Visiting Annapolis – Maryland’s Capital Deserves More Than a Daytrip

Jordan Wright
August 15, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

Annapolis Harbor

Annapolis Harbor

Although Annapolis is a hop, skip and a jump away, I thought it would be fun to give it more than a cursory visit and include some nightlife, wine life and a bit of water-centric fun.  To that end we booked a few nights at the recently newly redecorated Annapolis Waterfront Hotel.

The newly redecorated rooms at the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel

The newly redecorated rooms at the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel

Now part of Marriott International’s prestigious Autograph Collection brand, known for its spectacular portfolio of luxury hotels around the world, the hotel reflects a decidedly contemporary nautical air with stunning rooms overlooking the town’s main harbor.  As the only hotel overlooking the waterfront, its central location allows visitors to walk to shops, restaurants and historical attractions.  Travelers will be pleased to know they still provide all of the benefits of Marriott Rewards program.  Boaters will love that it has its own dockage.

Harbor view from the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel

Harbor view from the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel

In the past we have enjoyed Sunday brunch at the hotel’s Pusser’s Caribbean Grille with its waterfront dining and lively bar.  Named for the 350-year old West Indian rum brand, their rum-based drinks are delicious and potent.  Be sure to snag a bottle of their newest release called Gunpowder Proof from the onsite Pusser’s Company Store.  You’ll be among the first to try it.  This 109-proof dark rum has only been available stateside for one month.

  • Hot Tip: When booking your accommodations be sure to inquire about the hotel’s special partnership with the Naval Academy.  The “Exactly Like Nothing Else” package, allows overnight guests an opportunity to dine at the Alley Restaurant in the historic wood-paneled Officer’s Club.  Dining in the club is an exclusive privilege normally reserved for Navy families. 

Sightseeing

No visit to Annapolis is complete without a trip to the Naval Academy located in the heart of town.  Our lively guide was Mike Zitzman who regaled us with curious backstories and little known facts on the history of the 338-acre property as well as the program for midshipmen (women are called midshipmen too).  Did you know that during their training each cadet must wear a water-filled fanny pack?  This new regulation was implemented to ensure cadets are not dehydrated while practicing their drills.

Cadets rest between drills at Halsey Field House

Cadets rest between drills at Halsey Field House

On the day we visited the temperature rose to a brutal 98 degrees.  Thankfully we weren’t the ones sporting heavy cotton uniforms and rifles over our shoulders.  Another fascinating factoid: The Navy has more pilots than the Air Force.  (Hint: Pilots, not aircraft.)  And the Army has more boats than the Navy. (Hint: The Navy calls them “ships”.)

The domed ceiling in the Naval Chapel

The domed ceiling in the Naval Chapel

On campus many of the buildings, including the dormitories housing over 4,000 students, are open to the public.  Check out the museum at Preble Hall for paintings, antique model ships and fascinating salvaged artifacts, and the awe-inspiring Main Chapel to see the largest pipe organ in America and marvel at its massive Tiffany stained glass windows.

A Tiffany window in the Naval Chapel

A Tiffany window in the Naval Chapel

Beneath the chapel you’ll view the crypt and marble sarcophagus of Commodore John Paul Jones, the most celebrated Revolutionary War naval hero.  There is also the Levy Center, a place of worship for midshipmen of the Jewish and Muslim faiths.  Book this special guided tour through the hotel or drop in at the Armel-Leftwish Visitor Center.

The marble sarcophagus of John Paul Joned

The marble sarcophagus of John Paul Jones

A 3-mile drive from town is Great Frogs Winery, a 100-year old former tobacco farm with placid views of the rolling countryside.  Located on the Chesapeake Bay, its rustic tasting room is housed in a former tobacco drying barn.

The converted tobacco barn at Great Frogs winery

The converted tobacco barn at Great Frogs winery

Arriving at the height of a summer downpour proved to be a cozy complement to our tasting as we relaxed to the sound of the rain hitting the tin roof.

Let the tasting begin at Great Frogs

Let the tasting begin at Great Frogs

The winery is run by Californians, Nathaniel O’Shea and Andrea O’Shea, who have planted a wide variety of grapes in this sandy Maryland soil.  We especially liked their 2014 Vintner’s White and an exceptional aged port straight from the barrel.

The delicious cheese and charcuterie platter

The delicious cheese and charcuterie platter

It is a fine place to while away an afternoon over delicious locally-sourced cheese and charcuterie.  As the rain subsided and the sun glistened over the vines, we were treated to a double rainbow.  How lucky can you get?

A double rainbow seen from Great Frogs

A double rainbow seen from Great Frogs

Getting out on the water is part of the adventure and there are a number of options to choose from.  If you’re a fan of standup paddleboarding (SUP), the latest form of exercise is yoga sessions on SUPs.  Head over to Capital SUP to see professional paddleboard racer Brian Meyer.  His boathouse is in town on Spa Creek beside his stepfather Barry Levinson’s beautiful grey-shingled home.

Paddleboarders gather for morning yoga on Spa Creek

Paddleboarders gather for morning yoga on Spa Creek

If you prefer a captain at the helm of your ship, go big – as in a 74-foot double masted wooden schooner rigged with four sails.  From the hotel’s docks catch the breeze on The Woodwind and sail the Chesapeake Bay on a two-hour cruise.  Book the special “Wine in the Wind” tour on August 28th.  This French Burgundy tasting with hors d’oeuvres is a three-hour cruise.  If you’re staying at the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel where the ship docks, be sure to ask for the special room + sail rate.

