Sunday, June 19, 2011

Beerventures: Portland, OR

The final destination of the road trip is not only home to a few of my favorite people, my childhood home, and the cutest 8 lb. dog alive, but is also more microbreweries than you can shake a stick at.
Our second day home and my dad, Joey and I shook a stick at a few of them, (shook our sticks? Ok, joke's over.)
I have frequented many watering holes (put a quarter in the writer's cliche jar!) in Portland, but I was interested in learning more about different kinds of beer. I love trying new kinds, and I want to expand the range of adjectives that I have to describe them. I want to be able to say something besides "light," "hoppy," "IPA," or "uno mas por favor."
Belmont Station Taster
First stop on the beer tour was Belmont Station in Southeast Portland, a combination beer bar and bottle store. We opted for the taster of the day with five featured beers from the extensive tap list.
The next stop was Hopworks Urban Brewing, an eco-brew pub offering organic brews in a sustainable environment. We sampled ten of their beers in a fun circle situation, the bartender took a liking to our afternoon of exploration and gave us a few free samples of their cask aged beers as well. As far as I can tell, the cask brewing is a process that cuts the carbonation, and ups the alcohol.
Wheel of Wonder!
Love the bar decor of bike frames
 My favorite beers at Hopworks were the plain ol' Lager and the Galactic Imperial Red, Joey and my dad preferred the Crosstown Pale Ale. I guess they like the lighter stuff, sissies. We all agreed that Hopworks had the best overall beer quality. We would have easily enjoyed a pint of each beer in the wheel, whereas the other tasters only showcased a few stars.
Our final stop was Rogue Brewing in Northwest Portland. This is the home of the Dead Guy Ale, a beer that I am happy to see on taps as far away as Boston. Points to Rogue for offering customized tasters. The bartender gave us taster sheets where we could choose any four from their list to equal a pint. Four littles equals one big. I like that concept a lot. Also, gave us a better idea of the overall quantity that we were drinking. All three of us picked four different beers and shared sips.

Our tasters were served in wood carved "bottles"
By the end we were feeling quite beer-snobbish, beers that we may have savored and raved about on a regular day seemed just "okay." But I suppose that comes with the territory when you're chock full of quality brews. If someone would have tried to pass me a Natty I probably would have spat in their face. I may need to lay off the micro brews because I don't know if I'm ready to be too good for Natty.

Belmont Station
4500 SE Stark St
Portland, OR

Hopworks Urban Brewery
2944 SE Powell
Portland, OR

Rogue Distillery and Public House
1339 NW Flanders
Portland, OR

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 12+13 San Francisco

We drove into Bay area on 101 North, windows down, Joey's head out the window screaming "CALI!!!" to the other (thankfully) oblivious drivers.
Our two days in SF were amazing and jam packed full of activities ranging from some more touristy things to some local exploring. At one point we were asked for directions by a lost tourist (lame) on the street, Joey and Audrey for the win. No, but really, other exciting things happened to us besides that.
1. We walked across the Golden Gate Bridge in a blanket of complete fog. The next day when we were driving out of the city it was a bluebird day. I think we got the more authentic San Francisco bay experience when we were enveloped by a cloud.
Driving across, views for miles.
Can't win 'em all.
2. I forced Joey into eating four kinds of seafood. At one point any food that spent any of its life in the water would send him into a fit of heaving. Getting out of your comfort zone twelve step process ENGAGE.
3. We watched a Giants game and crept up until our tickets had nearly tripled their value. Giants stadium is awesome, the club level was quite luxurious, watching seagulls circle the outfield was funky, and ya, I guess I watched some okay baseball too.
4. We ate Chinese food on a sunday night when there was only a handful of restaurants open in China town. The soup and appetizers that we ordered for a light dinner were great but I wasn't allowed to take any pictures because Joey said we stuck out too much as it was. Alas, no pictures of my seaweed soup.
5. Union Street festival! I love everything about festivals and I have a firm belief that if you have a choice between festival or no festival, the choice should always be festival! Art, artisans, free samples, and shopping. I did some damage at The Blue Jeans Bar on Union Street.
Lombard Street
6. Visiting Noe Valley and Joey's parents' old house. The current owner gave us a tour of the beautiful home and told us about some changes in the neighborhood. Walk through Joey's parents' footsteps concluded with an incredible dinner at their favorite restaurant from the 1980s, Firefly.

