Archive | January 2017
Montauk, New York
This past summer I had the opportunity to attend the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York City for the first time. I knew from past trips to NYC what a crazy, hectic, crowded, hot, horn-blaring experience the “city that never sleeps” really is and wanted to add a some relaxing days to this trip to maintain my sanity! I had enjoyed several television shows and movies that filmed in or around Montauk and decided this was my destination. We would be in the vicinity……so why not?
My husband and I flew from Dallas to La Guardia and rented a car. The trip from the airport to our wonderful little bed & breakfast in The Hamptons was a 90 minute drive. The roadways and traffic were not bad at all and I decided our 2:00 p.m. arrival time had been a good choice.
We actually stayed east of Southampton in the little village of Water Mill, NY and drove to Montauk (30 minutes away) on a beautiful weekday morning. Montauk is actually 110 miles from NYC and on the very east end of Long Island (and the two places could not be more different!). Due to its location, nicknames such as “The Living End” and “The Last Resort” make perfect sense.
The scenic drive to Montauk took us through Sagaponack, Wainscott, East Hampton, Amagansett and Bridgehampton. We passed lovely little towns, vineyards, cornfields, antique stores, watermills, plant nurseries, historic sites, riding stables, coffee shops and trendy little restaurants. We drove past church sites, cemeteries, and villages that had been around since the 1600’s. As we got further out on Long Island, it became more of a natural setting and much less populated. We stopped at one of the first overlooks (pictured above) that is one of the six state parks in Montauk. There were a few cars in the parking lot but we never saw another soul.
There are actually very few hotels or bed & breakfasts in this area. The “permanent” population of Montauk is actually only around 3,000 people. That doesn’t dissuade people like me from wanting to visit Montauk though! The beaches, hiking trails, wineries, restaurants, fishing, whalewatching, shopping and even surfing make Montauk a wonderful place to visit and explore.
My main focus on this day of exploration was the Montauk Point Lighthouse. This beautifully colored lighthouse was commissioned in 1797 by none other than George Washington. It was the first lighthouse built in New York state and is the 4th oldest working lighthouse in the United States. It is quite a majestic site as you drive up to the point!
There are several large and very convenient parking lots – complete with restrooms, a children’s play area, a restaurant and several look-out points. It is a short, very scenic walk to the park entrance and the admission tickets are inexpensive ($4-$10). In addition to the lighthouse itself, there is a maritime museum, a gift shop, memorial sculptures, and gorgeous scenery. You may also climb the 137 steps to the top of the lighthouse for even better views. On clear days, you can see the Connecticut coast which is only 20 miles away. To the south is a wonderful view of the rocky coast and Ditch Plains where surfers ride the huge waves coming in off the Atlantic Ocean. Photos do not do this huge lighthouse justice and the 360 degree view is breathtaking.
After exploring the lighthouse, we headed back into Montauk and visited Gosman’s Dock. This is a wonderful little area with restaurants, shops, food trucks, boat docks and a harbor. We wandered around and watched the expensive yachts, commercial fishing boats, and pleasure boats arriving into the harbor or leaving on sightseeing excursions. There is also a large fish market where you can purchase the freshest seafood that has just come off the boats that day. It was a great place to spend as little or as much time as you choose to. Unfortunately, our hunger got the best of us and we were off to a lunch place that we had already picked out on the way into Montauk.
Okay, I readily admit it……I love the show “The Affair.” It is set in Montauk and I was so excited to personally see several of the places that I had seen on this series. One of the main story lines revolves around a roadside restaurant called The Lobster Roll and I knew this was where I wanted to eat. This was where the sordid “affair” actually started on the show. Lo and behold, hundreds of other fans showed up there for lunch this day too! After quite a long wait, we were seated and dined on fresh fried oysters and of course – the famous lobster roll. It was quite tasty and I enjoyed eating the fresh local cuisine.
We had such nice weather and had a wonderful day exploring Montauk. It exceeded all my expectations.
I had always heard about Montauk through books, television and films. I now feel extremely fortunate to have had the chance to visit first hand. While doing a little research before the trip, it was no wonder why I was intrigued by this place. Here are just a few of the references I found:
Films: Jaws, Amistad, Deathtrap, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Annie Hall and Something’s Gotta Give
Television: Friends, Revenge, CSI, The Affair, Royal Pains, Billions
Books: The Great Gatsby and Amityville Horror
If you have the chance, check out Montauk! Please feel free to leave comments and subscribe to my blog. Thank you.
