Archive for the Road Trip Category

All done

Posted in Road Trip with tags on July 12, 2011 by Running Around America

We made it all around the country without our tinycar breaking! It was a great trip, but someone is sad not to be on the road still.

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Guest Post: Husband Talks Beer

Posted in Road Trip with tags , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2011 by Running Around America

I apologize in advance for this post. I am sure avid readers are returning to the blog for another dose of the lady’s wit and lucid storytelling. Alas, you’re stuck with husband — an altogether more ponderous and pedestrian scribe. One thing’s for sure, there will be no INTERMITTENT BURSTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS FOR NO REASON!!!

With the introduction out of the way, let’s rate the beer with which America tempted us as we meandered through her highways and byways.

Anyone who lives on the east coast is well accustomed to ten-plus craft beers on tap in even the shitty bars. We’re spoiled by it. The beers are great, but it’s expected and not all that exciting. We were looking for something more interesting on our trip. In addition to local craft beers, I was keen to discover some of America’s classic old-timey brews, otherwise known as cheap swill in a can. Brews like Narragansett, Genny Cream Ale, and the ubiquitous PBR. I was not disappointed.

Top 3 American swill:

1. Hamms (first tasted in Minneapolis)

The ultimate test of cheap swill is: does it have anything really offensive about it. Most do, but are still tolerable. But not Hamms. It has a smooth, grainy, beery flavor. No chemical traces. I can’t offer more sophisticated tasting notes because I drank it from a can so it basically skipped my palate and went directly down my throat.

2. Rainier (first tasted in Washington State)

Worth a top-3 finish if only for the awesome can which features Mount Rainier. I bought a load of them in small cans for when we were camping. Which means they sat in the car and I often had to consume them at a temperature exceeding my own body temperature. And they still tasted ok. Seal of approval granted.

3. Heileman’s Old Style (sampled in Madison, Wisconsin)

OK, this one is actually gross. But it makes it to the top three because I ordered it in a hipster bar in Madison, Wisconsin and the mustachioed 20-something barman was deeply offended that I refused the array of craft beers on offer and ordered this. He didn’t even conceal his disgust for me. I tried to explain that I liked craft beer and just had this curiosity about old timey American beers (you know, the history of the nation and all that) but he was having none of it. He thought I was an idiot and was not shy about sharing his opinion. I forced down an Old Style and then caved in and bought a quintuple IPA or something.

Top 3 Craft Breweries:

1. Lazy Magnolia, Mississippi

Nobody’s more shocked than I am about this underdog victory from the Deep South. But I have to give it to them: after thousands of miles of excellent — but somewhat monotonous — IPAs, Porters, Pilsners, etc, Lazy Magnolia just offered something different. They brew a beer with pecans and another with passion fruit — the kind of thing I usually hate, but they did it with subtlety and somehow it really worked. Plus it was 110 degrees when we were in Mississippi so beer tasted 110 times better. Still, hotness aside, this brewery is creative. Maybe it’s the lack of local competition or craft brewing history that gives them the freedom to experiment with styles.

2. Quarry Brewing, Montana

It helps a brewery’s ranking when the people there are so welcoming and cool. This was the case at Quarry in Butte, Montana. Their beers had a more British style — a little more subtle in flavor — which I happen to like a lot. The entire range at this no-nonsense brewery and pub was excellent. The porter was a particular favorite. Montana has a small but very enthusiastic micro-brew following. There are about 15 or so breweries in small towns around the state. And it was good to see an earnest local following for the brews.

3. Georgetown Brewery, Seattle WA

Seattle has dozens and dozens of breweries. Several of which we visited. Georgetown does not sell pints on site, but you can go and taste everything for free, and then fill up a growler or two. The beer was first rate.

In general, America offers incredible diversity for the beer enthusiast. Even the most isolated bar we visited, in Colby, Kansas, proudly served Kansas’s craft beer, Boulevard. This was surprising and very welcome. It also debunks a lot of myths about unsophisticated folk in the middle of the country. People enjoy good beer everywhere in America and it is universally available. There are local interesting tipples available from Washington to Florida. Many more people, it must be conceded, enjoy Bud Light. But hey, the lady and I developed a soft spot for giant bottles of Budweiser (I can’t bring myself to call it “real” or “original” Bud) while watching blues in Clarksdale so I am not one to criticize.

