If you follow my blog, you know that I am a Seminole. I know what you’re thinking, I’m off my rocker, someone must have hacked my account, I have a high fever… In fact, I may get a few phone calls to check on me shortly after this is published. But I digress.
What you may not know is that I’m really familiar with Gainesville. As a child, I visited my grandmother there every summer. We descended Devils Millhopper, spray painted the Writing Wall and shopped til we dropped at The Oaks Mall. After only one month of marriage, my husband dragged me to live there for three years where I was the only Seminole on staff at Fort Clark Middle School. Then there’s what we refer to as “The Streak.” While most Seminoles avoid Gainesville like the plague, I have attended each and every Florida State vs. UF game home and away since 1989. My husband keeps telling me that at some point it has to come to an end but this year was no different. Come the first Saturday after Thanksgiving there I was, right in the swamp of it. The thing is that this time something was different. Though I can’t seem to put my finger on it, I saw Gainesville in a different way. It may have been because we didn’t lose our game tickets in a bar, run out of gas on the highway or end up with the kids suitcase instead of our own. It probably had something to do with the ‘Noles being huge favorites over the Gators. This time I definitely saw Gainesville in a different light and writing this blog is helping me come to terms with it.
Let’s dispose of the ugly, the lodging. I have stayed in every 2 star hotel in Gainesville and believe me there are plenty of them. The hotels fill up fast (depending on the success of their season) and the rates are terrible. On top of that there is usually a two night minimum. This is the nature of the game in a small college town with a football problem and this year’s version, The Holiday Inn Express, is a prime example. With a welcoming banner in the lobby clearly stating that our hotel was “Gator Country” the highlight of the hotel was the free continental breakfast and WiFi. There is one exception to this lodging dilemma: Camelia Rose Inn Bed and Breakfast. Built in 1903 The Inn is composed of 8 rooms and is walking distance to all the bars and restaurants in the downtown area. The rates are a bit higher than the already ridiculously priced two star joints but you have your own space, friendly personal service and an excellent breakfast on game day to boot.
Gainesville has never been the culinary mecca of the south or even Florida for that matter. However, it has always supported several really well run local restaurants that for a town the size of Gainesville are surprisingly good. There have been many permutations of them over the years: Cafe Gardens, Emiliano’s, Leonardo’s 706 and even the casual drive-thru Mexican joint El Indio. Like the song says, “There are places I remember, some are gone and some remain.” So when in Gainesville, we always seek out the latest version and get a reservation the night before the big game. This year the winner was Manuel’s Vintage Room and it did not disappoint. Although I’m not trying to compare with anything I’ve eaten in NYC or even Chi town, Manuel’s was small and intimate and the food great. My husband had the gnocchi daniella and I the capellini with shrimp and we were both pleased. The marinara was perfectly seasoned and the gnocchi delicate, not heavy. The wines by the glass were good not great making the food the star but when you have good food, almost any wine can be delicious.
So what made this trip different? What made Gainesville seem almost like a destination instead of a chore? Three words… Swamp, Head, Brewery.
In the last couple of years, I have become a beer snob. I have a friend who completely eggs me on and between us it is a bit of a competition to have tried the latest Belgian Triple or 10 percent IPA. I have been known to leave both party and restaurant alike if the beer selection is not to my liking and would rather drink (gasp) liquor if, as my friend would say, there are “wasted taps.” You will find none of that at Swamp Head Brewery.
Located just off Archer Rd. in a warehouse complex next to I-75 you will find the brewery and Wetlands Tasting Room. Every home game weekend Swamp Head ropes off the parking lot, rolls in some food trucks and has live music from 4 -9 pm. And then there is the beer. Pouring year round offerings of Wild Night Honey Cream Ale, Cotton Mouth Belgian Whit, Stump Knocker Pale Ale and Big Nose IPA, the brewery also offers a seasonal tap and usually a tap or two from other microbreweries around the state. There are also growlers to-go and a cooler full of bombers in all different flavors. Visit http://www.swamphead.com to see all they have to offer. We took a bomber for the tailgate the next day and it was a perfect addition. Swamp Head Brewery’s tag line is “Inherently Floridian” and after hanging with the locals for two nights, I can say that it certainly is. Saturday night at the brewery was not quite as happening but a Gator loss will do that in Gainesville. There over our great tasting Big Nose pints we realized what is now known as “Kick Six” had catapulted the ‘Noles to #1. California here we come!
Our bi-annual tailgate spot near the corner of Gale Lemrand and Museum Dr. UF Campus
So all it took was the addition of some good beer you say? Yep, you got it, for me I guess that’s all it takes. In reality it’s more than that. Winning never hurts but being with locals and trading stories from all the years spent in Gainesville over an excellent pint or two really makes the trip worthwhile. Beer is the catalyst, authentic Floridians are the ingredients and if you sprinkle in a ‘Noles victory here and there, Gainesville ‘aint half bad.