The Temptations perform at the Ram's Head

The Temptations perform at the Ram’s Head

When the sun goes down there’s plenty of entertainment nearby.  Plan ahead for the hottest musical acts at the Ram’s Head Tavern (we caught The Temptations in their sold-out show).  Or head to the Infinity Theatre Company.  A 15-minute drive from town, it features New York theatre and children’s shows.  Another option is the award-winning Colonial Players who will feature Martin McDonagh’s dark, Irish comedy, The Cripple of Inishmaan, beginning September 9th and running through October 1st.   Not to be ignored are the Compass Rose Theatre, Annapolis Opera, Ballet Theatre of Maryland and the Annapolis Shakespeare Company.  For tickets and more info on these venues visit www.InfinityTheatre.com

 Dining

Annapolis has always been tops in seafood restaurants, and frankly, a lot of us come here for the sweet Maryland blue crabs, the famed rockfish and the oysters, many of which are harvested from the world’s largest man-made oyster reef.

Many visitors go for fish and chips at the laidback Galway Bay Irish Pub or seafood-centric Carrol’s Creek Café for fine dining (reserve ahead for a waterside table) and Blackwall Hitch, whose latest outpost is on the harbor in Alexandria, Virginia.  But if you’ve visited before, you may want to explore.

Michelle and Jeremy Hoffman of Preserve restaurant

Michelle and Jeremy Hoffman of Preserve restaurant

Thanks to some insider tips, we made our way to Preserve, a rustic modern outpost for canned, pickled and fermented vegetable dishes from Restaurant Eve alums, Jeremy Hoffman and Michelle Hoffman.  Jeremy informs his cooking from his Pennsylvania Dutch background, elevating homey small plates to a modern sensibility.

The bar at Preserve

The bar at Preserve

Start with a few of his tangy-sweet pickled offerings.  The relish dish features Old Bay Turnips, Bread and Butter Green Tomatoes, BBQ Carrots, Bloody Mary Celery, Soy Ginger Daikon and Beets lavished with dill weed.  I was imagining how nicely they’d pair with wintertime fare when fresh vegetables are out of season and hearty meat dishes can be enhanced with a touch of acidity.

Minced Pork Lettuce Wraps at Preserve

Minced Pork Lettuce Wraps at Preserve

Next set your sights on some tweaked out starters like Kimchi or Minced Pork Lettuce Wraps with peanuts, cilantro and red onion.  The servings are small, so you’ll want to order a few things.

An assortment of "ferments" at Preserve

An assortment of “ferments” at Preserve

The menu lists a number of meat dishes to choose from (the house made liverwurst called to me).  Vegans will delight in discovering the Oyster Mushroom Po’boy.  I savored the Pennsylvania Dutch Chicken Pot Pie with its golden crust.

Jeremy’s Cabbage Alley line of raw, vegan and gluten-free “ferments” – sauerkraut, kimchi and curtido – are available by the jar.

Breakfast at Chick & Ruth's Delly

Breakfast at Chick & Ruth’s Delly

Another unique spot is the iconic Chick & Ruth’s Delly, which is not spelled “deli”, though it certainly is.  This beloved four-generation establishment is the be-all, end-all of Jewish delis.  Unfortunately, many of these wonderful outposts of traditional Jewish cookery have gone out of business, yet this stalwart is still going strong.  Why?  Well, I’d say it’s because they don’t stint on friendliness, food or quality.  The waitresses are cheery, the platters are heroic and the homemade pies are legendary.  With twenty-four flavors to choose from, the pie menu alone is testament to Chick and Ruth’s patriotic commitment to freedom of choice.

The Governor's Table

The Governor’s Table

As a popular hangout for the capital’s lawmakers, politicians’ photos line the walls going back to the 60’s.  There’s even a specially reserved table for the Governor’s Office, be they Republican or Democrat.  Townsfolk will tell you that every newly elected governor has come here and stood beside both locals and out-of-towners to salute the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance on their first day in office.  You too can participate in this unique observance every weekday morning at 8:30am.

Classic Smoked Salmon on an ET bagel

Classic Smoked Salmon on an ET bagel

Though featured on the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food for 6-pound milkshakes and a 3-pound “Super-Duper Colossal” cheeseburger, we nonetheless settled for something far less challenging.  After all it was breakfast and, though you can get breakfast, lunch and dinner all day, a cheeseburger in the morning wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.

Owner Ted Levitt inspects the morning's bread. All pastries, breads, bagels, pies and cookies are baked on premises

Owner Ted Levitt inspects the morning’s bread. All pastries, breads, bagels, pies and cookies are baked on premises

My advice?  Go for the Belgian waffles with homemade fruit toppings, the smoked salmon with all the accoutrements served on an epic in-house made bagel, or the Maryland lump crabmeat omelets.

Settle in with Pork Chops, Grits and Scrambled Eggs at Chick & Ruth's

Settle in with Pork Chops, Grits and Scrambled Eggs at Chick & Ruth’s

A particularly ravenous member of our group bit the bullet and happily chowed down on a duet of pork chops with creamy grits and hash brown potatoes.  Savvy travelers will take home at least one of those splendid pies and a dozen bagels.

Heads Up for the Labor Day Sailboat Races 

For sailing enthusiasts, the 2016 Annapolis Labor Day Sailing Regatta is a great opportunity to see sailboat racing in action.  Hosted by the Annapolis Yacht Club, the Eastport Yacht Club and the Gibson Island Squadron, the races will be held on Saturday, September 3rd and Sunday, September 4th.  For more information call Kathy Parks at 443 386-9057 or visit www.AnnapolisYC.com/racing

Photo credit ~ Jordan Wright

MESS HALL PRESENTS BLAZED AND GLAZED ON SUNDAY MAY 15th

Jordan Wright
April 29, 2016
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts 

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Spliff, doobie, joint.  You can’t smoke em here, but it’s assumed you’ll come high as a kite to this first time munchies extravaganza where pot aficionados in the DMV will be schooled in the fine art of cooking with weed.  Organizers, Al Goldberg, owner of Mess Hall, and Nevin Martell, author of Freakshow Without a Tent, hope their trippy food fest will lure the stoner elite.

