Our readership exploded. Most importantly, our friendship grew in ways that make me ever grateful for my life, my home, Brandy, and the countless loved ones who shared in our experiences… including you. You, who keeps coming back here to read about our shenanigans. We love you!

So a celebration was in order. Brandy lovingly put together an album of our favorite moments from 2013, and we decided to go on a double date at one of Harrisonburg’s oldest and dearest loves, the Little Grill Collective. That place has been a part of my life since I moved here when I was just twenty-one. Brandy and Ben have memories of the Grill that reach way farther back than that. And Michael and I had our first date there. Needless to say, it’s pretty special.

Although it was only Tuesday, we’d all had the sort of week that makes you want to poke yourself in the eye. Thankfully, we were in a place that hugs you as soon as you walk in. Even more thankfully, I was about to smother my problems with all-you-can-eat tacos. Mexi Nite fixes everything!

little grill table foodIf you haven’t been to Mexi Nite (and it kinda scares me if you haven’t), you’re served a lovely plate containing (and these are my terms, so pardon me) two tacos, a potato roll up, a delicious delicacy I like to call “the floppy,” beans, and rice. And when you finish, they bring you MORE! And MORE again! And because the Grill is always conscious about waste, you can order your plate without certain items if you don’t think you’ll be able to eat it all. So I got my plate with no rice. Michael got his with no tomatoes but added a bit of chicken. Brandy added some guac, and Ben ordered his straight up. We also ordered a bucket of Negro Modelo. Yes, a bucket. There was so much love at that table I thought I would pop.

little grill beer bucketThe boys were a bit chatty, so chatty that Brandy and I silently plowed through plate number one and ordered a second lickety split. We were a little more leisurely with our second helping and managed to have a conversation. It had been a couple months since I was in there, and they’ve made some upgrades! First, their gorgeous new tables, made by  Aaron Harper Johnston and Kurt Rosenberger. Also, there’s a staircase near the restroom. I think it goes up to their sound booth, or maybe to a secret fort. They revamped their cash register area (did I see a COMPUTER?) and now bring your tab to your table for you. Fancy! The bathroom’s been painted, and instead of the scrawled graffiti, it’s all been framed and organized.

little grill registerOf course, some of the things we love haven’t changed. Like the Dylan painting. The giant bulletin board of announcements and happenings around town. The Go Ask Alyce (I love that lemon tahini!). BRUNCH. Trivia cards. Yoda. Jesus. Metal lunch boxes full of notes and photos. Beer buckets. And that cute little window into the kitchen.

little grill dylanlittle grill little window2All of it caused us to think about the past and the present. What’s the same and what has changed. All the beautiful things still to come. Then we looked at the time and had to scoot: Team Trivia was starting at Clementine in like fifteen minutes (that post will be up next week!). If you’re still looking for something to do tonight for Valentine’s Day, you can head on down to the Grill and see The Leeroys perform at 8pm! It’s also Down Home Night, so get there a bit early for some good old-fashioned southern home cookin’!

Happy Valentine’s Day, Harrisonburg. YOU ARE LOVED.

little grill sign1Copyright © 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.

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.

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!

harrisonburg outing no. 2: the little grill

On the way to the Little Grill Collective (a Harrisonburg original and LEGEND) with Brandy and my kids, a discussion occurred about superheroes. I’m sure Cal started it because he’s absolutely obsessed with taking over the universe. The super power he would most want to have is to shoot “fire lasers” out of his eyes. Bree wants the power of invisibility; Brandy’s son, Blake wishes he could see a thought bubble over people’s heads so he can literally read their minds. How cool would THAT be? And would the bubbles make that sound like on VH1’s Pop-Up Video? Even better. Brandy touts time travel as her superpower of choice (and to be honest, that’s not a bad idea for me, either). I’ve already named her Brandybot because of her ability to take awesome photos of herself using her Gumby/Elastigirl/bionic arm.

Anyway, to the Grill we went, camera and notebook in tow. MexiNite. Oh, baby. Two-dollar Dos Equis and all-you-can-eat authentic Mexican food, prepared with authentically fresh ingredients, by deliciously authentic people.