Charleston, awesometon

Posted in Road Trip on July 9, 2011 by Running Around America

If you are ever in Charleston, Sc, you need to visit the Glass Onion, the best place ever. Seriously.

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New Orleans, you are so lovely

Posted in Road Trip with tags , , , , , , on July 9, 2011 by Running Around America

When we decided to go to New Orleans, we figured it was probably super touristy and overrated.  We arrived in town, and were promptly blown away with just how awesome it was.

Yes, there’s Bourbon street (which we were on maybe for two minutes total when we were there) but there are so many other parts to New Orleans.  Even the French Quarter, as touristy as it is, still draws a lot of locals and it has many hidden jems.  And, it’s an eating and drinking city, which instantly makes it awesome.

The first night, we wandered out of the French Quarter to Frenchman street, to go to d.b.a. to hear some music.  It was a great scene out there, there are a lot of music clubs there and the band at d.b.a. was a pretty stellar jazz band.  We stopped by another bar, apparently the oldest bar in the USA, and talked to a local that lived around the corner in Treme and got some tips from him.

The next day, we explored more of the French Quarter, and had some amazing po’boys and gumbo (with crabs in the gumbo!) and went to the touristy Cafe Du Monde for beignet and coffee.  That night, we stopped by Arnauds 75, a pretty famous bar in New Orleans. The bar has an amazing French 75, a staple cocktail in New Orleans, as well as a gorgeous old-school bar.  The bartender there, Chris Hannah, is a pretty famous bartender in the cocktail scene.  He was a pretty awesome resource to use as well, he gave us great tips, and we used this article about him for cocktail bar reccomendations.  After Arnauds, we headed out to Treme to go to the Candlelight Lounge.  The Treme Brass Band plays there, and if you watch Treme the show on HBO, some of the musicians and characters there might be familiar.  The band was amazing, and the bar served free beans and rice, my favorite dish (although not for the faint of heart, the meat was pigs feet and snout!  It was yummy.) The neighborhood, although right outside the popular French Quarter, was pretty run down.  It would have taken fifteen minutes to walk there, but everyone advised us not to do it.  It was weird, because the city is so pretty and seemingly not crime ridden, but right outside the city center people are still having a tough time.  It was great nonetheless.

The next day, we took a walk to the Garden District and looked at some spectacular houses and another non-touristy part of New Orleans with boutiques and bars.  After that, we went in the car to Rocky and Carlos, another amazing restaurant.  The food we’ve been eating has been mostly fried amazingness, so we’re super fat, but it’s sooooo worth it.  Did I mention it was super amazing?

That night, we continued our cocktail tour and went to a bar with a revolving carousel that you sat on in the bar itself, and then Tujagues, my most favorite bar I’ve been to.  All of the cocktail instruments are vintage, not because they’re trying to be cool, but that’s just what they use.  Mike, our bartender, made me the most amazing drink with Angustura as the main ingredient, and I am now obsessed.  He was a true craftsman, and the bar was super old and filled with all old locals, even though it was right on the tourist square. Husband’s Sazerac was the best one he’s had.  If you are ever in New Orleans, and you don’t need a fancy pants cocktail bar, but a super amazing cocktail bar of greatness, GO THERE.

It is at this point in our trip, that the real world has crept back in.  We have to be in New York sooner than anticipated, although not too much sooner, but that means our trip must be shortened by a few days.  We’re also getting a little road weary.  I’ve driven a lot of miles – tinycar has got about 10,000 additional miles, and they were all driven by me!  We’re also getting to the part of the USA where it is 1) so hot we can’t do much during the day 2) can’t leave the dog in the car or in the shade, really and 3) can’t find much value accommodation/food without staying somewhere crap.  We had planned to stay a few nights on the Alabama coast of the Florida coast, but it is soooo packed down here, and the hotels are going for 250 a night, and that’s not even on the beach!

We’re in Jacksonville, and will be making progress up the coast in the next few days, stopping in Savannah, Charlotte, and probably Annapolis.  I am sad that the trip is winding up, but we’ve really done so much, it’s hard to be sad.  We’ve been to at least 25 states on this trip alone, and have seen more of America than most Americans have seen or will see.  Wahoo!  Stay tuned for my guest poster, none other than husband, doing a recap of breweries and other assorted awesomeness!

Dear cajun country, YOU CAN OPEN ON HOLIDAYS, YOU KNOW?

Posted in Road Trip with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2011 by Running Around America

We woke up on the 4th, and did the requisite tour of the Vicksburg park, which turned out to be huge, not just a monument, and pretty as well.  After that, we drove on to Natchez, which we referred to, and still refer to, as Nacho Cheese,  ISN’T THAT HILARIOUS?!?!  THE TOWN NAME SOUNDS JUST LIKE NACHO. JUST LIKE IT.

The town was really pretty, and they had a cute gambling boat there as well.  They had some amazing mansions and antebellum homes, but sadly NOTHING WAS OPEN (this will be a theme in this post, FYI).  Also, it was SO hot at this stage, we couldn’t walk around for more than five minutes.  We did a lot of car touring.

After NACHO CHEESE, we headed to St. Francisville in Louisiana, our first stop in the state!  We were hoping that Louisiana was a little more capitalist and would have some establishments that were open, because Mississippi apparently takes Sundays and holidays very seriously.  They do not open anything.  At all.  In St. Francisville, a coffee shop was open because there was a pie contest!  It was a very lovely little town with some pretty historic houses, and the coffee really helped – it was the first place we’d been to in a while that was open!

After that, we decided to mozey down to Lafayette, the “capital” of Cajun country.  We stopped in Eunice and Opelousas on the way there, they both apparently had some great Cajun music places and food.  BUT GUESS WHAT?!  NOTHING WAS OPEN!  YAY.  Opelousas was a very pretty town.  I really wished it was open.

When we got to Lafayette, we were kind of mad.  Nothing was open!  Nothing!  We went to Prejean’s restaurant, very happy it was open.  It was on Roadfood, which has been such a great site for us this trip (thanks Mom for the great website suggestion!)  The food was great, and we got gumbo, boudin ( a specialty sausage down here) fried green tomatoes, crawfish etouffee, and bread pudding.  It was great.  My favorite part was that they had a little kennel in the shade in the parking lot for the dog!  We didn’t have to get take away because it is too hot to leave the dog in the car.  Smalldog was most definitely confused.  It was pretty funny.  We were going to check out the town that night, but surprisingly, IT WAS CLOSED FOR BUSINESS.

We went to bed.  The next morning, while walking smalldog around the motel, he was bitten by fire ants!  I wasn’t really sure of what these things were, but they are evil!  Poor smalldog was not having fun, and I had a hard time getting the stupid ant off smalldog’s leg.  It really bit him, and after a minute, after the ant was off him, we walked over to the grass and got sick!  Apparently the ants can cause dogs and cats and small animals to go into shock, and sometimes it kills them.  Smalldog was fine pretty soon after, so I’m glad just one evil ant got him.  Apparently Louisiana has a HUGE fire ant problem.  For the entire time in Louisiana I was staring at the ground, pretty terrified of the evil ants.

We wanted to stay in Lafayette and listen to some music and eat amazing food, but apparently Cajun country is really a weekend thing, and most definitely not a Tuesday after the 4th of July thing.  It was so lame, but we had to move on.  We were getting pretty annoyed that nothing was open, and decided we would spend a longer time in New Orleans, because I knew that city would be open.

Before leaving, we checked out Johnson’s, which by some amazing stroke of luck, was open.  And the food was so amazing.  I had a grilled cheese with boudin inside of it, and it was so amazing.  Their field peas where amazing, their meat was amazing, they were amazing, it was just a great place.  A good pick-me-up after everything was closed. We stopped by a few lovely towns in the area, and then set out to New Orleans stuffed and ready for tourist mayhem.

I love New Orleans

Posted in Road Trip with tags , on July 6, 2011 by Running Around America

Very happy to be in New Orleans.

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Clarksdale, the best place in the universe.

Posted in Road Trip with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2011 by Running Around America

Clarksdale, Mississippi is at the top of the Mississippi Delta area, and home to lots of blues legends.  We happened upon Clarksdale with little planning, and it was by far one of the best places to visit.  We didn’t know much about blues, or about northern Mississippi culture, but after staying there two nights, I can confidently say it is the best place in the world.

We found The Shack Up Inn which is a magnificent inn with shacks on an old cotton gin.  A cotton gin, for those not in the know, stands for cotton engine, which mechanized the cotton business.  The inn is a series of shacks that cotton workers stayed in, and an inn that was made right in the middle of the old gin building.  The grounds were strewn with antique stuff and it had a bar and stage in the middle.  It was completely laid back and amazing.  The whole area is surrounded by cotton, which is still a huge industry.