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Snacks rule when you’re feeling a buzz and who better to amp up the gourmet goods than Tarver King, molecular gastronomist and Executive Chef of the much-lauded The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm in Lovettsville, Virginia.  King will prepare “cannabutter” during one of the three marijuana cooking classes in the demonstration kitchen.  Other demos will teach fans how to make THC tincture for the ultimate munchies.

When I caught up with King by phone earlier this week, he was excited to be participating.  “It’s great to get in on the ground floor with an event like this,” he told me, “We’re all over it!  Back in high school we used to eat it on the 4/20, rather than smoking it,” he recalled using the universal euphemism for the annual consumption of cannabis.  King admits to scarfing down tacos from Taco Bell after the toke fest.  To get the high the teens were seeking, “we threw a bunch of weed in.”  But he’s evolved since then. “The nerd in me wondered if it would work better in fats.”  To that end he’s played around with a potent version of “cannabutter” which he’ll demo in one of the classes.  He claims this technique “draws out the THC and makes it ten times stronger”.  In actuality he admits he doesn’t smoke it often.  “I can get paranoid,” he says, relating an incident when the act of eating popcorn sounded so loud he thought he was disturbing his wife’s TV watching.

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It was perfect timing for Mathew Ramsay of PornBurger whose eponymously named cookbook just launched.  Ramsay, whose burgers Martell calls, “gloriously gluteus burgers that you want to have sex with”, will be on hand to sign his new book PornBurger: Hot Buns and Juicy Beefcakes (Ecco 2016).  He’ll also demonstrate how to make a weed-laced burger.

Buenos Aires Art in Washington DC by designer Jon Wye

Buenos Aires Art in Washington DC by designer Jon Wye

After the three-class session, guests can chill out in the beer hall/food court where vintage cartoons mix with the sounds of stoner soul and where Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, Fry Brothers, Sloppy Mothers Barbecue and Westray’s Finest Ice Cream are available for purchase.  Be sure to indulge in deluxe flavors from this locally-made ice cream.  Owner Westray Paul promises to bring a few exotic specialties from his “Adventurous” line of cold treats, including Coffee & Doughnuts, Burnt Sugar, and Honey Buttermilk Strawberry.  The hall also features marijuana-related paraphernalia, graphics-adorned gear from designer Jon Wye, and hip logo tees from Kelly Towles.

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The Deets – Tickets are $42.00 for General Admission and include an Astro Doughnut sandwich (a savory rosemary doughnut sandwich with pimento chicken salad and Gordy’s pickled jalapenos) and a beer.  The $75.00 VIP pass gives you front row seating plus an exclusive Kelly Towles t-shirt and a swag bag from DC area restaurants.  Entry times are at 11 A.M., 12:30 P.M., 2 P.M, 3:30PM and 5PM.  For tickets and more info visit https://t.co/zJu179jVG3

Mess Hall
703 Edgewood St., Northeast
Washington, DC 20017

A Haunting Beauty Flourishes Along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way – Five Days Along the North Atlantic Coast

Jordan Wright
February 29, 2016
Photo credit: Jordan Wright

Along Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way

Along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

County Donegal, a windswept land of mountains and coastal cliffs, meadows and quaint fishing villages is finally getting its due as one of the most beautiful and unspoiled destinations in the world.  Not only does it offer up its mysteries to those interested in probing its rich heritage, but it affords a myriad of activities for those seeking adventure.

Pastoral Scene of the Fanad Peninsula

Pastoral Scene of the Fanad Peninsula

Depending on your interest, in a single day you can take in a night of music in a lively pub, explore ancient ruins, hike a mountain passage or loll about at tea time in the posh drawing room of a turreted castle.

Eventide in Moville

Eventide in Moville

For some it’s a round of golf with sweeping sea views, a feast of mussels and lobsters from the daily catch, or surfing the waves along a Blue Flag beach.  Others are drawn to the music.  Donegal is where New Age songstress Enya launched her career in a pub owned by her musical family the Brennan’s, and a place where on any given night, fiddlers and balladeers still raise the rooftops at local watering holes.  There’s so much to enjoy if you remember that getting there is part of the adventure.

The blue waters of Mulroy Bay

The blue waters of Mulroy Bay

You’ll find the Irish are genuinely keen to meet strangers – like our chance encounter with a pair of octogenarians who giggled like schoolgirls and chatted us up when they heard our American accents, or the shopkeeper who poured generous shots from a bottle of homemade poitín, Ireland’s answer to white lightening.

Wild crocosmia

Wild crocosmia

Traveling along well-paved highways the land spreads out like one great patterned tablecloth – the undulating hills and roadsides ablaze with color.  Mile after mile claims great swaths of purple heather, vivid orange crocosmia and bright yellow gorse bowing to the breeze.  Sheep are ubiquitous dotting the fields under a vast horizon bisected by impossibly blue skies.  Even on a misty day it’s beguiling.

Sheep graze atop the headland on Arranmore Island

Sheep graze atop the headland on Arranmore Island

It’s a mystical land of ancient Druids and conquering Vikings, of ruling dynasties and the chieftain families of the O’Neills and O’Donnells.  From the sea we get tales of Spanish Armada ships wrecked on northernmost shores and from the land mystical histories of burial mounds older than the pyramids of Egypt are revealed.  It is known to travelers as the Wild Atlantic Way.  And it is where our adventure unfolds.

Oh, the things you can do in five days!  It is wondrous.

