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The White House

Each year my mom and I like to take a trip just the two of us. This year’s excursion led us toWashington,D.C. My last visit to D.C. was a work-related trip in 2004. Yes, the year the periodical cicacads reared their ugly heads. With no work and no cicadas this year, we were already off to a great start!

We arrived on a Thursday night and dined at Cafe Italia on 23rdStreet in Arlington. Our cozy table on the enclosed patio made for some interesting people-watching. This restaurant has an authentic menu and food so good I would have gladly “kissed the cook.” Mom’s Gnocchi Alla Pomodoro (homemade potato pillows cooked with basil, sun dried tomatoes and black olives in a garlic tomato sauce) was warm and flavorful…perfect for a chilly evening. I couldn’t resist the Manicotti Alla Florentina (pasta crepes stuffed with fresh spinach and ricotta cheese and baked in a tomato sauce) and it certainly did not disappoint. I would go so far as to say this could be the epitome of Italian comfort food.

The next day, we headed off to the zoo to view the pandas (among other exhibits). Afterwards, we milled about, making a stop at the beautiful and historic St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

St. Matthew’s Cathedral

Lunch was an unexpected delight…Noodles & Company. I relished the Pasta Fresca with chicken breast. I could not believe the quality of the food and the speed in which it was served. This was the perfect fit for a quick lunch where we didn’t want to feel weighed down. Oh, and the price…very, very economical. Refueled and not ones to waste vacation time, we spent the afternoon seeing the sights courtesy of D.C.’s hop on-hop off bus tour. We hopped off at the World War II Memorial and enjoyed views of the Washington Monument

WWII Memorial and Washington Monument

We walked to the Lincoln Memorial and Korean War Veterans Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial

That night, we returned to 23rd Street for dinner at the Crystal City Sports Pub where we gnoshed on Southwest Chicken Egg Rolls to start followed by the crab cakes for mom and a burger for me.

Saturday was highlighted by the Cherry Blossom Festival. Afterwards, we took a quick stroll through the National Gallery of Art.

Me & mom at the National Gallery of Art

It was a gorgeous day so we lunched in the garden surrounding the Smithsonian Castle. While the crowd at the Castle Cafe was nearly overwhelming and the fare was expectedly overpriced, their black bean salad is quite delightful (DISCLAIMER: the salad is chock full of red onion so eat this at the risk of your companion!).

A beautiful day at the Smithsonian Castle

Then, we were off to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, the National Mall, and finally a stop by The White House. I love the Natural History Museum so much I would have been happy to visit it every day of our trip! They offer a spectacular butterfly experience which I highly recommend.

Do not touch the butteflies, but if they land on you it’s okay.

The culinary highpoint of our trip came courtesy of Old Ebbitt Grill. This iconic D.C. establishment was recommended by a local I chatted up on our flight up from Atlanta to D.C. Her recommendation was spot on. I devoured The Norwegian sandwich (smoked salmon, hardboiled egg, olive cream, onions, arugula, & tomatoes on pumpernickel bread), but mom’s order of Spring Vegetable Ravioli (asparagus, oven roasted tomatoes, roasted onions, portobello mushrooms, Pecorino Romano and citrus olive oil) stole the show. Old Ebbitt Grill certainly tops the list of places to return on our next trip to D.C.

Sunday we went into Old Town Alexandria as suggested by a friend. Unbeknownst to us, this area likes to ease into Sunday. All of the stores were closed expect for the obligatory corner Starbuck’s. We enjoyed the scenery nonetheless – a walk along the waterfront, traipsing through Founders Park, and exploring Carlyle House.

Carlyle House

Before I knew it, it was time to board our flight and return to the Gulf Coast. It’s always exciting to leave town in search of adventure, but it doesn’t take long before I’m jonesin’ for sweet tea and Southern hospitality. If you plan to visit the D.C. area in the near future, I suggest the DCRider app for your smartphone. It’s absolutely free and makes navigating the metro a breeze.

Our first meal in Greenville was breakfast at Coffee Underground on Main Street. I couldn’t resist their Mediterranean omelette (spinach artichoke dip, feta, sun-dried tomatoes, & portabellas), home fries, and a Chai tea latte. Trust me, the iPhone photo doesn’t do it justice. This charmingly funky café has it’s fair share of character. Personally, I love the Red Room with it’s dim lighting and exotic Middle Eastern flair.

After stuffing our bellies full, we wandered around the farmers’ market. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is a city to be envied for it’s market if nothing else. With a diverse array of vendors, one can find virtually anything from farm fresh eggs and pickled green beans to lotions and candles to pitcher plants and fresh herbs.

That night we went to Jill’s favorite sushi restaurant, Tsunami. We started with the Asparagus Yakihitashi before feasting upon numerous varieties of sushi. Afterwards, we sauntered over to Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria to shoot some pool (man, I’m rusty!) and have a few drinks. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to go to a bar and not come out reeking of smoke. Don’t worry, I’ll refrain from jumping on my soap box.

The next day, I set out for a little shopping. I tried my first bubble tea at O-CHA Tea Bar. While the barista was kind enough to guide me through the seemingly endless bubble tea options, her questions started sounding a little weird. Do you want it creamy? Do you like pearls? How about some jellies? All I wanted some tea! Somehow, I convinced myself she wasn’t a pusher using street lingo for drugs and instead of fleeing, I ordered a blueberry tea with both pearls and jellies. Give me a merit badge for bravery. 😉 After all that anxiety, I really didn’t care for the drink, but now I can say I’ve tried it.

Perhaps the best meal we had on our trip was lunch at Poppies Gourmet Farmers Market. After a fun morning of waterfall hunting, we’d worked up quite an appetite. With more adventure on the horizon that day, this was the perfect place to grab a quick (and delicious!) lunch while enjoying their lush garden. I was torn between the fish tacos and  the black and bleu burger so Kevin graciously agreed to order the burger while I ordered the tacos. It worked out perfectly since we switched plates halfway through our meal.

Our last taste of South Carolina was breakfast at Spill the Beans. This shop has quite possibly the best location in Greenville, right next to the breathtaking Falls Park. The atmosphere made up for the staff’s lack of enthusiasm. This is certainly not the place to go if you’re in a hurry. Luckily, we weren’t. A funny miscommunication between our friend and the barista led to an order of oatmeal generously topped with whipped cream. There’s no better way to start your day than with a good belly laugh and an attempt at healthful eating gone awry.

Countless laughs, oodles of food, and a whole slew of treasured memories! I’m ready to go back…like right now.

Wishing you all a gorgeous, fun-filled weekend and a Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, most especially mine.

While it may have been silent on the ol’ blog front the past few weeks, it’s been anything but quiet for The Eclectic Connoisseur. I had been lamenting to my husband that I needed a change of scenery. Well, I got exactly what I wanted. Our destination of choice? Greenville, South Carolina, baby!

The fun began with an scenic bike ride through town. It was also a challenging ride, at least for this flatlander. We took in the beauty of Falls Park on the Reedy River which is nestled at the west end of the downtown district. After breakfast and a stroll through the farmers market, we set our sights on our next stop.

We ventured into Transylvania County, North Carolina (not nearly as spooky as its name suggests) for some waterfall hunting in DuPont State Forest and Pisgah National Forest. While DuPont boasted gorgeous views of High Falls, I’ve never seen anything like the powerful rapids of the Green River in Pisgah. It was a long and arduous hike (watch out for copperheads!), but so very rewarding. Enjoying the mist from the falls while cooling off from our efforts, I was horrified amazed that someone would actually kayak down the Green River. There are some intense pictures on my friend B’s blog of the international kayak competition held there this past November for your viewing pleasure.

But best of all, our adventures included two of our dearest friends. Is there anything better? Well, I haven’t mentioned the food yet so come back tomorrow. Have a fabulous day!

The gang at Brasstown Bald

Nothing says Fall like a trip to the mountains in October. Kevin and I drove up to Helen, Georgia this weekend to meet our dear friends, the Lee’s,  for the Dirty Spokes 12-hour mountain bike race at Unicoi state park. After the race, we packed up and hit Main Street where Oktoberfest was in full swing.

Kevin was jonesin’ for some authentic German food so we made a bee-line to The Old Bavaria Inn upon the suggestion of a local gentleman. I couldn’t resist the Hungarian Goulash soup with beef, pork, and potatoes. Kevin was drawn in by the wurst sausage plate special: 4 sausages (bratwurst, weisswurst, knockwurst, and 1 other wurst who’s name eludes me) served with red cabbage, sauerkraut, and homemade German potato salad. Does it get any more German than that?

heart attack on a plate

Afterwards, we grabbed a couple of funnel cakes and continued our stroll along Main Street which made for some excellent people-watching. It was reminiscent of Mardi Gras minus the floats with plenty of lederhosen and Alpine hats thrown in.

