Monday, September 8, 2014

The Long Road Trip

The Jetta somewhere in Rural Iowa.  That dust stuck to the car all the way home.
Sometimes you realize you've screwed up.  Ok.  I'll give you that one.  This post is my biggest mea culpa to date.  I swore to myself when I started writing about  my 2014 Jetta that I would be better, that this would be the Long-term-test to end all long term tests. A journal of my day-to-day car quabbles.

So far, my expectations haven't lived up to my self-driven hype.

Over the next several weeks I'll be posting a "run from the road" which is just an update on my recent barnstorm tour of the midwestern United States.  As you can see from the "States" section to your right, during the period in Late July and Early August, I ended up traversing almost half of the country.  In my August mileage reporting period alone I racked up an impressive 4,000 miles.

The reason?  My youngest cousin was getting married in Omaha and he asked me to be the photographer.

My initial thought was: Omaha?  Can't I just buy a present and be done with it?  In the end, I'm glad I didn't.  While the journey across the country was arduous, and portions of Missouri were so boring I resorted to counting off miles between where I sat and the furthest item I could see in the distance (they don't call 'em the flyover states for nothing!) parts of the drive were spectacularly (and surprisingly!) beautiful. 

The end result was, it was a spectacular trip.  The only change I'd make if I could go back and do it again would be to plan more time in some of the stops. 

With similar tours of the Southeast and Northeast coming up soon, I can say with certainty I didn't learn my lesson...but I promise to be more entertaining and current on those updates than I have been with this one!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A near perfect coffee: Java Java; Charlottesville, VA

Some of my friends deem my Starbucks swilling ways an addiction.  In all likelyhood it probably is, but I'm not complaining.  Starbucks, however, is not my favorite coffee.  In fact, I don't particularly care for it, but I continue to go because it's the best immediately available where I live.

Coffee is a feature that I would have liked to have put more in the front of this blog.  The downside is a good coffee is relatively inaccessible to me here in Northern Virginia, primarily because Starbucks is on every street corner. 

However, because of the lack of good local coffee shops in this area, the feature would die out after about three weeks. 

It's certainly not for lack of trying, but beyond Katie's Coffee House in Great Falls, and Green Iguana in Herndon, VA there isn't much.  Oh suburbia, how I loathe the.

Charlottesville, VA, on the other hand, has extremely high quality local coffee shops on almost every corner...and almost no Starbucks locations.  While this is almost unheard of, it is always a huge relief for me to find a town where local entrepreneurs are not only supported, but celebrated. 

Java Java on the downtown mall is one such example.  The cappuccino I ordered was perfect.  I was just getting ready to order a second when my colleague called to let me know he had arrived.  So, I had to go, but I'll be looking forward to going back some day soon.

You can reach Java Java on the web at the time of writing there is no twitter handle.

Monday, July 14, 2014

And we're off...AGAIN!

One look through the "Drafts" section of the manager for this blog tells a sad, sad story.  And that story is that I'm FAR behind.  As of this Wednesday I'll be caught up to May.  There may come a day soon where I post two wineries a week just to get reasonably caught up!

This past week provided me the opportunity to do a whirlwind tour of central Virginia.  Unfortunately the return was quick and I didn't get to visit any wineries, but I did find a gem of a coffee shop and a wonderful pizza joint...within walking distance of each other.  The Coffee shop is going to appear on Thursday of this week, the Pizza joint probably in a few months (I'm about 5 weeks behind right now on those!).

The weather this July (aside from some torrential rains) has been every bit of perfect.  Last Monday was a crystal clear day, and a perfect day to drive down 29 to Charlottesville, VA to drop off some equipment with one of my co-workers. 

The return trip was perfect, and while I'm no fan of a sunroof, mine was open the entire trip back. 

The weekly update for this blog may go on hiatus for a bit in the coming weeks as I'm busy prepping for my trip to Omaha, but it will be back soon!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wine Day: Barboursville Vineyards, Barboursville, VA

Tourist Trap.

That's what they (my sister)
told me.

"Don't expect good wine" she said, "it's mediocre at best and designed for people who aren't really into wine, and just want to stop by a winery, get drunk on the tasting and buy a case of overpriced, undervalued wine."

Or so she thought. 

A bit of back story.  My sister and I always take our mother to a winery (or two...see next week!) on Mothers day.  My sister argued against going to Barboursville, because, she said, they only do mediocre wine that's overpriced for what it is, and it's never really good just okay.

My argument for was it's big, with lots of variety, and our mom only likes sweet, cheap, simple wines. Quite frankly a box of Franzia or Sutter Home White Zen is more often than not exactly what she wants.  For my sister and I, the more complex, the heavier, and drier the better.  Needless to say, we frequently have issues all coming to agreement on which bottle to order at a restaurant!

So finally, my sister relented, and we agreed that we would go (small win!) and that she would pick the second stop of the day which is a smaller, less commercial, and substantially better winery close by.  I agreed, and off we went!

We couldn't have asked for a more perfect day to make the trip over to Charlottesville.  I started off in Northern Virginia, and picked up my parents before heading over the mountain.  US 33 was Gorgeous, and the trip through Shenandoah National Park was stunning.  I had forgotten how beautiful my old stomping grounds were.

We pulled in just before it got busy, and started our tasting.

One thing to be casually aware of when you walk in is that it's not your standard tasting setup.  Rather than one person pouring half a dozen to a dozen wines you move between stations, each of the stations have between 2-5 wines to let you try, and they're set up sort of reverse of industry standard (Dry to sweet whites; light to heavy reds vs. the Barboursville setup of Sweet to dry whites.)