The Grianan of Aileach

The Grianan of Aileach

From Dublin go north through County Meath and its alluring horse country, and beyond through the counties of Monaghan, Tyrone and Strabane, to make your first stop at the Grianan of Aileach, a stone ringfort built in the Neolithic age and linked to the Tuatha de Danann.  A short walk down the hill beside a small spring, will take you to a small wooden cross that marks St. Patrick’s Well, a spot it is thought that St. Patrick visited in the 5th century.

Connemara ponies beside the bay

Connemara ponies beside the bay

Overnight in Moville at the oceanfront 17th century Redcastle Hotel.  The property features a luxury spa that uses 100% organic seaweed-based Voya beauty products, a 9-hole parkland golf course and an indoor Thalasso pool overlooking the waters of Lough Foyle.  Its in-season menu highlights locally sourced food elegantly prepared.  www.RedcastleHotelDonegal.com

View from the greens at Greencastle Golf Club along Silver Strand Beach

View from the greens at Greencastle Golf Club along Silver Strand Beach

In the morning set off along the windswept northern coastlines across the Inishowen Peninsula between Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly, stopping first in Greencastle.  Here you can visit the local Moville Pottery, play a round of golf at the Greencastle Golf Club on Silver Strand Beach at Sweet Nellie’s Cove (call ahead to pre-arrange) and tour the Inishowen Maritime Museum & Planetarium.  www.InishowenMaritime.com

Brian McDermott's Cooking School

Brian McDermott’s Cooking School

Lunch brought us to the outskirts of the small town of Carrownaffe where well-known BBC-TV chef Brian McDermott, fondly known as the “No Salt Chef”, welcomed us to his cookery school in a charming clapboard cottage surrounded by herb and vegetable gardens.  McDermott triumphs a no-salt diet created as a result of personal health issues.

(L-R) Fish course at the cooking school ~ Berry crumble for the class

(L-R) Fish course at the cooking school ~ Berry crumble for the class

Focusing predominantly on seafood, the chef also offers a “Catch It, Cook It” experience that combines a kayak or canoe fishing trip with a hands-on demonstration on how to prepare your catch.  Don’t be surprised to see playful porpoises, dolphins and whales breaching along the coastline.  The subsequent three-course luncheon is the main attraction. www.TheNoSaltChef.com  www.InishAdventures.com

Fort Dunree

Fort Dunree

Known as “Grey Fort” or “Fort of the Heather”, Fort Dunree is a former coastal defense fortification in nearby Buncrana overlooking the Lough Swilly fjord.  Built by the British in the early 1800’s, it offers a small, yet fascinating, military museum that spans the period from Viking invaders to present day.

The 90 cm carbon arc searchlight

The 90 cm carbon arc searchlight

Of special interest is a large collection of artillery guns and a 205-year old carbon arc searchlight, still in use today.  www.Dunree.pro.ie

Stop in the pretty village of Buncrana where you’ll find plenty of pubs and shops and the restored St. Mary’s Hall Cinema built in 1904.

Potted agapanthus at Rathmullan House

Potted agapanthus at Rathmullan House

Listed in Ireland’s Blue Book of Irish Country House, Historic Hotels and Restaurants is the four-star Rathmullan House, a stunning Georgian manor with bespoke gardens, modern amenities and an exceptional cuisine.

A view of the gardens at Rathmullan House

A view of the gardens at Rathmullan House

Breakfast is a stunner with Irish cheeses, fresh ham, homemade brown bread, flapjacks, bowls of fresh berries and house-made granola.  www.RathmullanHouse.com

A pub in the wee village of Buncrana

A pub in the wee village of Buncrana

Before leaving Rathmullan take a tour of the Kinegar Craft Beer Brewery.  One of the founders of the Wild Atlantic Way Craft Beer Trail which boasts 13 small craft breweries, it is located at the end of a narrow country lane surrounded by fields, farms and horses.  This small but productive popular brewery is the epitome of a family-run operation.  www.KinegarBrewing.ie

(L-R) Off to market ~ The barns outside Kinegar Brewery

(L-R) Off to market ~ The barns outside Kinegar Brewery

Traveling along the Fanad Peninsula to the lighthouse, stop at Ballyhiernan Bay.  Over a mile long, the dune-backed beach is the perfect stroll before lunch.

The dunes leading to Ballyhiernan Bay

The dunes leading to Ballyhiernan Bay

Though Donegal features 11 lighthouses, the one on the Fanad Peninsula is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world.  Perched atop the heart-poundingly spectacular cliffs of Lough Swilly and Mulroy Bay, the iconic lighthouse has its own heliport.

The Fanad Lighthouse and heliport

The Fanad Lighthouse and heliport

With advance booking you can overnight in the cozy efficiency and awake to the sound of giant waves crashing up against the rocks plus a vista of unimaginable beauty.  www.FanadLighthouse.com

On the way to Churchill and Glenveagh Castle note the Derryveagh Mountains rising in the distance.  You’ll be passing thousands of acres of bogs where turf is still harvested to heat homes.  Set on a high promontory along Lough Veagh, the castle is part of the Glenveagh National Park and the Donegal Garden Trail.

The walled gardens and greenhouses of Glenveagh Castle

The walled gardens and greenhouses of Glenveagh Castle

Once there, take a guided tour of the antique-filled rooms of the Scottish baronial style mansion house, the Victorian walled gardens and the greenhouses.  The former estate and hunting lodge of the heir to the McIlhenny Tabasco fortune, it was constructed in 1869 and visited by American film stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin.

