travels

ACC Travels: Venice, Italy

Since my darling husband just returned from Italy this weekend it had me reminiscing about the last time he went there to give a speech and was smart enough to bring his wife along!  His speaking engagement was in Milan but since Patrick had never been to Venice before and I am still haunted by my visit from years ago, I decided that is where we should meet up.  Could there be anything more romantic than meeting your love on the Grand Canal???  The fall is a great time to visit Venice as it is MUCH less crowded than in the summer.  You have to be careful for the “Acqua Alta,” ie when the water levels get so high that the canals flood the city (ick) but if you look online there are great resources for estimating when that will happen.  We went mid November and it was perfect.

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Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world with incredible art, architecture and natural beauty, but unlike most of the rest of Italy, it is not known for its food.  They have seafood in abundance but many of the restaurants are super touristy and overpriced.  Because things essentially need to be “imported” the quality of some produce isn’t as good as say Florence.  But do not despair!  Do enough research and you can find great food.  I won’t lie – there were a bunch of duds on this trip.  Even the best laid plans can be ruined by closed restaurants, exorbitant prices or a maze of canals.  However, there were several gems.  Here are our favorite stops – I also recommend checking out Chowhound boards before you do any international travel and search the city you are visiting.  I found a lot of these places on there – its basically crowd sourcing from foodies at its best.  Ciao!

Vineria all’Amarone

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How can you not like a place named after some of the best wine made in Italy?  Vineria all’ Amarone is a sweet spot that specializes in wine (duh) and food that goes well with it.  Unlike most places it takes reservations online so perfect for a day when you know you are not going to want to mess around figuring out where to eat.  I highly recommend anything that comes out of their oven, from roasted meats to the lasagna.  We of course ordered a bottle of Amarone, which was so much more reasonable than anywhere you would get it in the States.  Best of all the whole restaurant is decorated with empty bottles from customers who tag it with memories of their meals there.  They have tags in every language and some of the sweetest stories!  Definitely a must try.

Venissa

I highly recommend getting out to some of the islands of Venice during your stay there.  Each has its own character and unique specialty like the glass blowing on Murano.

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Much less known is the tiny island of Mazzorbo, that has Venice’s only vineyard on it, Venissa.  Unfortunately when we were there it was closed for a special event but just walking grounds was pretty incredible.  Venissa is not just a vineyard but also a restaurant and hotel which win rave reviews.

Ristorante Ai Cesendeli

Just a short walk over a tiny bridge from Mazzorbo you get Burano, the island known for its lace makers.  The colors of the homes on the island are a huge draw but as soon as we got there we realized we were starving.  The only restaurant that I could find recommended was of course closed with no reason given but such is the joy of travelling in Europe.

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Luckily we stumbled across this amazing family run spot that served great pizzas and Aperol spritzes for lunch.  I ordered an eggplant calzone type thing and it came with about $15 worth of prosciutto di parma on top!  Absolutely delicious.

CoVino

This place is tucked away – like really tucked away.  The more time you find yourself in Venice the more you will find that you are lost.  That is a good thing!  Just keep walking and eventually you will find it.  I had read about this place a ton and was totally going to give up but Patrick knew I really wanted to go and when we finally found CoVino it was like an oasis (especially since it was pouring out!).  Once inside you feel like you are in someone’s kitchen, and you basically are in the postage stamp of a restaurant.

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Don’t let that scare you off as they churn out awesome food.  It is a 3 course menu and very inexpensive so well worth the hunt.

Vinaria

Almost 100% of the places that line the Grand Canal are tourist traps and are not worth looking at.  Basically if they offer the menu in more than 2 languages with pictures you should keep moving.

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However, the gracious patio overlooking the canal at Vinaria is a lovely place to sit after a long day of exploring and grabbing a glass (or three!) of wine.  Cannot speak to the food but the view cannot be beat.

Al Timon

Patrick doesn’t eat seafood which on an island can be pretty challenging.  I kept reading about Al Timon before we left as one of the few places that does meat right.  We tracked it down in the old Jewish quarter and man am I glad we did.

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As with a lot of places in Venice it is a little confusing once you get in as the menu is all in Italian and everyone seems to know what they are doing.  However, the waiters are really lovely and helped us order this amazing beef tenderloin (not the horse that we were accidentally going to order!!!).  They serve it up family style on a big wooden board with rosemary roasted potatoes, white beans, arugula and loads of other accompaniments.  Some crusty bread and red wine and we were in heaven.

