Category Archives: On the Road

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The World’s Saddest Order of Chicken Tenders

Lake Anna State Park, VA has a lot going for it: picturesque lake, walking trails, grassy areas, picnic spots, showers… But this order of chicken tenders from their snack bar takes the prize as the world’s saddest.

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For $5, three waif-like pieces of chicken (they look bigger because my camera’s so close up). I trembled as I held them in my hands, savoring each fleeting moment with my precious tenders.

Leave it to chicken tenders to turn a person into a character from a Dickens novel:

“Please sir, I want some more.”

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For Charlottesville BBQ, Ace is the Place

If you didn’t know what it was, you’d think that Ace Biscuit & Barbecue was a garage, or the office of Jim Feinstein, local accountant. It’s a non-descript brick building in a non-descript part of Charlottesville near the train tracks.

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Ah, but looks can be deceiving.

Inside, the place was bustling with activity and customers, and the smell of barbecue wafted through the air.

The efficiency at Ace is impressive. To speed up the process, an employee walks through the line taking orders, so that by the time you reach the register all that’s left to do is pay.

Your jaw will drop as you observe orders come out of the kitchen. The fried chicken and waffles looked spectacular, as did the day’s special — brisket, fried egg and cheddar on a biscuit.

By the time my pulled pork sandwich arrived, my mouth was watering like a Pavlov’s dog.

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That’s an astounding heap of pulled pork. It spilled out the sides like a pork glacier. A container of Carolina vinegar, and mounds of potato salad and collards completed the platter.

The pulled pork was great, but the surprise was the bun. So many barbecue joints treat the bun like an afterthought; they spend all their time and effort on the meat, only to throw it on a shitty hamburger bun. This bun had been toasted and I believe buttered, and it was soft and chewy. That extra touch makes a world of difference.

The scenery, breweries and vineyards will draw me back to Charlottesville this summer. Thanks to Ace, so will the barbecue.

Ace Biscuit & Barbecue
711 Henry Ave.
Charlottesville, VA
434-202-1403

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Richmond’s Great, If You Can Survive the Traffic Getting There

It took me three and a half hours to drive to Richmond last weekend to visit my friend Becky. I heard Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” four times on the radio.  There were no accidents, no major merges, no construction, no lousy weather. I  couldn’t figure out what was going on.  One moment we’d be stop and go (damn!), then for no reason the traffic would clear (hooray!), then it’d be back to stop and go (damn!), then it would clear (hooray!)… This went on almost the entire way down. It was maddening.

So the trip didn’t begin auspiciously. Luckily, things turned around quickly once I arrived.

The night before I drove down, I was flipping around the channels and came upon a rerun of “Man v. Food,” where coincidentally, Adam Richman was in Richmond. The first place he visited? The Black Sheep, where we had been planning to go for lunch, anyway.

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It’s a small restaurant that’s clearly popular with the local crowd.  The wait was thirty minutes, so we grabbed a drink in the back at the patio bar. I wondered aloud why they didn’t serve food on the patio, and the server explained that the kitchen was too small. “It’s ten guys in there sweating in a tiny kitchen.” Now that’s a visual you want before eating.

Our name was called, and we were in.

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As I’d seen on “Man v. Food,” The Black Sheep’s signature dishes are their enormous sub sandwiches, ranging from one to two feet in length. Two guys at the table next to us ordered the two-footers. Becky and I weren’t quite as daring. We went for the one-footers, split them with a knife, and each took a half.

Here’s Becky’s SS Sultana, a sub of grilled lamb and beef. Look at the enormity of that sandwich in comparison to her arms. It looks like it could eat her.

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And my USS Congress: chipotle-roasted pork shoulder with grilled pineapple, pickled pepper and cabbage salad, and barbecue sauce.

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Both were mighty tasty. And honestly, I’m fairly confident I could have put away another foot of sandwich with no problem. The traffic had built up a big hunger.

After lunch, we hopped back in the car and drove down to the historic Shockoe Bottom neighborhood, where the 17th St. Farmers’ Market was in full swing.

All kinds of stuff there — food, produce, crafts, children’s books… little bit of everything.

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I thought these dried chile peppers hanging from strings looked cool.

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Shockoe’s a nice place to walk around. There are quite a few empty storefronts, but it’s clear that the neighborhood has a ton of potential. I could see the area exploding with converted warehouse apartments and restaurants in a few years.