One of the drawing rooms at Glenveagh Castle

One of the drawing rooms at Glenveagh Castle

This 40,000-acre setting, framed by the Dooish and Staghall mountains, has its own herd of red deer who drink from the clear waters of the lough.  You can learn more at the Visitor’s Center about the park’s recent project to reintroduce the Golden Eagle to Ireland.  Take time for a spot of tea and freshly made scones at the café where tiny birds flutter in and out among the tables.   www.GlenveaghNationalPark.ie  www.DonegalGardenTrail.com

On Main Street in the former fishing village of Dunfanaghy is Arnold’s Hotel, a cozy, well-located, family-run hotel with views of the bay.  After check-in head off for dinner at The Singing Pub and Ocras Café in Downings on Sheephaven Bay.

The daily catch served in copper-lidded tureens at the Ocras Cafe

The daily catch served in copper-lidded tureens at the Ocras Cafe

There you’ll find a welcoming peat-burning fireplace, seafood fresh off the boat and lively music by local bands.

(L-R) A typical jam at The Singing Pub ~ The peat burning fireplace at The Singing Pub

(L-R) A typical jam at The Singing Pub ~ The peat burning fireplace at The Singing Pub

Nautical décor includes a lifebuoy from the Titanic.  On the night we visited, bracketed between traditional Irish folk music and American country ballads, we heard a beautiful young lass sing a haunting rendition of Patsy Cline’s “I Can’t Help It”.   www.ArnoldsHotel.com  www.SingingPub.ie

Riders head out to the shoals of Killahoey Strand

Riders head out to the shoals of Killahoey Strand

After a traditional Irish breakfast, walk behind the hotel to find the stables.  Snag a helmet and boots from the tack room and saddle up to take a guided group ride into the shoals of of Killahoey Strand along Dunfanaghy Bay.  www.DunfanaghyStables.com

On the ferry to the island

On the ferry to the island

Heading off to Burtonport the Errigal Mountains loom largely over the bucholic terrain.  At the harbor catch the 15-minute ferry ride to Arranmore Island, a scenic island boasting a population of around 600 residents, which swells to nearly a thousand in summers as visitors come to the traditional Gaeltacht schools to learn the Irish language.

The harbor at Burtonport

The harbor at Burtonport

Aboard the ferry you’ll probably share a bench with adorable Irish-speaking children who make the daily round trip to schools on the mainland.  For daily ferry schedules visit www.ArranmoreFerry.com.

Jimmy the Sheep

Jimmy the Sheep

Once on the island you’re in the town of Leabgarrow.  Head to GrassRoutes to rent electric bicycles to reach the headlands on self-guided tours. www.GrassRoutes.ie.  Keep an eye out for Jimmy, the cutest black-faced sheep on the island.  Scuba and sea angling charters leave daily from the harbor.  And if birding’s on your agenda, tour the neighboring chain of islands by charter boat. www.DiveArranmore.com

Once back on the mainland it’s time for a pint of Guinness or a perfectly made Irish coffee topped with soft whipped cream at Leo’s Tavern in Meenaleck.

Making the perfect Irish coffee at Leo's Tavern

Making the perfect Irish coffee at Leo’s Tavern

Named after Leo Brennan, an accomplished musician and father of the iconic singer Enya, the large pub is lined with her celebrity photos and framed platinum and gold records. www.LeosTavern.com

Harvey's Point Lodge

Harvey’s Point Lodge

For timelessly elegant dining and world-class wines, make reservations far in advance for the ever-popular Harvey’s Point Lodge.  Situated along Lough Eske, the hotel’s restaurant, calls its dining experience, “Cuisine Art” and offers a dinner cabaret on Wednesday nights.

(L-R) Local fish and clams with oranges and roasted beets ~ Irish beef with foie gras and local vegetables at Harvey's Point ~ Meringue atop coconut pie with lime and strawberry sauce

(L-R) Local fish and clams with oranges and roasted beets ~ Irish beef with foie gras and local vegetables at Harvey’s Point ~ Meringue atop coconut pie with lime and strawberry sauce

Should you choose to overnight here, the suites in this award-winning hotel are spacious and luxurious.  www.HarveysPoint.com

Solis Lough Eske Castle

Solis Lough Eske Castle

Solis Lough Eske Castle is framed by the Blue Stack Mountains on one side and the lough on the other.  A five-star property, it is a peerless example of a Tudor-baronial castle.

Tea time at the Solis Locke Eske Castle

Tea time at the Solis Locke Eske Castle

Take time to stroll the 41-acre woodlands and enjoy the spa and indoor pool.  Breakfast is lavish and features fresh fruits, locally smoked salmon and made-to-order omelets. www.SolisHotels.com/lougheskecastle/

(L-R) The manor at Saltville Gardens ~ Guarding the manor at Salthill was this terrifying clutch of tailwaggers

(L-R) The manor at Salthill Gardens ~ Guarding the manor at Salthill was this terrifying clutch of tailwaggers

A half-hour’s drive away outside the village of Mountcharles, lie the perennial-filled gardens of Salthill with its striking seaside views and fields of meadow grasses overlooking Donegal Bay.

A riot of color in the gardens at Saltville

A riot of color in the gardens at Salthill

Wander through mown paths lined with ferns and wildflowers and take in the aroma of 19th century roses that flourish on stone arches in the walled gardens.

A bowl of shells adorns a window ledge inside the potting shed

A bowl of shells adorns a window ledge inside the potting shed

These exceptionally curated gardens with charming potting shed for visitors, are overseen by Elizabeth Temple who resides in the mansion house and can often be found tending to its glories.  www.DonegalGardens.com

(L-R) Eithna's ~ The dining room at Eithna's By the Sea

(L-R) Eithna’s ~ The dining room at Eithna’s By the Sea

Traveling to Mullaghmore in nearby Sligo County is Eithna’s by the Sea run by Eithna O’Sullivan and Prannie Rattigan of Prannie’s Irish Seaweed Kitchen.  Rattigan is a medical doctor by trade and an expert in edible seaweed who lectures at conferences around the world on the benefits of algae, more familiarly known as seaweed.