When running 13 miles, homemade signs from race supporters keep me going. Some are inspirational, some funny and all are appreciated because in the mental game of running, food for thought is the best energy a runner can have. Best sign seen at the Rock and Roll Savannah Marathon and 1/2 Marathon? “I don’t do marathons, I do a marathon runner.” True, I don’t do marathons and neither does my husband but we do know how to train and run 13.1 like nobody’s business with 15 half marathons between us. We’ve also decided that for running 13 miles there’s no better place than Savannah. For the second year in a row, Savannah has been our destination race and it’s a winner.
The Winged Lion in front of the Old Savannah Cotton Exchange
Another sign seen… “Pain is temporary but internet results are forever.” For a runner, that’s motivation! It’s the same game when finding lodging in Savannah. With so many local gems, why pay for something painful? You could stay at the Hilton for over $300 a night but for just a little more you’re sure to find something authentic and if Savannah is anything it’s authentic. With over 22 park-like squares, Savannah boasts one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the United States. So don’t settle for something average in lodging, make sure to search for something unique.
Kehoe House is one of Savannah’s best Bed and Breakfasts, earning AAA four star diamond status. Finished in 1892 for local foundry owner William Kehoe, the home is adorned with cast iron railings and columns. It is also considered haunted. William Kehoe’s wife gave birth to twins there who later died playing in one of the many fireplaces. Do not fear, Tom Hanks was able to overcome the threat of paranormal activity to occupy the entire top floor during the filming of Forrest Gump. Kehoe House is great for racers too. It is just a short walk to the corral area near Emmet Park. On race morning Kehoe House provides race friendly food including coffee and an afternoon happy hour complete with wine and hors d’eouvres gives racers something to look forward to.
Savannah Dream Vacations York Street Property
If you’re traveling with a group, vacation rental by owner may be the best bang for your buck and the local company Savannah Dream Vacations has great choices. The recently renovated York Street property was perfect for our group of 6 runners and, like Kehoe House, was centrally located. The condo gave us the feel of living in Savannah, something I strive for when traveling. The most important thing? Book early! Two of the busiest weekends in the city are St. Patrick’s Day and the marathon weekend. Your reservation will give you incentive to commit to running and race registrations are typically cheaper the earlier you register.
Savannah Slow Ride Day and Night!
It’s been said that in Statesboro, GA the first thing people will ask you is what church you attend. In Atlanta, it’s “What does your daddy do?” In Savannah? “What are you drinking?” One of the best signs seen along the course? Run faster, you’ll be drunk sooner and there’s no denying it’s an easy task in Savannah. Local open container laws are slack and if your adult beverage is in a handy dandy Red Solo Cup, you’re good. The best way to take your beverage to go? Savannah Slow Ride or as I call it, bar on a bike. This man powered bar on wheels provides the sober driver and you provide the power to pedal your way from bar to bar. During the day your driver provides information on the many historic squares and at night your trolley becomes a rolling club, music and all. Favorite Stop? Abe’s on Lincoln. Check out their Drink and Draw night, a cool spin on sip and paint. The best piece drawn may even find it’s way on to the bar’s next t-shirt. After all, Savannah is home to a world famous college of art and design (SCAD). If music is your thing, Abe’s has an open mic night where you might find a local saxophonist playing next to the house DJ. That’s my kind of place!
Local Eleven 10 and The Old Pink House
Another great sign? “I’ve Carb loaded for you for four months.” In Savannah, this is way too easy for runners and non-runners alike. Our first stop was a romantic spot with a roof top bar called Local Eleven 10. After water and drinks were offered, the waiter informed us of the tasting menu available that evening. It was presented as chef’s choice and the menu would be a surprise. Embracing our wild side we agreed and the courses ensued. Diver scallops with octopus, trigger fish, pig parts three ways with a side of truffled grains, duck, rabbit, and dessert all paired with wine was an excellent if overindulgent way to start the weekend. Henry’s for breakfast the next morning helped soak up some of the previous evening’s excess with an excellent blueberry pancake and homemade biscuit and eggs, all served quickly and with a smile. Now at this juncture, I would have probably skipped lunch, but since 13.1 loomed on the horizon I decided to partake. I had always wanted to eat at The Old Pink House and since it is a Savannah tradition, we went for the power lunch. Appetizers of jalapeño macaroni poppers and fried green tomatoes did not disappoint. However, the entree of avocado and shrimp was not a great choice. My husband’s fried chicken was excellent but the potatoes and collards that accompanied it were over salted. Given the service and the historic nature of the surroundings, lunch was a minor success but without the dinner price tag. For Dinner? A straight up Savannah restaurant pillar, The Crystal Beer Parlor. In many cities finding a craft beer or two is a challenge but Crystal Beer Parlor did not disappoint. The knowledegable bartender offered us Clown Shoes Galactica IPA and it was fantastic. We liked it so much that on our walk home we stopped off for a growler of it at The Beer Growler Savannah. We even took a growler home as a birthday gift for a friend we make fun of for being a beer snob. I should talk…
The most sentimental sign I saw? “You’re setting a great example for your children.” That one made me cry. At the finish line a friend of mine said that Savannah has the best course of any race she has run. The reason? Authenticity. “The race takes you through every neighborhood in the city past every walk of life.” This makes the Savannah Rock and Roll Marathon an example all other races should follow. It may be a tough bill though. The Savannah community is so authentic that race support and entertainment along the course just comes naturally. Afterwards, that same authenticity spills over into every other part of your stay, lodging, eating, and of course there wouldn’t be spills without the drinking. But hey, you just ran 13.1 miles, enjoy yourself! This may be one of the easiest cities to do it in.