The wine, was substantially better than I had expected.  Still not as good as some of the best, but far better than the Virginia average. In the end, everyone had something they sincerely enjoyed, and even the naysayer ended up buying a couple bottles of wine to take home. 

Overall I was more than impressed.  The only disappointment (and it was a big one!) was they weren't pouring their Octagon!

To reach Barboursville on the web visit  Follow on Twitter @Barboursville

Monday, July 7, 2014

10k and Beyond

Yes, I realize I'm balancing a Camera and driving 55 mph.
After just six months I pushed the car beyond the 10% mark for what mileage I actually should be at with the title I chose.

The first 10,000 miles in the car were completely problem free, as should have been expected!

The fuel economy I've returned is almost exactly what I was getting in the Honda before it, and slightly below what the Monroney label on the car said when I picked it out, which is to be expected with my slightly *ahem* spirited driving style.

Going to the service department always sort of scares me.  For those of you who have been reading these pages for awhile you might recall several instances of larger-than-expected repair bills (go back to 2009 and read through the posts on the Volvo!).  I admit, after my 10k service I'm completely sold on the service department at my local Volkswagen dealer, Stohlman Automotive.  Granted, I'm a bit biased as I used to work there, but when I got in the car to drive that way I called to set an appointment, Sharon was able to take me immediately, and had the car out before she promised!  The entire process was complete in an hour, from setting the appointment to driving away with a nicely washed car.  What more can you ask for?

Overall?  I can't possibly be more satisfied with the car. 
Do not try this at home, kids.

The next 10k miles have quite a bit in store.  The first planned trip is to Omaha, NE because my cousin is getting married...and I'm the photographer.  In October, there are plans to head up to Toronto, and then down to the Biltmore near Christmas.  In between now and then I promise lots of stops at wineries, pizza joints, and even some other worthy local joints. Overall, it looks like I'll be able to hit 25 of my 49 state goal this summer alone. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wine Day - 8 Chains North; Waterford, VA

I started out my tour of wineries on Mothers Day Weekend at 8 Chains.  While this was my first stop, it was also the winery I was targeting on that rainy Saturday.

As I've mentioned in other posts, rainy days are absolutely the best days to go out to the wineries.   This was no exception.

My visit to 8 Chains North was likely a bit premature as they are an extremely new winery.  Part of my hesitation is I generally only like to taste wine that the winemaker has a heavy hand in the agricultural parts of the wine as well.  This is the case with the better known wineries in Virginia.  Several wineries are still sourcing their grapes for parts of what they produce elsewhere.  This happens, but when I stop at a winery, I'm hoping to see the vines the grapes come off of.  Very much like a stop at a cheese farm in Vermont, one would expect that the cows, sheep, or goats who's milk was used in the production would be visible on the farm, I don't enjoy driving miles out into the country to taste grapes from elsewhere.  I'm sure some will argue with that, but to each his own.

*Note: Since the original publication of this, yours truely has had to eat some of my favorite wineries are, unbeknownst to me, sourcing from elsewhere...oops! 

8 Chains is still well worth a visit.  They are now pouring white wines that were physically grown on the property, and if they're any indication of what is to come when they start up with their reds in a year or so, the reds will be wines that stand up to the best of what Virginia has to offer.

I'm very much looking forward to returning in a few years to experience the best of what they have to offer!

You can reach 8 Chains North on the web at or on twitter @8ChainsNorth

Monday, June 16, 2014

A few weeks' worth of break and we're back...

I promise.  It was by no means intentional that I dropped off the face of the earth over the past several weeks.  Multiple work-related items kept me fairly swamped, which was unfortunate, but since this is a volunteer project (mainly because Google is evil) sometimes this is necessary. 

This week we're coming back online with reviews of a winery and a pizza joint in Florida!

Stay tuned next week for a status update on the Jetta...and a new iPhone app that was recommended at a winery and is really quite good!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Pizza Friday - Matchbox Vintage Pizza Bistro; Rockville, MD

Pizza is a strange food.  Even when it's a bad pizza it's still pretty good.  I could eat Domino's, Papa John's, or even a crappy frozen pizza every day and still be reasonably satisfied and happy with what I bought.  The fact of the matter is this:  I've never had a pizza so awful I wouldn't ever go back to the place I got it from.

On the other hand, I occasionally get one that's so good I wish I didn't have the "only once every year" unwritten rule for pizza shops.  Matchbox is one such restaurant.

Tonight the fiancee and I decided to give it a try on a whim...while we were driving past to go to Ruby Tuesday.  Neither of us had been there, and we figured it was a good night to give it a try.

Generally, at a Pizza restaurant I wouldn't order a burger for an appetizer.  We made an exception.  We were VERY glad we did.  The mini burgers came with a variety of high-end cheeses, and a pile of onion straws that meant it would be a very large meal for one person.  Of course, we didn't realize this when we ordered, and were in a bit of shock when we saw what landed on the table.

The big surprise, however, came when the pizza arrived.  We ordered a split pizza with half of it Matchbox Meat and the other half Sweet Sopresatta Salami & Wild Mushroom.  What it all boiled down to was this: when I tasted the Matchbox Meat, I instantly knew that was the best pizza I'd ever had, the Salami & Mushroom side, however, was far and away the better pick.