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A bounty of seaweed ready for the kitchen

Over 600 species of marine algae can be found off Irish shores.  Here they are sustainably harvested along the Atlantic coast where their vitamin and mineral-enriched flavors appear in delicately prepared seafood dishes.

(L-R) (L-R) Crab and seaweed with lemon foam ~ Crab and seaweed with lemon foam ~ Fish and shellfish form a delicious relationship

(L-R) (L-R) Crab and seaweed with lemon foam ~ Crab and seaweed with lemon foam ~ Fish and shellfish form a delicious relationship

Be sure to sample one of her homemade cakes and take home a bottle or two of hand-harvested dried seaweed.  Nori, kombu, sea lettuce, dulse and wakame are available for purchase. www.EithnasRestaurant.com

The Spanish Armada Trail

The Spanish Armada Trail

After lunch tour the Spanish Armada Trail on foot, on horseback or by kayak along the tidal lagoons with Maritime Archaeologist Auriel Robinson of Sea Trails. www.Seatrails.ie

Close by Dublin’s airport in Meath, but a world away from the hustle and bustle, is the opulent, Georgian period Dunboyne Castle, a magnificent property with spa and lovely gardens.  Relax in this former home of the Lord of Dunboyne before your flight home.

Courtesy of Dunboyne Castle Hotel

Courtesy of Dunboyne Castle Hotel

www.DunboyneCastleHotel.com

For direct flights to Dublin from Dulles Airport visit www.AerLingus.com.  For further information on traveling the Wild Atlantic Way, visit www.WildAtlanticway.com.

Richmond’s Renaissance – From Historic to Hip

Jordan Wright
October 14, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Richmond is getting a lot of ink from around the country as it blossoms into a desirable destination for seasoned travelers.  On a return flight from Ireland last month I was seated next to young German headed to Richmond for the 9-day UCI Road World Cycling Championships.  He wasn’t a journalist, or even an athlete (for emphasis he patted his expansive belly), this was his first trip to America and he was off to our state capitol for a world-class sporting event.

Change comes quickly to a place when creative minds are firing on all cylinders and Richmond’s renaissance began in fits and starts in the 1980’s with the careful restoration of historic portside factories into airy lofts, galleries and restaurants.  Today young entrepreneurs have seized on the affordable rents for their fledgling businesses and the city has exploded with new life.  Even the film industry is onto the stunning architecture of this historic city.  Spielberg’s epic drama Lincoln was shot here, as was the soon-to-be-released PBS Civil War drama, Mercy Street.  This is not your buttoned up Southern city any more.

Once seedy Broad Street is humming with new activity, in part due to the more than 31,000 students attending VCU located in the heart of the city.  Now formerly overlooked neighborhoods like Church Hill are grabbing the spotlight.  Across the city the trend shows no sign of slowing down with historic buildings being preserved and rehabbed into stunning contemporary living spaces.

New restaurants open every week – – some doing tasty riffs on Southern classics, others drawing from exotic cuisines.  Many pair their food with Virginia wines or any of the thirteen Richmond-area microbreweries.  Next year California-based Stone Brewing Company will open its eastern U. S. brewery operations and World Bistro & Gardens along Gillies Creek in the historic Fulton Hill neighborhood.

As for the Arts, apart from major international touring art shows at the prestigious Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, there is also a flourishing local art scene with galleries and colorful murals dotting every area of the city.  Look for the new VCU Institute for Contemporary Art to open a 43,000-square-foot museum showcasing innovative exhibitions, performances and films by 2017.

GO EXPLORING

(L-R) Swan Bed  -  Italian Garden at Maymont

(L-R) Swan Bed – Italian Garden at Maymont

Maymont offers 100 lush acres of breathtaking gardens, a nature center, and a Romanesque Revival-style manor house chock-a-block with Victoriana reminiscent of the Gilded Age.  Take time to stroll through Japanese, Italian and Victorian gardens or ride a horse-drawn carriage through magnolia-lined allées.  www.Maymont.org

Lewis Ginter Garden

Lewis Ginter Garden

Ranked No. 2 among America’s Best Public Gardens, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden features themed gardens including the Children’s Garden, Healing Garden, Rose Garden and Victorian Garden and the South’s most magnificent domed conservatory filled with hundreds of exotic specimens.  www.LewisGinter.org  Both are part of the Richmond Garden Trail as are six other sites.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Along with more than 33,000 works of art from around the world, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts houses a collection of beautiful Fabergé jeweled eggs.  “Rodin” arrives in late November with over 200 works from the Musée Rodin in Paris.  www.VMFA.museum

The Virginia Historical Society featuring a fascinating and comprehensive collection of Virginia history from 16,000 BCE to the present.  Opened this month “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” features 36 costumes from PBS Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey series.  www.VAHistorical.org

The Valentine Museum tells the story of Richmond’s early history including the women’s suffrage rights, the slave trade and civil rights.  A current show, Classical Allure: Richmond Style, features select gowns and artifacts from their Costume and Textile collection of over 40,000 pieces, the largest of its kind in the South.  www.TheValentine.org

The Science Museum of Virginia

The Science Museum of Virginia

Science is cool at the Science Museum of Virginia.  Housed in the grandiose former Broad Street Union Station, designed by architect John Russell Pope in the neo-classical style, explore tons of interactive exhibits on space, health, electricity and the earth.  A new exhibit, Alien Worlds and Androids features early TV and film robots up to present day outer space heroes.  Be sure to check out the 76-foot Dome theatre – – the largest screen in Virginia.  www.SMV.org

Stroll Cary Street for cute shops – vintage clothing at Bygones; gifts and more at Mongrel; and great consignment shops such as Ashby and Clementine.

