Richmond for the Holidays

Jordan Wright
December 5, 2017

The holidays are a time for making memories with loved ones.  Agreed?  But if thoughts of capturing your seasonally-imbued memories feature a well-worn sofa and boxed wine, then read no further.  This adventure requires you trot out your childlike sense of wonderment.

In a city that has emerged as a world class destination with cutting-edge cuisine, art exhibitions often seen nowhere else in America and a five-star luxury hotel, Richmond provides everything a couple or family could ever dream of.  Okay, no skiing.  And that’s what the holidays are all about isn’t it?  Making wishes come true.

I admit, I get a thrill of anticipation each time I check into The Jefferson Hotel – a turn of the 20th century American classic in the tradition of the country’s grandest hotels.  The more familiar I am with its pleasures the more I feel the need to revisit, if only to assure myself that all is well with the world.

On this trip, I planned to experience the recent room renovations.  The improvements at this 2017 recipient of the Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond Award are not mere window dressing, they are both elegant and technologically clever with television screens built invisibly into the vanity mirrors.

Marble, marble and more marble abounds on bathroom countertops, soaking tubs, and the spacious walk-in showers.  Luxuriate on poufy comforters and down pillows adorning beautifully tailored designer bedding.  Recently the hotel’s 262 guest rooms were rebuilt into 181 spacious new rooms, including 15 suites with entry foyers and spacious dressing areas.  Our suite had a kitchen with marble countertop plus a large mahogany dining table and spacious living area with a view of the city.  Perfect for inviting guests in for cocktails before dinner, or entertaining six for dinner in your private suite.  And though room service is 24-hours a day, you’ll want to get out and about.

But first we stare in wonder at the Christmas decorations.  Hundreds of poinsettias, yards of garland and ribbon, thousands of twinkling lights and dozens of toy soldiers adorn the Palm Court Lobby and the surrounding areas.  A gingerbread display made from hundreds of pounds of gingerbread, royal icing and candies dazzles even the grownups.  At midday, musical ensembles play familiar carols in the Rotunda and the festive ambiance is utterly magical.

Pro tip: If you’re planning on being here on a Sunday, book ahead for the lavish ‘Champagne Brunch’, and do not miss the spoonbread.  The hotel’s signature breakfast concoction with deep Southern roots, it is as light and fluffy as a cloud.  Ask for the recipe.  No, beg!  I did.

Oh, and be sure to swing by Blooms at The Jefferson, the flower and gift shop on the lower level.  I always find great hostess gifts and, of course, petits bibelots pour moi.

The hotel is currently offering a Holidays at The Jefferson Package for those wishing to celebrate the season with an overnight stay.  It includes a newly constructed Grand Premier Room, complimentary valet parking, and rates from $275 per room, per night.  www.JeffersonHotel.com/packages

There is so much to do in town that after dropping off our luggage with the bellman, we head for lunch at the iconic Sally Bell’s Kitchen, a luncheonette directly across from the Science Museum of Virginia where you can tour special holiday exhibits including Ralphie’s, A Christmas Story, and “Fruitcake Science”.  www.smv.org

At Sally Bell’s find throwback lunch fare like pimento cheese, corned beef spread, Smithfield ham on a roll, tomato aspic (this must be a Southern thing) and more, plus thirteen different flavors of cupcakes (caramel!) and five different kinds of pies (lemon chess!) with which you can fortify yourself for the day ahead.  www.SallyBellsKitchen.com

Cross the street to visit the Science Museum or opt for the Black History Museum and Cultural Center featuring art exhibitions and artifacts commemorating the accomplishments of African Americans in Virginia.  Recently relocated to a beautifully renovated location (at the Leigh Street Armory), it is an interactive and modern museum.  For hours of operation visit www.BlackHistoryMuseum.org.

A must see is the Lewis Ginter Gardens spectacular festival of lights from 5 till 10pm.   This annual holiday tradition glows with more than half-a-million twinkling lights, hand-crafted botanical decorations, model trains, holiday dinners, a fire pit with s’mores and hot chocolate, nightly family activities and more.  For tickets and information visit www.LewisGinter.org.