Matchbox, in the end was an incredibly unique experience.  Not only had I never had my "Best Pizza" knocked off the top twice in one visit to a single restaurant... but that same restaurant also took the title for best burger as well.

That, my friends, is a very unique accomplishment.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wine Day - Corcoran Vineyards; Waterford, VA

The biggest challenge with starting to write about wine is this:  How long can I do this before I start falling into the traps of wine-snobbery that have ruined many a wine lover?

One trap I've already fallen into is this:  I was under the impression that a good Pinot Noir couldn't be done outside of the states of Washington and/or Oregon.  Because I like Pinot so much, I thought for sure that the chances of me finding a winery in Virgina that could do one were slim to none.  As such I offered myself a mental challenge, and that challenge was if I ever found a Virginia winery that produced a even remotely drinkable Pinot, they would be my new favorite.

Well, dear readers, I did.

There's a catch though.  The Pinot I found is not at all what I'm used to finding out of the Pacific Northwest, which are lighter, and nearly water in some cases.  The Pinot Noir at Corcoran is thick, hearty and rich with tannins, and will age beautifully over the coming years.  Quite frankly, I can't wait to pop it open in 5 years and give it a try.

Heavy Rain!
My trip to Corcoran happened on an extremely rainy Saturday.  While not great days to bring a picnic and sit out on the lawn with a bottle or glass of wine, rainy Saturdays are arguably the best days to visit wineries here in the DC area, strictly because they're substantially less crowded, and you can generally get more attention and detail from the person conducting your pouring.  My trip to Corcoran happened on the same days as the trips to Loudoun Valley and 8 Chains (Link coming soon), and ended up being my favorite visit of the day.  It wasn't just because of the Pinot.  As opposed to 8 Chains, which is a very new winery, and Loudoun Valley's improper storage, everything I tried at Corcoran was if not on par with, above average for the Loudoun area.

In the end, everything I tried was very drinkable, and on-par with other Virginia wineries on price.  As such they're well worth a visit if you're looking for another winery to stop in during a weekend wine blitz.  

You can reach Corcoran on the web at or on twitter @corcoranwine.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

Pizza Friday - Jimmy's New York Pizza, Sterling, VA

There are days, granted they're rare, that I just don't feel like leaving, or for whatever reason, I'm bogged down in something and can't leave the house for dinner.  With the dishwasher in progress, one load of laundry in the washer, another in the dryer, and yet another waiting, not to mention the vacuuming I've neglected over the past several weeks, and a pending business trip, tonight just was not the night to put everything I needed to get done off to a later date. 

Just because I'm staying home for dinner doesn't mean I'm going to abandon my "No Large Pizza Chains" principle.  In fact, Jimmy's is one of the restaurants that proves my "You can always find a local place that's as good as or better than the national chains rule.

The proof behind this is the sizing.  For roughly the same price that you'd pay for a smaller Large at one of the national chains, I got a medium.   I can't even venture a guess as to what the "Large" would be, because I couldn't even finish half of the medium.  Not only was it bigger than all three of the major pizza delivery places, but it was leaps and bounds better in flavor and ingredients.  

Despite the high quality, tonight's pie was just a simple pepperoni, with no extras.  Plain, boring, but a staple in college dorm rooms and mediocre office parties everywhere.    

What made it unique though is it was a real New York style pie.  With the frequency I head north to the Philadelphia/New York/New Jersey area, I've had my fair share of good pizza.  This one ranks among the best, and it's hidden in a sketchy strip mall in Sterling, VA.  More importantly though: they deliver to my house.  Finding this diamond in the rough was a huge and welcome surprise.

After dinner tonight, I realized that I'm hooked.  There is no way I can order from any other pizza place for delivery while I'm living in this house.  I certainly am looking forward to trying it again.

You can find Jimmy's on the web at

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wine Day - Loudoun Valley Vineyards

When I was mapping out my route the other week, I noticed that Loudoun Valley was strategically locatated at the mid-point between two of the other wineries that I wanted to stop by.  As such, it seemed only logical that I'd make a quick detour on the way to Cocoran!

I promise I took some photos of Loudoun Valley, but this isn't one.
I hadn't heard of Loudoun Valley, so I didn't really know what to expect.  What I found was a winery in a near perfect location, with a disappointing tasting room, and selection.

They tried hard!  But the downside is they tried too hard.  I found that many of the whites were over-aged, the reds were probably aged appropriately, but the entire group of wines they had were similarly vinegary.  The only one I bought was the 2011 Traminette, which was probably perfect about a year or two ago.

I will certainly not fault them for trying.  There are few joys in this world for me beyond a perfectly aged wine.  I always long for a day when I can buy a properly aged wine direct from the shelf.  The problem comes in that there are so many variables that come into play.  I've certainly made my own mistakes in the aging process, but here is a vintner selling wines that are beyond their peak.  I'd like to go back next year at some point and try their 2012's and 2013's.  Not the 2009's and 2010's which is what they'll be selling.

It will be a good place to return to at some point, but I just don't think they're there yet.

As an aside, it was extremely rainy the day I went, and unfortunately it appears the photos I took with my iPhone disappeared.  So, this isn't a photo at Loudoun Valley, but it is a photo on the same day!

To contact Loudoun Valley Vineyards please visit their website at or on twitter at @LoudounValley

Monday, May 19, 2014

Mothers Day Adventures

When my sister and I started planning Mothers Day 2014, we decided that the typical Mothers Day activities consisting of a Sunday Morning church service, and a crappy "Family" restaurant weren't in the cards.  My sister and I like wine, our mom likes wine, so off to the vineyards we went.  The whole trip was great, and a great side track from the typical Mothers Day Activities. 