TASTE THE TOWN

(L-R) Sub Rosa Bakery - Plum tarts from Wood-Fired Bakery

(L-R) Sub Rosa Bakery – Plum tarts from Wood-Fired Bakery

Breakfast – Sub Rosa Wood Fired Bakery in Church Hill where a brother-and-sister team, Evrim and Evin Dogu, use a German-made mill to grind organic flour to bake into their crusty breads, yummy cookies and rustic tarts served on eclectic plates from Tree Hill Pottery in Richmond.  www.SubRosaBakery.com

Brunch – Sunday Champagne Brunch at The Jefferson hotel is prepared by Chef Patrick Ehemann and served in the Rotunda lobby.  It is the pinnacle of Southern haute cuisine.  Be sure to try the soufflé-like spoonbread.  Reservations recommended.  www.LemaireRestaurant.com

Lunch – Tucked into a residential neighborhood, Stella’s serves modern Mediterranean and Greek dishes; The Savory Grain for New American comfort food with a large selection of microbrews and craft beers; and a perennial favorite, the French-inspired Can Can Brasserie in Carytown.

Ardent Craft Ales brewery

Ardent Craft Ales brewery

Sips – The bar at Lemaire; Saison Restaurant cum gastro pub, or The Roosevelt for craft cocktails in a two-story red clapboard house; on-site brewed quaffs at Blue Bee Cider, Virginia’s only urban cidery in the Old Manchester district; the cool scene at Ardent Craft Ales, a brewery in the burgeoning Scott’s Addition neighborhood.  Best Autumn saison, Sweet Potato & Sage.  Check their calendar for open brew days.

(L-R) Roasted Beets with beet mousse and navel oranges - Sable Fish with Maitake mushrooms, charred scallions and dashi broth - Espresso Chocolate Mousse, with orange, hazelnut, and anise hyssop at Maple & Pine

(L-R) Roasted Beets with beet mousse and navel oranges – Sable Fish with Maitake mushrooms, charred scallions and dashi broth – Espresso Chocolate Mousse, with orange, hazelnut, and anise hyssop at Maple & Pine

Dinner – A tough call with so many to choose from.  The intricate fusion dishes by Executive Chef Lee Gregory at the sophisticated and hip Maple & Pine in the glamorous new Quirk hotel; Comfort for locally-sourced, meat-and-three contemporary Southern from Rising Star-awarded chef, Jason Alley; The Roosevelt for three-time James Beard Foundation nominee David Dunlap’s snappy Southern cuisine; Mamma Zu for old school Italian; and Perly’s for serious Jewish deli.

Meat Loaf, squash casserole and cheddar cheese grits at Comfort

Meat Loaf, squash casserole and cheddar cheese grits at Comfort

STAY

Hotel Rotunda

Hotel Rotunda
With 70-foot-high ceilings and a staircase long rumored to have appeared in Gone with the Wind, The Jefferson Hotel’s Rotunda lobby is one of Richmond’s most sought after spaces for important events. In his 1987 nationally broadcast Sunday morning segment for CBS News, Charles Kuralt described it as (arguably) the most beautiful (public room) of any hotel in the country

Luxuriate at The Jefferson – The Queen of American Beaux Arts hotels, this opulent jewel of an historic hotel has cut the number of their rooms down from turning the remaining guestrooms into expansive suites.  For the ultimate stay, book a Grand Premier Suite that features a lavishly appointed marble-tiled bathroom with a television invisibly incorporated into the mirror, soaking tub and separate dressing room.  www.JeffersonHotel.com

Quirk Hotel and Gallery – The new kid on the block.  Recently opened and lovingly restored, this hip boutique hotel had a former life as a swank department store.  Sip handcrafted cocktails on the rooftop terrace.  www.DestinationHotels.com

UPCOMING EVENTS

Fire, Flour & Fork – October 28th – November 1st – A four-day culinary gathering with tours, special dinners, classes featuring local chefs, cookbook authors, culinary historians and beverage experts.  A foodie’s wet dream.  Fire, Flour & Fork

On November 13th from 7pm till midnight revel in InLight Richmond.  Organized by 1708 Gallery, enjoy a free, public exhibition of light-based art and performances to be held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.  Watch the Community Lantern Parade along with performances, sculpture, video, and interactive projects that illuminate pathways, walls, sidewalks, green spaces, trees, benches, building facades, and more, in and around the VMFA campus.

November 27th – January 11th 2016.  The nightly holiday extravaganza Dominion GardenFest of Lights: H2Whoa at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden features over half-a-million twinkling lights, hand-crafted botanical decorations, model trains, holiday dinners, firepit with s’mores, hot chocolate (for purchase) and more.  This year’s “H2Whoa” theme showcases water in all its forms.  Experience a dazzling 30-acre light and botanical display of magical, whimsical water events.  Stroll through twinkling “rain storms” as crystal raindrops and fluffy storm clouds float overhead while you marvel at a thunderstorm of lights.  In the Conservatory you’ll see a wintry wonderland, rainstorms and rainbows, and even a tropical rainforest.

For more information on upcoming events go to www.VisitRichmondVA.com

Nibbles and Sips Around Town – May 6, 2015

Jordan Wright
May 6, 2015

Scanning the course

Scanning the course

Whisk and Quill was delighted to accept an invitation to attend the 90th running of the Virginia Gold Cup last weekend in The Plains, Virginia, as a judge for their prestigious tailgate competition – – a hard-fought and entirely subjectively-judged contest pitting talented and sophisticated entrants against those of the same stylish stripe. The competition for this blue ribbon event was sponsored by the Silver Diner ( See my previous article on Silver Diner ), who kindly sent one of their chefs, Chris Hiller, to join us in our efforts.

