Friday, July 20, 2012

Going beyond the Red Meat

How to choose
Choices, Choices, Choices...
Red Meat eating in Manchester, CT

Did you know that Manchester CT has four restaurants that are known for their beef within a one mile radius (give or take)?  Looking for a steak dinner on any night is not hard to find in what used to be a center for silk, The Buckland Hills Mall area is now steeped in red meat and you have your choices.

Outback Steakhouse is known for its Australian flair and house seasoning.  Ted’s Montana Grill stakes it claim with Bison options.  Texas Roadhouse lets you pick your own cut from the butcher case.  LongHorn’s Steakhouse with its Western décor is the new kid on the block.  It is clear the options are plentiful, but what if you are looking to make a choice beyond the beef.  What makes each of these restaurants unique?

Let’s start with Outback, maybe the most popular of the bunch.  Every meal starts with complimenty warm bread and butter, yum.  Famed for their Blooming Onion appetizer (though I love the loaded cheese fries myself.).  Australian lamb is always on the menu and shrimp can be added to almost any meal for a minimal charge but one special thing might be the two page Glutton Free menu that is offered.  Not just a handful of dishes but a soup to nuts list that makes your mouth water.  Recently updated, Outback always seems to be striving for customer service and a fresh new menu.

Ted’s Montana Grill, located in the Evergreen Walk starts you with a tasty bowl of pickle chips and offers all of their burgers in a beef, bison or chicken option.  A one page menu features made-from-scratch comfort food including bison pot roast and their famed crab cakes.  The only steakhouse on this list with outdoor summer seating, this 10 year old franchise exposes guests to bison (healthier for you then even chicken) and has an old world feel.  Check out the soap in the restroom, Boraxo powdered soap in the dispensers.  Old feel for sure.

Texas Roadhouse, located by the movie theatre offers you peanuts at the front door and a view of the meat case where you can pick your own cut of meat before you even sit down.  Their soft, warm bread with cinnamon butter is a great start.  Fried pickles and combo plates are big here and so are the rib platters.  Throw those peanut shells on the floor, it’s encouraged here and get in before six for the early bird menu.  But what might set this place apart?  Their push for community service, from kid’s nights to welcoming home veterans and fundraising – this place likes to give back.  They used to do a show during the evening, waitstaff line dancing, but I don’t seem to see this anymore.

The new kid in the neighborhood is LongHorn’s and also the priciest of the bunch.  Check out the menu while trying their multi grain bread.  Known for their fresh (never frozen) meat, grilled to perfection with an array of seafood additions you can enjoy.  Often updating their menu, they seem to be as good at seafood as they are with meat.  Their relaxed western atmosphere sets them aside from the other steakhouses loud buzz.  A fantasic strawberry salad is a must as a side dish and their huge bar is a plus if you are looking for an after-work hang out.

All these great places will satisfy the carnivore in you, it’s just up to you to pick one.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Local Artisan = Wearable Souvenirs

A Gem

Oscar of New Orleans

While strolling the Market in the French Quarter on the hunt for souvenirs, I found this wonderful gem.  Oscar’s Originals are handmade pieces of jewelry that double as color works of wearable art. 

Metallic resign is hand cut, laid out and then melted together for 3-D pieces of always unique art.  Bright colors and playful designs draw your eye to his stand in a sea of vendors.  But it is the chance to meet the artist, Oscar Donahue III and to watch him creating more fabulous pieces that makes this visit special.

As a hunter for souvenirs that go beyond key chains and magnets, it’s vendors like Oscar and his craft that give me a take home that I can wear and talk to people about while I get to reminisce about the great places I have been.

As a fan of un-symmetrical earrings, this purchase was a must for me.  The pop of purple and the chips of color will allow me to wear these earrings with almost any outfit. (My photos do not do justice to the color.)

This multi layered broach shows clearly the whimsy that is reflected in all of Oscar’s art.  I love the fact that I can wear this pin in just about any direction.

If you are ever in the Market, I recommend a stop at Oscar’s, who is always willing to give you a great combo-pricing deal.  Can’t make it to the Big Easy, check out his website.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

An unexpected gem

Worth the Stop

Our Lady of the Pines
US 219, Horse Shoe Run, W. Va

As we weaved our way through the hills of W. Virginia we stumbled across this sign on the side of the road that states:  Smallest Church in 48 States.  We passed the first sign as it seemed we may have been driving a bit too fast, but when we found the second entrance we took a right and headed straight for it.

Deep in the thick of tall West Virginia pines was this precious church with a towering steeple and beautiful stained glass.  Out front stands a stature of Mary and the front door of the church was unlocked.

This tiny church is a rustic 12 seater had Stations of the Cross along the tops of the beautiful stained glass windows.  The alter at the front is simply adorned with candles and a painting of the Last Supper on a cut of wood. 
Postcards by the front door not only make a nice keepsake of your visit but also tell the story (from the church’s point of view) of this quaint 288 square foot building.  Statues of the Holy Family can be found on the alter and the cross is handmade.