ACC Travels: Nantucket

As summer gets into its swing I know a lot of you have travel plans.  If I had it my way, I would spend the whole summer on Cape Cod, preferably Nantucket.  Unfortunately that is not in the cards, but I had a great trip right before the season officially kicked off so I can point you in the right direction for any of you lucky enough to visit over the summer.  Anyone who has ever been has been enchanted by this place but it does come at a cost – Nantucket ain’t cheap.  So I decided to share some places to eat and shop that include some higher and lower end places so you don’t have to eat just oyster crackers and water for the rest of your vacation.

For the Splurge…

The Straight Wharf – 6 Harbor Square

This place is such a little gem – right on the water (which is surprisingly hard to find on the island) and really special.

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The main dining room has luxury touches but feels very accessible with the colorful paintings and potted herbs used as centerpieces.

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A great way to start the meal is the spring pea salad with snap peas, english peas, parmesan, radicchio, pickled hots, and pistachios.  The perfect mix of textures and tastes comes together on the plate.

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Local oysters are also a hit, served with a lemony granita.  The menu changes often but if their version of a personal clam bake is on the menu, make sure to order it.  Lobster, clams and some of the best sausage I have ever had.  It is an elegant take on a causal meal – the perfect example of what this place does well.  To round out the meal if they have a special galette (you have to order it early in the meal) make sure to get one as they highlight seasonal fruit and perfect homemade ice cream.

Ventuno – 21 Federal Street

Located right downtown in a charming historic home, Ventuno feels like the best Italian dinner party you have ever been to.

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The cozy interior makes the most of the historic architectural details – we were seated right by the fireplace.

IMG_2314Have fun with the menu – there are small bites, larger appetizers to share and then first and second courses.  The fried olives stuffed with sausage are completely addictive and a perfect match to their house Negroni.  We also tried the crostini with local honey and ricotta.  What a beautiful little toast!

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They offer their pastas in two size portions so you can save room for everything else you want to try on the menu.  I had my mom’s favorite pasta, Spagetthi a la Vongole – and it was the best I have ever had.  Tender clams, crunchy breadcrumbs and a deeply flavored pasta was just perfection.

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Make sure to check out the extensive Italian wine list – there are a lot of pricey bottles but you can try some really great stuff by the glass and save yourself some money.

Toppers at the Wauwinet – 120 Wauwinet Road

I have been hearing about The Wauwinet for ages, my cousin and her husband actually got engaged at this incredible Relais and Chateaux approved hotel.  It is pretty far from downtown, out on the top part of the island, but they have a boat that will ferry you back and forth from the Harbor.  Brunch is a great way to try this incredible restaurant without breaking the bank.  Sure you could pop a $3,500 bottle with your eggs but you could also opt for the $14 sparkling cocktails (we went with option B).  Everything about this place is pitch perfect.  The shaded patio with views of the ocean – check.

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Bernaud china done with a Nantucket basket weave around the dishes – check.  Tender biscuits and pretzel rolls served in actual Nantucket baskets – check.

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We all felt incredibly well taken care of which is exactly what I expect in a hotel of this caliber.  Make sure to ask one of the hostesses to take your picture out on the sprawling green lawn that overlooks the water.  I am pretty picky about my lobster rolls and when I read that this one was served in a brioche roll instead of a split top bun (sacrilege!) I was nervous.  I am so glad I went with it – incredible french fries dusted with Old Bay and an all lobster meat, zero filler, roll bound together with brown butter mayo (!!!).

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Several of my group ordered egg dishes all of which they loved but everyone was stealing fries from me and others that had them so make sure to order a side of them if they don’t come with your brunch.  Freshly baked cookies was a sweet way to finsh off this lavish brunch.

For the save!!

Bartlett’s Farm – 33 Bartlett’s Farm Road

Whenever I travel I always want to cook with local produce and ingredients.  Not only it it an incredible way to taste local flavors but it also saves you a ton of money!  Bartlett’s Farm is my dream come true – family owned and meticulous about quality they have everything you could ever want for your Nantucket dinner party of your dreams.

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Fruits, veggies and baked goods alongside great cheeses and snacks as well as prepared foods means it’s a one stop shop.  They even have a great wine selection, carefully curated, and were just happening to be doing a rosé wine tasting right next to their rose bushes!

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Cisco Brewery – 5 Bartlett Farm Road

Right down the street from Bartlett Farm is one of the best reasons to visit Nantucket – Cisco Brewery.