7. An afternoon spent in Haight-Ashbury where we had our pick of any type of tie-dyed apparel we could imagine. We looked in bookstores and shoe shops, took a break from the steady mist with cocoa and coffee and saw 900 T-shirts that we didn't need but that looked really cool.

One of the last stops on our trip, San Francisco made us forget that we were travel weary and sick of each other, (I kid...) So many high-lights and thrice as many reasons to go back ASAP.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day 10: Grand Canyon

 I know this national park is called the "Grand Canyon" so we all get a little accustomed to the term, but let me tell you this is one GRAND CANYON.
It may even be the grandest of canyons.
By the end of the day I was the sweatiest of hikers.
And had the most sun-burnt of legs.
But I digress...
We drove up to the Canyon from Flagstaff in the morning, not really knowing what to expect. We were headed for the South Rim, the more popular of the two visitor locations because of its easy access. After navigating three parking lots, two visitor centers, and two shuttle buses we finally arrived at the trail head. The park ranger had given us a recommendation for a day hike and we took his advice without doing much research on our own. When we arrived at the top of the trail, the hike looked much more difficult than we expected. It said that it was "for expert desert hikers only" and the sign gave warnings about a women who died in the canyon of dehydration. Joey and I stood at the top in our sneakers, prepared with a couple bottles of water, and a meager ration of snacks. After riding shuttle buses and navigating crowds of strollers and tour groups, we were ready to get away from people, so we started down the trail despite our lack of experience and supplies.
 The hike took us 2.5 miles down into the canyon with switch backs on the steep side wall. The views of the inside of the canyon were incredible, we had a completely different perspective than from the top rim. The hike offered no shade, and after about an hour in the heat we started to wonder when we would turn around to go back up. It dawned on us that every step we took down into the canyon was another step that we would have to go up on the way back. Glancing up at the top rim was intimidating, we had made it so far down, it was hot as blazes, and the altitude was doing work on my cardio fitness.
 The hike was on the Hermit's Rest trail head and took us to the Santa Maria spring. When we finally arrived at the spring, it was just a little hose draining into a bathtub-like trough. Not quite a bubbling brook, but I don't know what else I expected in the middle of the desert.
The hike ended up taking us exactly three hours, we made it up to the top in exactly as long as it took us to get down. This was probably due to the fact that we were in survival mode and just wanted to moter back up.
The Grand Canyon was completely worth it and we were glad that we took a challenging hike. I wanted to feel like I truly experienced it. If I were ever to go again I would want to backpack and camp on the inside.
This day was a highlight of the trip for sure. 

Day 8+9: Santa Fe

 New Mexico looks like no other place I had ever been. The desert extended beyond the limits of my vision. Pulling into Joey's cousin's driveway we could not have been more ready to get out of the car. Our first priority was to do something that required movement, my legs felt paralyzed in a seated position. We took an exploratory walk into downtown. We lapped through the plaza and snaked up and down streets lined with interesting shops and beautiful homes. Two hours later we were finally ready to sit back down. Santa Fe looked nothing like any city I've seen before, I had a hard time imagining it as a big city because all of the building were so low. Not a sky scraper to be seen, but the neighborhoods sprawled in every which direction.
 We stopped for dinner at La Choza, a neighborhood favorite of our hosts. My two years experience working at a Mexican restaurant taught me little more than how to refill a water glass so I am no expert on what is or is not authentic. However, both of our dishes were spicier than all get out. Like are-my-lips-swollen-because-they're-in-pain spicy. I had sauteed fish tacos and Joey had the enchiladas with carne adovada. "Adovada" is one of the more fun words that has crossed my tongue in a while. Go ahead, take it for a spin.
My tacos were great but I could hardly taste the fish because I was too busy being slapped in the face by the spiciness. Luckily our dinner was served with sopapillas, pieces of sweet, pillowy dough that you're supposed to eat drizzled with honey. The starchy neutrality of the bread was a pleasant respite from the heat of our entrees.
The next morning I took a jogging tour of Santa Fe. Altitude and a week of sitting on my bottom all day did not make this the easiest run of all time, but the it was nice to get out in the early morning. Our main event for the day was going to Canyon Road, the mecca of all things art in Santa Fe. The city is known for its galleries, artists, and pervasive artsy culture and we wanted to soak it in. The road is lined with dozens and dozens of galleries, each with unique showrooms, sculpture gardens, and styles. I'm not normally a person who can walk around staring at art on the wall for hours, (my attention span for museums is about 55 minutes,) but this was an entirely different experience. The art bubbled out of each shop, creeped onto the sidewalk and tempted us to enter.
 We spent hours wandering in and out of galleries. We met many friendly people willing to talk about the art, although we both felt too inexperienced to ask many questions, or we were just enjoying playing around with some of the funny pieces. After several hours the heat started to get to us, so we cooled our heels at The Tea House. This place was alll about tea and gave me way too many choices. Joey and I both ordered iced chais and were handed drinks with some serious spice. This was not your average Starbucks latte here people. The shop was this adorable little house that fit in perfectly with the Canyon Road vibe.
 The rest of our day was spent hanging with the cousins and enjoying an Indian dinner with a handful of his family. His cousin's eight year old daughter introduced me to the wonders of sag paneer, my multi-ethnic food education continues.  

