Sunday, March 30, 2008

Capt. Sid's

Recently, we found ourselves once again downtown at midday on a Saturday, ready to try one of those very-old-but-new-to-us local Fredericksburg restaurants. We’ve passed Capt. Sid’s thousands of times, and have heard locals mention it, but never stopped in. It’s one of those places that looks like a real dive from the outside. Inside, however, the place was clean and reasonably cheery, with its big windows and red-checked tablecloths. It’s a mom and pop place, although on the day of our visit, it was more of a pop and daughter place. The menu features breakfast items (and not just egg sandwiches, but omelets and waffles and pancakes), subs, sandwiches, burgers and fried seafood. We tried a steak and cheese, and a chicken and cheese sub, both very tasty, and sampled the boardwalk-style fries, also good. I’ve seen reviews on the internet that suggest the value isn’t as good as it used to be, and that the sandwiches have shrunk since the ownership changed hands. When I mentioned to a friend that I had eaten there recently, she agreed that Capt. Sid’s used to be a great place to eat. But this was our first visit, so I can’t compare to what used to be. In our case, we went in with low expectations, but were pleasantly surprised: the food was freshly made, the value seemed pretty good, and we came away wondering why anyone with the time to sit down to eat would bother going to a fast food chain. Now, like most of these old-time Fredericksburg joints, there’s nothing healthy on the menu, and vegans should stay away. But for a quick and casual lunch, we gave Capt. Sid’s two thumbs up.

The menu (click on image for a closer view):

Our lunch:

Monday, March 24, 2008

Community Center Art Show

The 2008 Fredericksburg Fine Art Exhibit was held at the Dorothy Hart Community Center this past week, and we visited on Saturday. We go to this show every year, to see the work of talented amateurs and novices exhibited alongside seasoned professionals. It's a big show, and the quality of the work varies widely, to say the least. But there are always enough gems to make the show worthwhile. In addition to the dozens of awards given out by the judge, everyone who visits gets to choose a favorite, and the visitors’ favorite also gets an award. I don’t know who won this year, but my favorite was “Green Mountains,” a monoprint by Mary Jane Bohlen (unfortunately there was too much glare from the glass to photograph it).

My husband’s favorite was this sweet painting of two women in their Sunday best, by Judith Merrill:

Here’s another of her paintings which I particularly liked:

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

Dyeing Easter eggs is still one of my favorite holiday activities.

Enjoy your day!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Old North Durham Inn

In my final post about our weekend trip to Durham, I'll talk about our stay at the Old North Durham Inn, a B&B owned by Jim and Debbie Vickery. We’ve stayed in quite a few country inns over the years, but this was only our second stay at a B&B (B&Bs generally have fewer rooms than inns, don’t provide meals other than breakfast, and the owners live on the premises). We found our hosts to be delightful and the accommodations lovely, with lots of little personal touches that made our stay particularly memorable. Breakfast in the morning included fresh fruit salad, homemade zucchini or pumpkin bread, and a hearty entree, such as banana pancakes with sausage, or baked ham and eggs with cheese. We played backgammon on the porch while enjoying an afternoon snack, and took advantage of the Vickerys' extensive collection of DVDs. The home is conveniently located to the downtown area, and the Vickerys helped out by providing dining recommendations and directions. If you’re planning to visit the Durham area, I wholeheartedly recommend a stay at the Old North Durham Inn.

Our room was called the Victorian, although the whole house was decorated in Victorian style, with lots of floral wallpaper and upholstery, lace curtains, and displays of collectibles:

The full breakfast, served on fine china in the dining room, was a treat, and an opportunity to visit with Debbie, our host:

The B&B is across the street from this house, featured in the movie Bull Durham as the home of Annie, played by Susan Sarandon:

Within walking distance of the B&B was this house, where my husband lived with a group of friends when he was a senior at Duke:

We had two fabulous dinners in Durham, first at Anotherthyme...

and the second at Four Square, where we had one of the finest meals we can remember:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Duke University