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It’s not just a great craft brewery, they also have a distillery and vineyard on property.  They have live music, food trucks and SO many great doggies hanging out in the sun while their owners relax and party.

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This is the best gathering place – the minute we set foot on the property I start to smile.  It’s a bit out of the way but there is complimentary shuttle that will take you from downtown out there and every cab can find their way there blindfolded.

B-ACK Yard BBQ – 20 Straight Wharf

Located right next to the Harbor this BBQ place is relatively new and a great option for either lunch or dinner.

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The best way to try the most of the menu is one of their meals called “The Selfie.”  It comes with 2 meat options, 2 sides and rolls.  We loved the beef burnt ends, which is basically meat candy, and the mac and cheese is a must.  Split an appetizer (the dry rubbed wings are great) and then split the Selfie and you will have plenty of food.  This is a great option if you are traveling with kids as well (and if not they have an awesome craft beer selection!).

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Crosswinds – 14 Airport Road

If you ever watched “Wings” on TV you know that the airport on Nantucket is tiny and is supposed to have a cute diner style restaurant.  It does and it’s awesome!  It was 10am and Patrick and I are frantically figuring out new travel plans after cancelled flights (the hazards of being on an island) and we head into Crosswinds hoping to get some sustenance before we head out.  Little did I know this is the best diner on the island, maybe on the Cape!  I had to go with the grilled cheese and fries despite the hour and man were they good.  Definitely hitting this place up next time even if we take the ferry.

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There are so many other magical and delicious places to try on the island – Cru for oysters, Petticoat Row Bakery for amazing cakes and pastries,  Claudette’s Sandwich Shop by Siasconset Beach for beach picnic provisions – leave any suggestions you might have in the comments section.  Until next time Nantucket…

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ACC Travels: 24 Hours in Richmond

Two years ago Patrick and I stopped in Richmond for the night while heading down to Hilton Head.  We only had a quick dinner and then left the next morning but even that quick glimpse made us want to come back and explore more.  So when we were headed to Coastal Carolina this summer we decided to carve out more time and actually got a full 24 hour experience.  We are already planning a trip back because this city is really something.  Charming and historic, but also growing and changing at a rapid pace, it’s a great quick get away from DC.  I did a fair amount of research before we left and solicited lots of advice but we barely scratched the surface of what Richmond has to offer.  Here is a rundown of our 24 hour Richmond adventure – a little something for everyone.  If you have Richmond recommendations please add them in the comments!

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10:00amJames River Walk – Patrick and I arrive at the Hilton Downtown Richmond (really great location and super reasonable prices).  We drop our bags and head right out the door.  A quick walk from downtown and you are at the James River.  Richmond has done a great job creating walking and bike paths along the river with lots of signs with historical information as well.  We knew we were in for a high calorie day so decided to get moving a bit first to feel less guilty.  We decided to check out Belle Isle, one of the biggest islands in the river, and it certainly delivered.

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Once you are on the island it’s hard to believe you are in a city, it’s so peaceful.  Nature people we are not, so it was a little disorienting though we finally made it to the other side of the island.  If I were going to do it again I wouldn’t walk all the way across the river and island to the other side of the city (in August no less) but it made the breweries on the other side that much more refreshing!

11:00amLegend Brewery – Sweaty and THIRSTY we arrive at Legend Brewery Company, the first of the breweries on our trip and also one of the first in Richmond.  They have a great outdoor patio overlooking the city and lots of fun barrel aged beers you can only get at the brewpub.  Not the most creative beers I have ever had but friendly staff and a much needed break from the heat.

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11:45amBlue Beer Cider – Right around the corner from Legend is Blue Beer Cider.  They are moving to a new and bigger location back on the other side of the river soon, which will make this place much more accessible.  I am not a big cider person but this place just blew me away.  Do make sure to stop by and do a tasting of their ciders.

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From Hopsap Shandy, their hopped cider, to Mill Race Bramble, their berry flavored cider, every one is dry, crisp and totally unexpected.  This place really changed how I think about cider and I cannot wait to go back and check out their new location (the current location leaves something to be desired as it is just a room in an industrial building – however the helpful staff and amazing cider more than make up for it).

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1:00pmCan Can Brasserie and the Carytown District – After all that walking (and tastings!) we needed sustenance so we headed to Carytown.  This is such a cute little stretch of the city that mostly runs along West Cary Street.  If you want to do some shopping, this is definitely the spot with cute independent boutiques and an outpost of one of my favorite stores, Creme de la Creme.  The last time we were in Richmond we had a terrific dinner at Can Can Brasserie and while normally I don’t like repeating myself in another city, the sound of a bistro lunch was too enticing.