This is a sports blog but even the best of us can’t always travel for sports. It may be that sometimes you’ve got to travel and not include a sporting event. My most recent trip is proof that you can make a sport out of anything. Although no football, golf or tennis were involved, on this trip I got the same rush from finding great food and great bars with a great friend.
One of my best friends from college called me a few months back and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. She was traveling to Chicago for work and if I joined her I could crash in her hotel. The deal was sealed when I realized I had frequent flyer miles. Flight and hotel for $40? Not bad. I immediately checked to see if the Cubs were in town because a game at Wrigley Field is on my bucket list. Hello Cubs? Why doesn’t it ever seem to work out? I’m just not as jazzed about U.S. Cellular Field. It was then I realized I would be sportless.
I arrived via taxi from Midway airport at the Hyatt Regency on North Wacker St. Situated on the Chicago River, the Hyatt couldn’t have been in a better location. From the outside, the Hyatt was nothing to write home about especially compared to the beautiful architecture that downtown Chicago is known for. What I found on the inside more than made up for the exterior. At the “Big Bar” everything is big including the ribbon board of TV’s, almost all tuned to sports. If I couldn’t go to a sporting event, the Big Bar would more than make up for it with an overload of sports information. I felt immediately schizophrenic but after ordering some good beer like Southern Tier’s 2X IPA and Lagunita’s Lil Sumpin Sumpin Ale I started to feel quite normal again. I even walked by a table of guys that had martinis as big as my head. Come to find out, Hyatt provides the ingredients and you do the mixing. OK Chicago, you just birdied.
I knew that my friend had little time for play as she was in town for work. I limited my restaurant and bar choices to the downtown area. This made my research more difficult but it paid off big time.
Meaning “with” in French, Avec is the perfect restaurant for old and new friends. It’s like being in a wooden shoebox with a wall of green bottles at one end. Some people might find this claustrophobic but only those who are boring too. The seating is made up of a bar that runs down one side and several long tables on the other. Upon being seated you can tell that Avec is loud, hip and modern. The waiter quickly brought us some wine and explained that their food was portioned like tapas but not really. I have encountered this a lot lately, like tapas are suddenly taboo. Whatever, bring on the tapas and bring it they did! Seared shrimp with corona beans, radish top pesto, roasted radish and limoncello vinaigrette. Oyster mushrooms with roasted artichokes, goat feta, endive and black garlic vinaigrette. Wood-fired pizza with spicy capricola, fresh figs, pistachio pesto and arugula. Touchdown!
Afterwards, I knew we had one more place in us before my friend threw in the towel. I had narrowed it down to about three bars and then relied on a technique for selection that almost never fails, ask the hostess. If the restaurant I have just eaten at is a winner then the people who work there are sure to know where to go for drinks. Where did we end up? Three Dots and a Dash, the coolest tiki bar speakeasy known to man. Yes, I just said tiki bar speakeasy.
Three Dots and a Dash
Enter Bub City, a sports bar type place and head directly to the back exit. You’ll find yourself in an alley lined with tiki torches and on the left is the entrance to Three Dots and a Dash. Descend the stairs lined with skulls to find the thatched roof bar and the best beach inspired cocktails nowhere near a beach (unless Lake Michigan counts). Try the ones with a skull next to them which indicates a drink of impressive strength. I had the Poipu Beach Boogie Board which included Rye Whiskey, Overproof Rum, Guava, Maraschino, Grenadine, Pineapple and Lemon. Home Run!
The next day, after walking the length of Michigan Avenue otherwise known as the Miracle Mile, I was hungry. Having been turned down for dinner reservations on a Tuesday night, I decided to try out Frontera Grill and Topolobampo for lunch. Most restaurants open for lunch don’t usually reinvent themselves, instead serving smaller less expensive versions of their dinner menu. Upon arrival I noticed that the restaurant was full, a good sign. The host quickly explained that Topolobampo was upscale Mexican and Frontera Grill was like Mexican street food, I let him choose for me and Frontera Grill it was. Chef Rick Bayless did not disappoint.
Frontera Grill – Dzotobichay
This is Dzotobichay, probably one of the best Mexican dishes I have ever had. Pronounced ts’o tobil chay the dish is a tamale of fresh-ground corn masa with Nichols Farm Swiss chard, creamy pepita butter, egg, tomato-habanero sauce and ground cherry salsa. I also imbibed a Topolo Margarita: Herradura añejo tequila, Torres orange liqueur, house made limonada, shaken tableside. Goooooooaaaaaaaaaaal!
