A Travellerspoint blog

June 2012

The Gateway to the West

13 hours in St. Louis

Why? Yes, that is the obvious question. St. Louis was not exactly tops on my Day Trip Destination List. Frankly, it wasn’t on any list I might have except possibly my Why Would I Ever Want to Go To St. Louis List.

So, when Matt advised me that he needed to be in St. Louis from 7:30 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. and asked me to go with him to help pass the time, I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down with giddy excitement.

Here were the only things I knew about St. Louis:

1) It’s in Missouri.
2) They have a baseball team.
3) They make some beer there.
4) They have an arch.

That pretty well summed up my vast knowledge base with regard to the city of St. Louis. I grudgingly agreed and immediately set about the most important task: figuring out where I would eat that day.

I have found that, if no other reason to visit a place presents itself, you can always count on food.

Within moments, thanks to the unfailing power of the internet, I knew that St. Louis considered its top 5 signature foods to be gooey butter cake, toasted ravioli, thin crust pizza made with provel cheese, slingers (eggs, hash browns and a hamburger patty topped with chili, cheese and onions), and pork steaks.

It was a start.

I was St. Louis bound.

We left at 5:30 a.m. on a Friday morning. The day was gloriously clear and I enjoyed watching from the plane as the sun crept up and up and up. I would have enjoyed sleeping in my bed for another 4 hours significantly more, but I couldn’t get a gooey butter cake from my bed, now could I?

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With the time change, we landed in St. Louis just after 7:30 a.m. As we drove across the bridge, the St. Louis skyline came into view.

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We had decided to stick to the downtown area, because there seemed to be a lot to do there. I had a lot of things on the list of possibilities and we just decided to see where the day would take us.

The first place it took us was to the Gateway Arch. Pretty much because it was the first thing we came to and we figured that, at 8:00 in the morning, it couldn’t be very crowded. Neither one of us was exactly dying to see it, expecting it to be pretty lame, so we just wanted to get it out of the way as painlessly as possible.

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I have to apologize to the arch and to all lovers of the arch. I truly underestimated how seriously cool the arch would be.

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The Gateway Arch stands 630 feet tall and is 630 feet across from base to base. It is MASSIVE. It is made of large rectangular stainless steel plates, and the way the light and colors play off of that surface truly made it remarkable.

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There was almost no one there at that hour on a weekday, which probably added to the beauty of it. We hadn’t planned to go inside, because we had decided that if going to see it at all was lame, how much more lame was paying $10 to go to the top of it? That was for fanny pack toting, instant camera wearing, Cardinals jersey buying tourists.

However, once we were there and saw the sheer coolness of it and saw that not one person was in line to go up, how could we not? We whipped out our $20 so fast it would have made any fanny-pack toting, instant camera wearing, Cardinals jersey buying tourist proud. Heck, by the end of the day, I’d probably be wearing an “I love St. Louis” t-shirt and carrying a foam finger.

When we paid for our tickets, the attendant asked if we were claustrophobic or if we had a fear of heights. That should have been my clue that the “tram car with windows looking outside as you ride up” that I was expecting was actually a tiny, windowless bubble of metal.

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No, Mr. Attendant, I am not claustrophobic, but I don’t like being crammed into a a miniscule pod with no windows that is about the size of the trunk of my first car with 4 other people who may or may not have B.O. or flatulence or just bad manners for an agonizingly slow 5 minute ride worrying that, at any moment, the power will fail, leaving me in the dark with no air conditioning with 4 other people who may or may not have B.O. or flatulence or just bad manners.

Oh joy.

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Thankfully, it wasn’t crowded on our tram, the power did not go out, and it was actually a relatively painless experience.

We did the “view from the top” thing, which was less impressive to me than the arch itself, but at least allowed me to check one more thing off my list.

Been inside the Gateway Arch? Check.

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Having been roused out of bed at an inhuman hour and then distracted en route to breakfast by the shiny arch, it was now 9:00 a.m. and I was ravenous.