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I am so glad we went back, as this place is really a stand out.  If you like Le Diplomate in DC, well this is the Richmond version.  It is like stepping into a Paris bistro but with a touch of Southern charm.  Even better we decided to sit at the bar and during the week they have a discounted bar menu with many of the most popular dishes.  Fortified by mussels and frites we set off for more exploring.

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3:00pmScott’s Addition Neighborhood – This semi industrial neighborhood has been totally transformed over the last several years.  Like many up and coming cities these large vacant buildings have been turned into hip loft apartments and new commercial spaces.  Scott’s Addition has a pretty ridiculous concentration of breweries in it, so if you are interested in packing in as many as possible I would send you here.  Honestly for breweries I do think it’s about personal taste – we heard from almost everyone in the food industry that we had to try The Veil Brewing Co. but we were not impressed.  You have to REALLY be in to beer here – the all black walls, beers poured in wine glasses and the pretension really turned me off.

Ardent Craft Ales, was much more my speed with a large beer garden outside and a light filled, laid back tasting room.  There is also Hardywood, Isley Brewing Company, James River Distillery and many others all packed into about one square mile.  We did not hit all of these (and I wouldn’t recommend it!) but needless to say if you want to spend an afternoon sampling Richmond craft beer, Scott’s Addition is the place to be.

6:00pm – Tarrant’s Cafe – After some more exploring, a cat nap and a quick change of clothes we are ready to go out on the town.  Near our hotel we stumbled across this adorable little supper club like restaurant called Tarrant’s Cafe.  Housed in an old pharmacy building this place is quintessential Richmond.  I love how the city has retained many of its older buildings and have lovingly updated them.  With original pressed tin ceilings, vintage chandeliers and lovely stained glass this place does a mean cocktail.  Ask for any of the classics (I went with a Vesper martini of course) and you won’t be disappointed.

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8:00pm – The Roosevelt – Another neighborhood worth checking out is Church Hill.  Unfortunately the famous Sub Rosa Bakery was closed by the time we got there for our dinner reservation but it’s just another excuse to go back!  The Roosevelt was recommended by almost everyone I spoke to.  This James Beard award winning  restaurant is tucked into a small row house so charming it makes you feel like you are at a dinner party rather than a restaurant.

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They serve updated southern classics made out of local ingredients – make sure to end the night with the chocolate pudding!  We were totally beat after our long day so didn’t get to check out the nightlife in Church Hill but there are several bars within walking distance if you want a nightcap.

Next day – 9:00am – Perly’s -This is a classic Jewish deli with a hipster twist.  Again another restored business that has all of the old lovely details with modern twists on the menu (think rosemary flavored cream cheese and homemade sodas).  I had one of the best latkes I have ever had while sitting at the old school diner style counter.  We left stuffed and happy, eager to return to Richmond to discover more gems.

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ACC Travels – A Massachusetts Round Up

Sorry to be away for so long but A Capitol Contessa is back and better than ever!  Most of my time away from the blog was spent in my lovely home state of Massachusetts where the food just keeps getting better and better.  I basically set out to give myself mercury poisoning, eating seafood at pretty much every meal I could get.  There just isn’t anything like a freshly shucked oyster right off the truck from Maine or perfectly cooked cod right out of the sea.  Lots of family commitments kept me from doing a true post on any one of the cities or towns I visited but I wanted to share the highlights for all of you travelling to MA this summer or for folks that are local.  Stops in Dennis on Cape Cod, Newburyport on the North Shore and of course Boston, have me itching to get back home more often.

Dennis, MA

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The Ocean House – 425 Old Wharf Road – Seriously one of the more beautiful restaurants I have ever eaten in.  Waterfront dining isn’t that hard to find on the Cape but fine dining is – I truly love the variety of clam shacks and oyster bars  but if you want a nice night out it can be hard to find.  The Ocean House is white table cloths, a serious wine list and beautifully done food but it’s not so fussy that you stop feeling like you are on vacation.  I had some insane lobster ravioli there that must have had about a pound of lobster both inside and on top of the pasta.  Delicious!  Pro tip: order their espresso martini with dessert.