For the first time in 25 years, I abandoned my own well-heeled guests for three-and-a-half hours to swan around the rolling hillside lapping up bourbon cocktails, swooning over caramel cake and taste-testing an exotic Indian biryani. I swear on the memory of my beloved Brazilian horse, Beija-Flor, it felt like I ran the length and breadth of the entire steeplechase course…though gratefully it was devoid of any water or brush jumps, and more to the point, I did not have to wear a saddle.

The main parameters were that the offerings be homemade, and that the entire tailgate set-up should reflect a theme. Unfortunately some of the unnamed entrants had chosen to scoff at the memo. Our four judges were astounded to see Costco cookies and sandwiches, still in their plastic tubs, side-by-side with veggies and dip from the local Safeway. May the saints preserve us! And may the best horse win.

The Bee People

The Bee People

For the most part these concepts were highly original. Some were delightfully equine-themed. The “Bee Calm and Carry On” group had little bees on everything – – from cupcakes to a honeyed bee skep cake. The hostess was eager to point out that all offerings included at least some honey, including the Honey Punch and the whiskey bourbon shooters. Yes, whiskey and bourbon combined – – a delicious, if not incendiary, alternative to cough medicine. The ladies were attired in yellow and black, some striped, and host Eddie Batten was gotten up in a tan beekeeper’s suit complete with antique fogger.

Shanti Williams greets guests

Shanti Williams greets guests

“A Trip Around the World” welcomed us with ‘passports’ – – a printed menu of the afternoon’s delights. Cutouts of the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal and Statue of Liberty adorned the table and we found Greek, Indian, French and German influenced dishes prepared by local private chef, Shanti Williams of Ruther Glen, Virginia whose Duck Confit Sliders with Cranberry Jam and Fennel & Celery Root Slaw were an especially big hit.

Sylvia Sosa's Pink & Green theme

Sylvia Sosa’s Pink & Green theme

Sylvia Sosa chose “Pink & Green” as her theme and carried it out to the nth degree with horsey cut-out sandwiches sporting pink saddles tied with bakery twine and cupcakes decorated with horseheads and horseshoes. It certainly was one of the prettiest tables we visited.

Tiffany's goes country

Tiffany’s goes country

Jen Dominick brought Tiffany’s from city to country with an Audrey Hepburn cutout gracing a 20-foot table. Guests clad in classic Tiffany-colored turquoise and white apparel drank from silver mint julep cups (plastic, but very chic nonetheless). Her bespoke parting gifts for guests were tiny chocolates in precious blue boxes with white satin ribbons. It was all very posh, don’t you know.

Karen Gilbert and guests

Karen Gilbert and guests

Two competitors stole the show. Hostess Karen Gilbert of “Crystal Horseshoes” who served the most amazingly tender short ribs, “fully loaded” potato salad and super divine sandwich on a roll with her Hot Brown Sliders; and Jackie Deschamps who rocked a “50 Shades” theme.

50 Shades Pink & Black theme

50 Shades Pink & Black theme

Jackie’s choice of a fabulous shocking pink-and-black color theme coupled with sumptuous food – – poached salmon with hollandaise, shrimp kabobs, and an assortment of delicious homemade cakes – – matched the charming hospitality and elegant demeanor she and her guests showered upon us. It may be true that we were influenced by such niceties as offering up a welcoming chair, personally serving us separate plates for entrees and desserts, and bringing round a refreshing drink, if only for the three minutes we allowed for our “I-hate-to-eat-and-run” visits.

Caramel cake from 50 Shades

Caramel cake from 50 Shades

Racing around over hill and dale, like horses navigating jumps on a steeplechase course, we managed to visit all twelve competitors. We tasted and sipped, chatted up strangers and debated the merits of the competitors; coming up with the premise that, when every last little thing was taken into account, it was all about homemade fare, a soupçon of creativity and old-fashioned, heartfelt Southern hospitality. We are in Virginia after all.

One of the award-winning hats in front of the Steward's Stand

One of the award-winning hats in front of the Steward’s Stand

In the end it was a photo finish, with “50 Shades” leading by a nose, followed by “Crystal Horseshoes”, who had driven 100 miles round trip to find their tabletop white horse, and “A Trip Around the World”, coming away with a very respectable third.

Thanks go out to each and every competitor. See you in the fall when we’ll do it all over again on October 24th.

Kentucky Hot Brown Sliders

Kentucky Hot Brown Sliders

Kentucky Hot Brown Sliders – from The Seasoned Mom

Ingredients:

1 package of King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls (split)
¼ cup of mayonnaise
12 slices of deli turkey
12 pieces of cooked bacon
6 slices of Gruyere cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup canned pimientos (diced)
½ cup butter (cubed)
2 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 ½ Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. garlic powder

Directions:

Spread mayonnaise on the roll bottoms. Layer with turkey, bacon, a few bits of pimiento and both cheeses. Replace tops. Arrange sandwiches in one layer in a greased 9-inch-square baking pan. In a small skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring for one to two minutes, until tender. Whisk in brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and garlic powder. Continue whisking until sugar is dissolved. Pour butter sauce over sandwiches.

Cover with foil and refrigerate for several hours. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake covered for 25 minutes. Remove cover and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until nicely browned.

Honey Punch – adapted from the Food Network

Dissolve ½ cup honey in ½ cup boiling water. Let cool, then pour into a pitcher. Add the juice of 2 lemons, 2 cups of apricot or peach nectar, and 1 cup of vodka, gin, bourbon or whiskey. Chill. Before serving add a bottle of chilled sparkling apple cider (Try the all-natural ‘Alpenglow’, made in Virginia from Shenandoah Valley apples.) and float lemon slices in the pitcher.

Photo credit – Jordan Wright