Although I really wanted to find gooey butter cake for breakfast, we headed to Half & Half, a relatively new eatery/coffee bar in an area near downtown called Clayton. It was a quick 15 minute drive and we were promptly seated at a cute patio table.

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I agonized over the coffee choices. I am a “one cup a day” gal, and that one cup of coffee I drink each morning might be my favorite moment of each day. It is something I look forward to and savor. When we had landed, my eyes were still partially closed despite having been awake for 4 hours so I had downed a quick cup of airport rotgut in a styrofoam cup. That was not an acceptable coffee moment. I needed a do-over.

Did I want a pour-over pot of Malacara from El Salvador? How about my own French Press of rich Columbian coffee? A bottomless cup of the house coffee? An espresso? So many wonderful choices.

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I opted for a cappucino. Simple, but my personal favorite since our trip to Italy. Each cappucino was an opportunity to recreate the magic of the Amalfi Coast. What better way to savor my perfect coffee moment?

My cappucino arrived, perfectly foamy and decadent, with a delightful little heart swirled onto the top and a tiny little spoon. My Italian cappucinos were always served with a lot of sugar, so I looked about my table for some sugar and saw two little ramekins. One had sugar and a tiny spoon and the other was dark brown, as fine as flour, so I assumed it was cocoa.

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Happiness!

I loaded a generous scoop of sugar beneath my foam and sprinkled cocoa on top.

You know how, when think you are drinking a glass of orange juice and you forgot that you actually have milk, that first sip sort of throws you? So, you take another sip to allow your brain to put everything back in the right place and let your taste buds figure out what is in your mouth?

Well, it took me three sips to figure out that I had loaded my cappucino up with salt and pepper.

Further proof that I am completely clueless, unsophisticated, and uncool.

God bless Matt for explaining my “situation” to the waiter, as I hung my head in shame, unable to look him in the eye, so that I could get another cappucino. The waiter was very understanding and gracious, bringing me a new one on the house and saying, “You wouldn’t believe how often that happens,” when what I know he was actually thinking was, “Oh my god, you idiot. No one has ever done this before. I am giving you a free cappucino because I feel sorry for your husband for having to live with such a stupid person.”

Moving on.

With the great cappucino crisis under control, it was time to order. The menu was divided into two sides: Eggs and Sweets. That was just unfair. How was I supposed to choose?

Matt and I have an uncanny tendency to choose the same two items on the menu and then try to decide between them. This makes ordering easy, because we each get one of the items in question and then agree to share. That is how Matt ended up with the chorizo and eggs served with a pile of spicy potatoes and a generous slab of sweet cornbread.

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It is also how he ended up eating it all by himself when my blackberry French toast arrived, causing me to launch into a sugar and bread frenzy and completely renege on our deal, unable to part with that decadent French toast, even for the man who had single-handedly salvaged my damaged cappuccino only moments before.

Hey, all is fair in food and war.

Don't feel too sorry for him. He also had this incredibly fabulous looking oatmeal:

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More of a pancake girl myself, I find French toast to be a bit tricky. Typically restaurants get it very, very wrong….overdrowning the bread slices in too much egg so that they collapse into paper thin sheets under the batter and stay slightly soggy no matter how much they might be cooked…or blackening them mercilessly in the pan. Half & Half got it very right. Two thick slices of brioche arrived, fried in the lightest of egg batter so that they crust was crispy and brown and the center was light and fluffy. There was the slightest hint of lemon and a dusting of powdered sugar along with a generous portion of blackberries and a healthy dollop of marscapone.

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This alone was worth flying to St. Louis for.

Following breakfast, we had several choices for our morning. We could head to the Botanical Garden where $8 would gain us admission to 79 acres of horticultural wonder. Or we could grab tickets to Circus Flora, a one ring circus based in St. Louis. There was also Citygarden, an urban park and sculpture garden in the heart of downtown St. Louis. We could head to Six Flags, tour some breweries, or go see the famous Budweiser Clydesdales at Grant’s Farm. Who knew St. Louis had so much to do?

We headed toward Forest Park, a 1371 acre park in the center of the city with a zoo, a planetarium and science center, art museum, and history museum. Did I mention that all of that was FREE?