Sunday morning, we drove to Brasstown Bald and were treated to breathtaking views of the mountainside dotted with autumn colors with the peak shrouded in fog. Afterwards, we drove on to Blairsville and enjoyed a hearty country breakfast at the Hole in the Wall restaurant. Hands-down the best bacon and pancakes I’ve had outside of my kitchen in quite some time.

A wonderful weekend with great friends, gorgeous scenery, crisp autumn morns, and of course plenty of good food to go ’round. Come back tomorrow when I’ll share my split-level pudding. I’m a week behind with my Tuesdays With Dorie baking, but you can’t very well hold a grudge against someone willing to share their chocolate ganache with you, now can you? See you tomorrow!

wildflowers at Andrews Lake

wildflowers at Andrews Lake

Sorry to be gone for so long my dears, but an extended holiday was just what the doctor ordered. I’m still basking in the vacation afterglow, so this post is a little different than what you might normally find here.

First, a big THANK YOU goes out to Brandon, a wonderful friend, great campfire cook, and tour guide extraordinaire. I also want to thank Pat & James for their hospitality and a mouth-watering, Texas-sized breakfast. And I’m much obliged to my new friends, Scott and Jamie Jo, for their generosity. I would be remiss if I failed to recognize these folks – Cynthia & Nick for keeping a close eye on the homestead and Jane & Tony for taking excellent care of the children pups. I’m looking foward to being busy in the kitchen this weekend baking goodies so expect a sweet treat coming your way soon. 🙂

Second order of business is to congratulate the Mobile Velo gang on their amazing results at the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race. Tim set a blistering pace of 9:32, Kevin dominated it in 11:08, Tagg sealed the deal in 11:41, and Brandon killed it in 11:56 on a single-speed no less! Mountains, altitude, wind, and hail are no match for you guys. And I have to give a shout-out to Daphne, my fellow athletic support crew member. It was her first bike race and she handled it like a pro.

Here are a few more vacation photos for your viewing pleasure:

hiking in Crested Butte

hiking in Crested Butte


wild berries growing along the Oh-Be-Joyful trail in Crested Butte

wild berries growing along the Oh-Be-Joyful trail in Crested Butte


sittin' on the dock at Camp K

sittin' on the dock at Camp K

To all you parents out there, if you’re looking for an awesome camp for your teenage son or daughter (and even if you’re not), take a peek at Camp Kivu. Kivu is a Christian camp managed by the gracious Jamie Jo and her husband, Andy. They offer mountain biking, backpacking, white water rafting, and loads of other adventures. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to be part of that?!

I can’t wait to catch up with my peeps at Tuesdays With Dorie and The Daring Kitchen. No worries, I’ll be back to business as usual soon enough. But until then, check out these drool-worthy photos from my vacation.

these doughnuts are huge!

these doughnuts are huge!


mmm...lavender mayo

mmm...lavender mayo


the chop salad, my new favorite

the chop salad, my new favorite

Are you hungry yet? 😉

me & Deanna Raybourn

While in Williamsburg last weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting one my favorite authors, Deanna Raybourn (second only to my best friend, the fabulous Cynthia Eden). Ms. Raybourn held a booksigning at the Barnes & Nobles in New Town to promote her much anticipated, Silent on the Moor. After devouring the first two novels of the Lady Julia Grey mystery series, I was chomping at the bit to get my hands on the third. Raybourn’s plots are full of twists and turns. She combines suspense with undeniable chemistry between Lady Julia and private inquiry agent, Nicholas Brisbane, to create a novel you just can’t put down. I was barely able to tear myself away from it long enough to post this! 🙂

Silent on the Moor

potato chip crusted salmon

I just returned from a trip to Virginia with my mom. We had a lovely time although I almost ate my way into a calorie-induced coma! Friday night, we dined at Berret’s Seafood Restaurant in Williamsburg and we were not disappointed. We started with a round of drinks – for mom, a bloody Mary and for me, a Citron Basil Mojito…the mint and lime found in a traditional mojito were replaced with black basil and lemons. Aaaaaaah, refreshing. Mom chose the potato chip crusted salmon and I selected the daily fresh catch baked in parchment – lemon pepper rockfish, shrimp, grilled tomatoes, and fennel served atop a bed of acini de pepe. Both entrees were amazing!! As if we weren’t already stuffed, we ordered the apple-walnut bread pudding for dessert…yummo!