We were a bit early–Mexi nite doesn’t actually start til 5pm. We were greeted by two employees prepping the food we’d be privileged to soon devour; one other occupied table; and Dr. Dog on the stereo. You know, it’s good it was not crowded when we arrived. Brandy was able to move around and photograph things without awkwardly dangling her strap in someone’s face, and Cal was full of himself and a bit annoying. I mean “enthusiastic.” No matter; by our second beer, the place was slammed.

Our waitress was Camille, and I had what I thought was a senior moment/deja vu because I could have sworn she worked somewhere else and NOT at the Grill. I checked my surroundings: bike, Gonzo, Yoda, Trivial Pursuit cards… yes, this is the Grill.

Turns out she also works at Jack Brown’s and USED to work at Clementine. Of course! She’s served me many a beer there. Funny how you only recognize people in their “original environments.” Anyhoo, in talking with Camille, we learned that not only is she working two jobs, but she’s also involved in a documentary about the Maasai culture and the change it’s undergoing. You can find information about it here. If you like what you see, you can attend the fundraiser Camille’s organizing to raise money for farming initiatives in Kenya, being held at the Blue Nile in March. Talk about super powers—someone give this woman a cape.

It was nice chatting with Camille, and her service was great. The food, as always, was excellent. My favorite is the potato roll-up. But honestly, any food that delivers sour cream to my mouth is a favorite.

I could go on and on about why I love the Little Grill so much. I’ve been going there since I moved here in 1993 and it’s one of my favorite places in the entire world. Just being in there makes me grateful to have something so unique and humbly special in my town. So here are just a few reasons why we love the Grill.

1. Sunday brunch. ‘Nuff said. There are no words; just go and try it. It’s religious.

2. The people who work there are just cool. As Brandy put it, “this place is full of slashers.” Take Camille. She works at the Grill/Jack Browns/Kenya. Ashley Hunter, who was also there tonight: LGC employee/fantastic singer. Chris Howdyshell, whose face was notably absent the day we were there: LGC employee/musician/Open Mic host/happy guy. And the list goes on. And they’re all worker/owners, too, which is why the food and the service is always perfect.

3. They are socially conscious. From the food quality to the shirts they sell, the Grill cares about the planet, the local economy, and you. They buy as much locally-produced food as they possibly can, and organic/cruelty free to boot. They make everything from scratch so you know what you’re eating is wholesome and nutritious. They buy fair trade items so you know your purchase is not exploiting someone somewhere. Many of the shirts they sell are actually re-purposed—they buy shirts at thrift stores, then screen print the LGC design on them.

They operate a soup kitchen and hold lots of community events at Our Community Place, which opened a few years ago (BTW, I tried to link to their website, but it doesn’t appear to be working). They’ve just been a peace-loving, forward-thinking part of our community for a very long time and I can’t say enough about them. Go there. You’ll feel it when you walk in.

4. They promote the goings-on in Harrisonburg. Whether it’s an art show, a local band, a benefit, a museum exhibit, a film festival… you can find it all on their giant bulletin board. They are truly community-minded, and most of the folks who work there are also heavily involved in these community events themselves.

5. There’s so much to do in that teeny, tiny place. While we were there, we (obviously) ate a great meal and had lots of laughs, but I also played Crazy Eights with my kids (Cal kicked our butts pretty soundly).

Brandy and I looked through the Muppets lunchbox stuffed with random notes people have left over the years. Bree and Cal played with the big bucket of Potato Heads. You can also enjoy trivia, look through old photo albums, and write in the “Book of Alternative Commandments,” or whatever it’s called—it was missing tonight when we were there. Has anyone seen it??

And…
6.The Elvis picture. It speaks for itself. I won’t even try.

Obviously, you HAVE to go to the Little Grill as soon as humanly possible. It’s on North Main St., north of Chanello’s where Main and Liberty meet, and just past the (garish) NAPA Auto-Parts store. Park on the street. Sunday brunch starts at nine, but you better get there at 8:30 if you want to make the first seating.  Don’t worry; you’ll have great conversations with other Harrisonburgonians while you wait. Just wear your sidewalk shoes. I promise you’ll feel good when you come out of there.