A restaurant I’d been hearing a lot about is L’Opossum, where chef and proprietor David Shannon has been creating masterfully complex dishes in an eclectically decorated, nondescript corner spot on China Street.  I promise you’ve never seen anything like it with its Flintstones throw pillows and 50’s satellite chandeliers in a cozy, candlelit, appealingly garish room that feels like Gay Paree meets your granddad’s rec room.  But don’t cast a gimlet eye on the quirky décor or the 1940’s illustration of a chic pirate on the menu – Shannon has a curatorial eye for mid-century modern – this is serious cuisine and it’s the essence of the new Richmond.

Now I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fab craft cocktails made with top shelf liquor and house made ingredients.  Expect the unexpected.  The ‘Hooty Hoo’ is a White Russian served with Yoo-Hoo, Black Lava salt and Xocolatl bitters.  The ‘Honey Badger’ is a blend of Belle Isle Honey Habanero Moonshine, muddled jalapeno and orange, Ginjo Sake and St. Germain.  Go on with your bad self.  Have one of each.

Shannon, who was a semi-finalist for ‘Best Chef Mid-Atlantic’ by the James Beard Foundation, likes luxe ingredients – caviar, foie gras, brandied figs, absinthe mists, escargots and flambéd desserts.  Expect a dining experience that would wow even the most sophisticated palate.  Reservations are a must in this tiny, romantic spot. www.Lopossum.com

On day two we rose early and headed downtown for breakfast at the industrial-cute, Citizen.  Laser-focused on the Southern thing, we order bowls of stone ground Byrd Mill grits topped with swirls of melted butter, sour dough toast with pear butter, Benton’s bacon, lentils with feta (too healthy?) and steaming hot cappuccinos.  This lively spot serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with a menu that trends hip, healthy and international. www.CitizenRVA.com

The Virginia Museum of Fine Art, one of the nation’s premier museums, is currently featuring ‘The Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China’.  The exhibition showcases ten majestic terracotta figures, including a cavalry horse and 130 works that tell the story of China’s birth.  You’ll also see arms and armor, horse and chariot fittings, ritual bronze vessels, works in gold and silver, jade ornaments, precious jewelry, and ceramics from the First Emperor’s mausoleum complex.  If that isn’t thrilling enough, there’s the reinstallation of the museum’s breathtaking Fabergé Collection.  For timed tickets to The Terracotta Army exhibit visit  www.VMFA.museum.

You can linger at lunch at Amuse or the more casual café, or head over to Scott’s Addition to The Urban Farmhouse Market & Café, a nifty, rustic place that features local artists and farm-to-table.  It’s a friendly, low-key hangout with wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling retractable windows and, naturally, a farmhouse vibe.  The daily selection of gourmet sandwiches and salads, smoothies, espresso drinks, fresh pressed juices and fair-trade teas are listed on the chalkboard menu.  Browse the antique wooden cupboards for local foodstuffs to take home.  www.TheUrbanFarmhouse.net

Scott’s Addition is the trendy neighborhood for millennials, with its reconverted warehouse loft apartments, hipster eateries, coffee brewers, and craft beer breweries like The Veil Brewing Company, Strangeways Brewing, Isley Brewing Company, Väsen Brewing Company, Ardent Craft Ales and more.  It’s the holy grail for brewhounds and those who like their aging done with apples.  Blue Bee Cider has moved to the hood and is now firmly ensconced in a 19th century reconverted stables.  www.TheVeilBrewing.com www.StrangewaysBrewing.com www.IsleyBrewingCompany.com www.VasenBrewing.com www.ArdentCraftAles.com www.BlueBeeCider.com

While in the neighborhood, scour Class and Trash for cool retro collectibles, farmhouse tables, architectural elements and garden ornaments. www.ClassandTrash.com

Stop by for a tour and tasting at Buskey Hard Cider.  You’ll probably meet Founder/Owner, William Correll, whose usually on site to explain the aging process – some ciders in steel barrels, some in old whiskey barrels from the Virginia Distillery Company. www.BuskeyCider.com

Nearby is The Veil Brewing Company. When we arrived, just before the 4pm opening, there was a line around the block.  We were so shocked we thought they must have been having an early bird bargain sale.  No such luck.

This über popular brewery has a comfy lounge area and a very efficient pick up area for take away and growler refill.  You’ve probably heard of their ‘Double Espresso Hornswaggler’, an espresso chocolate milk stout that shouts “school’s out!” www.TheVeilBrewing.com

Back at the hotel we took a relaxing dip in the indoor pool before dressing for dinner at Lemaire.  There’s no way to prepare you for Lemaire, except to describe it as the height of destination dining.  The hotel’s lavish dining room fairly sparkles with grandeur.  The capacious room is resplendent with crystal chandeliers, heavy silk draperies and exquisitely carved period architecture.  Place yourself in the expert hands of sommelier Shawn O’Keefe who will gently guide you toward the perfect pairings for Executive Chef Patrick Willis’ seasonal haute cuisine.

Whether your preference leans toward seafood or meat, vegetarian fare or poultry, everything is sumptuously prepared and exquisitely plated.  Desserts are as pretty as they are delectable and you’ll want to linger over a postprandial port or brandy till the cows come home.

After a quick breakfast of muffins and coffee at the hotel’s bistro, TJ’s, shopping was on our minds and there are plenty of specialty clothing boutiques in Carytown.  Bygones, the vintage clothing store for men and women, comes to mind.  But my personal favorite is Helen Campbell’s La Petite Boutique on MacArthur Avenue.  Helen has an eye for distinctive and feminine statement clothing in luxe fabrics, often with embroidery or intricate pleating.  She also carries fabulous hats and accessories to complete a stunning ensemble you’ll see nowhere else. www.APetiteBoutiqueRVA.com

Holiday Happenings

Jordan Wright
December 1, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Synetic Theater ~ MetroStage ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria ~ ICE! at National Harbor ~ Christmas at Mount Vernon ~ Signature Theatre ~ Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia 

Raven Wilkes (Babysitter), Justin Bell (Hansel), and Sharisse Taylor (Gretel) Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Raven Wilkes (Babysitter), Justin Bell (Hansel), and Sharisse Taylor (Gretel) Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Hansel and Gretel at Synetic Theater During the bustle of holiday crowds, Gretel tries to keep her brother, Hansel, out of trouble while their babysitter leaves Gretel to fend for them both. As Hansel embarks on his own wonder-filled exploration of his everyday surroundings, he and his sister fall into a magical realm that takes them far away from home. In this wordless production, the well-beloved Grimm fairy tale embraces the fantastical through the eyes of those who see the world through a different lens.  Directed and choreographed by Elena Velasco and Tori Bertocci.  Through December 23rd at 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets visit www.synetictheater.org.

Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush

Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush

The Old Bull & Bush at MetroStageOriginally staged in the Old Vat Room at Arena Stage writer, director, and actor Catherine Flye will be transferring her 9-person troupe to a circa 1912 replica of the famed Hampstead, England pub to jolly up your holidays with food, 35 songs, jokes, dance, a sing-along and an abbreviated reenactment of Dickens’ Christmas Carol.  With Christmas crackers, British beers and sausage rolls for purchase, the classic British music hall entertainment runs through December 24th at 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets visit www.metrostage.org.

Larry Grey as Fezziwig and Hannah Pecoraro as Mrs. Fezziwig and cast ~ Photo credit Michael DeBlois

Larry Grey as Fezziwig and Hannah Pecoraro as Mrs. Fezziwig and cast ~ Photo credit Michael DeBlois

A Christmas Carol at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – In a fresh interpretation by director Eleanor Tapscott, enjoy a return of the Christmas classic by Charles Dickens. Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable Victorian humbug, travels with diaphanous ghostly guides (beautifully choreographed by Ukranian Victoria Blum) through Christmas past, present, and future to find the true meaning of the holidays.  Complete with special effects, Victorian carols and Tiny Tim. Through December 16th at 600 Wolfe Street.  For tickets call 703.683.0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer atICE!” at the Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center – A 9-degree winter wonderland carved from over two million pounds of ice, a Christmas Village, merry-go-round, Glacier Glide ice skating rink, “JOY” – an eye-popping, Broadway-style holiday musical show, nightly snowfalls and dancing fountains at this first-class holiday destination.  Additional events are a Mistletoe Mixology class, Build-A Bear Workshop, photos with Santa, Cookies with Mrs. Claus and so much more. Through January 1st at 201 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, MD 20745.  For tickets and event times visit www.GaylordNationaltickets.com.

Photo credit Melissa Wood

Photo credit Melissa Wood

Christmas at Mount Vernon Tour George and Martha Washington’s mansion by candlelight and make merry with 18th century dancing, fireside refreshments and caroling.  Meet Aladdin the Camel, watch holiday fireworks on December 15th and 16th, hear period music, experience a military encampment and more.  For tickets and event times visit www.MountVernon.org.

Holiday Follies at Signature Theatre – Starring jazz singer Ines Nassara, David Rowen (Signature’s Diner) and Katie Mariko Murray (Signature’s West Side Story) singing classic holiday songs.  Through December 16th at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets visit www.SigTheatre.org.

The Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia in collaboration with the Office of the Arts presents a “Friday Evening Chamber Concert Series”.  The next concert “A Brass Christmas” is scheduled for Friday, December 15th at the Durant Arts Center, 1605 Cameron St.  For online tickets visit http://bit.ly/2vSKXRd.  Tickets are also available at the door.

Charleston City Including Backroads and Byways – Test Driving Hyundai’s 2018 Sonata and Elantra

Jordan Wright
October 9, 2017
Photo credit: Jordan Wright

 

Historic Charleston

The beautifully preserved port city of Charleston and its neighboring countryside proved an excellent opportunity to test drive the soon-to-be-released the sporty 2018 Sonata with its minimalist design and 8-speed transmission, and the 2018 Elantra GT.  Two daytime road rallies exploring this area on its cobblestone streets, highways and country lanes were no challenge for these two excellent-performing, mid-priced cars.

2018 Elantra GT

2018 Elantra GT

Both the 2018 Elantra GT and 2018 Sonata presented well through sudden downpours, bumpy roads, last minute turns and quick braking.  Our 90-plus degree day consisted of a four-hour morning drive in the Elantra GT and the same time in the Sonata.  We drove the vehicles past horse farms and golf clubs, across bridges and beside lush gardens with no stops for a refuel.  Plenty of highway and two-lane roads were instrumental in testing its maneuverability, comfort level and braking system.  Both dual clutch and manual are equally fuel-efficient and can be started and have the car’s temperature set by using Google.  Gotta love that in both hot or frigid climates!

Hyundai’s 2018 Elantra GT at the Charleston National Golf Club

Hyundai’s 2018 Elantra GT at the Charleston National Golf Club

For our early morning road rally 18 Elantra GTs started out from the beautiful Belmond Charleston Place, a magnificent property in the tradition of America’s grand hotels.  It was exciting to see them all lined up on the hotel’s cobblestone driveway in all their shiny new colors.

Charleston National Golf Club

Charleston National Golf Club

Our morning drive took us down Meeting Street and across the city then on to Route 526 to Sullivan’s Island and Route 703 on the Isle of Palms.  From there we drove inland to Mt. Pleasant arriving at the Charleston National Golf Course for snacks and cold drinks in their beautiful clubhouse set amid old Live Oaks and swaying Spanish moss.

A different route with different challenges defined our return.  From sizzling hot country roads that billowed clouds of steam from the frequent bursts of rainfall, the car handled it beautifully as we headed back to the hotel for a lunch break.  We had the chance to note the air conditioning and inside defroster were effective to handle such quickly changing weather conditions.  As we drove east on Route 526 beside the Ashley River and across the Cooper River, two rivers that converge at the port of Charleston, we enjoyed the panoramic views of the low country marshes with their acres of sweetgrass that the Gullahs make their intricately woven baskets from.  From there we passed the Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens before making our way back to the hotel for a lunch break.