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Skipper Chowder House – 152 South Shore Drive – I consider myself a bit of a clam chowder connoisseur and I would have to put the chowder at Skippers at least in the top 5 ever, if not number 1.  Creamy, clamy, and chunky, it was everything I want in a chowder and more.  The fried clam plate is also pretty terrific but be warned it’s a LOT of food!  Skippers is a typical Cape style place right across from the beach with a good local craft beer selection on tap and a cute top floor bar.  Get the chowder and you wont be disappointed.

Newburyport, MA

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Brine – 25 State Street – Brine is just what the doctor ordered for the seaside town of Newburyport.  As much as I have always loved visiting, it was certainly lacking in upscale dining.  Brine serves up carefully selected oysters and refined seafood dishes as well as chops for meat loving patrons.  Definitely start with some oysters which are all expertly shucked by the staff (on Thursdays there is a buck a shuck deal).  I love all the attention to detail at this place like house made ketchup and inventive plating.

Joppa Fine Foods – 50 Water Street – Stores like this make me a kid in a candy shop…where my version of candy is high quality olive oils, artisinal salumi and a collection of flavored salts!  Joppa is a great store to buy local and handmade food ingredients and ideal for putting together a slamming picnic.  They have prepared foods, a to die for cheese counter and delicious wine to throw into your basket.

Boston, MA

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Saltie Girl – 281 Dartmouth Street – If I could design a restaurant (ooooh I can dream) it would be Saltie Girl.  Everything about this place is PERFECT.  The beautiful fish scale tiles on the bar, the jute wrapped columns, the iced buckets attached to each table to keep wine crisp – I loved ALL OF IT.  I took so many pictures it was starting to get obnoxious so I will only share a handful but please get yourself over to this place.

It is quite small and is first come first serve with seating at the bar and at several booths.  However, the staff is so gracious and accommodating that its worth the wait (a nice glass of rose doesn’t hurt either).

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The Saltie in Saltie Girl refers to a large selection they have of tinned seafood.  If you think opening a can of sardines doesn’t constitute creating a meal think again.  These are not just any canned fish – these are the best of the best imported from around the world, that are served with carefully selected accompaniments.  The really knowledgeable staff will walk you through that menu, the raw bar and any other questions you may have.  Want something hot and more substantial?  Why not lobster and waffles or a really amazing looking burger?  All meals end with an adorable check presentation and an awesome haute version of a wetnap (excuse the video quality – my sister in law and I were a bottle of vino deep at this point).

Last but not least I have to give a shout out to the Boston Public Market – this place isn’t new and isn’t new to me but during my visit they finally transitioned to being open 7 days a week.  Also every time I go there are more and more vendors open so if you haven’t been since it first opened I highly recommend you stop in again.  You all know how much time I spend in Union Market back in DC – well this is the Boston version and I hate to say it…but I prefer it!

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Lots of food stands to buy food right on the spot mixed with terrific grocers and other food artisans to get super fresh ingredients from all over New England.  I stopped in and bought fresh parsley and garlic pasta at Nella Pasta, a beautiful bouquet of wildflowers for my mom at Stow Greenhouses, some local beer at Hopsters Alley and of course a small cone of moose tracks at Crescent Ridge as a snack.  The perfect way to spend an afternoon in Boston.  Hope all of you living in the Bay State or those heading there get to try some of these spots.  GO SOX!

 

ACC’s DC – Middleburg

One of the best things about living in DC is getting to visit the many historic cities and towns nearby.  Within an hour you can be in the country, sipping wine at a vineyard, touring a historic home or visiting a Civil War battleground.  I have already shared my favorite Maryland spot, Frederick, but in Virginia it’s gotta be Middleburg.  Established in 1787, it is a straight shot out Route 50 from DC.  Once you arrive you will note a distinct theme – this town is for horse lovers.  Pretty much every shop or bar has a horse or hunting theme and don’t be surprised if you run into someone grabbing their groceries in breeches and a riding helmet.

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Jackie Kennedy bought a farm in Middleburg so you know it is the very definition of chic.  The best way to start a trip to Middleburg is a stop at one of the area vineyards.  I am partial to Greenhill Winery and Vineyards but if you must stop somewhere else (or want to hit two!) I also like Chrysalis Vineyards and Boxwood Winery.  After all that wine you will probably need a good lunch before you hit the shops.  The town is small and parking is abundant so just grab a spot when you see it – all of my recommendations are within a 2 or 3 block walk from each other.