Since the three parties involved are spread far and wide in the state of Virginia, Ruckersville seemed like an equally inconvenient place, as such we decided that we would stop in two or three wineries in the area before shoving off for our respective trips back home. 

Because the grand-dog wanted to visit my parents for the week, I needed to stop in Harrisonburg before slipping across the mountain, because I had a business trip back to New Jersey.

After picking up my parents, we loaded up our respective cars an headed east on US 33, across the Blue Ridge and into Ruckersville. 

It was a highly beneficial day from a wine perspective, as we got to visit two wineries none of us had ever been to, Barboursville and Horton.  One of the two I recommend a trip to, the other, unfortunately I'd recommend skipping despite the potential.  Those reviews are coming. 

After stopping at both wineries, I headed off in my own direction as the Virginia Starbucks mug had still proven to be elusive (you can read about that adventure here, here and here).  I was determined that by the end of the day I would have the mug in my hand.  Sure enough, after stopping in four Starbucks stores on my way down to I-64, I found it. 

8000 miles! 
My plan to stop at a well known pizza joint for the pizza feature was unfortunately thwarted by the dwindling sun, my need to pack for a business trip scheduled the next day, and my increasing exhaustion.  I decided instead to high tail it back north, and find a good pizza another day.   

All around Mothers Day was an absolute joy for all four of us.  We can say with certainty we're looking forward to a repeat on Fathers Day!

Finally, as I got close to home, right there in the middle of 28, the Jetta hit a big milestone.  2,000 miles left until the first maintenance!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Pizza Friday - Andolini's, Ashburn VA

Andolini's was a unique experience.  Clearly, the restaurant was set up more to be a delivery location than a eat-in pizza shop.  I say clearly because their location is not near any housing or hotels, and has limited business interest for a quick lunch stop.

Over the years I've developed a sort of standard pizza order, the unfortunate thing is at Andolini's, the special was for a three topping pie, not four.  I like four.  Pepperoni, Bacon, Spinach, and Garlic.  Because of this I left off the spinach, where in reality I should have left off the Bacon.

The pizza was VERY good.  The crust was near perfect, and had an almost herbal quality to it.  It's hard to compare with the fluffy, airy crusts that you typically find up north except in texture.  The flavor was more similar to what you'd find in an area not as known for Italian food, but what I'd expect in a more rural farm-to-table setting.

The downsides were a bit more obvious.  The first thing I'd suggest is the store should probably strongly consider easing off on the strong flavored toppings.  The bacon was good, but it was laid on so thick it was impossible to discern any other flavors except the garlic (which I'll get to in the next paragraph).  It was so thick on the pizza, I couldn't even taste the pepperoni.

Now, the garlic.  I love garlic on my pizzas.  Normally pizza shops use either a nicely roasted or minced garlic to limit the strong flavor.  Not Andolini's.  The garlic was raw, and left whole, and spread extremely thick.  I would venture to guess I probably consumed an entire head of garlic, if not more in the three slices I ate at the restaurant.  Needless to say, the next day was in no way pleasant.

Overall Andolini's is a great shop.  I'd go back in a heartbeat, but would avoid the garlic.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wine Day - Fabbioli Cellars, Leesburg, VA

In addition to my Pizza obsession, my long time readers will know I also actively seek out new and varied experiences with wine.  These pages have a long history of going and finding a winery, which date all the way back to this post in 2010. 
Fabbioli's unique Food Pairings

This weeks visit was to Fabbioli Cellars just outside of Leesburg, VA.

Fabbioli is, out of all of the wineries I've been to in Virginia, one of the most unique; and I mean that in a good way. 

The most surprising part of my visit came very early on.  It was the tasting fee.  Safe to say, this was the highest tasting fee I've encountered in the state of Virginia.  Your $15 does go a very long way.  You get a slate of about 7 wines with a food item specifically picked out for its compatibility with that particular wine.  Safe to say...they NAILED it each time. 

Fabbioli does some very unique wines that you can't really find in the general Loudoun region.  They do fruit wines.  I got to try two, both of which I'd buy if I knew of an occasion they'd be appropriate. 

The two fruit based wines I tried were the Raspberry Merlot and the Aperitif Pear.  The Raspberry Merlot reminded me a lot of Ocean Spray Cranberry Raspberry juice.  As an adult fan of fruit juices (both the kid version and the adult version) I could see how this one could potentially be dangerous.  The winery recommends it with chocolate, personally I'd say it would make a fabulous foundation for a berry compote or even a chocolate torte.

I was taken aback by the Aperitif Pear Wine.  Okay, so confession time, I hate pears.  I don't know why, I've occasionally had really, really good pears I've been talked into buying , but for the most part there's just something off for the majority of pears.  Maybe it's the skin?  Maybe it's the texture of the fruit?  Honestly, I couldn't tell you.  So I had extremely low expectations when it was poured.  When I did my initial swirl the guy doing my pouring commented about my face lighting up and...surprise!  It was really good!

Overall, the $15.00 was well spent.  I need to get back at some point because the wine that (according to the others who were there tasting with me) I'd like the most wasn't being poured.  Unfortunately I took all my notes on the sheet provided by the winery...a sheet which I've completely misplaced.

