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travel: williamsburg, virginia

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

When you grow up in a popular tourist center, you might be forgiven for rolling your eyes at the attractions your hometown has to offer. Despite the frequent eye rolling (hey, I was a teenager), I can look back in hindsight and recognize just how special Williamsburg, Virginia, is. In the southeastern corner of the state, Williamsburg (population ~15,000) sits atop the Virginia Peninsula, which is flanked by the James and York Rivers. Colonial Williamsburg ranks as Virginia’s number one tourist draw. A favorite destination for history enthusiasts, family vacations, and school field trips, this impressive living history museum enjoys its greatest visitation in the summer high season, although Colonial Williamsburg in winter embodies the essence of Christmastime. But wait, there’s more! Williamsburg is also home to The College of William and Mary, Busch Gardens theme park, and Water Country USA (waterpark).

williamsburg is in southeastern virginia

Did I mention great restaurants? They’ve got those, too. There are just too many for me to try when visiting my parents in Williamsburg. I’ve compiled a sampling of my favorites from the past several years. If you happen to be traveling to or through Williamsburg, these eats are worth a try.

First up was Emily’s Donuts and Café – a nondescript shop off Merrimac Trail (Route 143) that is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. The morning line moves quickly as orders for doughnuts and caffeinated beverages are filled. Despite ample seating in the brightly lit interior, most patrons grab and go as evidenced from the constant shuffling of vehicles in the parking lot. I selected an assortment of cake, yeast, filled, split, and ring doughnuts. Overall, the doughnuts were fantastic. The sleeper-winner was the key lime filled doughnut with a tangy sweet lime curd inside. Pure heaven. The split creme came in as the other favorite, filled with a sweet vanilla creme and dusted with powdered sugar – a top seller. Emily’s also serves lunch, which we didn’t try, but the doughnuts… they crank out some amazing doughnut love.

left to right, top to bottom: vanilla glazed ring, raspberry filled, split creme, key lime filled, glazed chocolate cake, cinnamon apple filled

If you are in search of pastries, breads, and other baked sweets, allow me to point you to Blackbird Bakery in Colonial Williamsburg’s Merchants Square. Their tempting array of desserts and breads are all made in the Trellis kitchen just behind the bakery. Choose from flaky croissants, fresh scones, beautiful fruit tarts, golden baguettes, and dinner plate-sized sticky buns, to name a few. Don’t forget your cup of Illy coffee to sip with your treat. We tried the canelés, which were wonderfully custardy inside and caramelized outside – French pastry perfection.

pastries on offer at the front counter

showing off the most adorable desserts

beautiful and irresistible canelés

Swing by Shorty’s Diner (also on Merrimac Trail) for quick, friendly service and a no frills plate of hearty morning fare. Breakfast is served all day, with lunch options like sandwiches, burgers, and salads. Portions at Shorty’s are generous, especially for the reasonable prices. The food we ordered was neither outstanding nor terrible – just solid and good. The chicken fried steak was tender enough to be eaten with just a fork. The creamy sausage gravy and flaky biscuits were satisfying. Other menu items included omelets, pancakes, waffles, and breakfast sandwiches. Just for giggles, we took home two slices of pie: coconut cream and chocolate cream (the other choice was key lime that day), piled high and pretty darn delicious.

the shorty’s special: 3 eggs, hash browns, biscuit, sausage patty

chicken fried steak with eggs, hash browns, and biscuit

because pie: chocolate cream and coconut cream

Your lunch options are many and varied in and around Williamsburg. I’m all about a quick lunch because we’re always on the go midday. I cannot resist a good sandwich. People rave about the subs at New York Deli and Pizza Restaurant on Richmond Road (Route 60) and with good reason. Jeremy and I split a hot sub that was stuffed to the gills with pastrami, cheese, lettuce, pickles, and tomatoes. The side of crisp onion rings were a hit. But you aren’t limited to sandwiches when you walk up to the counter to place your order. Consider their pizza, burgers, salads, platters, gyros, and Italian plates, too.

hot pastrami with onion rings and fries

Ask about barbecue in the area and Pierce’s Pitt Bar-b-que is sure to come up in conversation. You can find Pierce’s north of Williamsburg on Rochambeau Drive (a frontage road along Interstate 64). While standing in line to place my order, several of the patrons ahead of me went for some variation on the barbecue sandwich: pulled pork or barbecue chicken, barbecue sauce, and coleslaw on a soft bun. There are also brisket sandwiches, ribs, whole smoked chicken, burgers and hot dogs, salads, and let’s not overlook the sides. The sides are the best aspect of eating barbecue: coleslaw, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, hush puppies, onion rings, fries, collard greens, potato salad, corn bread, brisket chili, brunswick stew. It’s not pretty, but it is certainly tasty southern barbecue.

barbecue sandwich with hush puppies and onion rings

My absolute favorite sandwich – the one I’ve been eating for thirty some years – comes from The Cheese Shop. Centrally located in bustling Colonial Williamsburg’s Merchants Square, The Cheese Shop is an institution. The store carries all manner of cheeses, salumi, gourmet foods, and wine downstairs, but the real draw is their sandwiches. Choose your type of bread, meat, cheese, dressing, and any extras. Walk to the back counter and wait in line to place your order, then wait some more before they call your name. You can pick up a small bag of chips and a drink if you have a picnic in mind. My standard order: the roast beef on French (bread) with provolone and house (dressing). [I used to order it with muenster cheese, but they stopped carrying that long ago.] The consensus among my childhood buddies is that the house dressing is the way to go as is the French bread. The Cheese Shop even sells the ends of the French bread baguettes for dipping in their house dressing. It’s a thing. It’s a very good thing.