That evening was the final, championship point if you will and for the occasion I selected Piccolo Sogno. Piccolo Sogno translates to little dream. Chef Tony Priolo says, “You go to Italy for simple food, prepared by hand with local ingredients and served with local wines. That’s why people love eating in Italy, and we wanted to bring that experience to Chicago.” That’s exactly what he has done. It’s not often that I can order Barolo by the glass. Fresh made pastas, grilled vegetables, baked whole fish in salt, waiters with Italian accents coupled with outdoor seating and a check for two less than $150? Game, Set, Match!
Good food tastes great with great company. I wouldn’t fly to Chicago by myself just for food and drink. If you have to go somewhere and it’s not about sports, make the best of everything else the city has to offer. Do your research and hunt down those awesome local finds and make sure you’ve got someone to share it with.
Chicago, you’re my kind of town! You made it easy to take what limited choices I had and make them worth the trip. You may be my new favorite. Shhhhh…. don’t tell NYC.
I had a hard time writing this blog. I must have written it twenty times. With every edit, I knew I wasn’t getting it right. Until now. After watching SportsCenter of all things I realized the angle I needed to take. This my friends is the result, an epiphany of sorts, for me at least. Places aren’t made up of things but of people and Pittsburgh is a city defined by it’s people. If there is one person that embodies the spirit of Pittsburgh, it’s Andrew McCutchen.
In my original efforts I was going to tell you what made me excited about Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has enjoyed a modern renaissance of sorts. Historically a steel town with an industrial problem, Pittsburgh has made itself over with universities, medical centers and technology. While the rest of the country suffered it’s worst set back ever in real estate, Pittsburgh’s housing prices surged. Pittsburgh is a progressive city with green technology, museums and a thriving motion picture industry. At first, this is why I wanted see the city.
I was going to tell you about my hotel, the slightly above average Marriott City Center. Above average only because of the excellent service we received. In the last decade, Pittsburgh has added over 3,000 hotel rooms to the downtown landscape. Known as the “Golden Triangle” this area is also the hub for Pittsburgh’s light rail system. “The T” is an excellent and free way to travel. There are some really good hotels in Pittsburgh, including The Omni William Penn, The Renaissance and The Fairmont. None of that seemed to matter because I wasn’t satisfied. These hotels didn’t define the city.
I was going to tell you about the diverse neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, almost 90 of them and how we sampled them through our dining adventures. Like the restaurant Spoon located in the ultra hip neighborhood of Shadyside. Spoon has the best bread basket I have ever had, period. It’s sister restaurant BRGR even serves adult milkshakes. There’s Deluca’s in the Strip District where we had the most authentic breakfast experience complete with home fries, a Pittsburgh delicacy. Let me tell you, these people will put potato, namely fries on anything. (Which came first? The fry or the Heinz? You tell me…) In that same neighborhood we experienced the most authentic Italian market, The Pittsburgh Macaroni Co. and the most delicious Biscotti I’ve ever tasted at Enrico’s.
I was going to rave about the craft beer selection. Sharpe Edge Beer Emporium is home to at least 100 craft beers on draft, repeat, on draft! There’s even beer at a church! At Church Works Brewery, St. John the Baptist Church has been converted into the Best Large Brewpub in America as awarded at the Great American Beer Festival. Finally, we ventured over to the Carson St. fratfest. There we found Lava Lounge, home to the nerdiest karaoke night known to man. Think “She Blinded me with Science” and we have a winner.
Last but not least I was going to tell you how I attended Jameis Winston’s coming out party. We were in town for a football game after all. This was the single greatest performance by a freshman quarterback in FSU history. Stats? 25 of 27 passing (92.5%) for four touchdowns and eight carries for 25 yards and a touchdown. It is the best thing I have seen since Charlie Ward 20 years ago. Jameis is just jaw dropping amazing! Still… not the best thing I saw in Pittsburgh, not even close.
Now you and I know about Pittsburgh’s passion for sports. The black and gold, six Super Bowl Championships, three Stanley Cup Championships, The Iron Curtain, Mario Lemieux, Mean Joe Green, Franco Harris, The Immaculate Reception, Roethlisberger and the like. You may even know about the Pitt Panthers and their legendary QB Dan Marino. Yeah, you’ve probably heard of him. But there’s one team I overlooked, one that has been in exile for more than 20 years. They are The Pittsburgh Pirates.
What was the best part about Pittsburgh? It was PNC Park, The Pirates and in particular one player, Andrew McCutchen a 26 year old center fielder from Florida.
Embarassing! I call myself a sports fan and had no idea about this guy? When I first saw Andrew McCutchen I couldn’t believe how fast he was. He was like a spider monkey in the outfield robbing hitters left and right. I was immediately mad at myself for not knowing who he was. I knew the Pirates were leading their division but only because I am a Braves fan and the Braves killed the Pirates. 21 years ago in the slide heard ’round the world, Sid Bream ended the Pirates run at a World Series birth. I couldn’t have been happier at the time but who knew 20 consecutive years of losing seasons for the Buccos would ensue. Do you think the people of Pittsburgh forgot? No, they did not.
