Oh, Canada

In September 2015 we set out on my birthday weekend for a trip to Niagara Falls. We drove from Maryland to Buffalo, New York where we made a required stop at Anchor Bar, “home of the buffalo wing.” Fortified on spices we had an easy border crossing into Canada where we checked into Niagara Falls for the night.

Thank god our hotel was far from chaos of Clifton Hill which is all lights, noises, people, smells. It is a cross between Las Vegas and the Atlantic City boardwalk. I smell funnel cake, my eyes spin with bright white of the Ferris wheel at the top of the hill, and my ears are full of pop music from the wax museum, evil laughter from the Haunted House, and the chatter of hundreds of people. We hope for Friday night fireworks but the wind is too high and we leave the falls without any pyrotechnics. We try a “beaver tail” for dessert which is basically an elephant ear – flaky puff pastry, sugar, and covered in toppings.

Morning comes and the place is absolutely silent. John goes for a run and I photograph the empty streets, my favorite. The Midway is empty, wax museum Taylor Swift is silenced. The falls (THE falls) are just at the base of Clifton Hill and the mist is already churning through the humid air. The boats are out and cruising with poncho-clad tourists and we’re about to be among them.

We chose the Hornblower cruise on the Canadian side after many people recommended we stick with Canada (as opposed to the U.S. Maid of the Mist). The day was perfect for a quick ride and it also won the day as the most efficient tourist attraction. People constantly moving, mobile tickets available, and easy to get where we were going. After the kitsch of the town, the falls were a beautiful and welcome respite from the heat.

We also decided to do Journey Behind the Falls for a different perspective. The attraction itself was not particularly efficient but the views were worthwhile. Walking through tunnels behind the falls the noise is muted but thunderous when you turn the corner to two separate portholes that allow you to see the water up close. Walking out onto the platform next to the falls is unbelievable.

We hopped back in the car to head north to Toronto, a new city for both of us. Another first: a snafu with our Air BNB condo that bears mentioning (they do happen) but doesn’t bear dwelling on (too much time spent griping already.) Toronto was a welcome change after the chaos of Niagara Falls. Here were the high rises and apartment buildings, the baseball stadium and the needle of the CN Tower. We had a great time wandering the city, especially down near the Harbourfront Centre in the evening while a food festival was on.

Several memorable places from Toronto, mostly food-related of course:

O Noir needs a blog post of its own for the sake of the experience. Just know that if you’re in town and you’re an adventurous eater.. you should book yourself a dinner here.

Caffe Demetre was revealed to us in a search for best desserts and that is no joke. We shared a gigantic apple pie a la mode on a waffle and were glad for the walk afterwards. With several locations in Toronto this is a must-do for anyone with a sweet tooth.

Kensington Market is a unique neighborhood in Toronto full of street art, fresh fruit, vintage shops, and you know I found the bakery. It was a now closed bakery that introduced me to the Nanaimo bar – a Canadian classic made of crumbs, chocolate, coconut, and magic.

Steamwhistle Brewing Company is a wonderful way to spend half a day. First, snack on a Soloways hot dog  from nearby baseball stadium vendor. It’s the best damn hot dog I’ve ever had, and we actually stopped by the factory on the way out of town to buy a case. Seriously. Then head to Steamwhistle to (you guessed it) wet your whistle. They do pilsner. Only pilsner. They also have a deep commitment to sustainability, green energy, and product quality. As a former bartender something that stuck with me is their agreement to clean the tap lines for any bar that taps their beer – guaranteeing the same clean taste every time. That’s classy.

Catch you next time, Canada.


Points North: MA, NH, RI

May 2015: Finally an excuse to head North to one of my favorite areas in all the world: New England. I attended a conference in Boston, checked a new state off my list (Rhode Island), and rebooted my spirit with family and friends.

Newport, Rhode Island
Our Air BNB was quaint, but our host was a little kooky. We got around in a rental car, which was nice but you might be able to do without it depending on where you stay.
Willy’s Burger Bar + Rotisserie:  599 Thames Street
Atlantic Grille: My first stuffed quahog – 91 Aquidneck Avenue
Newport Creamery Sandwiches:  Perfect for picnicking – Two locations
* Bonus: Navy Blue Angels show at a local airfield. Tremendous.

Friendly Toast near MIT – 1 Kendall Square Cambridge (also in Portsmouth NH)
Yard House near Fenway for a wonderful dinner with friends – 126 Brookline Avenue
Mike’s Pastries in North End – Killer cannoli – 300 Hanover Street
75 on Liberty Wharf – Great place to raise a glass on the water near the Convention Center
Legal Test Kitchen – fried oyster bahn mi, believe it – 225 Northern Avenue
Flour Bakery – For your sweet tooth – multiple locations

Two faves of mine in coastal New Hampshire:
Petey’s – where I demand an annual lobster roll – 1870 Ocean Harbor Blvd Rye NH
Heavenly Donuts – speaks for itself – multiple locations in MA NH



Weekend in DC: News & Pigs

Don’t panic, I’m alive and have been having a wonderful few months since Williamsburg in November! So wonderful that I can’t seem to find time to post. The better news is that now I have a ton of restaurants and experiences to share … so here we go.

I’ve been in DC on two separate occasions in the past few months, thanks to work. I really enjoy being “close” to DC although geographically close does not mean drive-ably close, as I’ve learned. If I take the train I usually drive out to the BWI airport and park the car for the 25 minute train ride into Union Station. If I drive, there’s a fair amount of lane-switching, construction, GPS and cursing 🙂

Where we ate:
The Pig – 1320 14th St. NW – Can you guess by the name what kind of cuisine we enjoyed? The menu was extensive and inventive in all things pork. Bacon wrapped apples were a favorite, but many other things appeared in plates to share: brussel sprouts, outstanding grits, and even a pig’s foot or a “crispy trotter.” John ordered one and shortly afterward the chef came to our table to visit and brought a very thinly sliced piece of pig cheek (I think). It was basically charred fat .. and it was ridiculously good.

Lincoln’s Waffle Shop  – 504 10th St NW – A greasy spoon with an odd shape and even more curious characters was our choice for Saturday breakfast. Next to historic Ford’s Theatre and rife with references to Honest Abe, the menus are tall and plastic and customers brush elbows in community-style seating. The service is fast and the food is stunning, Northeast, diner-good.

Shake Shack  – 800 F St NW – All the rage in Baltimore right now on the Inner Harbor it appeared on our radar and was hard to resist. The call of serious burgers and milkshakes was too strong! I think the chain meets the hype and and my other half is still talking about the milkshakes (just right).

Kramerbooks – 1517 Connecticut Ave NW – Highly recommended across several review sites this place plays host to two of my favorite things: books and food. After a short wait I received a text letting me know my table was ready. Winding back into the cozy dining area I chose comfort food in a Reuben sandwich and a glass of Malbec. The dessert case is viewable from the bookstore so I also had to take a slice of perfectly tart key lime pie to go.

Playing tourist:
Newseum – 555 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. – Originally when we were looking at museums we were largely focused on the free experiences around D.C. A friend recommended the Newseum and we read a fair amount online before making our decision. This was well worth the admission price for anyone – media hound or otherwise. One exhibit I enjoyed immensely is “The Boomer List” on display now through July 2015: Awesome self portraits and short stories of 19 individuals born in each year of the Baby Boom generation.

Where we stayed:
Hotel Helix1430 Rhode Island Avenue N.W. – A hotel in the Kimpton brand, which never disappoints. Quirky and stylish and in a great location in the N.W. The free happy hour is a great way to wind down (or up). They do have a small garage where you can park your car for a fee, or free, if you get a wink from the travel gods like we did.

Windsor Inn – 1842 16th Street, NW – Working to / from Dupont Circle made this old building a good find in a residential area. Because of its age there is some general wear and tear but if you’re only going to rest your head for a few hours a night, it’s a great spot. Plenty of character in the room furnishings, and a house cat named Mona.

While working in nearby Alexandria, VA I also had the opportunity to eat Ethiopian at a delicious place called Bati. The wait took forever with our huge group (12+ people) but the end result was so worth it when we got to dig right in with our hands and eat. (3815B S. George Mason Drive, Falls Church, VA)


Walking Around Williamsburg

Sometimes conferences keep you cooped up indoors and you don’t get to run around and see everything you want to see in a new city. That said, I usually try to take a day or two to myself before or after a long academic conference. Back in 2010 when I was in Istanbul for a conference, one of my professors said to me, “Kelly, you don’t have to go to everything.” I was shocked by this revelation. I don’t? Several years down the path, I’ve found a great balance between work and play in the conference zone.

Williamsburg, Viriginia is truly lovely. This was my first visit and the weather rolled out a fine red carpet of stunning fall foliage and sunshine on the drive down from Baltimore.

The conference was located at the Williamsburg Lodge, which was incredible. I like to work out while I’m on the road, and the fitness center easily ranked as one of the most immaculate and well-appointed gyms ever. Grounds, rooms, dining and common areas were also warm and inviting. Location can’t be beat as you can walk right out into the colonial area of town and be transported back in time with a few steps. I’d stay here again in a minute.

You know I ate well. Here are some favorites:
Aroma’s Coffehouse & Cafe – 431 Prince George Street – A divine southern breakfast and a location suited for a casual business meeting. Grits with a poached egg and a “Honey Do” latte .. and yes, I stuck a scone in my bag for later.

DoG Street Pub – 401 W Duke of Gloucester, Merchants Square – Excellent atmosphere in this pub where our early bird group gathered before the conference kicked off. I grabbed dinner to go (burgr for me, salad for Katie) and had a delicious cocktail while waiting. Long community tables and high ceilings inside, patio (with heat lamps) outside and a spot right on the busy thoroughfare.

The Cheese Shop – 410 W Duke of Gloucester, Merchants Square – My cousin James pointed me to this place before I arrived, although after seeing the layout of the town it would be hard to miss! I stopped one day for lunch with colleagues and another night for a glamorous cheese plate all to myself. You can buy wine by the glass, pick a number of cheeses, olives or meats and grab a hunk of bread to eat in or dine out. You pay by weight and my plate included three cheeses, olives, a glass of Merlot and a hunk of French bread for $19. Heaven. The sandwich process is efficient, but crowded. Be prepared to wait.

Blue Talon Bistro – 420 Prince George Street – This place boasts “serious comfort food,” and they are not joking. I waited 20-30 minutes for a table for one during Saturday lunch, detouring to Mermaid Books and the Spice & Tea Exchange across the street to count down the minutes. Once I made it to my table, I wanted everything on the menu. The winter vegetable soup came in a perfectly cute tureen and warmed me up immediately. The pressed French dip sandwich was decadent, which sounds crazy for a sandwich but trust me. I finished up with a berry cobbler and a very satisfied smile. Lunch prices were manageable, dinner looked a bit higher.

I tried to get a seat at two places where I was sadly unsuccessful, Old Chickahominy and Food for Thought. Those mishaps did lead me to both the mediocre (Red Hot and Blue BBQ) and the fabulous (Duck Donuts). Duck Donuts was a great find for a breakfast on the road. They apparently have locations all over the beaches of Virginia and are making their way to North Carolina and up into New Jersey. They remind me of Fractured Prune donuts but I also scored handmade hot chocolate and a delicious breakfast sandwich on a bagel.

I also enjoyed a tour and tasting at the Williamsburg Winery. After winning a bottle of Two Shilling Red during the conference (see, they are fun) I wasn’t sure I needed to head to the property. I’m so glad I did. I drove up after 4 p.m. on a Saturday that had proved both warm and sunny, and the lot was full. I thought tours would be over per the website (ending at 4:30 p.m.) but the workers were still selling tickets. The $10 ticket included a short video, a walk through the many rooms and processes, and a tasting of six or so wines. Our guide was a hoot and I was pleasantly surprised by the wines. The Williamsburg Winery is the largest in Virginia, and I also learned that Virginia wines are making their way up to their competitors in the Finger Lakes (NY), and Pacific Northwest (OR, WA). It was dark when I left so I didn’t get to wander through the vineyard but the long and winding drive was beautiful on the way in.

You can see my Hotel Confidential video reviews of the Williamsburg Lodge and the Historic Powhatan Resort.


Red wine & burgers in Napa

When I hear the word “Napa” I think of rolling countryside and bright sunshine and a big glass of red wine. Turns out all of these things are true in a valley with almost three million visitors a year.*

During my visit to San Francisco over Memorial Day weekend, we had a chance to hop in the car and head for the hills. About 50 miles from San Francisco lies this California icon, one that I knew very little about in the first place. Turns out Napa Valley is a collection of towns and wineries and a few long and winding roads. Thankfully there are a lot of designated driver options in place for the tourists, although I’m sure they have their share of roadside disasters.

Our plan was to start at the Visitor’s Center and pick up a map of the Napa Valley Wine Trail. We certainly gave the guy behind the counter a good laugh. I guess asking about crowds and traffic on Memorial Day weekend is just foolish?

With no concrete plan in mind and only one Napa veteran in the car, we decided to pull over at whatever looked interesting. The winner was the stunning Chimney Rock winery, with a distinctively Spanish appeal. We were blessed with a knowledgeable, funny, and kind wine connoisseur named Matt who spoiled us with an outdoor table on the patio and 100% Cabernet. Later we would make the connection between our experience and the movie Bottle Shock which focuses on a true story in Stags Leap. As if it needed further endorsement, I was happy to bring home a perfect 2010 Cabernet Franc from Chimney Rock.

What’s for lunch? Burgers. Yes, really. On a bright blue summer day with a head full of wine, I had the best burger of my life at Gott’s Roadside in Oxbow Public Market. With American flags waving in the breeze we checked the map to find our next destination. It was slightly inconvenient to come back off the trail and into town but Matt gave us such a strong recommendation that we quickly queued up for red meat and fries.

With full bellies we aimed for sparkling wine at the infamous Mumm winery. Where we had previously managed to be three of few patrons at Chimney Rock, we arrived at Mumm to find limos in the parking lot and tables full of bridal parties deep into their pink drinks. Luckily travel karma caught up with us and presented a table along the railing and an unobstructed view of the hills. I was on a rosé discovery kick this summer and was deeply pleased with the Brut Reserve Rosé. Most surprising was the sparkling pinot noir, which I had no idea existed.

What’s for dinner? Taco truck. In keeping with our healthy day we wound our way back to Oakland and indulged in Tacos Mi Rancho. None of us got very far on the monster burritos from this First Avenue fixture. Between the sunshine and the wine, everyone’s eyes were bigger than their stomachs. I’m only sorry I couldn’t do it justice.

With so many places to go in Napa, clearly I have to go back. I’m sure I won’t have a hard time convincing anyone to join me!


* Per 2012 stats from http://www.visitnapavalley.com/research_statistics.htm

Chimney Rock Winery: 5350 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
Gott’s Roadside: Oxbow Public Market, 644 First Street Napa, CA 94559
Mumm Napa: 8445 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
Tacos Mi Rancho: 1st Ave &, 14th St, Oakland, CA 94606