Much of our weekend in Durham was spent exploring the Duke campus, checking out the new facilities and revisiting the familiar hangouts of my husband’s days there as a student in the ‘70s. It hasn’t been that long since we took our own kids on tours of colleges, so we started out by sitting in on the information session given by the Admissions Office, and taking the student-guided tour. The school was on spring break, so there wasn’t too much action on campus. Here’s a brief summary of the place today: Lots of neo-Gothic architecture and stone facades. Lots of students planning careers in law, medicine and business. Lots of new buildings and amenities, thanks to lots of rich alumni with lots of money. In fact, I thought it was kind of funny that every new building, every auditorium, every lecture hall was named after some wealthy donor. And of course, there’s lots of Blue Devil basketball fervor (absent in the pre-Coach K era of my husband’s Duke days), with kids willing to camp out in tents for months in order to get a ticket to a big game. Sadly, while we were there, Duke got knocked out of the ACC tournament and arch-rival UNC went on to win the ACC championship. Ah, well, there’s always the NCAA tournament to look forward to.

At top is Duke Chapel, the heart of the campus, and below, the main quad:

The view from a new reading room in the newly expanded library:

Spring was in bloom at the Duke Gardens:

I visited two noteworthy art museums, the Ackland Art Museum at UNC in nearby Chapel Hill, with its moving photojournalism exhibit, and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke. Here's "Pie a la Mode," by Claes Oldenburg (1962), at the Nasher:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Road Trip: Durham, NC

My husband and I spent this past weekend in Durham, NC, home of Duke University, his alma mater. We hadn’t been back in over 25 years, and spent many hours rediscovering the city and visiting some old haunts from his college days. The city has changed dramatically since he was a student there in the 1970s. Back then, the city was a gritty, working class town dominated by the tobacco industry’s warehouses and factories. Since he graduated, Big Tobacco has taken a serious hit, thanks to the steady decline in smoking due to the recognition of its health hazards, coupled with stronger anti-smoking legislation and the financial blows of lawsuits and expensive settlements. Over the last 20 years or so, the tobacco companies have all moved out of downtown Durham, and the city has experienced a tremendous amount of urban renewal, as tobacco facilities from the early 1900s have been renovated into upscale offices, condos, shops and restaurants. Today, the city is known for its educational institutions, medical and research facilities, cultural offerings at a number of venues (including an expansive civic center and soon-to-open performing arts center), and a well-known minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls of Bull Durham movie fame.

Above and top, views of the American Tobacco Campus, an enclave of renovated tobacco industry buildings (the water tower in the top photo still sports its Lucky Strike logo).

Below, an old building is turned into upscale condos, with a reminder of its past:

The new home of the Durham Bulls, with new offices in the background:

Brightleaf Square, another example of preserving and repurposing old buildings:

Great shopping at Morgan Imports:

West Point on the Eno, a city park on the Eno River, in the northern suburbs:

More highlights of our Durham trip to come!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Pat's Day!

I was out of town this weekend (more about that later) and missed the Fredericksburg St. Patrick’s Day festivities. And a prior engagement will keep me out of the bars tonight (not that I’m really much of a barfly), so I will content myself with a sampling of Irish style ales from Kybecca: Danny’s Irish Style Red Ale by Moylan’s Brewery in California; Brian Boru, an Irish ale by Three Floyds Brewing Co. in Indiana; and Irish-style Fred Red Ale by our own Blue & Gray Brewing Co. Cheers!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mr. Dee's

If you judged Mr. Dee’s by its outward appearance, I’m sure you’d never set foot in the place (and I never did). But if you watch Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” you know that sometimes the homeliest looking places turn out to have great food. So in this spirit, we checked out Mr. Dee’s for lunch on a recent Saturday. The inside of the place does nothing to change your initial impression, but the food turned out to exceed our expectations. It’s a real mom-and-pop shop, with pop at the counter and mom frying the fish, the place’s specialty. Unlike fast food fish places, here we watched the fresh fish fillets being hand breaded before frying (be patient). We tried the flounder and tilapia, both ample platters, and enjoyed both. The place is tiny and the ambience non-existent (unless you count the classical music that was playing in the background), and despite qualifying unquestionably as a dive, the place isn’t going to show up on a Food Network program anytime soon. Nonetheless, we gave it two thumbs up, and plan to return.