Low country marshland along the route

Low country marshland along the route

Our afternoon drive in the Sonata took us across the Stono River on Route 700 and down through John’s Island to stopped at The Plantation at Stono Ferry and on to the Links at Stono Ferry Golf Club in Hollywood before heading back to town.  It is a stunning drive, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in touring the area.

Both cars exceeded expectations.  Most especially in what comes standard, though add-ons can raise the final price.  They are zippier, snazzier and more comfortable than earlier models with great attention paid to overall design, mileage and performance.

For fuel economy, you can expect the Elantra to give you a ton of savings at the pump.

FUEL ECONOMY City Highway Combined
2.4L (SE) 25 MPG 36 MPG 29 MPG
2.4L (SEL, Sport & Limited) 25 MPG 35 MPG 28 MPG
2.0T (Sport) 23 MPG 32 MPG 26 MPG
2.0T (Limited) 23 MPG 32 MPG 26 MPG
1.6T (Eco) 28 MPG 37 MPG 31 MPG

And as for safety, its braking system tell the story.

BRAKES/TIRES/WHEELS
Front Dual diagonal, split circuit, power-assisted 12.0-in. ventilated disc with pressure proportioning valves (2.4L/1.6T)
Dual diagonal, split circuit, power-assisted 12.6-in. ventilated disc with pressure proportioning valves (2.0T, Optional on SEL, Limited 2.4L)
Rear Dual diagonal, split circuit, power-assisted 11.2-in. solid disc with pressure proportioning valves

You can choose either the 6-speed electronic automatic with torque converter, shift lock and SHIFTRONIC™ manual shift mode on the 2.4L or the 8-speed electronic automatic with torque converter, shift lock and SHIFTRONIC™ manual shift mode on the 2.0T.  And there’s also a turbo model.

Utility without sacrificing driving dynamics is one of the key benefits to hatchbacks, and the 2018 Elantra GT brings an 8 percent increase in cargo capacity versus the prior generation.  It is one of only a few hatchbacks classified by the EPA as a Large Car due to total interior volume eclipsing 120 cubic feet.  In fact, Elantra GT has more cargo volume than other hatchbacks such as the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Mazda3, Volkswagen Golf and Toyota Corolla iM. Elantra GT is also a sporty alternative to small CUVs. Elantra GT with the rear seats folded down has more cargo capacity than the Toyota CH-R, Mazda CX-3, Chevrolet Trax and Jeep Renegade.

Even more sophisticated safety features are standard on some Elantra models.  Advanced Driver Assists are available on Elantra GT Sport through Automatic Emergency Braking w/ Pedestrian Detection, Lane Keep Assist, High Beam Assist and Smart Cruise Control that features stop/start capability.  A Hyundai-first, Driver Attention Alert, analyzes driver inputs to determine attention level and provide both a visual and audible warning if it determines the driver’s attention level has become too low.  Great for a teen’s first car.

All that utility is wrapped in an evolution of what they call the “Fluidic Sculpture” design language that features Hyundai’s new signature cascading grille, which is flanked by standard LED Daytime Running Lights.  Pretty sexy!  To further enhance the front light signature, available LED headlights are utilized for both the low and high beams.  The side profile is strongly supported by standard 17-inch alloy wheels and 18-inch alloy wheels on the Sport. At the rear, the liftgate features wraparound glass and a rear spoiler.  Available LED tail lights and split dual outlet exhaust further support Elantra GT’s fun-to-drive positioning.

Model Engine Transmission MSRP
Elantra GT 2.0L 4-cylinder 6-speed Manual Transmission $19,350
Elantra GT 2.0L 4-cylinder 6-speed Automatic Transmission w/ SHIFTRONIC® $20,350
Elantra GT Sport 1.6L Turbo GDI 4-cylinder 6-speed Manual Transmission $23,250

 

2.4L (SE) 25 MPG 36 MPG 29 MPG
2.4L (SEL, Sport & Limited) 25 MPG 35 MPG 28 MPG
2.0T (Sport) 23 MPG 32 MPG 26 MPG
2.0T (Limited) 23 MPG 32 MPG 26 MPG
1.6T (Eco) 28 MPG 37 MPG 31 MPG

The Sonata’s ABS braking system comes in 4-wheel, 4-channel and 4-sensor with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and ESC.

Extensive features on the Sonata include, a standard seven-inch color display audio touchscreen with both Apple CarPlay® and Android Auto® integration. Models equipped with Blue Link Telematics get three years of complimentary Connected Care and Remote services; including the ability to activate many of the features using the Amazon Echo and Google Home virtual assistants. The available navigation system is enhanced with a bird’s-eye-view feature and HERE HD real-time traffic flow data. Furthermore, the inconvenience of outdated map software is now a thing of the past as owners now have three years of complimentary Guidance Package services, which include downloads to maintain up-to-date navigation programming.

Keeping on-trend with today’s connected passengers, smartphones can now be charged without a plug using the available wireless charging pad (Qi standard) while a second-row USB charge port provides additional charging flexibility.

The Sonata is equally impressive.  Distinctive new exterior styling transforms Sonata’s visual signature. The dramatic new appearance is highlighted by Hyundai’s bold new “cascading grille” in front and an all-new rear with more prominent branding and relocation of the license plate in the bumper in this category.

Every 2018 Sonata is equipped with Blind Spot Detection (BSD) with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (RCTA).  It’s the only mainstream mid-size car sold with this safety technology as standard equipment. And with its 18.5 gallon tank, the mileage is impressive too.

Pricing throughout the Sonata’s lineup gives consumers a compelling choice.

Model Engine Transmission MSRP
SE 2.4L GDI 4-cyl 6-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC® $22,050
Eco 1.6L Turbo GDI 4-cyl 7-Speed EcoShift® Dual Clutch Transmission

with SHIFTRONIC®

$22,650
SEL 2.4L GDI 4-cyl 6-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC® $23,700
Limited 2.4L GDI 4-cyl 6-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC® $27,400
Sport 2.4L GDI 4-cyl 6-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC® $25,200
Sport 2.0T 2.0L Turbo GDI 4-cyl 8-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC® $27,600
Limited 2.0T 2.0L Turbo GDI 4-cyl 8-Speed Automatic with SHIFTRONIC® $32,450

Whichever you choose, driving will be an awesome adventure.

Weekend in Charleston

Jordan Wright
October 9, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Photo credit: Jordan Wright

Historic Charleston

Historic Charleston

Visiting a historic destination naturally brings comparison to our own beloved port of Alexandria, and a few of those thoughts rose idly like bubbles to the surface as I arrived in another beautiful waterfront city.  I was curious to see what had changed since I’d visited two decades earlier, when, during a tour of a stately Southern mansion, a tiny octogenarian docent told our group the Civil War wasn’t about slavery.  It was the South’s right to keep the North out of their business affairs, she quaintly insisted.  Stunned at this declaration, I’m certain my eyes rolled back into my head, but the cat had a firm grip on my tongue and I remained silent amid the small group of visitors.  I still regret I didn’t lean in to challenge her version of history.

The Dock Street Theatre in Charleston’s historic French Quarter

The Dock Street Theatre in Charleston’s historic French Quarter

Since then, things have shifted somewhat.  South Carolina’s governor has removed the confederate flag from the State House, and local African American artists, artisans and chefs are treasured for their unique contributions.  The United Daughters of the Confederacy no longer hold sway in a city whose rich cultural history is driven by some 30,000 college students and a more inclusive vision.  Thankfully, the city’s charm and joie de vivre remains firmly intact.

The lobby at the Belmond Charleston Place

The lobby at the Belmond Charleston Place

The Belmond Charleston Place is a magnificent property in the tradition of America’s grandest hotels.  A recent $30 million renovation, affords it the distinguished cachet of a world-class property.  And with its central location and the city’s ubiquitous pedicabs, sightseeing is a breeze.

Pedicabs are a convenient way to get around

Pedicabs are a convenient way to get around

To up your game, book a suite on the exclusive Club Level.  Complimentary perks include hot buffet breakfasts; a recharge of afternoon tea, sandwiches and pastries; early evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres; nightcaps and sweet treats; and flutes of champagne all the live-long day.  On the main concourse, amid posh shops like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, there are three restaurants to choose from.  Be sure to book in advance for the full-service spa with rooftop pool.