Free always wins.

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It is no secret that I am not a fan of small children. They seem to only have one volume, screaming, and one speed, running. So what would make me go to a zoo on a beautiful summer day where I would likely encounter hordes of them, all sticky and sweaty and screaming and running?

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I am still asking myself that same question. There had to be at least 89,000 of them there. And they were all next to me screaming, “I WANT TO SEE A MONKEY! GET ME A FUNNEL CAKE! IT’S HOT! CAN WE GO TO THE POOL NOW????”

It took me at least 45 minutes to get the shaking under control after Matt had to throw his t-shirt over my head and lead me out of the zoo.

We stayed in Forest Park for a while. There was so much to see and do (and it was FREE). It was a beautiful day to be outside.

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We stayed until that beautiful blackberry French toast wore off. There was only one thing to do at that point: Head to the Hill.

The Hill is an Italian-American neighborhood located south of Forest Park. Its streets are lined with perfectly neat houses and manicured green lawns, and it is filled with old-school Italian restaurants, bakeries, and shops. The Hill is the Italian version of Mayberry.

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We made our way to Anthonio’s because it seemed to be chosen by locals as one of the Hill’s favorites. Who were we to argue?

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Anthonio’s was simple and casual. Not one to win you over with fancy décor, Anthonio’s gets you with it’s marinara sauce. The sauce is made in –house, with fresh tomatoes and spices. It’s tangy and not overly sweet.

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We started with some “St. Louis Famous” toasted ravioli. They were crispy on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside, with a side of that heavenly marinara sauce.

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The pasta with meatballs was the show stealer, however. I opted for the richer bolognese sauce, because, who doesn’t want to add meat sauce to 2 giant meatballs? It was a great decision.

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We tried to walk it off, as well as one can walk off a giant belly full of meat and noodles, by heading over to the Missouri Baking Company. I still hadn’t found one of those gooey butter cakes.

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I did not find a gooey butter cake at the Missouri Baking Company, but I did find a lot of other things.

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I found a snowball, a chocolate whoopie pie, and an apple cream cheese pastry, to be precise.

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Still unable to walk fully upright, I thought it best that we continue to walk around the neighborhood for a while, fearful that if I crawled into the warm car at that moment, I might slip into a state of meat fueled unconsciousness.

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Next we headed to the Delmar Loop, an eclectic street lined with unique shops and cafes. Colorful trolley cars once filled the streets of St. Louis. The Delmar Loop derives its name from the Delmar Streetcar that served that area in the early 1900’s. Affectionately referred to as “The Loop,” this six block section of town had tons of boutiques, music clubs, eateries, and vintage clothing stores. It bordered on “funky” and looked like a place where you could get anything from a tattoo to a 1984 prom dress. The Loop did not, however, have gooey butter cake that I could find.

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The heat of the day (and the fact that we had ingested massive amounts of sugar, pasta, and meat) left us limp and lethargic. Thus, we spent the next hour doing a “driving tour of St. Louis.” It gave us plenty of time to see some of the stately historic homes, the unique neighborhoods, and most importantly, to sit in the blessed air conditioning of our rental car for a while.

Knowing that lunch was going to involve a giant bowl of pasta (the massive meatballs were simply a stroke of luck), our original dinner plans were to go to Three Sixty, a rooftop restaurant near the Busch stadium. It had light fare, unique cocktails, a great view of the stadium, and placed us just a few minutes from the airport so that when we got the call it was time to go…we could head on.

What we didn’t know was that there was a St. Louis Cardinals game that night. With the stadium next door to the restaurant, it was MADNESS trying to get there. Once we squeezed our way to the parking area, we realized that everything was $15 for “event parking,” IF you were lucky enough to find a space.

We bolted.

We headed a few miles away to Sanctuaria, which was, indeed, a sanctuary. With a delightfully wicked interior and a beautifully shaded patio out back, this tapas bar seemed the perfect place to sit and wait for “the call.”

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Sanctuaria had a ridiculously huge cocktail menu that I was happy to peruse, while Matt (the pilot) had to sip a Diet Coke. We ordered some house made chips with blue cheese dip to munch on while we looked over the menu when “the call” came.