Friday, June 10, 2011

Day 6+7: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas

 The phrase "hitting the open road" may conjure images of a convertible packed with leather trunks, smiling faces, and glowing Marlboro Reds cruising down Route 66 towards California and freedom. My Volvo was somewhat less glamorous: five hundred bugs plastered to the grill, four Red Bulls, three stops for fast food, two tired drivers, and one interstate going west.
 Some highlights of the two days that it took us to travel from Memphis to Santa Fe, (a casual distance of one thousand miles,) were the stops at Sonic Drive-in, a stroll around Oklahoma City, some fried okra, tornado-free skies, and the fact that Joey and I didn't kill each other.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Day 5: Nashville to Memphis

Leaving Nashville we were satisfied with our time spent in the country music capital of the world, but done with Tennessee, we were not. The Volvo sped west to Memphis on music highway and we were anxious for what was in store.
First stop, Graceland, home of Elvis. Again it was a heavy, oppressive heat that flirted with a three digit numeral. I was looking forward to seeing this famous place, but I was not looking forward to wading through the maze of souvenoir shops, snack bars, lines, and tour groups. Thirty minutes later I was sweaty, standing in line, someone was trying to take my picture and force me to buy it. It was a battlefield out there. We considered turning back, but we persevered. When we finally allowed to enter through the doors of the Graceland Mansion, all was forgotten. The house was incredible. Elvis bought the place when he was 22 years old, and the rooms looked like they were decorated by a wild and creative young rock and roll bachelor, there was a room with lightening bolts on the walls and a jungle room with an indoor waterfall. The house was well-preserved and the audio tour was engaging. We left happily chattering about Elvis and thrilled that we decided to stick it out.

Our next stop was food. We had been given a recommendation to go to Rendezvous for barbecue in downtown Memphis so we took off to find the spot. When we arrived in a back alley we saw a perfect looking spot. It was in a tucked away place, looked like a gem of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The only problem was that it was gated over; "closed on Sundays." We sat down in the alley, defeated. We were too hungry to give up so easily, with the help of smartphones and a friendly jogger we found our way to Beale Street and the Blues City Cafe. This turned out to be the spot. Joey and I are both into blindly ordering the specialties of any given restaurant, so "World Famous Tamales" and "Best Ribs in Memphis" it was. We inquired to our waiter how much food we should order, he must have been confused because we were given enough food to feed a large family. Ribs, tamales, chili, toast, fries, coleslaw, and beans were placed down on our table. I didn't even know where to begin. The ribs were delicious and had a nice crusty exterior that I enjoyed. The tamales were nothing like their Mexican cousins wrapped in corn husks, these were wrapped in wax paper and filled with spicy beef, peppers, and other barbecue flavors.
 We took our time, enjoying people watching and watching the moving parts of the restaurant come together. There was a giant oven where the body part equivalent of ten pigs was smoking, and three men who put plates together in some kind of ordered chaos. Somehow after our meal of almost entirely meat products, we were able to think about dessert. The waiter recommended the apple dumpling and two minutes later a small iron skillet arrive with apples, buttery crust, bubbling caramel, and vanilla ice cream melting over it all. There is no explanation necessary, that dish tasted as good as it sounds.
Beale Street during the day
Beale Street at night
Later that night, after we had a good long post-bbq siesta, we ventured out into the wild streets of Memphis in search of bars and live music. We headed back towards Beale Street, although when we arrived the scene was completely different than the one we had left four hours ago.  The street was blocked off and people roamed around, drinks in hand. A large plaza showcased a stage with a blues band and female singer whose voice reverberated for blocks. Outdoor drink stands offered everything from beers to four foot plastic cups filled with a rainbow of colored beverages. Street preformers did backflips down the block and groups of partiers danced in formation on the sidewalk to the prompts of a DJ. We stopped into several bars, following the sound of blues guitar and saxophone. We landed at a kareoke bar serving only a variety of alcoholic slurpees. We ordered one to share called the "attitude adjustment" and watched crooners perform slow jams on stage.
We started to feel the affects of the drink stands so we strolled through the warm streets and back to the hotel. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Day 4: Knoxville to Nashville