Our first stop, after sitting on the back porch in rockers, cold beers and 100 degree heat in the shade, was Abe’s BBQ, where I had some of the most amazing tamales ever.  Apparently this area is famous for tamales and there are tons of shacks everywhere with tamales.  Also, pretty much every tiny town or community has BBQ smokers set up going full steam.  They are everywhere.  It smells spectacular down here.  After Abes, on a local tip, we went to Reds Juke Joint for some delta blues.  A juke, which is where the word Jukebox comes from, are these little, old shack-type places that play music for the local crowd.  They use to be everywhere ages ago, but now there aren’t too many.  And we went to one, and it was spectacular.

Music starts at 9, and there were a few locals there and us. A few more non-local blues lovers came in and then, by the end of the night (or when we left) the place was packed.  One of the singers even got out of jail the day before!  Bonus!  They only serve three beers in 18 ounce bottles, no frills, and just plain awesome.  We had a fabulous time there.  The All Night Long Blues Band, with Mary Ann “Action” Jackson (who was the one just released from jail…) was brilliant, they brought tons of locals up to play, and someone from Austin, TX was there and humbled to play in the juke joint.  It was pretty nuts.

The next morning, as it was too hot to be outside, we drove around the small town areas and tried to get near the Mississippi (not too easy because of all the levees).  That night, we went to Ramons for some fried catfish and fried ravioli (don’t inquire about how much weight we’ve put on this trip) and it was soooo good.  We got fried shrimp as well, a specialty.  Amazing.  Apparently Morgan Freeman owns a blues club in town, Ground Zero.  It was a nice place, but it was not as cool as Red’s.  It is more for tourists in the Delta area, so we didn’t stay too long.

At our Inn, they had an amazing bar and music joint a few buildings down called The Hopson Commissary.  We checked that out, and back at our hotel got some amazing recommendations from locals.

Clarksdale was such an amazing place, really full of history, but the town isn’t over the top or touristy.  Real people live there.  It’s not a fancy town by any means, and that’s what I liked about it.  Even if Morgan Freeman wants to make the town fancy. I loved it very much.  Husband and I are now huge blues fans.

The next morning, was Sunday.  Apparently in Mississippi, nothing opens on Sunday.  ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.  Thank goodness we had leftovers from the night before, because eating was going to be impossible.

On our local friend’s advice, we checked out Greenwood, MS.  This is where Viking Range is headquartered and has fancied up the downtown.  We wanted to go to the most amazing restaurant, Lusco’s, but, again, Sunday = closed.  SAD FACE.  The downtown had an amazing book store and some fancyish stores, but it was absolutely a ghost town on Sunday!  We also went to Oxford,MS, which is where Ole Miss is.  It is a really lovely campus and a gorgeous little town.  Pretty ritzy for Mississippi, without the music places downtown, but some good restaurants.  All of which, were closed.

Our destination for the day was Indianola, MS, where there was an amazing club and restaurant, not to mention the B.B. King museum.  Indianola is where B.B. King is from, and the club we wanted to go to (Club Ebony) was bought by him in 2008, and apparently one of the best places to hear music (also from our local friend’s recommendation).  The first issue was that there was nowhere in all of Indianola to stay that was pet friendly.  The second problem was that apparently, even though the club was going to be open, there wasn’t really anyone playing.  The town was neat, and I wish it worked out, but we decided to move on.  The dog can’t go outside for more than 20 minutes in the heat, and we needed a plan, and air conditioning.

We decided to go right to Vicksburg, which is a pretty famous place to be on the 4th of July.  It was a turning point in the civil war, and the surrender at Vicksburg happened on the 4th, which was something of a sore spot here for a while.

We found a completely hilarious “inn” in Vicksburg, found the one restaurant that was open in town, and then, after dinner, WENT ON THE MISSISSIPPI FOR RIVERBOAT GAMBLING!  Well, we went on the lame riverboat that wouldn’t let you outside to look at the river, and the place was filled with sad-looking people.  I gambled a dollar on the slots!  It was so fun.  We were there for all of ten minutes.  The heat is thick down here, so I’m looking forward to heading into Cajun country tomorrow for some Creole and crawfish!