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It was time to go.

And I never found a gooey butter cake.

No matter. I had sampled many of the great things St. Louis had to offer, even though none of them had been gooey butter cake. I had no idea how much there was to do in St. Louis or what a clean and vibrant city it was.

I thanked St. Louis for her hospitality and waved goodbye, wondering just where one might find a St. Louis gooey butter cake in Tennessee?

Next up? Abaco! It's going to be a busy summer, folks!

Posted by vicki_h 08:34 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Banner Elk Winery and Villa

A recipe for a perfect weekend getaway.

It started by accident. For many years, Matt’s birthday fell adjacent to the weekend of Memorial Day. Back when I earned only 10 vacation days a year, I had to maximize every one of those 80 hours and always planned our trips to coincide with a holiday.

Thus was born the annual tradition of a trip on Matt’s birthday.

It’s a tradition that stuck.

Because his birthday is in May, we always spent that birthday in the Caribbean. Matt has spent many birthdays with sand crusted on his feet, eating a birthday cake beside some sunny beach. It was time for a change.

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I actually stumbled onto the Banner Elk Winery & Villa when I was looking for a romantic place for our anniversary dinner. I saw that they had a Farm to Table dinner planned the weekend of Matt’s birthday and made the decision: forget the anniversary… this would be Matt’s birthday trip. Let’s do something new.

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Known by most as the closest place to East TN to actually ski in the winter, Banner Elk is just across the Tennessee state line in the northwest corner of North Carolina. I associated it with winter and with skis, because my only memory of Banner Elk was the time that Matt took me skiing for the very first time about a month after we met. I was only 24 and had never even seen a pair of skis up close, much less put them on my feet. I knew NOTHING about skiing, ski wear, or ski slopes. I was severely out of my zone. The only person I knew who had ski clothing was a 62 year old woman that I worked with. She offered to loan me a ski suit. I agreed, not realizing that the last time she had skied had been in 1983 and the outfit I just borrowed looked like something from Hot Tub Time Machine. Not only did my outfit scream THIS GIRL SHOULD NOT BE ON SKIS but I was trying far too hard to impress Matt to be practical and gear myself appropriately. We had only been dating a month, remember? Rather than wear a hat, as would have been prudent given that the NC mountains don't quite get enough real snow for skiing, but instead, have giant snow blowers that pump massive amounts of very icy fake snow onto the slopes as you ski by, I skipped the hat and left my long hair loose. I imagined how smitten Matt would be when he saw my long hair flowing in the breeze as I swooshed gracefully down the hill. I skied by approximately 14 giant snow blowers that day, each one showering a fresh layer of ice onto my already wet and frozen hair. By the end of the day, my hair was literally an ice wig, frozen into weird corkscrews all over my head. The only upside to this was that it took attention away from my 1983 puffy neon ski suit and the fact that I couldn't actually ski, but instead, slid slowly down the hill at an awkward angle with my skis pointed inward trying desperately not to let them cross and send me plowing onto my face.

Back to the present. Imagine my surprise when I realized that …(duh)…the mountains did not cease to exist once the ski season was over and what was a ski resort by winter became a lush green oasis in the summer.

Banner Elk Winery and Villa looked positively lovely so I booked it immediately, claiming 2 seats at the Farm to Table dinner that would only accept a maximum of 15 people. As I looked longingly at the website images, they simply screamed LUXURY! ROMANCE! RELAXATION!

Okay, they also screamed WINE! ….but let’s not quibble over minutiae.

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It’s only a 3 hour drive from Knoxville to Banner Elk, but we opted to fly to Elizabethton and grab a rental car. We were there in an hour. You just can’t beat that. As we flew into the Blue Ridge Mountains, the landscape changed from soft rolling hills to rich green mountains and deep valleys. Banner Elk is a quaint village tucked in the North Carolina highlands near Grandfather Mountain. As we drove the winding mountain road, we marveled at the beauty of the place.