From Shockoe, we fired up the GPS for the short drive to Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

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It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere in an industrial park.

Inside though, the place was bustling with activity.

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The blackboard listed Hardywood’s selection of beers.

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We wanted to try several, so we shared this sampler flight.

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From right to left: Cream Ale, Saison Rustica, Hoplar double IPA and Bourbon Cru.

If you like cream soda, you’ll like the Cream Ale. I liked it. Becky didn’t.

The Saison Rustica was unusual, infused with lemongrass and star anise. Not flavors you expect from a beer. I didn’t love it, but it was an interesting one to try.

I’ll admit, I hated the Hoplar. I see where it gets its name. The hoppy bitterness was overwhelming.

Then the Bourbon Cru. No mistaking the bourbon in that one.  It was very, very strong, and the most alcoholic of the bunch — 10.2% ABV.

I think we were both feeling like we wanted a straight up, regular sort of beer, so we went back for a cup of Hardywood’s blonde ale, the Singel.

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There’s no food served in the tasting room, which is too bad, because you do get the urge to nosh on something while sipping beer. Outside is a parking lot with several tables set up (plus live music on this day).

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And, there was a food truck parked at one end — the Boka truck. Score!

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Becky and I split these delicious pork tacos on doubled up corn tortillas.

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Just what the doctor ordered to take the edge off the post-beer munchies.

For a light dinner, we went back to Becky’s Carytown neighborhood.  It’s really cute around there, with a long stretch of funky shops and restaurants (and not a chain store in sight). Another observation about Richmond: it has an abundance of tattoo parlors. We spotted them all over the place. Richmonders/VCU students must enjoy the ink.

Becky had heard good things about the pizza at Mary Angela’s, so we headed there.

We each ordered one of the specialty slices. It’s hard to tell in the pic, but this slice was really the size of two slices.  Very large, piled high with assorted vegetables.

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We were both in agreement that the pizza was nothing special. I wouldn’t say it was bad, but not much going on with it. Yielded a shrug and an “ehh” from both of us.  I’m sure there’s better pizza in Richmond.

Walking along Cary St., we passed two frozen yogurt shops situated right next door to one another. Talk about head-to-head competition; that’s brutal. One shop seemed to be clearly more popular than the other.

A little more walking, and we ended up at Bev’s Homemade Ice Cream.

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This was a regular size scoop of raspberry chocolate chip. They’re not fooling around at Bev’s.

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On a warm night with two scoops of ice cream, it becomes a race against time. You have to lick the ice cream fast enough, and evenly enough on all sides, so stay ahead of the inevitable melting. That’s a challenge I was more than willing to take.

I enjoyed Carytown, and I enjoyed Richmond.  Becky and I had a slew of things we didn’t get to, so I’ll be back.  Next time I’m leaving DC super early in the morning.

Incidentally, the drive home? 1 hour, 44 minutes.

The Black Sheep
901 W. Marshall St.
Richmond,VA
804-648-1300

17th St. Farmers’ Market
100 North 17th St.
Richmond, VA
804-646-0477

Hardywood Park Craft Brewery
2408 Ownby Lane
Richmond, VA
804-420-2420

Boka Truck

Mary Angela’s
3345 W. Cary St.
Richmond, VA
804-353-2333

Bev’s Homemade Ice Cream
2911 W. Cary St.
Richmond, VA
804-204-2387

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Even When Pizza’s Bad, It’s Still Bad

After a debacle of pizza-eating in Gettysburg, PA, my friend Liz shared her friend’s theory about pizza: “Pizza is like sex. Even when it’s bad, it’s good.”

We’re going to have to respectfully disagree. (About the pizza part — the other half of the statement is sort of correct.)

The pizza we ate was abysmal, some of the worst I’ve had the misfortune of tasting.  A mushy, pasty, doughy mess masquerading as crust, sauce that couldn’t have been more than two steps removed from Ragu, limp toppings, and a mountain of goopy cheese that weighed the sad slice down like a cheese avalanche.

I didn’t take any pics, and I don’t even want to say the name of the restaurant, because it feels too mean. I almost thought it’d be funny to post a pic of the slice, but silhouette it out like one of those anonymous interviews you see on Dateline. Believe me, this pizza should remain anonymous.

Shudder. I told Liz we need a pizza reboot, and we’ll just pretend that never happened.

Have you had any truly bad pizza?