Day: February 1, 2015

From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, National Harbor

Love Is In the Air!

Well, winter is well underway and we have managed to dodge the major snow storm that hit our neighbors to the north. Here is hoping we dodge the next one on the horizon. I wonder if the winter weather had any bearing on proclaiming Valentine’s Day to be on the 14th back in the day! February is a good month to “warm up” your loved ones at any rate. Probably the most romantic place in the Harbor is the Old Hickory Steakhouse in the Gaylord. Their executive chefs continue to dazzle guests this February with romantic dining experiences on more than just Valentine’s Day. Couples can celebrate romance at the hotel’s signature restaurant on February 6th, 7th, 13th and the 14th. The award-winning steakhouse is offering a pre-fixe dinner menu featuring their signature beef as well as house favorites including crab cakes, lamb, and romantic desserts in honor of Valentine’s Day. Named one of the most romantic restaurants in the capital region, guests can enjoy breathtaking views of the Potomac River as they dine. The dinner costs $139 per couple (does not include tax and gratuity) and reservations are encouraged. I was lucky enough to take part in this dinner special last year and it was a very memorable occasion. Maybe I will get lucky again this year. Public House Restaurant on Fleet Street is bringing back their “Crazy. Stupid. Love.” Valentine’s special. This is a great place to take that date who is a sports lover as well as a romantic. If you are of the female persuasion it might just be the perfect place to take your sports crazy guy friend and visa versa! You will both enjoy yourselves either way. See their ad in this section for details. Harrington’s Pub and Kitchen is celebrating their third year…

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Notes from the Publisher

Publisher’s Notes February 2015

Here we are moving into February. This is the shortest month of the year but always seems to be the longest. I imagine that the yearning for the warmer months makes us want time to move faster. However, if you like to sit in front of a nice cozy fireplace with a cocktail or to eat a nice meal, Dining Out this month features many of the fireplaces in the Old Town area. The last week in January was a bonus for participating restaurants in Alexandria Restaurant Week, which ran from January 23 to February first. There was a noticeable spike in business and gave folks an opportunity to experience new places at reduced prices. If you missed out, check out or friends in Calvert County as they have their Restaurant Week February20 through March 1st. There will also be a Taste of Solomons in the first week of March. Our Personality Profile this month is Gerry Ragland, Jr.…lawyer by day, sailor by weekend. The Business Profile this month gives you a look at Bulgarian wines which are being imported by our friend Rhys Davies and his wife and her family. The Civil War continues and Doug Coleman takes us back to February of 1865. We stepped out of our comfort zone this month and crossed the bridge into DC to interview our Behind the Bar victim, Sean Hughes, at the Old Ebbit Grill. Sean is the older brother of our pal Mitchell Hughes, barkeep at Landini’s Restaurant and little sister Kaitlan, barkeep at Fish Market here in Old Town. It is sort of a family affair. Valentine’s Day rolls around yet again this year on the 14th…be sure to take care of your loved ones by doing something special. Check out your knowledge of said holiday by taking the…

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Personality Profile

Gerald “Gerry “ Ragland, Jr. – Attorney, Sailor, Amateur Photographer

Writing about Gerry Ragland will be a pleasure for me, for I have known Gerry since 1996 when I competed against him in the inaugural Old Town Crier Cup sailboat race…and it is the only time I ever beat him. I will address the race a little later. The 73-year-old Ragland has strong ties to his native Alexandria. He was born at Duke and Washington Streets. His dad ran a garage on Route 1 and Old Mt. Vernon Highway, not far from Alexandria. When America entered World War II, Mr. Ragland senior moved to Baltimore to work at the shipyards. A little later Mr. Ragland, Sr. enlisted in the Marine Corp and saw action at Iwo Jima. While his dad was overseas, Gerry and his mom, Edith Drumheller, moved back to her native Rockfish, Virginia in Nelson County. There is a little bit a history here, as Edith had attended Schuyler High School and graduated Salutatorian while Earl Hamner Jr. graduated Valedictorian. Hamner wrote several semi-autobiographical stories about his experiences there while growing up during the Great Depression, including Spencer’s Mountain which was made into a movie in 1963. Hamner also wrote the Homecoming, which was the catalyst for the CBS television series, The Waltons. Edith’s dedication to school had a profound effect on Gerry and he became the first in his family to go to college. After the war, the family moved to the town of Crewe in Nottoway County, Virginia, where Gerry put himself through college working as a brakeman in the local train yard. His education was interrupted for a year when he dropped out of Lynchburg College, but later began attending Longwood College in Farmville, Virginia, which today is Longwood University. During this time period, Gerry also taught drama at Falls Church high school and later…