the cheese shop at christmastime

ace number one roast beef and provolone sandwich on french with extra house dressing

**Jump for more butter**

crested butte: bonez

Friday, March 18th, 2016

Consider a small mountain town (population around 1,500), geographically tucked away in a nest of towering snow-capped mountains. You might assume that there wouldn’t be much in the way of good places to eat. In most cases, you’d be right. But if you were talking about Crested Butte, Colorado – you’d be oh, so wrong. Among the several wonderful dining establishments in this finest of mountain towns, Bonez is a terrific stop for top notch food in a casual, festive setting near the west end of Elk Avenue, Crested Butte’s main drag.

the entrance to bonez

A spacious interior decorated with local artworks and other fun and funky touches greets you upon entering the building. There is a nice long bar, some high tables, booths, and plenty of regular seating, and community tables to bring folks together. It’s a place where folks might go to catch a game on the big screen television at the far end of the room (actually, there are two large rooms, but I’m talking about the main room), a place where people gather over noshes and drinks, and it’s a fantastic place to indulge in some creative, delicious food.

the bar

love the chandelier of upcycled empty glass bottles

having a look at the menus

Start with a glass of nice cold water because you’re at 9000 feet above sea level. The beverages on offer include menus of tequila, mezcal, wine, beer, cocktails, and non-alcoholic drinks. Tequila flights are available as are some tasty signature margaritas. The Scorpion incorporates serrano- and habanero-infused tequila. Or if you prefer a fruity experience, The Eleven is highlighted with blood orange liquor and cranberry juice.

jeremy got the silver queen margarita (silver tequila, triple sec, fresh lime)

Happy hour is nestled between that time after the ski lifts close (or maybe you rode or hiked really hard and can’t wait another minute), but before dinner technically starts. Bonez’ happy hour is a terrific deal. Most of the appetizers and drinks on the regular menu are available during happy hour at reasonably discounted prices. Our first visit to Bonez straddled happy hour and dinner, and the kitchen was perfectly happy to oblige orders from both menus.

It’s hard to not be tempted by the nachos, because it’s the first thing you think to start with in a tequila bar. The problem with that reasoning stems from the array of other appetizers like green chilies topped with chorizo and melted Mexican cheese, short rib empanadas, a flight of fresh salsas, or fresh guacamole (of course!). We began with the chorizo sliders (you get three) which can only be summed up as bites of heaven on Earth. The sweet potato buns are buttered and grilled so they have that nice crisp face that gives way to the tender, fluffy, slightly sweet bread. Between the two halves of the roll are a spicy chorizo patty, black garlic aoili, tomato and serrano jam, and fennel slaw. We loved this combo so much that I went and blogged a recipe for it!

chorizo sliders

Despite how busy Bonez can get, their servers are always friendly and quick, covering for one another as needed. It’s a well-run operation that whips up delicious food in no time, marching one gorgeous plate out after another. Next up – street tacos served on little corn tortillas (two or three bites each). We decided to get three so we could sample an assortment of fillings. The barbacoa filling is slow-cooked tender pork with nice warm spice accents. Bonez’ carnitas have the nice crisped ends and super flavorful, falling-apart pork meat. And the third taco was the carne asada which were crunchy pieces of beef with an awesome smoky flavor. I think the carnitas taco was our favorite of the three, but they are all nicely prepared, fresh, and delightful to eat.

street tacos: barbacoa, carnitas, carne asada

We didn’t realize that the whole evening would be tacos (aside from those amazing chorizo sliders), but that is where our stomachs led us. A tray of six ahi mini tacos were set on the table just as we finished the street tacos. The shells were extra crunchy delicate fried wontons filled with fresh, gem-colored spiced ahi tuna tartare (raw). Each taco was set on a little pillow of avocado purée and finished in a sweet and spicy chili agridulce drizzle that complemented the tuna beautifully. These were far too easy to inhale in one sitting.

ahi mini tacos

**Jump for more butter**

nederland: crosscut pizzeria and taphouse

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

Nederland, Colorado has been my tiny mountain hometown for over a decade. Nederland, or Ned, as the locals refer to it, stands as the gateway town to Eldora Mountain Resort and parts of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Whether you are up for a day of skiing or riding at Eldora, hiking the high country, traveling Peak to Peak highway, riding the local mountain bike trails, leaf peeping in autumn, attending Frozen Dead Guy Days, or just getting away from the commotion of flatlander life, this funky mountain town makes a great stop before, during, or after your adventures.

One of the latest additions to Ned’s offerings is also one of my favorites. Crosscut Pizzeria and Taphouse began as a mobile wood-fired oven pizzeria. In the last year, Crosscut sprouted into a right proper restaurant in the heart of Ned’s downtown scene.

welcome to crosscut

Walk through the front door of this 100-year old rustic building and you’ll find sit-down tables on either side of you and the prep station, centerpiece copper wood-fired oven, and bar seating straight ahead. The restaurant radiates warmth (not just from the oven!) and a laid-back, welcoming mountain vibe. You get a great community feeling from this family-friendly establishment.

the interior

crosscut gets hopping in no time

bar seating in the back of the restaurant

Jeremy and I wanted to sample Crosscut in the first week it opened for several reasons. First off – there was enormous buzz among the community in anticipation of the opening. Secondly, there was the promise of delicious artisanal pizza! Third, we always want to support good local businesses in such a small town as Ned. The staff was friendly and prompt despite being completely slammed both times we’ve been for dinner. We observed plenty of folks coming in to pick up take-out orders as well. Online ordering is now operational on the website.

wood-fired goodness

peter brings out an order

dawn readies a pie for the oven

**Jump for more butter**