And then I watched SportsCenter. In an interview conducted by Buster Olney, Cutch as he is called, confessed that he wanted to be drafted by The Pirates. Not The Yankees, or The Dodgers, but The Pirates. Originally from the small town of Fort Meade, FL only 45 min away from The Pirates spring training home, Cutch grew up playing baseball. Instilled with a great work ethic by his parents, Cutch worked tirelessly sometimes at 4 or 5 in the morning on batting practice in hopes of earning a college scholarship to The University of Florida. With a .474 batting average his senior year, his hard work paid off and The Pirates made him the 11th pick of the 2005 draft. After success in the minors, Cutch made his MLB debut in 2009. Since then he has been a 3 time all star, a Gold Glove winner and NL MVP. How did I not know about this guy?
In 2012, one year before free agency, Cutch signed a 6 year 51 million dollar deal to remain a Pirate. He could have waited until the bidding wars began, probably commanding upwards of 30 million more but he didn’t, for the love of the game. In his own words, “Twenty years of a lot of pain, just trying to get up that hill. It drives me, it pushes me to want more, to be a part of that team, that all the naysayers and all the people that say it’s not going to happen. To just kind of show them that it is.”
And that my friends is Pittsburgh in a nutshell. On the surface, they may not be the friendliest bunch and tourism may be something that they are still getting used to. However, if you can crack that tough outer shell, tear down the iron curtain if you will, then you become part of the family. Once you’re family, that’s when the people of The ‘Burgh will do just about anything for you.
Of course I’m still cheering for my Braves. I can only hope, for sports sake, that a rematch of the 1992 NLCS comes to fruition. It sure is looking that way. If by chance the Pirates exact revenge, I know I’ll be disappointed but I’ll be overjoyed for the city of Pittsburgh and the hard working people in it. I think I’ll be the happiest for Cutch. I think a song just came on…
(High) high hopes we have for the future
And our goal’s in sight
(We) no we don’t get depressed
Here’s what we call our golden rule
Have faith in you and the things you do
You won’t go wrong, oh-no
This is our family Jewel
We are Family! Get up everybody and sing!
This is my favorite city, hands down.
It has been written that there are so many restaurants within the five boroughs of New York City that you could eat at a different one every day and still not have tried them all 12 years later. There are eight AAA Five Diamond award winning hotels in Manhattan alone. In the US, only the entire state of California has more. New York has it all: food, bars, museums, Broadway, Central Park, concerts. The choices are unlimited. How is it that my weekend in the city turned in to a weekend of sports in the city? Well my friends, that’s how I roll. The opening round of the U.S. Open paired with a Saturday round of the Barclay’s? Yes please! Don’t worry sweetie, we’ll make time for the other stuff, let’s go! This is NYC eat, sleep, sports style.
The key to all lodging in New York is location, location, location. Although I try not to sleep while in New York, eventually you need a place to rest your weary head. Time of year is going to dictate price but in late August, there are some deals to be found. The best place to look is http://www.hotwire.com or in my house better known as gambling. My husband is not much of a gambler. In fact while in Vegas for his birthday his game of choice was nickel slots. However, he will do some gambling if say a $500 a night hotel room were to come in at half price. The gambling part about Hotwire is you’re never sure exactly which hotel you’re going to get. The upside is you can choose your location within Manhattan and see the value of the hotel (stars/price) along with the amenities and how frequently it is recommended by fellow travelers. As far as location? The best location is near a subway station and remember, not all are created equal so check it out at http://www.mta.info If your hotel is near a major station like Grand Central or Penn Station, even better.
After the gamble, our hotel was (drum roll) The Setai on Fifth Ave. This hotel is so choice, I highly recommend it. In the shadow of the Empire State Building (see photo above) and within walking distance to Penn Station, The Setai is one of NYC’s finest. Now unless you have serious cash you are not going to find large rooms anywhere but at The Setai the size of your bathroom will more than make up for it. The service at The Setai is some of the best I have ever experienced. By the time our stay was done I began looking forward to the same smiling faces at the door and in the lobby. Throw in high thread count sheets, great room service and a hip lobby bar and we have a winner. You can even request the “House Car” whenever available until eight p.m. The house car being a Maserati, you’ll be traveling in style.
Runners Up: The Alex, Hotel Americano, Trump SoHo New York, The Greenwich Hotel
Now that you have secured lodging, you are probably hungry. Let’s be honest, the number of restaurants is a scary proposition, one that could make even a savvy traveler indecisive. When making a decision about where to eat suspend disbelief, expect a bad decision, auction off your first born, and then agree that this won’t be your last rodeo. However, there is one place I can guarantee happiness and that is Balthazar for brunch on Sunday. Sunday is the perfect day in New York. It’s in between your golf outing on Saturday and the first round of the U.S. Open on Monday but more on that later. If you go before noon, liquor laws will preclude you from having a lovely “Hangover Drink” like a Ramos Fizz or Oyster Mary. Don’t let that get in the way, there’ll be time enough for countin when the dealins done. Instead try just about anything egg on the menu under the “Les Oeufs” section including the “Bella Donna” with plolenta, pancetta and tomato. Don’t forget the coffee either, I dream about it!