Monday, May 12, 2014

6 Months/7000 Miles - Short Update.

The Jetta has undoubtedly been the best car I've ever owned.  Granted, the fleet I've had over the years is, in short, downright impressive, Volkswagen did it right with this car.  No Question.

After 7,000 miles the good items really shine, but unfortunately it's not all good.

Over the last 6 months I've not had a single mechanical or electrial issue with the vehicle.  This is the first car I've ever owned I could say that about. 

There have been zero trips to the dealership for anything other than scheduled maintenance.

The one bad I've encountered is I don't quite get the fuel economy that I was expecting based on a number of things.  That said, it could be a lot worse, and I've been driving it pretty aggressively.  It is, after all, a REALLY fun car.

While I was initially frustrated with the fact that I could only get a sunroof with the automatic transmission, and was told in no uncertain terms, manual transmissions and sunroofs did not, in any way mix, it's actually turned out that I very much like having the automatic.  I never would have expected that.

We are currently looking at a massive road trip later this summer.  Stay tuned for details!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Pizza Friday - My Deli & Cafe, Purcellville, VA

I originally picked My Deli & Cafe because it had high Yelp ratings.  The ratings were well deserved as the service was impeccable.

The downside is, after spending all day writing and editing my Pizza Friday posts, I was really in the mood for a pizza.  Apparently, you have to order that from their catering menu, and you can't get it on a walk-in basis.

It felt a bit misleading because the restaurant showed up in the Yelp Pizza results, but yet there was only single-serve Pita pizza to be found.  Very disappointing.  The cafe is a Greek restaurant, with greek ownership, that happens to serve Pizza on a catering menu.

Regardless, my visit happened on Super Bowl Sunday.  From the time I arrived until I disappeared I was the only customer in the place.  The owner bent over backwards to make sure I was satisfied.  He even went to great lengths to recommend other food for me since he assumed (Rightfully) that the Pita-Pizza may not be enough.  It wasn't.

I won't say it was bad, but it's something I could easily make on my own at my house.  Since it didn't solve my cravings, I had to move on and try somewhere else.

I think the next time I stop in I'll get the Gyro.

Sorry for no pictures!   They'll be back next week!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Off to the Vineyards

Visiting Willowcroft
I love visiting the wineries in and around the Washington DC Metro Region.  For a long time Virginia wine was the bastard stepchild of American, or even Global wine production.  Only a small handful of vintners received any recognition for producing an average product, much less something simply above average or even exceptional.

My how the times have changed.  Virginia's wineries are now producing award winning wines that compete on the same stage as some of the well known world greats.

While nothing is currently produced in large quantities, the level of the quality displayed in their wines is substantially above par. 

Recent trips out to some of the bigger names in the Northern VA Area makes it clear that I need to spend some time and energy focusing on the wine that is here in the local region.  As such I've started collecting visits in the area.  Starting next Wednesday, expect to see a short blurb about my trip out to a local vineyard show up here.  I expect this feature will last a little longer than my pizza fad, but don't be surprised if, like almost every other trial I run I either get bored, or tired of it, and it just disappears.

Here's to hoping it goes on a bit longer than that!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Pizza Friday - Melting Pot, Front Royal, VA

--> With the sheer amount I'm on the road I've taken to a rule of "No chains" for food.  The only exception is Starbucks or local and regional chains that aren’t available in the DC Metro.  I did not start with this rule, but I noticed that I quickly got bored of places like Ruby Tuesday and…well McDonalds when I was out on the road.
Hildy the Adventure Dog
Quite frankly, there are only so many times you can have a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, and after a stop in a locally owned greasy spoon, or even a dedicated burger joint.  The same runs true with Pizza.  There are very few local shops that are so bad I’d take a Papa Johns or Pizza Hut over them, but it’s good to not get bored of the standards just in case there is nothing else around, because I can tell you with almost certainty that one day you will be somewhere in middle America, and there won’t be anything but a Papa John’s that delivers to your hotel. 

My parents and myself have taken to sharing a dog.  They love dogs, as do I, but with my travel schedule, and their approaching-retirement activity schedule, as a group we can really only have one dog.  Hildy is a sweet little dachshund, and my ever-present travel companion, but she still isn’t always welcome in the hotels I travel to.  So, when I go to a hotel that won’t let the dog stay, she goes for a visit to my parents. 

Because of my parent’s geographic location, we generally pass off my dog in the small town of Front Royal, Virginia, which is effectively the outermost western border of the area largely considered the “DC Metro Area”.  While I understand the charm of living in small-town America, the nearly 100-mile one-way commute  would be enough that I’d probably decide to drive off the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge.

In a surprise twist, during one of our exchanges we discovered a small local Pizza place in Front Royal. The most surprising thing, arguably, is that Melting Pot, the Fondue restaurant, hasn’t filed a cease and desist order against it.

The décor and the atmosphere were fairly standard small-town restaurant.  No unified theme, no two tables matched, some were simply folding chairs and tables, for the most part it looked like the owners went to a yard sale that a closing restaurant was having and picked out a hodge-podge of things that served a very utilitarian and functional purpose. 

I can see the conversation now…
“I need chairs.”
“What Style?”
“It doesn’t matter, just give me 100 of your cheapest ones”

In fact, after three visits, I’m almost certain that’s exactly how the conversation went.

The downside of Melting Pot is arguably that it’s so inconsistent I can’t really give it an accurate review.  Nor can I in any way guarantee that your experience there will in any way mirror my experience there.  The quality of the pizza really seems to depend on exactly who is manning the ovens, who is making the dough in the morning, or who is placing the toppings.  