rockfish & shrimp baked in parchment

We ventured downtown to Blue Talon Bistro for a delightful brunch on Saturday. Again, we started with a round of drinks (that’s what vacation’s for, right?). Mom ordered a passion fruit mimosa while I opted for a traditional mimosa. I couldn’t resist the French toast – 3 THICK slices of griddled egg battered breakfast bread with smoked bacon and warm maple syrup. I’m ashamed to say it was too much for me. I wimped out, finishing only 2 of the 3 slices. Mom went with a traditional Belgian waffle with smoked bacon and warm fruit compote. The fruit compote was to die for! I was particularly intrigued by one thing on the menu – the “nearly famous historic tap water”. I’m not sure what makes this water “nearly famous”, but it quenched my thirst none-the-less.

historic tap water

We made a point to pop into Wythe Candy Shop where we shared a most wonderful Grand Marnier truffle – the biggest truffle I’ve ever seen. 🙂  Just inhaling the aroma of all these confections was sinful! They had every sweet I could have possibly desired from caramel covered apples, a vast array of candy bars, turtles, several varieties of chocolate covered pretzels, and lots more.

smokehouse at Colonial Williamsburg

One other aromatic delight I must mention – the smokehouse in Colonial Williamsburg. After touring the Governor’s Palace, we visited the surrounding buildings including the kitchen and smokehouse. While I was fascinated by the kitchen, (mainly because of the large fireplace and copper pots) it was the smokehouse that lured me with its enticing fragrance. And just look at all of that meat!

I guess that’s enough for one post, but I’ll be back soon to share more of my Virginia adventures with you.

smoked salmon benedict

smoked salmon benedict

I just blew in from a whirlwind trip to south Florida. Our trip started with a lovely visit with family in Naples.  We went to Bricktops for brunch/lunch on Saturday. We started with an order of their homemade guacamole and their grilled artichokes. For my meal, I ordered the smoked salmon benedict – delish! Kevin chose the fish tacos which were very tasty. Kelly went with the filet mignon benedict while Mike chose the Palm Beach salad: a layered stack of avocado, jumbo lump crab meat, diced tomatoes, shrimp & egg, garnished with mache. Coincidentally, this was Kelly & Mike’s first meal out with the twins and they were angels.

fish tacos

fish tacos

Saturday night, we went out with Kelly and Mike for dinner at Hurricane Grill & Wings. I was very interested in their Crispy Banana Caramel Cheesecake:  a crispy fried flaky tortilla filled with rich, creamy cheesecake layered with chunks of banana and real-butter caramel, served hot with raspberry sauce and powdered sugar. In an amazing feat of strength, I resisted, but only because Kevin treated me to a yummy toasted coconut ice cream cone from Kilwin’s earlier in the day. 😉 After dinner, we went to Fleming’s for a round of drinks before heading to the Pavilion to see Taken. What a great movie! My heart was beating fast the whole time. Poor Kevin, I had a death grip on his hand during the last fight scene. Very intense!

For lunch Monday, we ate at Willie T’s in Key West. It was close to our hotel and looked quite inviting. Live music and “Mojito Monday”…how could I resist? It wasn’t long before I thought of the old saying if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I suspect the mojitos were virgin as they tasted like Sprite with some mint and lime wedges thrown in for decoration – very disappointing. Our meal was not much better. We ordered conch fritters for our appetizer, but they never arrived. I ordered the blackened dolphin sandwich served with avocado butter, red pepper jam, lettuce, and tomato. Our server told us their fish was fresh caught, but I have a sneaking suspicion it may have been freshly thawed. This joint was over-priced for the poor service and mediocre food. The most enjoyable part of our Willie T’s experience was the live music.

We lifted our spirits by paying a visit to the Blond Giraffe where we shared chocolate dipped frozen key lime pie on a stick. It doesn’t get any better than that!

snapper wellington

snapper wellington

Monday night, Kevin and I dined at Conch Republic Seafood Company in Key West based on the recommendation of a local. I knew this was a good choice when the hostess greeted us like long-lost friends. 🙂 The food was phenomenal as was the service! Kevin ordered the snapper wellington special: yellow-tail snapper stuffed with crab meat and baked in puff pastry…to die for! I ordered the blackened grouper special topped with an avocado-key lime sauce…so tasty! Being on vacation and all, we indulged in some adult beverages. I first tried the Blue Lagoon: Bacardi Limon, Blue Curacao, pineapple juice, Sprite, and sour mix. It was okay, but I chose a mojito for my next drink. Kevin went with the Cabo Rita made with Cabo Wabo Reposado, triple sec, and fresh lime. Very good!