After brunch, walk off those delicious calories with a trip down the High Line. The High Line is a 1 mile linear park that was built on an old elevated railroad track. It is the most spectacular way to see the city, http://www.thehighline.org Then, take a short cab ride for a stroll through the Museum of Modern Art, throw in a run through Central Park and you’ll be ready for a tasty dinner.
With two locations in the city, Chef Alex Stupak’s Empellon empire is doing just fine. As one of Food and Wine Magazine’s best new chefs for 2013, Chef Stupak makes Mexican food special. At Empellon Taqueria in the West Village, tacos, or more importantly tortillas are the main event. The menu is short and to the point and excellent tacos like the fish tempura with cabbage and lime mayo are the star. Thirsty? Try the “Por que No?” Tequila blanco, serrano chile, cilantro and pineapple, to die for! On the opposite side of the island, Empellon Cocina takes Mexican food and puts is on it’s ear. Based on the principal that technique and preparation influence the flavor of food just as much as ingredients, Chef Stupak takes a page from restaurant El Bulli. The food at Concina is definitely Mexican but in a way that you’ve never seen or tasted before.
Runners Up: La Perla, Red Rooster
Now, down to business. The U.S. Open and The Barclays.
The Barclays and Liberty National Golf Course
The Barclays Golf tournament is the first leg of what I like to call “fall golf.” Fall golf is comprised of the tournaments after the four majors that are part of the the chase for the Fed Ex Cup. The Fed Ex Cup is the championship trophy for the PGA Tour and employs a Nascar like points system throughout the year to determine it’s champion. During Fall Golf the field is narrowed at consecutive tournaments starting with the top 125 at The Barclays. That translates to really good golf with all of the top players in a “major” like atmosphere. The Barclays rotates between four different golf courses, returning this year to Liberty National in Jersey City, New Jersey. Now before you say “Jersey?” see photo above. Jersey City is just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, just a short ferry ride for you and a beautiful one at that. You can see the skyline of Manhattan and in particular Lady Liberty from about half of the course. I usually like to use only my own photos on this blog but I have to admit this is a stock photo. Last year I was lucky enough to attend The Barclays at Beth Paige Black, one of the few public golf courses ever used in a US Open and it was phenomenal. This year with the tournament at Liberty National the views and golf are sure to be just as spectacular.
Victoria Azarenka from my seat at Louis Armstrong Stadium
Tennis at night? Yes please! In the city that never sleeps, the best tennis is played at night and the patrons wouldn’t have it any other way. To purchase tickets, go to http://www.usopen.org. Here are some tips…
1. A ticket to Aurthur Ashe during the day gets you into the grounds and into every other tennis venue on the campus including Louis Armstrong and the Grandstand.
2. To see your best tennis, it is best to sit in the “end zones” or behind the baseline. This will prevent you from craning your neck from side to side with each volley, not something you think about when watching tennis on TV. In order to get these seats at the smaller Louis Armstrong stadium, you’ll have to pay extra but it will be worth it. Some of the best tennis is played there throughout the day.
My seat on Opening Night at Aurthur Ashe Stadium, waiting for Roger Federer.
3. As I said before, night tennis is where it is at and you will have to purchase a separate night session ticket to Aurthur Ashe in order to attend. Usually it is the best male and female player of the day and it is most definitely the main event. You may even want to skip the daytime session all together for the evening session if you want to make the most of your time in the city. This tip will get you the most bang for your buck entertainment wise and you will leave feeling like you have seen tennis, just not all day tennis. Buy the best seats available, you won’t be disappointed.
This blog could go on forever. I didn’t even touch on my favorite speakeasies or my love hate relationship with Yankee Stadium. But, all good things must come to an end, even a weekend of Sports in the City.
A whirlwind month of sports television got me thinking big. Some of my best plans have come from these brainstorms because I don’t spend much energy daydreaming of things that will never become reality. Typically, I grow a wild hair, my husband and I negotiate and if all goes well, a trip ensues. After looking across the pond for a month via my TV a definite hair has sprung.
In travel, timing is everything. I like to time my travel with a good sporting event or two if I can swing it. For example, last year I traveled to New York for the U.S. Tennis Open. It just so happened that the Barclay’s Golf Tournament was taking place at Beth Page Black. And so, a weekend in the city turned into a weekend of sports in the city. The “how to” on that trip is for a later post. I digress…
After years of watching three of my favorite sporting events, I realized not only did Wimbledon, the Open Championship and the Tour De France take place on the same continent, they take place at relatively the same time. I admit, even for me this plan is big, a quest of sorts for a sports holy grail. Is it possible for to pull off the trifecta?