The Red Fox Inn & Tavern – 2 East Washington Street

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I have been going to The Red Fox Tavern for years and consider it one of the most romantic places in the area to dine.  Housed in a beautiful fieldstone inn built in 1728 you can sit by the fireplace and enjoy hearty, but refined pub fare.  As one would expect they do a great job with southern dishes (yes please to the fried chicken and shrimp and grits) and they have an entire Virginia wine list so you can sample stuff from around the region.  It’s a great place to stay if you want to turn your day trip into a weekend.

The French Hound – 101 South Madison Street

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On my last visit I discovered another gem, The French Hound, and I am kicking myself for never having visited before.  Located in another quaint building, The French Hound does terrific French bistro food.  I highly recommend the escargot and the steak frites.

There is also a lovely little bar tucked inside so a good place to grab a drink by the fire before you head home.  I cannot wait until it gets warmer to go back and experience their darling patio area as well.  Now that you are fortified it is time to shop and sip.  There are lots of great clothing and accessory stores in the area as well as art galleries.  Also it probably goes without saying that if you are in the market for a saddle or some horse bit jewelry this is the place.  However, my focus is always food, of course.

Home Farm Store – 1 East Washington Street

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I am totally obsessed with this store.  They carry all organic and mostly local ingredients from locally butchered meats to jams and jellies from surrounding farms.  They have a great cheese selection as well as local wines and beers and there is always someone at the ready to help you.  Housed in another incredible historic building they have managed to make it look really fun and modern – I die for those black and white striped walls!

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Market Salamander – 200 West Washington Street

Make sure to also head over to this beautiful market, if for no other reason than a coffee pick me up and one of their flakey pastries.  This place was made for putting together a picnic, they have ready-made options and all the fixings for a great basket.  (Sorry it wasn’t open last time I was in town, hence no pictures.  Take my word for it – it’s super cute and worth stopping).

Mount Defiance Cidery & Distillery – 207 West Washington Street

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Right across the street from Market Salamander is a new addition to Middleburg – its very own cidery and distillery.  Mt. Defiance makes several types of hard cider as well as rums and brandies.  They have a small tasting room (that you can see gets pretty popular) where you can do single or flight tastings of the different ciders and they do sprits and even cocktail flights in their warehouse.  How adorable is the pressed tin ceiling and antique fan??

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Creme de la Creme – 23 East Washington Street

I always make sure to stop at Creme de la Creme, an amazing boutique that carries housewares and linens from France.  They carry some of my favorite brands – Laguilole, which makes my everyday flatware and some incredible cheese knives, Le Cadeaux, amazing melamine plates and serving dishes that look just like French porcelain, and Le Jacquard Francais, a collection of vibrant colorful French linens.  You cannot help but feel inspired in this shop (they are also located in Leesburg and Richmond, VA).

Red Horse Tavern – 118 W Washington Street

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This place has the best patio in Middleburg – great for people watching and going over all of your purchases!  The Red Horse Tavern (noticing a theme here??) is the local watering hole and great for a bite to eat if you want to grab a quick burger or club sandwich.  This is where you can really feel the “everyone knows your name” vibe this town has.

Middleburg’s Christmas parade is on my bucket list (so many beagles!!) as are the Middleburg Spring Races.  Honestly this town is sort of seasonless.  My last visit was in February where you can take advantage of the great fireplaces all over town.  In the spring everything is blooming, the summer means sipping VA wine on all the nice patios (and ice cream from Scruffy’s) and fall brings amazing foliage.  Every time I visit Middleburg I fall more and more in love with it and I hope you do too.

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ACC Travels: NYC Food Halls

Patrick and I recently spent a weekend in Manhattan.  He had some work to do, so I was free to do what I like to do best – explore the rich and always changing food scene in NYC.  DC is lucky enough to have its own Union Market, a terrific food hall with pop up vendors, established restaurants and stalls to shop at.  NYC of course has like 20 new food halls so I decided to hit as many as I could over the weekend.  I will admit that the pictures in this post aren’t the best quality but you try and get some good unblurry pictures while standing in the middle of Chelsea Market on a Friday afternoon.  I nearly got run over but I do it all for you dear readers!  Here are the spots I visited – all definitely worth a look.

Chelsea Market – 75 9th Avenue

This market has a little something for everyone as indicated by the sign at the top of the post.  It was definitely the biggest and most diverse of those I visited.  I got a black and white cookie from Amy’s Bread and walked around to try and get my bearings.  It’s a little claustrophobic, as all the shops line a long hall in the middle of this industrial building but luckily there are a lot of great spots to peel off and check out like Artists and Fleas, a small flea market featuring local artists.  Corkbuzz is a terrific little wine bar where you can escape the crowds and grab a glass of bubbly.