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Pets, Places, & Things, Road Trip

Get Tucker’d In Tucker County, WV

In January we were invited to Tucker County, WV for a FAM (familiarization) tour sponsored by the Tucker County tourism gurus, and decided that it would make a perfect subject for the February “Road Trip” column. Most people associate Canaan Valley and the ski areas as the places to be in Tucker County but there are a few other happening places in the county that are well worth checking out. Canaan Valley is one of the premier winter destinations where recreation and relaxation options are plentiful. Downhill skiers and snowboarders of all levels will love the 43 slopes and trails of Canaan and Timberline Mountains. Canaan Valley has a vertical drop of 850 feet and over 180 inches of average annual snowfall. The resort also offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating and snow tubing at the new tubing park. Although this time of year it is all about the winter activities, Canaan Valley is a four-season destination and a showpiece for the State of West Virginia and the West Virginia State Park system. Vast recreational opportunities and accommodations are a calling card to visitors returning to or discovering the Tucker County area and the many facets of services and hospitality. We did stay at the newly refurbished lodge at it deserves some mention. The nearly four-decade old lodge structures, having served the public well beyond the expectations of a tourism industry standard, have yielded to a new 32 million dollar, 160-room lodge complex. The new complex brings a certain degree of sophistication to the rest of the casual, comfortable rooms that we have been using for years. The North and South wings of the new lodge are four levels with each level having 42 rooms. The configuration, which includes eight suites, creates a total of 160 sleeping rooms. Some guest…

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Business Profile

Parallel 43 – Importing The Wines of Eastern Europe

Parallel 43 is the latitude of the wine region in Bulgaria and was the inspiration for the name of this wine importer and wholesaler based in Northern Virginia. It is also the same parallel as the city of Boston here in the USA. Parallel 43 specializes in wines from Eastern Europe and is family owned and operated by Bulgarian natives Orlin Marintchev, his son Hristo and his daughter Gergana and her husband Rhys Davies (who is a native of Ireland). They all bring special talent to the table when it comes to getting their wine into the glasses of Northern Virginian’s. The wines that bear the Parallel 43 label come from a region that has long been known for their wine-making traditions and there are some very interesting, world class wines of both international and regional varietals. We had the pleasure of tasting several of them during our interview and we are very impressed with what we tasted. While all of them have sophisticated palettes when it comes to wine and all weigh in on the wines that they are importing, Orlin is the expert on the wines and their origins, Gergana keeps the day-to-day end of the business running smoothly and Rhys is the front of the house guy who handles sales and tastings. Hristo runs his own business in conjunction with being the label designer and the creative guru at Parallel. If you look closely at the labels you will begin to see a theme in their design. They are all geometric figures with their spellings in Latin. This was the brain child of Hristo. They told us that they have regular “symposiums” (as opposed to staff meetings) when making decisions regarding the business. They are all very strong personalities and it was a pleasure to be part…

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Behind the Bar, Wining & Dining

Behind the Bar: Sean Hughes

Sean Hughes Old Ebbitt Grill 675 15th Street NW Washington, DC 202-347-4800 How did you get started in the bartending business? Aside from changing kegs and mixing horrendous concoctions at college, I got started in the hospitality industry when I came back from college in 1999 as a server.  I was only 20 at the time, so I wasn’t old enough to bartend yet.  But I took every opportunity to barback and help out the bartenders so I could study and learn about tending bar.  I enjoy making people laugh and having a good time.  I’ve been behind the bar for about 15 years now and worked in some of the busiest bars in the DC area.  I’ve definitely evolved as a bartender and I’m enjoying it more now than I have from when I first started. What is your biggest bartender pet peeve? I think we as bartenders have very similar “pet peeves”, i.e. impatient, pushy, bossy, indecisive, just plain rude people.  One of my biggest now, I guess, would have to be cell phones.  Everyone is always on them – there’s no more human interaction.  Don’t get me wrong I don’t mind taking your picture, but when I’m slammed don’t get upset because it could take me a second to get to that. And the bar has become a charging station because everyone has to stay connected. So there are cords everywhere and you gotta be careful not to get a phone wet while were serving lots and lots of beverages. Look around folks….there are people….go connect in person.  We’re here to serve you the stuff to give you the courage to do it. What is the cleverest line anyone has used to get a free drink from you? I’ve probably heard and seen just about anything…

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Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Unlock the Love at CrossKeys Vineyards!