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We arrived at the Villa just in time for the dinner. The small group of guests were enjoying a glass of wine as we were quickly shown to our room downstairs. Within minutes, we each had a glass of wine in hand and were sitting in front of the villa’s large fireplace feeling the stress of the work week immediately fall away.

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The Farm to Table dinner was intended for the outdoors, but a freak cold snap that took Banner Elk to lows in the 40s in June forced the dinner to be moved indoors. This was actually quite wonderful because the tables were set beautifully near the large fireplace. After enduring temperatures in the 80s since April, the cool weather was a welcome respite from the oncoming wrath of summer.

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Jars of wildflowers adorned the tables and wine flowed like music as the guests were able to look into the beautiful kitchen and watch as the guest chef, Travis Sparks, put the final touches on the meal. He told us that most of the food we were about to eat came from his own farm, and that the food that didn’t came from farms within a 20 mile radius.

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The meal had four decadent courses and each was paired with one of Banner Elk Winery’s own wines. It was served family style and we were literally given more than we could eat. We tried to eat it all. We really did, because it was simply phenomenal, but we all failed miserably.

The first course was a large platter of baby field greens. With that were small bowls filled with young spring onions, radishes, herbs, and a lemon herb vinaigrette.

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For the second course, Travis brought out two absolutely beautiful mountain trout that had been caught that day. They were served with an incredibly delicious bowl of sautéed kale (my new favorite green) served with a green tomato relish. We were given so much fish that it should have been the entrée. I couldn’t get over how fresh and light the fish tasted. I guess I am used to fish that has been frozen, then shipped, then refrozen, then displayed, then refrozen, then cooked and by the time I eat it, it’s pretty much a tasteless piece of rubber. This was no tasteless piece of rubber. It was mountain trout heaven.

And I don’t even like fish.

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The main course was a platter of roasted chicken with herbs, a bowl of new potatoes, and the most decadent sugar snap peas that have ever been placed in a bowl for human consumption. The peas were lush and green, incredibly crisp, and slathered in butter. The potatoes and chicken were equally delicious, but you have no idea how much I love sugar snaps.

After Travis told us about catching the fish that day, I was tempted to ask about the chicken, but I didn’t really want to know.

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As though we hadn’t already been stuffed to the point of misery, we were served a strawberry cobbler with fresh cream and mint.

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I think we were on our fifth glass of wine at that point, but that didn’t stop Michelle, the owner, from grabbing us a bottle to take down to our room.

Heaven, I tell you.

We thought the dinner was tops, but then we went to our room. The room was beautifully decorated and had large glass doors to a patio that overlooked the vineyards and the pond below. The bed had a plush top and crisp, soft white linens. I love a place that uses white bedding because you can see it is fresh and clean. The bath had an abundance of fluffy towels and was loaded with Fresh skincare products including the most adorable Fresh Sugar lip balm.

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With no dogs snuffling around under our bed trying to figure out how to get on top, no alarm clock to set for work, an impossibly comfortable bed, and a serious wine fog settling over us….we slept as soon as our heads touched the crisp white pillows.

When we woke the next morning, I tiptoed quietly upstairs to the common area in hopes of coffee. There were two fresh brewed pots in the large, warm kitchen along with oversized mugs and an assortment of flavored syrups and cream. Instead of the typical “lace doily breakfast with uncomfortable conversations with strangers interrupted by awkward silences” breakfast that is so common at a B&B, the breakfast at the Villa was a comfortable, casual affair.

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A chef was in the kitchen cooking our breakfast as we stood around and chatted over mugs of coffee. The food was “serve yourself” and was set on a large wood and copper island in the center of the kitchen.

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The morning was cool, like fall, and so we took a walk after breakfast. The grounds are really beautiful, with a lush green lawn rolling down to a catch and release pond.

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The winery was set down near the pond and “up the road a piece” was a rustic little barn. As we wandered up toward the barn, someone told us they were setting up for a wedding and asked if we wanted to see inside.

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I did. I love weddings. I love wedding dresses. I love wedding cakes. And now, I especially love old barns decorated for a wedding.