 Nashville, Tennessee, home of CMT and nicknamed “music city”, was our next stop. A couple hours of morning driving put us into Nashville around noon. The lackluster hotel breakfast left us hungry and ready to dive into some Tennessee barbeque. Walking out onto main street we were bombarded with men in Hawaiian shirts, women in coconut bras, and a giant street festival with palm trees and margarita stands. Apparently Jimmy Buffet was playing live that night and there was a day long party in the street in preparation. We dodged hordes of parrot heads and found our way to Broadway Brewing and Mojo Grille. It had open air seating so we could still hear the band in the street. Little did we know this would be the first of 57 cover bands we would hear in the next 48 hours.
We sat down and ordered beers, deeming this midday imbibing acceptable by the fact that there were people my parents age walking around with tall boys. For lunch we both went for Southern options. I had a cup of gumbo made with chicken and andouille sausage, and a salad topped with bacon and jalapeƱos. The gumbo was spicy and thick, I loved the slices of sausage that gave it some serious kick. Joey ordered the house special pork sandwich. It came smothered in cheese, topped with bacon, on a thick brioche bun. The panama sauce on the side was sweet and added perfect balance to the pork. What is panama sauce? I have no idea. The extras were nice but the sandwich really held up because the pork itself was so tender and flavorful
When is a salad not a salad? When it's covered in bacon and cheese.

After lunch we decided to get more involved with the street festival but we didn’t stay long because I had my first encounter with a cicada and I nearly passed out. I did not know that there were bugs on this earth that were that large, then one was suddenly on MY FACE. They were everywhere, they moved in packs, and they were relentless.
The Country Music Museum and Hall of Fame looked like it would make good cover from the flying monsters. It turned out to be pretty solid entertainment as well. Georgette Jones, daughter of famed country star Tammy Wynette, was playing with her band in the auditorium. She played a tribute to her mother for a large audience and several cameramen. I may have only heard of this women five minutes earlier, but I enjoyed the performance nonetheless. Even for someone who knows little about country music (I once went to a Taylor Swift concert, does that count?) the museum was engaging and fun. It was definitely a commitment at 25 dollars, but I was completely glad that I went. The man at the tourist info center said that this was the best use of money and time in Nashville, (besides tall boys of Land Shark at the street festival, of course,) and I was glad we took his word for it. 
Georgette Jones and her band
"Audrey" cowboy boots worn by Hank Williams wife, Audrey Williams. Where do I get mine?
Whenever I’ve been traveling, there have always been a few things that didn’t quite turn out right. For us, there was the Grand Ole Opry. We drove out there because we thought we would see a beautiful old building and be enchanted by stories of its history. Instead we were led by my GPS, Susan, to a mall complex in the middle of a sad, tacky, tourist explosion. It was a disappointment, it was 100 degrees, there were 1000 cicadas, and we were pissed. Joey drowned his sorrows in a bag of kettle corn. 
Later that night we were not disappointed by our venture to the Wildhorse Saloon, a bar known for its live music and dancing. We arrived and drank a pint to prepare ourselves for the line dancing. While I am comfortable with the swing, some pop and lock, and even some good ol’ bump and grind, line dancing is horse of a different color. I was in Nashville and I was not going to pass up this opportunity. By the end of the lesson, Joey and I had tamed the beast, and we were grape-vining, lasso-ing, and stomp-clapping with the best of them. 
Line dancing at Wildhorse
We left the bar sweaty and headed elsewhere to find refreshment. On our way we passed all kinds of people having all kinds of fun. After strolling around Broadway and 2nd Streets for a while, people watching and enjoying the pleasant night temperature, we landed at Second Fiddle where a country-ish cover band kept us dancing and happy fir the rest of the night. 

Total mile count: 1,315