Discover. Taste. Experience the Best of Virginia Wine. The beauty of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley was the primary inspiration for CrossKeys Vineyards in Mt. Crawford. The 125 acre property selected by Bob and Nikoo Bakhtiar was originally an old farm that was overrun with cedar, but with stunning views of Massanutten and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The name comes from the old CrossKeys Tavern which stood just a few miles from the property. It was used as a hospital during the Civil War Battle of Crosskeys, and later as a pub and the community center in the 1800’s. After clearing the land, the Bakhtiars began to dream of developing wine and culture on the property and creating something of worth and significance. Following years of planning and preparation, CrossKeys has emerged as a prominent Virginia winery. In 2002, the Bakhtiars planted the vines that yielded their first harvest in 2006. In 2008, they opened a stunning state-of-the art facility surrounded by sloping vineyards in the Tuscan style. Today, 23 (soon to be 31) of the 125 acres are under vine, with 11 varieties of grapes grown on site and producing some 3,000 cases of wine per year. The sprawling mountain-view piazza with its picturesque front courtyard has spacious function rooms for weddings and other special events, such as wine dinners, themed parties and music concerts that occur on a regular basis. Upcoming Valentine events include a “Wine & Chocolate Pairing” on February 12 and a very special “Valentine’s Day Dinner” on February 14 (www.crosskeysvineyards). The CrossKeys Tasting Room has knowledgeable associates who welcome guests daily to visit, tour, taste and purchase wines.   The Bistro, open for lunch 11:30 to 4:30, offers a seasonal menu of delicious light fare and locally produced cheeses. There is also a retail space featuring wine-themed gifts…

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From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge

“From the Blue Ridge to the Bay” – Jan Marthinson Mewhinney, May 2, 1931 – December 11, 2014

She was there when I took my first breath, so it was only fitting that I was next to her and holding her hand when she took her last.  After a devastating diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer that had already metastasized, I spent most of her last six weeks with her. My siblings and I took turns so that one of us was always there, and we were fortunate enough to find not only a competent nurse, but Hospice of the Rappahannock as well, so we were able to keep my mother in her own home with its view of Dividing Creek where it empties into the Chesapeake Bay on Virginia’s Northern Neck near Kilmarnock. It was a painful, yet poignant six weeks. Along with the cancer came nearly full blown dementia, that was particularly hard for us to accept since only a week prior to the diagnosis, Mom had lived on her own, widowed the past 5 years from her second husband, in her pretty home on the water where she’d lived full time since moving there from Alexandria in 1982.  Strong, independent and the consummate lady, she’d always been able to take care of herself, so in her lucid moments she could be mean—she resented being patronized and treated like a child. But there were also moments where she’d flash her acerbic wit and be her old self. And most of the time, even when she was making no sense, it was still easy to make her laugh like she used to. Not until later in life did I appreciate Mom’s lessons. Much as we hated it, we all had to attend ballroom dance school as adolescents. Education was important to her and while integration – when it came to Alexandria’s public schools – was acceptable mixing the brightest students…

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Exploring VA Wines, Wining & Dining

Where is the vineyard?

All of the Virginia grape growers that I have spoken with lately are very glad that the words “Polar Vortex” have not been used in our weather forecast so far this winter. The danger point for many vines planted in the area is zero Fahrenheit. Last year we had -7F on our farm while folks in New York and Ohio had some -20s. These low temperatures will not only kill off bud that would have been fruitful for the year ahead, but also can kill off the vines. We put new vines in the ground last spring and they grew quite well for the season. To protect them from a potentially harsh winter, we covered the graft union with mulch. This hopefully will keep that point a few degrees warmer than the air keeping some buds alive to regrow the vine in the spring. If there is no killing cold, we can grow out the vine from the 2-3 feet of wood that grew last year and we did not need the mulch blanket. Currently with our older vines, we are pruning off all of the dead wood and long branches that we had left on the vine last year. Because there was such dieback and lack of fruit, we let the vines grow rather free form giving us as much fruit as was available. We also decided not to cut back the dead wood until now because we were so busy during the growing season tending to what was alive. The dead wood does not spread diseases right away in the vineyard but it can harbor diseases over the years. We are hoping that this rebuilding process of vines will be completed in 2 years. We cannot just add on buds and branches, they need to be grown. Little…

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