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How perfect is that? I immediately asked Matt if we could get divorced because I wanted to get remarried IN THAT BARN.

We had nothing to do before lunch, so we weighed our options. Drink more wine? No, too early. Go to Grandfather Mountain for a hike? No, too much like exercise. Relax with a good book? No, the day was too beautiful for that.

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We decided to make the short, but scenic, 15 minute drive to Valle Crucis, a small town nearby that housed the original Mast General Store, still in the original building that it was opened in some 130 years ago.

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We decided to head back when it was getting close to noon. The night before, Michelle, one of the owners, had pulled me aside when she realized we were celebrating Matt’s birthday. She recommending we do a lunch picnic in the upper vineyard. All she needed to know was whether or not we liked pasta. I told her we ate anything that didn’t run away first, and she said, “Be at the winery at noon and we’ll take care of the rest.”

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So, at noon, we showed up at the winery, having no idea what to expect. I don’t really expect much from these things, which is why I don’t usually do them. But, I had been in a serious wine haze when she asked. You know the kind…where you feel completely at peace with the entire universe and everything sounds like a great idea. I probably would have agreed to give her my right kidney if she had asked for it.

And who doesn’t like a nice picnic? I expected a basket of sandwiches, and maybe a cookie or two if we were lucky, out in the sunshine and that sounded nice.

We were shown where to go and we headed up a twisty, curvy, winding road that led to the upper vineyard.

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When we arrived at the top, we were blown away. We found ourselves on a high knoll where the views stretched in every direction and were simply spectacular.

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Tall grasses waved in the breeze, like green gold water flowing down the hillside. There was a rustic arbor with a blanket set underneath.

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This was no kindergarten picnic. There was no juice box and ham sandwich. This was serious business. We had a bottle of wine, garden salads with marinated olives, a fried artichoke appetizer in a buttery sauce, and tortellini with prosciutto and fresh basil in a light tomato cream sauce.

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And real plates. Coming from a family that jokes that our "family china" is made by Solo, that was a nice touch.

The piece de resistance, however, were the two giant slabs of NY cheesecake sitting on top of an old wine barrel.

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The beautiful setting, the quietness of the afternoon, the delicious food, and the sunshine on our faces simply made it one of our favorite experiences of all time. We stuffed ourselves silly and then simply lay back on our blanket to drink in the simple beauty of it all.

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Best picnic of all time.

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We had in-room massages at 2:00, so we headed back to the villa. By the time the massages were over, we were simply a waste of human space, full of good food and wine, relaxed beyond words, and starting to feel downright spoiled.

We spent the afternoon on the patio with glasses of wine, watching the goings-on for the wedding that was going to be in the barn that evening. It was a flurry of activity as tents were set up on the lawn, flowers were arranged, and little girls in beautiful dresses chased each other as they laughed on the lawn.

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We were tempted to crash the wedding, because it was so beautiful, but we had reservations at Artisanal Restaurant, and we had high expectations.

Like the Winery & Villa, Artisanal exceeded our expectations.

When we arrived, we were greeted warmly and, as our car was taken by the valet, the large wooden doors were opened for us and we were gently ushered inside.

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The restaurant is extremely beautiful, in a very elegant rustic way. You almost feel like you have entered the most beautiful barn in the world. We were greeted by warm plank walls, tall ceilings with rustic chandeliers and my favorite, a giant horse made out of wood. The interior reminded me a great deal of the Barn Restaurant at Blackberry Farm, but the differences were that we were actually treated warmly at Artisanal (unlike the stiff treatment we received at Blackberry Farm), and we weren’t required to give them our credit card and leave without ever seeing a bill (which, at Blackberry Farm, turned out to be $500 for a meal that left us hungry). Despite its incredibly elegant and upscale atmosphere, Artisanal remained unpretentious and comfortable.

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The cocktails were very unique and we sampled a spiced pear mojito and a blood orange martini of some sort.

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They also brought out the world’s cutest mini-cornbread while we waited.

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We started with two small plates, that turned out to be as large as our entrees. Matt loved the seafood bouillabaisse and I loved my soft shelled crab.