I punched some numbers into the old calendar and here’s what I came up with:
June 23rd (day after my birthday) – Wimbledon begins
July 5th – Le Tour de France begins
July 6th – Wimbledon Men’s Championship, Wimbledon ends
July 17th – 20th – The Open Championship
July 26th – Le Tour de France ends
Now in order to achieve the trifecta, my trip would have to be timed just right. There would have to be some sacrifices made and a little luck would have to go my way. It just so happens that the first three stages of Le Tour next year take place in England. For the first time ever the Grand Depart will be located in Yorkshire with the third stage in London. This would lend nicely to the timing aspect as I would need to take in Wimbledon towards the end of the fortnight. Everything would be centrally located for the first leg of the trip. Wimbledon will be the tricky part and with only a few matches to go tickets will be at a premium. If it’s not humanly possible to attend the men’s or women’s final, I’ll take just sitting on Henman Hill. If Andy Murray were defending his title then people watching would be sport enough.
On that note, could one person have endured more pressure in men’s tennis than Andy Murray? I could feel it oozing through my TV and yet he never cracked, knew what he had to do and took out Novak in straight sets. Straight sets! Most definitely the most nerve racking sporting event of the year so far.
Chris Froome wins Stage 15 and conquers Mont Ventoux
Next, a short Chunnel ride to France would allow for at least one mountain stage of the Tour. This year, much like in years past, the Tour was won in the mountains. Chris Froome took the Yellow Jersey by winning stage 8 in the Pyrenees. He solidified his victory with another win at the summit of Mont Ventoux which he acknowledged as one of the most satisfying wins of his career. Adding a victory in the individual time trial, Chris Froome proved to be the best overall contender by five minutes over his closest competitor Nairo Quintana. With several excellent young riders challenging, next year’s Tour is looking to leave the doping scandals of the past in it’s dust. No one could have predicted the success of the young Colombian rider Quintana and the rivalry between him and Froome should provide some epic battles on next year’s mountaintop finishes. I plan to be at one.
Now, back across The Channel to Royal Liverpool and the 143rd edition of The Open Championship.
The Champion Golfer of 2013
Being a fan of Augusta National, I never thought of links golf as my speed. It’s the trees stupid! Watching Phil wrap his club around those Georgia pines at the par five 13 is my kind of golf. I also know, that it is his too. No one will ever be able to recreate what happened on the second nine on Sunday at Muirfield, not even Phil the Thrill. Just ask a tearful Jim “Bones” Mackay, Phil Mickelson’s caddy of 21 years who said it was, “the best round of golf I’ve ever seen him play.” Lefty said he didn’t care how he got it (the trophy) but he went out and did it with “one of the best rounds of his career. ” If I can be there to watch the champion golfer of the year walk past the adoring galleries at the oldest major in golf I’ll take it. Not to mention, Royal Liverpool is located on the Wirral Peninsula in the Irish Sea. After some initial research I have learned that Wirral, also known as England’s Golf Coast, is home to three Open Championship courses and has much to offer in the way of five star accommodations and Michelin Star eating. Liverpool is also the birthplace of some band I’ve heard of before, any guesses?
So there it is, a plan is hatched. I will keep you posted on it’s progress. During the initial negotiations a secondary, simpler plan was also discussed, the 2014 U.S. Open Championship at Pinehurst Number 2. In 1999 Pinehurst was home to the US Open, one that saw Payne Stewart defeat Phil by one stroke only four months before his tragic death. That trip would be slightly different, one in search of the “slam”, not the trifecta. As Phil said, “if six seconds equaled one win, I’d have all four of ’em.” That’s a great way to look at it, maybe I should adjust my travel expectations and follow his lead. Or not…
I have a new obsession. My obsessions, I have to admit, come honestly and it’s usually go big or go home. For you, the reader, this is a positive situation. I play the role of guinea pig and you get to make up your mind if it’s for you or not. My newest obsession, stand up paddle boarding.
I first discovered the sport in Cocoa Beach, FL. I decided to visit when my in-laws won a weeks vacation at a silent auction. Cocoa isn’t a beach that comes to mind as “my speed” but I took a chance since it was free. I have a hard time sitting still and so after seeing others paddle up and down the beach I decided to do the same. The best place to learn? The World Famous Ron Jon Surf Shop! Really. Located just next to the flagship store on A1A is the watersport shop where you can schedule a lesson on either the Atlantic Ocean or the Banana River. Just call 321 868-1980 next time you’re in the area. While in Cocoa, check out a dining surprise at the Fat Snook, 2464 S Atlantic Ave. 321-784-1190 It was so delicious and fresh, we ate there twice. My favorite? The wine list! Wines by the glass are usually a been there done that situation but at the Snook I found a list that was surprisingly refreshing and according to them hand selected resourcing only small, boutique style vineyards.
My latest paddling adventure, County Hwy 30-A…
From the “Roof Deck Bar” above Bud and Alley’s in Seaside
What started as the “new urbanism” development known as Seaside (see The Truman Show) has since turned into a small but exceptional stretch of beach side communities along the North West Florida Panhandle known as 30-A. Named for the county road they inhabit, this includes but is not limited to; Grayton, Watercolor, Seaside, Alys, Seacrest and Rosemary Beaches. The pure white sand and emerald water have landed this area on several best beaches lists and the 13 mile bike path that connects them allows you to park your car and leave it, one of my favorite activities. You can rent a bike from several different outfitters along the highway and they will deliver them to your doorstep but let’s get back to business, paddlin’.