Outside the door is a lush green lawn and a charming well but the bonus surprise is the next door neighbor… just behind this church stand “the smallest mailing office” a tiny postal center with its own charm and humor.  (a sign inside reads:  Outgoing mail daily / Window service every Fri. the 13th / Parcel post Del. Feb 29th)

Friday, July 6, 2012

The King continues…

An Experience

Graceland – the home of Elvis
Memphis, TN
Part Two

When I left you last we had just finished our tour through the Mansion, now we re-board our shuttle bus to go back through the gates, where folks still leave messages on the brick.

That Pink Caddy - sweet!

Back at the museum complex we begin the next leg of our Platinum tour.  The complex houses 7 more attractions, 4 restaurants and 15 (yes, I said 15) gift shops!!  Our tour continued in the Automobile museum where the many cars and other wheeled vehicles were on display including a refurbished John Deere tractor, a pink Cadillac and a motorcycle. 

We also enjoyed the Influence Exhibit.  A tour that showed you how Elvis influenced musicians to come, from all generations and styles.  The kind words that folks had to say about the King truly showed us how Elvis steered the music for years to come.

Note:  ALL the furniture was wrapped in plastic

My favorite exhibit was the tour of two custom jet planes.  The larger of the two, the Lisa Marie was fantastic.  You walked into a “living room” with two sofas and plenty of lounging space.  Through to the dining space where meetings were held as well as dinner.  The queen sized bed was quite impressive as was the blinging bathrooms.  The smaller jet was more business then fun, but looked like a first class ride.

We did stop in to Shake, Split & Dip for a waffle cone with cookie dough ice cream.  A great break on a hot day.  The tour continued with a “Tour Exhibit” that we chose to skip.

As we snooped around we did see a few more notes of interest, want to stay at Graceland?  You can do so at the Heartbreak Hotel and RV Park behind the complex.  The Chrome Grill had great smelling burgers and Gallery Elvis was all high end jewelry.

I think that if you pay for the Platinum tour but use your AAA membership to get the discount you would be defiantly getting your monies worth on this tour.  (Just the Mansion for $32 is very steep).  Though we’d all love to see more of the Mansion the audio tour seems to tell you a lot about the spaces you can see.  A big con for Graceland is the neighborhood.  Driving to the property you travel through a very rough neighborhood.  Also, I recommend going early in the day to beat the heat as well as the lines that seem to grow steadily as the day went on.  This was a great way to spend 3 ½ hours, even for someone who is not much the Elvis groupie.

This peacock jump suite was part of the Vegas years....

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The King of Rock and Roll

An Experience

Graceland – the home of Elvis
Memphis, TN
Part One

A modest sized Mansion but grand for its time.

First you must know that I am not much of an Elvis fan.  I completely respect him as an artist and thought he was more than adorable in his younger years, but I would never consider myself a fan of the great King.  But a trip to Memphis just did not feel complete without a tour of Graceland.  And there was no way I was going to in the neighborhood without checking out this great American landmark.

Graceland has expanded over the years, to include not only a modest mansion but also a museum complex across the street.  Once you have parked ($10) and found your way to the gate you are given your tour options.  Just the Mansion, $32;  upgrade to the Platinum tour, $36 or go hog-wild on the VIP tour for $70.  (Go to the Graceland website for all the details.)

We jumped on the Platinum Tour (Mansion admission price after the AAAdiscount).  It starts with a Mansion tour time, where a shuttle bus takes you across the seat and your personal audio tour walks you through this modest home.  Only the first floor and basement are accessible to the public, but the grand living room with peacock details and piano are amazing.  Then onto the dining room and my favorite space… the kitchen.  All authentic to the 1970’s with Electrolux range and carpet on the floor.  I loved all the hard wood and 70’s detailing. 

That famous Jungle Room

We then went down to the basement where Elvis turned his three tube televisions into futuristic flat-screens by mounting them into the wall.  The billiards room draped in fabric was a favorite for me then back up to the Jungle room with its stone fountain wall.

Outside we wandered past the lush fields with horses over to the office where management kept Elvis’s affairs in order.  A small room once used as a cold food storage area had been converted to a shooting range for Elvis and his buddies.  Off to the Racquetball court now converted to the second space of memorabilia we came upon.  All throughout the audio tour we get to learn about Elvis’ great career as a musician and actor, but also about his great philanthropic works in the community.

From front to back:  Grandma, Elvis, Mom, Dad and Brother

No trip to the grounds of Graceland would be complete without a trip to the family plots in the Meditation Garden.  Elvis is flanked by his mother, father, grandmother and a marker for his still-born brother.  Folks still after 35 years leave heartfelt pieces of love that the family allows to remain until it is faded and withered.

In my next installment, I will fill you in on the rest of the Platinum Tour. Stay tuned.