Fish "sandwiches" range from $4.25 to $6.50, and include several pieces of fish, plus thick slices of toast. Fries and slaw are extra. Here's the menu (click for a larger view):

Here are the platters. Flounder (a fishier tasting, smaller fillet) is on the left, tilapia (milder, thicker) on the right:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Viva Vivaldi

Complain about development in the Fredericksburg region all you want, but without the tremendous population growth the area has seen over the last couple of decades, we wouldn’t have achieved the critical mass necessary to attract as much talent to the area as we have. Sunday afternoon’s “Viva Vivaldi” concert at the library is a perfect example. Two virtuoso violinists, David Ehrlich (left) and Benedict Goodfriend, played a 90-minute performance for a packed house in the downtown library’s tiny theater. No fancy trappings here, just two renowned professionals playing wonderful music on a bare stage. All free, courtesy of Friends of the Library. Bravo.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

First Friday at UMW

Last night was the opening of an exhibition of the work of local artists, on display at UMW’s Jepson Alumni Center, designed to be part of the university’s centennial celebration. Although the center is a very elegant space, it’s really not a great venue for an art show. The 42 pieces were hung along the hallways and in nooks and crannies all along the first floor, just perfect for overlooking a canvas or two. The show itself was fairly inconsistent, with only a few pieces that appealed to me. My favorites of the show were Casey Shaw’s series of digital silkscreens, including this one, entitled “Behind Pickers":

What’s worth a return trip is the permanent collection housed here, including a few original paintings by noteworthy artists, such as this one by Gari Melchers...

and this one by Julien Binford (an art professor at the college from 1946-1971):

Here's a view of the "salon," which features a mural painted on canvas and adhered to the walls:

But my favorite reason for a return trip are the black and white photos of the women of Mary Washington from what I can only describe as “a bygone era.” Take a look:

Love the beanies!

The Alumni Center is open weekdays from 8-5, and anyone can stop in and take a look around.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Thornton Cemetery

I had never heard of the Thornton Forbes Washington Cemetery until I happened to notice it on the website. And I had no idea where it was until I saw the sign for it while making a stop at Carl’s. So last weekend we followed the sign to the tiny cemetery at the end of Hunter St., across the street from Carl’s, and sort of behind the George Washington Executive Center. My attraction to the city’s historic cemeteries is that each one is a little (or not so little) oasis of quiet in the middle of the town, a park-like patch of grass that has to be preserved. And the Thornton Cemetery is in a part of town where you’d really least expect to find a graveyard, completely overshadowed by the office buildings, apartments and townhouses around it.

The historical significance of this cemetery of 19 grave sites is that it is the final resting place of some of George Washington’s relatives, as well as members of Fredericksburg’s prominent founding families. If you’re interested in local genealogy, check this webpage for all the info about who’s buried here.

Below: I like these sorts of markers, where the original stone is there, but because it has become illegible over time, the family has added a modern headstone with the same epitaph. This one, for a 2-year old, ends with "She came forth like a flower and was cut down. She fled like a shadow and continued not." Hmm, not very comforting.

Below: The cemetery's most elaborate monument, to James Henderson Fitzgerald (b. 1786, d. 1852). If I could have a fancy monument like this one, in a cemetery in the middle of town that all my friends could visit when they got ice cream, I might reconsider my preference for cremation.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Tourism Infrastructure

In order for a town’s tourism industry to thrive, there are some basic necessities you have to provide. Adequate parking and restroom facilities are a must. If I can’t park and pee, I’m going to be a mighty cranky tourist. Fredericksburgers have complained for years about the inadequate parking downtown. I don’t really get this. There are two municipal parking lots downtown, plus ample street parking, especially if you’re willing to walk a block or two (which, generally speaking, Americans are not). I’ve been downtown for the most crowded events and never had a problem finding a parking spot on a side street within a few blocks, and most people (myself included) could use a little more walking. But in order to address the clamor for more parking, the city erected a parking garage.