blackened grouper with avocado & key lime sauce

blackened grouper with avocado & key lime sauce

On our way home, we stopped by Scully’s Tavern in Miami. We first discovered Scully’s while watching an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives on Food Network. We shared the incrusted dolphin sandwich: tender dolphin fillet, lightly crusted with Scully’s seasoned potato chip coating, pan fried. This may be THE best fish sandwich I’ve ever had. If you’re in Miami, you gotta go to Scully’s.

potato chip crusted dolphin

potato chip crusted dolphin

Oh, how I wish I was still enjoying the warm sun and great food in southern Florida! Alas, it’s time to get back to reality. Until next time…

Friday night's dinner

Friday night's dinner

I have a lot to share today, so stay with me, okay? First, I just have to tell you about dinner last night. It was amazing! Kevin aka “The Grillmaster” grilled steaks last night while I prepared Spinach and Feta Potatoes and Greek salads. Oh, it was so delicious! Unfortunately, I cannot take the credit for the potato recipe. This Rachael Ray inspired dish comes from Liz’s Cooking Blog, which you should definitely check out if you’re looking for a tasty new recipe.

Me & Kevin - Jingle Bell Run

Me & Kevin - Jingle Bell Run

This morning, Kevin and I went to Fort Conde to meet Cindy and a few other friends for the Jingle Bell Run for Arthritis. Kevin opted to do the 5K while Cindy and I chose the 1 mile fun run. It was a beautiful and festive morning. Participants received jingle bells to pin to their shoes. We even saw Santa!
Mixed Grill

Mixed Grill

                     Bucket O' Crab
Bucket O’ Crab

 This afternoon, Kevin and I ventured over to Pensacola, Florida. We stopped at Peg Leg Pete’s on Pensacola Beach for a yummy seafood lunch. I ordered the steamed snow crab legs – mmm…scrumptious! Kevin chose the mixed grill – a delectable assortment of grilled seafood (scallops, shrimp, and grouper) served with rice, garlic bread, and sugar snap beans.

What more could I ask for – fun with friends, good food, and a beautiful sunset…a terrific day indeed!
Today's sunset

Today's sunset

I had an extra-special Thanksgiving this year. Kevin and I traveled to Naples, Florida to visit his sister, Kelly, and her husband, Mike, and to meet our niece and nephew. Meeting the twins was definitely the highlight of our trip!

This was my first time to Naples. It’s so beautiful. Gorgeous homes, lots of places to shop and dine, perfect weather, and cyclists and joggers at virtually every turn. We had a great time! The Thanksgiving feast was terrific as was every other meal we had there. This picture just shows a small part of the meal. We also enjoyed stuffed grape leaves, sweet potatoes with cranberries, and a variety of desserts.

Thanksgiving feast

Thanksgiving feast

I experienced my first chocolate dipped key lime pie on a stick. The clouds parted, angels sang, and a brilliant light shone from the heavens. When the Blonde Giraffe says their key lime pie is to die for, they’re not kidding!

We had dinner at Pelican Larry’s Friday night. We enjoyed onion rings and conch fritters for our appetizers. For my meal, I chose the bacon bleu burger. I also snuck a few bites of Kevin’s black beans and rice, which were the best black beans I’ve ever tasted! That’s one recipe I’d love to have.

Breakfast at First Watch on Saturday was amazing. I ordered the eggchilada special. OMG – so good! Eggs, turkey, avocado, bacon, and cheese stuffed into a tortilla and topped with vera cruz sauce. As if that wasn’t decadent enough, we also shared a couple of pancakes: the wheat germ and the banana crunch with granola.



We went to Bricktops for dinner Saturday night. Bricktops is located at Waterside Shops which is a beautiful, upscale outdoor shopping mall. For starters, we ordered the homemade guacamole and stone crab. For my entree, I ordered the ahi tuna salad – delish! Kevin ordered their special flatbread topped with beef tenderloin, cheese, and onions. Kelly chose the carpaccio of filet mignon & arugala with the boston blue wedge…an excellent choice! Mike opted for the palm beach salad. For dessert, we had the chocolate chip – a warm homemade chocolate chip cookie in its own skillet topped with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Our server also brought us a gravy boat full of chocolate fudge sauce.

Waterside Shops at night

Waterside Shops at night

Now, we’re in damage control mode. I cooked a healthy dinner for us last night – Tuscan Chicken with White Beans and Wilted Greens. It was so easy (just a few hours in the crock pot). Quite tasty and satisfying too!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. It’s time to gear up for Christmas now. I’m dying to go see Four Christmases and it’s time to watch Elf again. What are you doing to get in the Christmas spirit?

"Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity." ~Voltaire

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