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.

a working glass man: ZN stained glass.

close up of fused glass necklace

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–>handful of broken glass stained glass artist's studiodesk with Easy button stained glass artistCopyright © 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.

glass act: ZN stained glass.

mirror with photographerSometimes doors close for a reason. A beautiful one.

This was the case for Zac Nafziger, a former employee of Rosetta Stone who, along with several others, was laid off after twelve years with the company. He had enjoyed the steadiness of it, the reliable pay and benefits, the friendships forged there. He had enjoyed working in the heart of the city, watching it change and grow, watching the company change and grow from a small business to a formidable global presence. And so, when the layoff occurred, it was like a strange break up — at first, heartbreak and shock, but then a realization that the relationship had indeed changed, and maybe it was instead an opportunity.

Artist in studioHaving studied, appreciated, and practiced art since his adolescence, Zac soon decided that the most feasible option for him and his family was to dive headlong into the stained glass business — the selling of it, not just the making of it, which was new and slightly uncomfortable territory. Today, suddenly he finds himself doing just that: he reports to his studio at Larkin Arts each day, makes stained glass, and sells it. And although he no longer has the safety net of a bona fide employer, he’s doing all right. Moreover, he’s a happy fellow.

stained glass studioHe packed up all his gear and supplies and traveled 1500 miles to set up ZN Stained Glass in a studio space at Larkin Arts, just a block or two from his former job. Yep, 1500 miles. 15 miles, 100 times. He has a lot of stuff. He does note some important differences between being your own boss and working for someone else. For example, you don’t get paid when you use the restroom, or leave for a quick lunch, or chat with a colleague. No. Now, any sort of break during the day costs him money. If he’s not working, he’s not earning, and that’s an interesting reality many of us don’t know. It might sound great to set your own hours and work wherever you want… the library, a coffee shop, at home… but it takes discipline. As he says, at home there’s always some distraction. The TV, or the Internet, or some household task. Suddenly the day is gone and nothing’s accomplished. Bleeding money. So he tries to work at Larkin as much as possible. There’s really nothing else he can do in his small studio but produce.

stained glass studio cubbies full of glassHis process is interesting yet simple. His inspiration comes in the form of personified ideas that talk to him, usually interrupting him while he’s already working on a piece. So he might sketch that idea just as a reminder, and then draw a full-size picture of it before he starts to cut glass.

artist tableHe might put on a movie or a series of reruns just for background noise (this is part of Brandy’s process, too), but sometimes he works in total silence. He usually works barefoot, and his work table becomes a glass-shard pricker bush that slices his forearms when he leans into it. (I know it sounds masochistic, but it’s the process, people.) Many of his works, as you can see from the photos, contain circles and geometrics, some that are sort of pattern-ish and some seemingly random, but all somehow adding up to a cohesive, comprehensible, eloquent final product.

stained glass blueThis appeals to people because much of his work is beautiful without it having to be something. There might not be a single recognizable object in one of his works, but its arrangement is gorgeous in a way you won’t grow tired of. There’s a quiet, timeless sophistication about his work that cannot be acquired in the home goods section of any store. If my description falls short, which I’m sure it does, just go on down to Larkin and see him at the studio. He’s quite friendly and seems to like talking about his work and current projects; right now he’s working on stained glass inlays for an entire kitchen’s worth  of cabinets, plus wine cellar doors.

Other than his artistic abilities, he says his strengths lie in cooking on the grill, solving problems, and being able to see the big picture… which all sorta relate to his craft if you think about it. I mean, you have to be able to see the big picture when you’re arranging a couple thousand tiny pieces of glass. And his latest news is this: he pretty much bought Avalon Stained Glass School in Kentucky and everything inside it, and he’s driving to Kentucky this weekend to get the loot. It’s like FIFTEEN years worth of glass. So he was pretty excited when we were there with him today.

When I first saw the name of his business — ZN Stained Glass — I thought it said “zen.” And then I wondered if his middle name starts with an E, because it would be cool if ZEN were his initials. They’re not. But I refuse to let go of the yin/yang thing going on here… that he lost his job, which seemed like a disaster, but it turned into a blessing lined with luck and hard work and faith. Two sides of the same coin. You know, like a circle.

stained glass pieceCopyright © 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.