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Fat Witch Bakery is a cute little shop that sells amazing brownies in a million delicious flavors.  There are a ton of food stalls where you can grab anything from a lobster roll to sushi and stand at communal tables but since I was flying solo I had a sit down lunch at the bar at The Green Table, where they serve delicious farm to table fare.  Chelsea Market Basket is a great shop that has artisan products from all over – I definitely got some great stocking stuffers there.  The building itself is pretty cool and was decked out for the holidays.

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Urbanspace Vanderbuilt – 230 Park Avenue

Urbanspace, located right next to Gran Central Station, is a bit different than Chelsea Market.  This is where you go to eat and drink, period, no real shopping to be done.  A terrific happy hour spot, this subterranean hall has maybe 25 vendors that sell fried chicken, tacos and everything in between.  You can grab a pitcher of beer from Red Hook Lobster Pound and wash down your phad thai tofu from Bangkok B.A.R. at the picnic tables in the middle while your friends share an order of salted caramel donuts from Dough.  Definitely a great place to grab food to go before hopping on a train.

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Gansevoort Market – 52 Gansevoort Street

Located right by the end of the Highline park, this market has a see and be seen type vibe.  The large space is ringed with all sorts of food vendors, all selling vaugely hipster type meals like ramen or asian empanadas.

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They were even shooting a movie right outside when I went so I was just waiting to see some fabulous star grabbing a macaroon at Dana’s Bakery but alas no luck.  This market had a few more interesting purveyors like Yiaourti, that sells artisanal greek yogurt, or Cappone’s who makes their own salumi in house.  Definitely a great place to graze for the day.

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Le District – 225 Brookfield Place

If you find all these markets overwhelming then you may want to try one that is more focused.  Le District is all French all the time, no fusion food found here.  Down by the World Trade Memorial, this place has everything a Francophile would want.  A central wine bar, fish and meat vendors, high end imported French products and even a stand-alone resturant with views of the Hudson.

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Unfortunately we got there too early, so not much was open yet but it was the perfect place to get a cafe au lait and a pain au chocolat before heading to Brooklyn.  Little things like the chic black and white coffee cup makes this place a real treat.

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Eataly – 200 5th Avenue 

Don’t like France?  Well head over to Eataly to get your fill of Italy.  Probably the most famous of all the food halls in NYC, run by Mario Balati, Eataly is a love letter to Italy.  I found it curious when I was in Italy earlier this year that there are several of them to be found there, since the thing that makes Eataly so special is the wonderful products that they import from all over Italy.  I digress – pasta, salami, wine, olive oil, pretty much anything they make in Italy they will be selling here.  Not in the mood to shop?  Well you are going to have to because the waits at all the restaurants inside are pretty long.  However, they are all worth the wait – the pizza place is fantastic and I love the beer garden located on the top floor with a glass ceiling.  I had been here once before so was bracing myself for the crowds.  I don’t know if it’s increased competition, or if 8pm is the sweet spot, but either way I was able to walk around and have a beautiful flight of Barolos pretty undisturbed.

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Food halls are perfect for all occasions – stopping for a bite to eat, for drinks with friends or just to buy something to take home to make for dinner.  Before I even left NYC I was reading about several others that are going to open shortly, guess we will just have to go back!

ACC Travels – Chicago, IL

When Patrick said he was going to take me to Chicago for my birthday I paused for about 3 seconds before I went online and started researching restaurants.  This city has always been a big eating (and drinking) town but recent years have seen a spate of nationally recognized spots opening and thriving.  The minute the plane landed we knew we were somewhere special – the people are incredibly friendly and the city was bursting with colorful flowers everywhere you look.  Perhaps that’s to make up for the 5 months a year its atrocious to live there but at least they have terrific food and drink options to stave off the cold.  The only disappointing meals we had were deep dish pizza and sausages – go figure!  Likely why I usually avoid these tourist dishes (I would never in good conscious recommend someone visiting Boston to get baked beans).  Here are just some of my favorite spots we visited.