The first time I went it was nearly as good as some of the better pies I’ve had in and around the New Jersey/New York region.  The second time, having thought I’d struck small-town culinary gold on the first visit, I got what more closely resembled a Tombstone brand frozen pizza, cooked at too low of a temperature.  It was so bad I almost vowed never to return.  The third time was somewhere in the middle.  

Effectively, the restaurant has someone with the know-how to produce a near-perfect pizza.  The big question, however, is whether or not they’ll utilize that individual’s knowledge and make a consistently good product regardless of who is on staff that evening.  

Judging by the décor, I’d say that consistency is not something the owners value.  Because of that I’m not sure I’ll stop in again on my next trip through.

This post was updated on June 15, 2014 to fix minor grammatical and spelling errors.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Pizza Friday - Pete's Apizza, Clarendon, VA

I love pizza.  I love pizza in all shapes, sizes, colors, with most toppings and crusts.  Deep dish, thin crust, new york style, new haven style, Chicago style…it really doesn’t matter, I’ll take all of them any day of the week, and some days multiple days of the week. 

Many times though, a pizza joint will think they’ve labeled something in descriptive manner, but in reality, while their product is good it muddies what that style actually is, and what makes it distinct and unique.  

A few weeks ago I went on a Starbucks mug run to find the new Virginia mug.  While the ultimate goal was to find the mug, I was hoping to kill two birds with one stone, and stop by Pete's which I'd heard about and very much wanted to try. 

While Pete’s Apizza labels themselves as New Haven style, they’re certainly not.  They are a classic hand-tossed American style pizza joint…think stylistically similar to your standard Pizza Hut, Papa Johns, or Dominos pizza.

I’m not saying that’s good, nor am I saying it’s bad.  It’s just how it is. 

Pepperoni, Garlic and Spinach...oh my!
When you compare Pete’s to other stylistically similar pizzas, it’s far and away the best American style Pizza I’ve had in quite awhile, possibly forever. 

When you compare it to other classic New Haven style pies (Frank Pepe’s, Sallys, etc…) it comes up lacking.   For the long glowing tributes to Frank Pepe that were on the Pete's website (since removed) I, quite frankly, expected a more "New Haven" style classic Neapolitan.  Instead, I feel like I got a Vocelli style faux Neapolitan.

For pizza closer to Sally's or Pepe's either The Brick in Warrenton, or Stone Hot in Fairfax provides that crispy wood and/or coal fired outside and gooey inside.  Proper "New Haven" pie should be so floppy you need a fork and knife to eat the pointy end, but slightly burnt on the crust side.  This is not that.

Overall it feels more like a  cynical "Lets tell them this is what they're experiencing because they'll never actually go to the real thing" yuppie magnet than a serious attempt at re-creating a classic.

When it comes to price, they are a touch expensive.  However, they offer great value.  When I look at what I paid, compared to what I got, I paid roughly what I would have paid for the same toppings and size from one of the major chains, and got something that was substantially higher quality with more premium ingredients.  As a rule I don't get pizza from the big national chains anymore (there are TOO MANY good local joints) and Pete's proves this whole heartedly. 

The final disappointment came from the smell.  While it smelled, it didn't smell like a New Haven pizza joint.  There's a distinct aroma that comes from the constant burning of coal and/or wood in a large open oven that Pete's is just missing. 

Even with the substantial disappointment at missing the mark stylistically there were some good points.  The best pizza comes served with a craft soda.  I couldn’t find the Foxon Park that they supposedly carry, but they do have really good craft soda on fountain.  They offer premium toppings and some that I've only seen at New Haven minced garlic and spinach. 

What it all boils down to is it's a very good pizza joint, that will disappoint you if, like me, you're looking for a New Haven style pizza.  That said, if you just want pizza, and don't mind something a bit pricey, but well worth the money, this is your place.

Note: My original review for Pete's shows on Yelp.  Certain aspects of this review were lifted verbatim from my original Yelp review.  To see the original Yelp review click here.

Monday, February 3, 2014

I'll find it one day... I promise.

So close...but not quite.

-->I’m acutely aware of the cliché that is the person hunched over a laptop whilst sitting in their otherwise hipster-magnet coffee shop.  I’m more acutely aware that my Starbucks addiction is, while not quite at the level of problematic addiction, pretty damn close to it.
That said this post is coming to you direct from my local Starbucks store, where Mike, Isaac and James are so quick with my drinks I rarely have to even order.  I just have to step up to the counter, flash my phone, and away I go!

Today, though, when I realized how far behind I am on updating this thing (Yep, I'm acutely aware that I completely missed last week's Pizza Friday), I opted for a slightly longer visit.  With the amount I’m on the road, Starbucks is the rare oasis during my travels where I can regularly get free and unlimited WiFi, an above-average cup of coffee (I’ve had better…but they’re few and far between) and a decent sandwich.  While it is unfortunate that I can’t always find one, some things never change, and it will be my preferred stop 9 out of 10 times.

Even with all of the Starbucks stores I’ve visited my challenges in finding a Virginia mug are growing.  Yesterday was spent at an adult birthday party, which while it was good to see my cousins, and aunts, it was largely what I am perpetually terrified that my parties will one day look like, but comforting to know that I don’t really have enough friends for a surprise party to ever happen.  I hate surprise parties.

My parents and I drove down together since they were at my house for the evening.  For having such a small footprint, the Jetta is remarkably comfortable for three people on a two hour round-trip.  Even my 6’0 father had enough room that he didn’t have to encroach on my mother’s back seat space.  We were running late, and as such pushed the car up to the mid-80's on the way down.  I was fortunate that WAZE kept me on my toes as far as who to expect hiding and how far up the road to expect them.

We arrived at the party after the "big intro" but just in time to have some hors d'oeuvres and cake, which in my opinion is the perfect time to arrive at a surprise party. 

After the series of mildly inappropriate jokes, and “you’re getting old” gag gifts wrapped up, I found my way to the local Starbucks store where I was hoping, once again to snag a Virginia mug.  This store is the farthest south and west I’ve gone, and while Starbucks considers it the “DC Metro Area” it is just about as far as you can get and still be considered part of it. 

I walked inside with great hope that my Virginia mug would appear on the shelves.  Alas, no such luck.  I’ve lost count of my strikes now, but I’m determined that by the end of February I’ll have some in my hands.

So that said, another two hours in the car, and another 120 miles on the odometer, and I'm still empty handed.  The possibility is rapidly growing that I'll break the 10,000 mile threshold just looking for a mug!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Another Mug Run

I generally try to keep my "mug run's" close to other business.   This week, my parents decided they wanted to be visited by a neurotic daschund, so I lent them mine.  As such I had to meet my mother in Front Royal, Virginia.  I was hoping that by breaking free of the area largely considered "Washington Metro" I might be able to locate one of these precious, albeit elusive gems.

No such luck.  While the Jetta is a blast on the highway, and not exhausting at all to drive, it was a bit disappointing to learn that I would have to venture farther in my home state in order to snag one of these beauties.

So with that, it looks like a longer trek is in the works in the weeks coming.  I'll likely end up just doing one lap of the state just to see what I can find!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Pizza Friday

Oro Pomodoro, Rockville, MD
I love a good pie just as much as anyone.  The downside being that I love one so much that I always end up trying to find some excuse to either order one in, or to go out and find one. 

That said, it's rare a trip passes in which I don't track down a decent pizza somewhere along the trip.  Some weeks (as my ever-expanding waistline can attest) it's more than one. 

As such over the past several months I've built up a bit of a backlog of reviews of pizza places I've discovered.  I expect I'll be visiting several more by the time I "catch up".  As such this feature will probably run for quite awhile.

We will kick this off next week!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

On A Mission...

I have a secret.  I'm a crazy collector. 

I absolutely love the Starbucks "You Are Here" collector series of mugs.  I have a dozen or so of them, which I drag to and from work with me every day, serve coffee to guests in, and just generally use in ways one would expect a large coffee mug to be used.

Recently on the Fred Orange Starbucks City Mug website though I noticed that there was a new one I didn't have, and was local!

Starbucks Virginia Mug as appeared on eBay
 As a lifelong Virginia Resident, the addition of a Virginia mug to my collection was so exciting that I immediately started mapping my route for the day in order to discover one.  So, I filled up the Jetta with gas, stopped by the car wash (Jorg needs to be shiny when I find my new mugs!) and set off. 

My first stop was the Starbucks location nearest my house in Herndon, Virginia.  I planned to start off at the places close by, and then work my way towards other collectors who I knew had them, and hopefully find one along the way, but if not, I'd try Dulles airport as a last resort since they routinely have oddball mugs that I wouldn't expect to find in the Washington DC metro region...and they charge a minimum of $5.00 for parking since I didn't have someone to drive in circles until I could run in and check.

When I found out the Herndon store didn't have one, I immediately went to a Reston location, since, after all, it was on the way to the stores nearest someone I found online who actually had one.  After striking out a second time, I continued on to Arlington.

Boston mugs?  At Dulles Airport?
In Arlington I stopped for an early dinner, and then in quick succession stopped into four different stores, many had the Washington DC mug (which I already have) none had the Virginia mug.  Sensing limited additional luck in Arlington, I decided to make a quick run through Falls Church.  Two more stores, two more strike-outs.  After a run through Tysons Corner (three stores), Vienna, (one store), Fairfax (Three stores) and all the way out to Leesburg (two stores), I decided to return towards my house and stop at Dulles Airport. 

While I completely struck out and none of the 18 locations I stopped at had Virginia, I did score a small victory, albeit it wasn't the one I was looking for.  I found Boston at Dulles airport.

Oh well.  I'll take the victories where I can get them.  I'll live with Boston until the next time I get to make a run down south.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

About the New Car: Why I Picked This One.

While I understand that finding a new car is tricky and taxing I also understand the importance of researching the car you buy, I've missed my last Jetta since I sold it in 2006.  While my previous Jetta was a TDI Station Wagon, I decided this time around I wanted to stick with a sedan. 

Most people, unfortunately, are really bad at picking out cars.  After stints in sales at three different dealerships, I quickly lost track of the number of people who came in looking for a very specific vehicle (IE Honda Accord), but in reality their needs dictated they should be looking at something radically different (IE Dodge Caravan). 

Determined not to become one of those customers, I set out with a very in-depth needs analysis on myself which involved multiple trips to multiple dealerships lugging around a 60 lb presentation kit, carry on bag, flip charts, and various other things that are routinely in my trunk.

The ability to lock all of those items away in the trunk or under a cover was the most important item (scratch most hatchbacks, small sedans) , followed by the ease of getting a dog crate in and out of the back seat (scratch all two-door vehicles).  The final item was big since I routinely travel north through New England and have to go in and out of major cities: the vehicle must have the smallest footprint possible, and would ideally be smaller than my 2001 Honda.  All these requirements left effectively two vehicles, the Jetta and the Jetta Sportwagen.  While I liked the Sportwagen better, I could get much better equipment on the Sedan than the Wagon at the price point I was interested in.

While there were 2013's still on the lot, in my preferred color combination, that I conceivably could have gotten even more and better equipment on, the 2014 Jetta comes with some substantially updated features from the outgoing 2013, including a four-wheel independent suspension which dramatically improves the ride and drive, and my favorite feature: Volkswagen's CarNet Telematics system.   After a quick spin in both, the 2014 won the day.

Even just 2500 miles into this car's life, it's arguably the best car I've ever owned.  It's certainly not as exciting as the 2006 BMW I once had, but it's comfortable, confident, and the fuel mileage is incredible.  All great points for a car you plan on driving for a long time.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The First Road Trip

I've always been a fan of long pointless day trips.  Driving four to five hours for lunch or an early dinner is something that I commonly do, likewise it's not unheard of for me to drive 12 hours, have a rest, and drive 12 hours back to waste away an entire weekend.  On Christmas Day I was left completely alone.  The fiancee was working, my parents were on a long trip, and my sister was with her husbands family.  That left me stuck in DC with nothing to do, and no friends or family around.  So what's a boy to do when that happens?  Why of course, call your geographically closest Jewish friend. 

It just so happens that this friend lives in Delaware, but whatever,  there was a Deli in New Jersey calling my name.

We planned on meeting up at about 1 in the afternoon.  While I was driving he would call around and find a deli.  The whole trip up the thought of hot pastrami on rye had my mouth watering. 

The drive flew by.  Around the Beltway, north on I-95 through the Baltimore Tunnels without delay, across the mile-wide Susquehanna and into the Delaware Welcome Center for the first Starbucks of the trip.  The only traffic delay happened when in all three rows of the parking lot, there was someone sitting with their turn signal on waiting for someone else to vacate a closer parking spot.  I found this incredibly annoying because there were four others merely feet away. 

Apparently the Starbucks held within the Welcome Center was the only one on the east coast open on Christmas morning, because the line not only filled the Disneyworld-esque queue, but wrapped around the Poinsettia Christmas Tree, and nearly ended up out in the parking lot.  I was too impatient to wait through that line for my coffee, so off to Bear, DE I went. 

When I got there, Andrew welcomed me warmly with a fresh cup of coffee, sat me down and then told me the bad news:  it was now 1:15 PM, and all the open Deli's were and hour away, and closed at 2:30.  He did have a alternate suggestion.  There was a Chinese restaurant he had heard good things about in Dover, DE and we could go there.  I wasn't thrilled with the suggestion of Shopping Mall Chinese food, but off to Rice we went anyway.  

After the meal it was back on the road to Bear, and then I was on my way back home. 

At 10:00 I pulled back into my parking spot.  While it was a long day, it was well worth the trip.

Friday, January 3, 2014

New Car's First Snow

One thing you can almost set your weather forecast by: When I buy a new car (to me or otherwise) within a week there will be snow.  I've only ever owned one car where this wasn't the case, ironically it was a Subaru. 

One of the first things I did with the car was take it to the local elementary school and try to lose control in the parking lot.  Where in the Honda, just a tap of the gas pedal or brake was enough to nearly completely break the car loose, this vehicle held tight.  The electronic safety systems held tight, and made my goal of losing control very difficult to attain. 

After about three spins around and no skids, I yanked up hard on the e-brake which did, fortunately, result in a beautiful back-end slide. 


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Why I broke my own rules.

What it all boils down to, whether you like it or not, it's my blog, they're my rules, so I can do what I want.

Jorg the Jetta: First Day off the truck!

That said, I still am a strong believer in buying an older car with more miles on it.

There are a few exceptions that I make for that rule however.  In my case, because of a new job I needed to drive a vehicle made by one of the manufacturers that my company works for, which was a driving force.  I strongly debated keeping the Accord, and buying something "interesting" from one of those manufacturers, but the downside becomes that the longer I kept the Accord, the odds that something bad would happen to it grew.

Even with my somewhat insane maintenance schedule, at 162,000 miles and 13 years old the chances of a substantial repair were enormous. 

After the Accord left me stuck at home one day because it wouldn't start, and put my job into jeopardy because of it I decided the time to get something newer and more reliable was upon me.  When I ran a five year cost comparison of what a 2 year old Jetta would be, vs. a brand new Jetta, the five year cost of each vehicle was roughly the same (The new one was only a few dollars more) and with the additional equipment I'd get on the new one, the brand new Jetta was just a better deal.

Only 8 Miles!
So in Late November, I called Paul Turk, my Volkswagen Salesman at Stohlman Automotive,  and  said I wanted a Black on Black 2014 Jetta SE with Sunroof and Connectivity.  Lucky for me there was one on the truck on the way in from the factory, so just a few days wait and there it was!

The car was so new that when we signed for it there were merely 8 miles on the odometer.  Fortunately it did not stay that low for long.  By the end of the first month I was somewhere around 2000, and within a week after that I was hovering close to 2500.  I figured out that if I keep driving like this, I expect the car will breach the 100,000 barrier sometime around 2017. 

I fully expect this vehicle will take me beyond 200,000 miles, so perhaps some day in the not too distant future we'll be back to the original intent of the blog!