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For dinner, Matt had the Maine Diver Scallops and I had the Pasta Bolognese, something I can never resist if I see it on a menu.

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Although everything was delicious and artfully presented, my favorite had to be the Trio of Chocolate Cupcakes. Being cute along with being delicious is always a plus.

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After dinner, we were encouraged to stay and enjoy the cozy lounge area or sit out back by the fire pit, which overlooked a rushing stream. We were tempted but the long day full of food, wine, and relaxation had left us ready to do nothing but crawl between the soft white sheets at Banner Elk Villa and fall deeply into sweet sleep.

Because of prior commitments, we had to be up and out so early the next morning that we missed breakfast, which made me very, very sad, but the truth was that I was so full I probably didn’t need to eat for about 3 days. As we drove back down the winding mountain road, I reflected on what a perfect weekend it had been. Banner Elk Winery had exceeded my expectations.

So much so that the first thing I did upon my return home was book another weekend visit.

I can only imagine what this place will look like in the Fall.

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Posted by vicki_h 09:02 Archived in USA Tagged vineyard winery north_carolina banner_elk Comments (4)

Seagrove Beach, FL

Beauty in simplicity.

It’s no secret that I love the sleepy stretch of beach between Destin and Panama City. If you like resorts, high rises, lots of giant swimming pools and water sports, and big noisy chain restaurants, then the sweet coastal towns that litter Highway 30-A most likely aren’t for you.

They are, however, most definitely FOR me.

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With names like Seaside, Watercolor, and Grayton Beach, you can just feel the charm that they exude. They are a step back in time to a simpler place. They are places where kids spend the day body surfing in the waves and building sandcastles, not lounging on a fake lazy river in a 300 acre pool with fake palm trees and playing putt-putt golf underneath the feet of fiberglass dinosaurs. They are places where you ride your bicycle down to a simple market and order a basket of fried shrimp and hush puppies and eat it on a picnic table with a plastic fork and a giant glass of sweet tea instead of eating a burger out of a treasure chest inside a giant pirate ship restaurant with waiters wearing eye patches and shouting “Shiver me timbers!” every 5 seconds. They are places where the salty sea breeze isn’t blocked by a 64 story condo and where there is seaweed on the beach because no one from the resort is clearing it away.

These are places that are quaint and authentic. They are quiet and slow. They are the peaceful, simple beach towns of your childhood.

Seagrove Beach is tucked in beside Seaside, FL, so close that you really can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. Blink and you’ll miss it.

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We spent Memorial Day weekend in a cozy beach house hidden in the live oaks. It had a rustic screened porch and was filled with mismatched tables and chairs and lots of soft white quilts. The upstairs bedroom even had a clawfoot tub tucked into the corner.

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We arrived early enough on a Friday to grab some lunch at the Seagrove Market. When you walk inside, you might think you are just in a convenience mart, but if you keep walking, you’ll see that there is a little café tucked in the back. Nothing fancy, just a cash register and some old tables, but they serve up some of the finest seafood on the gulf and the prices are right.

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It was too early to check in so we did a little beach shopping and grabbed some cold drinks with a view when it simply got too hot to move.

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Matt loves him some raw oysters, and he knows he can find them at the Great Southern Café in Seaside every day from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. for $5 a dozen. They also have a half price bar during that time, so I was content to sip my refreshment while Matt sucked his down raw.

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Unfortunately, this bargain price caused him to consume 8 dozen on that first day, which I am pretty sure is not a good idea. Ever.

About an hour later, he agreed with me.

I held out for the Red Bar, where we headed for dinner even though Matt was 110% certain that he couldn’t eat another thing, maybe for the rest of the weekend. I almost felt sorry for him as I ate my delicious plate of pasta topped with fresh gulf shrimp and crawfish. Almost.

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The heat of the day and too much food had made us lethargic, so we turned in ridiculously early and called it a day.

Seagrove Beach is about ½ mile from Seaside. Apparently, it is just far enough to give you a beautifully uncrowded beach with the same gorgeous water and soft white sand that 900 people are fighting over just a short walk down the shore.

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Seagrove Beach was sparsely populated and we were able to enjoy the crystal clear waters in peace.

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We were shocked when we walked down the beach toward Seaside later in the day and saw that beach chairs were 3 rows deep and so close together that it was hard to find a break you could slip through to run up to grab a cold drink and cool off in front of the fan at Pickle’s.

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It was a perfect beach day, with clear blue skies and incredibly calm water. I felt like I did when I was a kid, when you’d beg to stay at the beach so long that by the time you left, you were limp from the sun, your fingers were pruned from the salty waves, your shoulders and nose were crispy, and you had sand in every imaginable place on your body, even some you couldn’t imagine. We stayed all day doing nothing but taking turns letting the sun warm our bodies and then letting the waves cool them again.

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By the time we packed it up and headed in, we were starving. We had made reservations at Caliza, one of the coolest beach restaurants I have ever been to.

We had discovered it on our last trip down and had to go back to see if it was as amazing as we remembered. It was.

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Set in the beautiful community of Alys Beach, Caliza is a poolside restaurant where the delicious food and cocktails are matched only by the spectacular setting.

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We arrived early to have cocktails on the roof. A good thing to know is that cocktails are half price from 5:30 – 6:30 and when cocktails are $12 a pop, half price is a good thing! The cocktails were unique and fabulous. I even loved my straw.

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When we were seated, we started dinner with an order of the fried green tomatoes and the heirloom tomatoes with grilled shrimp.

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I nearly fainted when the waiter told me the special was a surf and turf with a crabcake over creamy corn, a filet over sautéed asparagus, and a lobster tail over cheese grits. Just go ahead and put me down for 2.

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For dessert, there was a wonderful strawberry shortcake in a glass jar. I adore things that are served in cute containers. They could have served me dog poo in that cute little jar and I would have loved it.

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Fat and happy, we waddled our way back to Seagrove Beach.

The next morning, we rode our bikes over to the Sun Dog Bookstore and Central Square Records, two of the cutest stores to ever exist. It was there that I found the shiny, cherry red ukulele.

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My summer resolution: Learn to play the ukulele.

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Day two was a repeat of day one: more beautiful sun, more incredible blue skies, and more perfectly clear water. It was a beach day at its best.

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For lunch I was craving a hot dog and ice cream so we walked up the beach to Seaside and headed to the Airstreams. The closest thing to a food court in Seaside is a line of old Airstream trailers that have been converted into casual beachside eateries.

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We chose Wild Bill’s Beach Dogs for a giant hot dog loaded with relish, kraut, mustard and their super secret Devil Sauce. It was beach day perfection.

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Followed by an ice cream cone, I nearly passed out from happiness.

To cool off that afternoon, we headed back to the Red Bar for cocktails and live music.

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The Red Bar is a funky place. An eclectic collection of old signs, music and movie memorabilia, chandeliers and string lights, and bar stools covered in duct tape, it looks more like a flea market than a restaurant and bar.

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With a live band, $5 bloody marys and $3.50 mimosas, we stayed so long we had duct tape marks on our behinds.

Matt had worked himself back up in to another oyster frenzy, forgetting the oyster disaster of only 48 hours earlier, so we headed back to Great Southern Café for more. This time he kept it to a modest 4 dozen and didn’t leave wishing he was dead.

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I had the sautéed blue crab claws and I didn’t leave wishing I was dead either. Those were yummy.

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We decided to try a new place, mainly because it had a rooftop with a view of the water and was named after an airplane, which Matt was certain was a sign of its awesomeness. The rooftop at 83 Whiskey Bravo was indeed pretty fine.

As was the food.

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We topped off the night’s eat fest with a giant slab of caramel cake from the Modica Market.

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Devine.

We had to head out early the next morning, so we stopped at the Donut Hole for a bag to go.

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I could see below the Seneca’s wings that it was going to be another beautiful day on the beach, but we’d had our fun.

It was someone else’s turn.

Until next time…

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Posted by vicki_h 09:09 Archived in USA Tagged beach florida seaside gulf_coast 30_a south_walton seagrove Comments (5)

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