Now, normally a parking garage is a hideous structure. But lucky for us, we already had a hideous structure (the Executive Plaza) perfect for a parking garage to hide behind. And I think the garage is actually a pretty attractive building, scale notwithstanding. I might go so far as to say it’s the best looking parking garage I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure how much business it’s getting—it always seems to be underutilized whenever we use it—but hopefully the downtown merchants are happy about it (although I don’t really know until I read about it on the whiteboard in the window of Riverby Books). There is at least the perception of plentiful parking, and perception is everything.

I just happened to catch the trolley passing in front of the garage:

If you climb to the top level of the parking garage and step outside, it's like our own little Fredericksburg observation tower, 3-1/2 stories above the ground. Here's the view:

As for the public restroom, well, there’s only one on the lower end of Caroline Street, but it’s quite nice. It’s one of these touch-free facilities: the toilets flush, the faucets turn on, and the hand driers start blowing, all automatically. It's too bad there isn't another public facility at the other end of the historic district, especially since most stores don’t provide public restrooms (in fact, many stores seem downright touchy about it, with signs alerting visitors to their no-restroom policy right up there on the front door with the store hours and the credit card logos). If nature calls at the restroom-less end of Caroline, I suggest a stop at Hyperion, where the crowd is lively enough that no one is likely to notice you’re just using the restroom. If you feel guilty, buy a cup of coffee. It’s good stuff.

Here's the restroom, next to the visitor center. It's open daily until 7 pm. And yes, it's important enough to blog about. You'd be surprised how often I use it.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Iconic Eateries of Fredericksburg, Part 3: Goolrick’s Modern Pharmacy

You know that any business with “modern” in its name is likely to be as old as the hills. Here’s the Goolrick’s story in a nutshell:

William Barber Goolrick founded the pharmacy in 1869 after returning from serving in the army of the Confederacy in the Civil War. The business has been in this location since the 1890’s. The soda fountain was installed in 1912, making it the oldest continuously operating soda fountain in the U.S. The May family bought the place in 1990, and Steve May has been manning the pharmacy for the last 18 years.

Goolrick’s is a fixture on Caroline Street, and you often see visitors taking photos of it. On the bleak February Saturday that we stopped in, the place was doing a good lunchtime business. Tourists visit for the vintage experience, and locals stop in for a quick bite. The soda fountain’s menu is completely classic, featuring a few breakfast items, simple sandwiches, sodas and ice cream treats. No burgers, no fries, nothing fancy. It’s a great place to take kids, because there are plenty of kid-friendly choices: hot dogs, grilled cheese, PB&J, and ice cream for dessert. And what kid doesn’t love to sit on a big stool at the counter? My husband and I shared a big bowl of chili, we each had a sandwich (BLT for him, egg salad for me), and we shared an egg cream, because what else would you order at the oldest soda fountain in America? All for a total of $13.48, about what you’d spend for lunch at a fast food chain. And about that egg cream: the classic recipe includes neither eggs nor cream, just milk, seltzer, and flavored syrup, mixed up to give it a frothy head.

And here we end our series of iconic eateries. Oh, there are many more little family-run restaurants that we plan to go to, but on reviewing the list more closely, I realize that they are all old-timey, small town Southern places, but they can’t all be “iconic.” Allman’s, Carl’s and Goolrick’s stand out as being uniquely associated with Fredericksburg, and all have gotten some attention from food or travel writers from outside the area. But whether the other places are iconic or not, we’ll continue eating in as many as possible. Luckily, I’m on the all-carb diet.

A big bowl of chili to warm up with on a cold day:

Two sandwiches, egg cream to share:

Soda fountain up front, pharmacy in back:

The friendly staff behind the counter: