Tag Archives: Virginia

Getaway to Tangier Island: Crabs, History, and the Mighty Chesapeake

Our region is in large part defined by the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Although we in D.C. live a bit inland from the Bay itself, we still benefit from its bounty, such as blue crab feasts, seafood at the Maine Avenue Fish Market, and excursions along the shore.

But while you live in the area, it’s worth getting a total immersion into the richness and culture of the Chesapeake Bay.  To do so, take a weekend and head down to Tangier Island, located 12 miles into the middle of the Bay.  In order to get to Tangier, you must take a 1.5 hour ferry ride from either Reedville, VA or Crisfield, MD (each about 3 hours away from D.C.).  While there are day trips to the island, that option gives you only about two hours until the ferry turns around and comes back, so I’d highly recommend spending at least one night to really get a feel for the place.


The island is comprised of about a thousand acres, only about a hundred of which are actually inhabited (the rest being marsh).  About 500 people live on Tangier, and since no cars are allowed bikes and golf carts are the main forms of transportation.

Tangier has an important place in American history.  Pocomoke Indians inhabited the island for many years before Europeans including John Smith arrived.  It is also historically significant because it served as the staging ground for British troops during the War of 1812.  And interestingly, to this day, residents speak in a dialect that linguists believe is very similar to the English that European settlers spoke when they first arrived in America.


The best part of Tangier Island is the crabs and observing the economy and culture that has been built up around them.  According to locals, about 75 percent of our country’s soft shell crabs (those that have just molted out of their old shells and are soft and squishy all over) come from the area every year, and it also provides a significant amount of hard crabs, oysters, and even eels that are sold to markets in New York and other places around the country.  Because the economy is built around the crabbing, it has a feeling very similar to a New England fishing or lobster town, with little changed over the last century.


One of the must-do activities during your visit is to take a tour of a “crab shanty,” the structures on the water around the edge of the island where watermen tend to and harvest soft shell crabs.  Because the crabs harden again within a few hours of molting, the watermen must immediately ready them for packaging and shipping, meaning that they work around the clock.

The island is not much built up for tourism quite yet, which is part of its appeal.  There are three bed and breakfasts (I stayed at the Bay View Inn, which was lovely), a couple of ice cream/sandwich places, and a few gift shops.  The three restaurants which are open for dinner (one of which has a last seating at 5pm) sell mostly an array of crab-based fare, including crab cakes, soft-shell crab sandwiches, and crab bisques.  It’s worth mentioning that the island is dry, so bring your own alcohol and be discreet about it.

crab roll

Other activities to do on the island include taking in the small yet chock-full Tangier History Museum, kayaking in the marshes to see the myriad of shorebirds (including glossy ibis and black skimmers), and biking to the beach to see a sunset.

Tangier Island is truly a step back in time, and a glimpse of how and why the Chesapeake Bay is so important to our region and its economy, ecology, and shared history.

To visit:  Ferry once daily from Reedville, VA (May-October) or Crisfield, MD.  Various bed and breakfasts, as well as vacation rentals.  Go during the summer, as very little is open during the winter.


Filed under Activities, Daytripper, Local Food, Museums

Bahn Mi Bliss at the Eden Center

Every city has its neighborhood cultural hubs, from Little Italy in Boston to Koreatown in New York.  One of D.C.’s best ethnic hotspots is Eden Center, located in Falls Church, Virginia.  This large indoor and outdoor mall complex is home to approximately 120 Vietnamese stores, ranging from restaurants to groceries to souvenirs to salons.  As its website says, it is “the heart and soul of the Vietnamese-American Community for the entire East Coast.”

Because there’s so much going on at Eden Center, especially on weekends, it’s a bit overwhelming to visit and pick a restaurant.  Let me suggest Song Que (“song whey”), a delightful bahn mi shop that also features various grocery/deli items like finger foods to go, hard-to-find fruits, and snacks.

Bahn mi is best described as a French-influenced Vietnamese sandwich, featuring meats, tofu, and pickled vegetables on a baguette.  Options include ground pork, lemongrass beef, and Vietnamese meatballs.  Song Que is somewhat unique in terms of bahn mi at Eden Center and elsewhere in that it has a great vegetarian option—the caramelized tofu skin sandwich.

Also worth tasting are the bubble teas that come in all sorts of flavors, like mango, yellow bean, and jackfruit.  Song Que is nice in that it has table and seats in the back, which many of the other takeout food options at Eden Center do not.

After your sandwich, stroll around the mall, and especially go to the grocery store, called the Eden Supermarket.  It’s a treasure trove of many different ingredients for Asian cooking at amazing prices.  Other great restaurant choices at Eden Center included pho, seafood dishes, and soups.  Here’s a listing of all of the options.

Eden Center, formally the Plaza Seven Shopping Center, started reaching its height when thousands of immigrants settled in the area in the 1970s after the Vietnam War.  Indeed, the clock tower at the Eden Center is an exact replica of that in Saigon.  It’s a great place to step out of America for a couple of hours, and experience the delights and flavors of a different culture.

To visit:  6751 Wilson Blvd, Falls Church, VA (Song Que is located at 6769 Wilson Boulevard), hours vary by store—call for details.  About a one mile walk from the East Falls Church metro, or 1A/1B/1E/1F bus west from the Ballston metro).

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Bowling on the Base at Fort Myer

One thing we lack here in Washington, DC is nearby and cheap options for bowling.  Sure, there are the Bowl America outposts in West Falls Church and Fairfax, Bowlmor stranded far from the Metro in Bethesda, and the odd business model of $20-per-game-plus-fancy-schmancy-dress-code at Lucky Strike in Chinatown.  None of these are really viable if your aim is cheap bowling in the nation’s capital.  Luckily, the Fort Myer Bowling Center, on an Army base just behind Arlington Cemetery, offers the chance to fulfill your ten pin dreams.  And learn a bit about military history while you’re at it.

Also known as the “Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall,” a result of a 2005 initiative to create more efficiency, Fort Myer and Fort McNair are currently home to thousands of men and women providing military services—disaster relief, security, etc. to the National Capital Region.  And due to its proximity to Arlington Cemetery, many assigned to Fort Myer take part in official ceremonies there.  Indeed, the “Old Guard,” the Army’s oldest active infantry regiment, is based at Fort Myer, and is the “premier ceremonial unit” and escort to the president.  The fort was also the location of the first powered-flight fatality, when the propeller split on a military test plane carrying Orville Wright and a lieutenant, who died in the crash.

Needless to say, you’ll be surrounded by history when you set foot on the base—well, drive onto it, as it is most easily accessed by car.  Keep in mind that as you drive in, all members of your party will need a photo ID and your car will be searched from hood to trunk.

A few minutes onto the base is the “Strike Zone,” which is bowling as you remember it in all its glory: low-lighting, bright paintings of bowling balls and pins on the walls, etc.  And cheap!  Games run $2 or $3 per person, depending on the time, and shoe rentals are $2 each.  I wasn’t there for rock ‘n roll bowling on Friday and Saturday nights, but from all accounts it’s pretty neat.  Don’t expect much from the snack bar, which consists of hot dogs, pizza, and the like.  Buckets of mini-beers are kind of entertaining, if a tad overpriced.

There’s not much more to say about bowling at Fort Myer, only that it is just the kind of bowling experience that I expect many Washingtonians are looking for!

To get there:  Bldg. 411, McNair Road, Ft. Myer, VA.  (703) 528-4766.  M-Th 7am -10pm/Fri. 7am-12am/Sat. 10am -12am/Sun. 12pm – 6pm.  Yelp reviewers claim it’s possible to walk onto the base, but because of its size a car is the easiest option.


Filed under Activities, Deals and Steals

Creamy, Yolky, Wisconsiny-y Goodness: Frozen Custard at Dairy Godmother

Many of the 599,657 of us who live in the District are not originally from the area, and sometimes feel pangs of nostalgia for the places where we grew up, evidenced, for example, by the inner thrill you get every time you come across your state’s street.  Luckily, many establishments around here seek to capitalize on this dual sense of displacement and state-pride, such as the Louisiana-themed restaurants and the sudden influx of Texas-style BBQ.

But nobody has more cheesehead pride (besides, arguably, the Hawk ‘N Dove for Packers games) than Dairy Godmother, the ten-year-old home of real Wisconsin-style custard.  The store is located in Del Ray, a small and charming nook of Alexandria whose motto is “where Main Street still exists.”  It sure feels like it—indeed, with a monthly local art show and a weekly farmer’s market, I might go so far as to say this little neighborhood is the Takoma Park of Virginia (featuring trees, families, and a local natural pet food store).

Though it tastes quite similar to ice cream, real custard has serious specifications and requires quite the technique.   According to the Food and Drug Administration, frozen custard contains 1.4% egg yolk and 10% percent milkfat, making it richer and legally different from ice cream (see hilariously detailed and somewhat dismaying government specifications here).  Additionally, custard is made with a special machine that adds less air than ice cream, and  in the end allows is be slowly splatted out of a refrigerated tube into 5-gallon containers from which it is served.

Every day, Dairy Godmother features chocolate and vanilla custards, as well as exotic flavors of the day like coconut cream, banana pudding, and cinnamon toast.  A handy “flavor of the day forecast” is posted online monthly so you can pick your poison.  In addition to all forms of custard (cup, cone, sundae),  Dairy Godmother also has sorbets, custard cakes, and treats for dogs.

There is one other frozen custard place in DC, Dickey’s Frozen Custard at 17 and I NW, and a few out towards the far reaches of the beltway.  But based on the Wisconsin and badger-themed decorations of Dairy Godmother, you’ll have to visit this establishment in particular to get a sense of real Wisconsin during these long and hot summer days!

To visit:  10A bus from the Pentagon Metro, or Arlington transit (DASH) from a few different Virginia metro locations.  2310 Mount Vernon Ave.,  Alexandria, 703-683-7767.  Open Sundays and Mondays 12-9pm, Wednesdays-Saturdays 12-1opm.


Filed under Activities, Local Food

Bayou Bakery and the Delights of Casual Cajun

There are a handful of joints in our city that pay homage to the Big Easy, from the stalwart Bardia’s New Orleans Cafe to the thrifty Louisiana Kitchen to the upscale Acadiana downtown.  But a newcomer to the hallowed Cajun scene, Bayou Bakery, offers a slightly different spin:  your low-key, friendly neighborhood coffee and pastry shop.

Bayou Bakery is steps away from the Courthouse metro, and serves up quite the brawny chicory coffee and downright heavenly beignets.  But don’t for a moment think it’s fit just for lazy Sunday morning.  The menu presents a diversity of soups, sandwiches, and larger plates featuring perennial Cajun favorites like gumbo, pimiento cheese, and andouille sausages.  There are also a few delightful imaginings, such as porKorn (caramel popcorn with bacon) and jars of spiced pecans.  Make sure to add the “deviled eggs with a kick” to your order—you won’t regret it!  Along with a few wines, the only beer available, of course, is Abita (not a bad thing).

Perhaps demonstrating the owner’s rather giddy love for New Orleans, along with every order you receive a laminated card featuring a parish.  So when your sandwich is ready, over the microphone you’ll hear “St. Helena, your food is ready,” or “Acadia, please come to the front.”  Also of note for die-hards are the whole King Cakes available for $35 in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras.

The décor is spiffy and meant to showcase the quirks of New Orleans.  The nook in the back, separate from the dining area, is filled with couches and used books.  And an alligator head draped with beads, old-timey cookware, and antique-looking wooden shutters on the windows of the brand new building illustrate that although this place may be located in the heart of Courthouse, it’s not going to let any charm go unnoticed.

Bayou Bakery has only been open since November, but is beginning to be discovered.  So, take the opportunity sooner rather than later to discover the delights of this little Cajun coffee hot spot.

To visit:  1515 N. Courthouse Road, Arlington VA.  703-243-2410.  Monday-Friday 7am- 9pm, Saturday 8am- 9pm, Sunday 8am- 4pm.  Very close to the Courthouse Metro, or lots of local Arlington buses.


Filed under Local Food, Restaurants

A Touch of Tunisia in Arlington

Tunisia, a small country sandwiched between Algeria and Libya, had not been on most Americans’ minds until recently, when its “Jasmine Revolution” became the first of recent revolts in the Arab world.  Accordingly, a number of commentators have referred to it as the “Arab Gdansk,” a nod to the city that heralded the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.

But in DC, Tunisia can be on your mind not just because it is the epicenter of Arab politics, but because Arlington is home to Chez Manelle*, one of the only Tunisian restaurants in the country.  The only others I could find are in Hollywood and New York City, so your chances to take a peek into this culture are quite limited!

Though Chez Manelle looks divey on the outside, the interior is clean, bright, and blue.  When I visited, Al Jazeera and Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” flickered simultaneously from separate televisions, demonstrating how the restaurant caters to both North Africans from around the area and those of us just seeking out a new place to dine.

So what the heck is Tunisian food?  Think a strong Mediterranean base—olive oil, lamb, phyllo dough—plus fragrant Arab spices, Turkish styles, Berber heartiness, and a little Tunisian “je ne se quois.”  Oh and I meant that in French—the dish “Spaghetti a la Tunisienne” should demonstrate who controlled this tiny North African province until 1956.

But for all of the influences, there is something delicious going on in Tunisian food that I can’t quite put my finger on.  My favorite dish was the omek houria, a smashed carrot dip with olive oil and mysterious “Tunisian spices.”  I also enjoyed the kaftaji, a stew of tomatoes, zucchini, and spices accompanied by French fries, and the brika, a Middle Eastern empanada (my words not theirs!)  Another authentic plate is tajine, a quiche of sorts, not to be confused with Morocco’s tagine, a serving bowl with a lid.  Be sure to top off your meal with mint and pine nut tea.

In addition to great food, Chez Manelle also has hookah and a lovely patio that will beckon on summer nights.  Now is the time to visit this outpost, likely one of the few chances you’ll ever have to taste Tunisian in the USA!

* The website is chezmanelle.com, though it wasn’t working at the time of this post.  See Chowhound and Yelp for a good sense of what the menu has to offer.

To visit:  2313 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington VA.  703-522-2140.  A five-minute walk from the Courthouse Metro station, or on various the Wilson/Clarendon Boulevards bus lines

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Nick’s Nightclub Provides the Rare Opportunity to Boot-Scoot Boogie in DC

You might say country music is omnipresent these days, with modern country bands winning Grammys, topping singles charts, and going platinum.  And although country is traditionally southern, something about the pervasiveness of horses, wide open spaces, and loneliness in the lyrics make me think of the West.

Which is why I was more than thrilled to discover the only country music bar in our North-South border city:  Nick’s Nightclub in Alexandria, or “DC’s Premier Live Country Menu” as it calls itself.  Indeed I believe that this is the only country-themed bar in the area, and as near as I can tell the only one that even has a country night.  This seems odd in a city so close to and influenced by vast Virginia horse country and Appalachia bluegrass territory, and yet I’m not the only one asking the question, “Is Washington A Country Music Town?”  This 2007 Washington Post inquiry discovered that DC’s country radio station receives only 3-4% of the market share of listeners even though the average in America is 12%.

I won’t begin to speculate on the lack of country-ness in our city, but I will tell you that Nick’s offers an haven for those of you seeking a little Billy Ray Cyrus in your night out.  Nick’s is best enjoyed on the dance floor, where line dancers and two-steppers come out in full force, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.  Line dances lessons are offered on Tuesdays (free) and Fridays and Saturdays ($5), and live country bands perform on the weekends.  If swing is your thing, stop by on a Wednesday for lessons and some big band music.

My own line dance lesson was taught by Marcia and was successful!  We learned 3 dances and put them to music in just under an hour, and were able to practice on the dance floor throughout the night (if you go, be aware of the etiquette that line dancers keep to the center while couples twirl around the outside).  If you are not there with a date, be prepared for many gentlemen to ask you to dance!  Nick’s also has a full bar and surprisingly large and cheap menu.   And, apparently, a cowboys-in-their-undies contest—what self-respecting country bar wouldn’t?!

My favorite part of Nick’s is its truly non-Washington crowd.  According to servers and employees who I talked with, most patrons come from Virginia, some as far as an hour away.  You’ll see old-timers with the two-step perfected, dashing young men in Carhartt overalls, and prize belt buckles galore.  What you won’t see are suits, $8 pints, and White House staffers.

All in all, Nick’s offers a good time for those of us dealing with a bit of country music whistfulnesss, and for those seeking a one-of-a-kind night out.  You’ll have to go more than once to experience all it has to offer!

To get there:  642 South Pickett Street, Alexandria, VA 22304.  (703) 751-8900.  15-minute walk from the Van Dorn Metro stop. Cover charge on weekends (ladies free ‘til 9).

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