Topolobampo – 445 N Clark Street

For me this was a must stop.  Rick Bayless is pretty much the father of Mexican cooking in America.  I have loved watching him talk about his passion for authentic Mexican cooking on TV and I have several of his cookbooks which are just outstanding.  Actually the ONLY jarred salsa I will even consider buying is his Chipolte Salsa (they carry it in most supermarkets so keep a look out).  We basically went directly from the airport to lunch at Topolobampo and what a way to start off the trip.  The list of mezcals and tequila were dizzying but don’t worry if you can’t decide, just get a flight!  They offer a 3 course lunch for only $25 which I am somewhat regretting not doing but we just weren’t hungry enough.  Patrick ordered the Soupa Azteca to start with, and man did he order well.  The broth, poured tableside was like nothing I had ever had before, so rich and layered with flavor.  I had a special appetizer where they cured tomatoes in habaneros.  How does one take a fresh tomato, infuse it with the heat and flavor of one of the hottest peppers around and not lose the flavor of the tomato?  I have no idea but I guess that’s why they pay Rick the big bucks.  Look how beautiful the plate was.

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We both got different quesadillas for our main entrees and they were a far cry from the greasy, overly stuffed and flavorless quesadillas that haunt most bar menus.  Patrick’s had tender braised short ribs, while I went the vegetarian route with squash blossoms and fresh corn.  The service from beginning to end was delightful.  With expectations set super high, this place definitely delivered.  Apologies that I don’t have more photos but I was so taken with the meal and the experience I didn’t really want to ruin it by being “that” person snapping away.  One confusing note – both Topolobampo and the original Frontera Grill also by Bayless share an entrance.  Don’t look like rookies as we did walking around looking for another door!

Berco’s Popcorn – 810 West Armitage Avenue

Owner Matt Bercovitz makes you feel right at home the minute you walk into his gourmet popcorn store.  While sparsely decorated, the focus here is rightly on popcorn which you can order in a variety of flavors.  Matt will let you sample to your heart’s content from flavors like Big Time Butter and Best Carmel Corn Ever.  I know there are more famous popcorn joints in town but we loved the popcorn here and it’s great to support an up and coming young entrepreneur.  They even have a customizable video wall where I got the blog’s first shout out!

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North Pond Restaurant – 2610 North Cannon Drive

This place is special.  Situated on a pond inside Lincoln Park in an arts and crafts building this gem turns out delicious seasonal food to tourists and Chicagoans alike.

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Many suggested it as a brunch spot so that’s what we did and were not disappointed.  It’s a pricey restaurant but the 3 course brunch goes for $34 on Sunday and is worth every penny.  Each plate had just the right amount of food to satisfy but not leave you feeling stuffed.  I also cannot say enough about the wait staff – perfectly trained to be there when you needed something and effortlessly disappear when you didn’t.  The  grilled lamb with squash, shell beans, red onion and grilled apricots was delicious and beautiful.

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They also have a lovely bar with views of the pond so it would be a good place to stop for drinks or dessert if you didn’t want a 3 course brunch.  If you go for the sweets menu I highly recommend the blackberry and peach selection – how pretty is this??

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Parsons Chicken and Fish – 2952 West Armitage Avenue

Fried chicken and negroni slushies??  SOLD!  This charming place is tucked into a pretty residential neighborhood but my research paid off as we looked for a spot to eat after visiting Revolution Brewery (which I highly recommend).  A short walk found us at this retro diner that serves old school classics updated, like pasta salad and pimento toast.  They have a killer back patio and several cocktails served slushy style.

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Bub City – 435 North Clark Street

Who knew that some of the best BBQ in the country is found in Chicago?  I am sure many of my Southern friends are howling right now but seriously, this place is beyond delicious.  We stopped in for drinks (the delicious Back Porch Tea with Jack Daniels and sweet tea vodka) and had to return the next night for dinner, the smell was just that good.  Patrick had the fried pickles (no comment) and we shared the chopped brisket and mac and cheese.  I consider myself a mac and cheese snob – I am still creaming about this rich and creamy version.  The brisket was perfectly done and not as greasy as most versions you find.  There is also a pretty vibrant bar scene here and they own a tiki speakeasy around the corner called Three Dots and a Dash that we wanted to try but were honestly way too stuffed to keep going!  What says America more than our stars and stripes depicted in Budweiser cans??

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We had such a great weekend and didn’t even scratch the surface of what the city has to offer.  For non food entertainment I can recommend the Chicago’s First Lady architecture boat tour (how we got the perfect skyline shot featured above) and of course hit Wrigley Park (we caught a no hitter!).  Hard to go wrong in Chicago and I cannot wait to get back there.

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