The place to go is the Boat House in Watercolor. Here, you can visit the guys from YOLO Board Adventures on the shores of Western Lake. They can rent you a board, take you on a guided tour or set you up with a SUP Yoga class. There are even daily SUP camps for the younger folks if you’re looking for some “me” time. You can contact them at 850-419-6188 to set up your adventure. Mine took me from the boat house to the world famous Red Bar in Grayton Beach and back. At the Red Bar you can hang with the locals, the beach bums or the stars, literally. The paddling will take you about an hour round trip, weather depending. The hanging out? I suppose that depends on you.
While in 30-A the best place to look for lodging, especially homes, is on VRBO.com or vacation rentals by owner. One of our favorites is actually a town home available at Emerald Waters Realty 800-226-3974. The town homes at “Blue Tide,” come as 1 or 3 bedrooms, are beach front, updated, have a pool and are an easy bike ride to both Alys and Rosemary Beach. We have also stayed in the Villas at Sunset Beach which are also 3 bedroom style condos and have a beach front pool. Although the word condo may conjure up images of high rise towers, the beauty of 30-A is that New Urbanism architecture does not allow for buildings more than 3 stories leaving only amazing views of that beautiful emerald coast line from everywhere. One Caveat, if you are looking for a traditional hotel or a resort, then this may not be “your speed.” 30-A is made up mainly of private rentals. There are a few exceptions like the highly anticipated and highly priced “The Pearl” in Rosemary Beach or the Watercolor Inn but not many. Some of the rentals have private pools and most of the communities do as well but get ready to walk or ride. In order to promote pedestrianism the pools are part of the community and are located at small watering holes throughout.
Now for the good stuff, the eatin’. There are many excellent choices while on 30-A so let’s make this easy and do a top ten list.
The Pool at Alys Beach during Digital Graffiti and Caliza
Caliza – 850.213.5700 The ultimate special occasion place located pool side in Alys Beach, Caliza specializes in local seafood and specialty cocktails like the “Honey Badger.” Once a year it plays host to the hottest party on 30-A, Digital Graffiti, where the all white stucco walls in Alys become blank canvass to digitally projected art from around the world. Really!
Fish Out of Water – 850.534.5050 Another special occasion restaurant. FOW located at the Watercolor Inn has the most amazing views of the gulf. Try the Half Dozen Raw Apalachicola Oysters, you can’t get any fresher than that.
V – 850. 468 .0973 Shining like the ultra modern mecca that it is, V is the last of the shmancies. No reservations are accepted but arrive early and you will be rewarded with a selection of half price entrees. Although the wine list was about par, the service and food more than make up for it. Try the Shrimp and Grits Boullettes, in three words, big shrimp balls!
Georges – 850.641.0017 The place to be seen, nobody wants to sit inside and who would with the scenery that Alys beach has to offer. Georges does not take reservations and they line up early in good weather. Their signature lobster quesadilla is a great start to a great evening. Kid Friendly.
Aqua Coastal Sushi – 850. 764.2782 Where are we anyways? Ahhh yes, Rosemary Beach, a homage to any European village. On the other hand, sitting inside Aqua puts you smack dab in the middle of NYC with it’s leather banquettes and hipster stylings. With sushi that tastes like NYC to boot, this is definitely the newest most chic place on the block.
Cowgirl Kitchen – With two locations in Seagrove and Rosemary, this is your place for breakfast. Try the Migas, a traditional Texas egg scramble with tomatoes and jalapenos served over grits and two strips of bacon. Or for dinner their made from scratch, thin, hand rolled pizzas. Delicious!
La Cocina – 850.231.4021 You say you want some loud throw down mexican food 30-A style? This is your place. Located in Seacrest Beach, La Cocina has a family friendly atmosphere with good food and great service. My kid spilled Sprite all over the floor and as the waiter mopped it up he told me it was my job to be pampered. Throw in a LaCoRIta, a house made frozen margarita with a swirl of sangria and I believe it!
Seagrove Village Market – 850.231.5736 serving since 1949, the most authentic beach joint on the list. Try their Po Boys and you’ll be lining up at the gift shop turned restaurant in your dreams.
Red Bar – 850. 231.1008 Looking for a place that has live music and an after hours scene? Look no further than the infamous Red Bar. Wall papered with old concert posters and dollar bills this local dive bar is loud and fun. Good food to boot.
Bud and Alley’s Taco Bar – 850.231.5900 The quintessential hangout at the heart of 30-A in Seaside. This restaurant is made up of little other than counter service and a few patio tables but it is not to be missed. The fish tacos are the BEST I have ever had and the rest are pretty amazing too. Definitely ask for a margarita rocks made with Herradura silver, amazing. Afterwards head across the street to get a Louisiana style snow ball from Frost Bites and let the kids run wild in the Seaside amphitheater. Stir in a sunset and enjoy!
Thanks for reading. Hope your summer is filled with whatever obsession makes you happy!