Club Level luxury suite at the Belmond Charleston Place

Club Level luxury suite at the Belmond Charleston Place

Within a five-minute walk is the Charleston City Market on Meeting Street.  Rebuilt from the original after a fire in 1841, this National Historic Landmark houses dozens of indoor stalls and is open from 9:30 till 6pm.

Callie’s Biscuits at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit

Callie’s Biscuits at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit

Grab a cat’s head-sized buttermilk biscuit with all the fixins’ at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit and shop the stalls for Gullah made sweetgrass baskets, benne wafers, sacks of Carolina Rice, local art, and handmade souvenirs.  Refresh at Lowcountry Lemonade where quaffs are made with seasonal muddled fruit.  Mine boasted sweet local peaches.

Horse-drawn wagons take sightseers around the old city

Horse-drawn wagons take sightseers around the old city

Spanning four city blocks the market leads down to East Bay Street and Waterfront Park with its stately Southern mansions.  Take in sweeping views of the harbor from White Point Gardens, a five-and-a-half-acre park that’s home to a protected Night Heron rookery set amid old oaks.  From there you’re a hop, skip and a jump to the Gibbes Museum, a breathtaking Beaux Arts structure that houses an outstanding collection of American art – both old master and contemporary.

The Gibbes Museum’s magnificent Beaux Arts interior

The Gibbes Museum’s magnificent Beaux Arts interior

Of all the mansions and plantations to tour (book through your concierge to tour Magnolia Gardens, Middleton Place, Boone Hall and Drayton Hall), I discovered what must be the most unusual.  The Italianate-influenced Calhoun Mansion and Gardens borders on the bizarre with its eye-popping floor–to-ceiling collection of fine art, rare antiques and silver collection, and Orientalia.

Calhoun Mansion

Calhoun Mansion

The extraordinarily ornate 1876 mansion is currently owned by a Washington, DC lobbyist.  Our docent was respectfully tight-lipped as to whom, but a bit of sleuthing uncovered DC attorney, Howard H. Stahl, who lovingly restored the once-dilapidated 35-room manor house.

(l-r) Black-eyed pea and rice salad ~ Low country shrimp topped succotash at the Belmond

(l-r) Black-eyed pea and rice salad ~ Low country shrimp topped succotash at the Belmond

In a city renowned for great Southern cooking and countless restaurants, where to eat?  You really can’t go wrong with soulful barbeque, low country cooking or the exceptional local seafood.  But I have a fondness for a certain chef and the particularly stylish way he approaches ingredients.  Circa 1886 is situated within the gardens of the Wentworth Mansion.  Chosen by prestigious Southern Living magazine this year to celebrate their 50th anniversary, it boasts an intimate, intrinsically Southern, candlelit setting that enhances fine dining.  Helmed by Executive Chef Marc Collins, whose talent is playing sweet and savory elements against one another, expect to find unique combinations paired with top drawer wines.

Dishes from Executive Chef Marc Collins at Circa 1886

Dishes from Executive Chef Marc Collins at Circa 1886

Our meal began with a trio of delicate crabmeat concoctions, artichoke pudding with sunflower seeds and espelette pepper, a cold soup of turnip greens with a silken peanut cream, followed by gnudi with truffles and loin of antelope with foie gras and blackberry sauce.  For an unforgettable taste of the South opt for Collins’ signature dessert – honeysuckle ice cream.

An artistically designed dessert featuring honeysuckle ice cream at Circa 1886

An artistically designed dessert featuring honeysuckle ice cream at Circa 1886

Weekends are perfect for brunching at the Marion Square Saturday farmer’s market.

Marion Square Saturday’s farmers market

Marion Square Saturday’s farmers market

Plan ahead for the Charleston Wine + Food Festival (February 28 – March 4 2018).

Jet Blue flies direct to Charleston from Reagan National Airport.

For a pedicab call Bike Taxi – 843 532.8663.

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