Bankhead Brewing Company
I had the opportunity to dine at Bankhead Brewing Company soon after they opened in October 2016. As a huge fan of Zanata’s in downtown Rockwall, I had eagerly been awaiting the opening of this new brewpub. In my humble opinion, if Kevin and Al Lefere (from Zanata’s) had anything to do with this new place, I figured it would be another hit. I think I was correct!
Bankhead Brewing Co. is named after the Bankhead Highway which stretched 850 miles across Texas at one time. (The highway also ran from my hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee!) Parts of the original highway bridges can be seen in Lake Ray Hubbard off of Highway 66. The logo and decor follow this theme throughout the restaurant.
If you find yourself in Rowlett in the near future and are ready for a delicious meal, check them out. They are located on Main Street in downtown Rowlett – very close to the DART station and George Bush Tollway. Parking is conveniently located on the front and side streets.
The new building is well-designed with great lighting, modern furniture & fixtures, and lovely stained concrete floors. Tables are large, roomy, and comfortable. There is a lively bar area (with television screens), cocktail tables for two, large tables for four, and several high tables and stools set up for eight to ten people. There is also a nice outside dining area with large picnic-style tables and window box type greenery. Several interior windows look out from the dining area into the brewing area and the large silver tanks. The noise level is energetic. Dining is casual and good for couples, friends, groups or families.
Service has always been very attentive the times I have dined here. My biggest problem is always deciding what to order! The cocktails are always delicious and there is also an impressive wine list. The craft beer is always a hit and the available brews change from time to time. I suggest trying one of their beer flights which is served in a metal tray with 5 four-ounce goblets (see photo above). Choose your favorite 5 to try! They will be labeled on your tray and the cost is $2 to $2.50 per sample ( IPA, stout, wheat beer and fruit/spice infused flavors are just a few on their list). Bankhead’s food menu is very diverse and has something for everyone: appetizers, salads, pizza, meat loaf, fish & chips, sandwiches, burgers, pork chops, ravioli, etc. They also have a weekly appetizer and an entree special. Some of my favorites to date have been the beer sriracha cheese soup, the grilled cheese & brisket sandwich, seasoned fries, and bread pudding.
I think this new restaurant is a great addition to downtown Rowlett. Kudos to the the management and I think your hard work will pay off. I am already looking forward to my next visit so that I can try some new drinks and menu items. Please check Bankhead Brewing Co. out if this blog has peaked your interest. I hope I will see you there soon!
Please feel free to leave your comments and personal experiences.
Joshua Tree National Park
near Palm Springs, California
As a Mississippi girl, I can readily identify kudzu, cotton, soy beans, and peanut plants – a Joshua tree…..not so much! I had seen one pictured on U2’s 1987 Album of the Year (Joshua Tree) but that was all the knowledge I had on the subject. The “twisty” trees look like something out of a Salvador Dali painting or a Dr. Seuss interpretation of a tree. When we visited Palm Springs for a tennis tournament, I could not resist the opportunity to visit Joshua Tree National Park and see these odd trees first hand.
We booked a concierge tour of the park and were promptly picked up at our hotel in Indian Wells. The tour guide was named Dave, a retired American Airlines pilot from Dallas. Already we had something in common! The large white Suburban was comfortable and the ride in to the park was very enjoyable. Dave told us a lot about the history, the ecology and geology, and about the wildlife in the area. He questioned us on what we were interested in and customized our trip accordingly. The entire tour was most enjoyable and I could not think of a better way to learn about Joshua Tree National Park.
The desert landscape in the park is dotted with huge granite boulders, Joshua trees, and other heat tolerant plants. There are many hiking trails inside the park and several areas popular with rock climbers. We got out and scrambled around on a few of the granite croppings and believe me, they are much bigger than they looked from afar!
After a couple of climbing and exploring stops, Dave took us to a popular trail head for hiking. This was the Barker Dam Trail and there were several vehicles in the parking area when we arrived. Armed with plenty of water, sunscreen, hats, and closed-toe shoes – we were off on 1.5 mile desert hike. This was a great adventure! We experienced the desert heat first hand. We saw a bit of this area’s history and the old dam that provided livestock and settlers with much needed water. We walked through desert plants, cacti, yucca and brush while seeing scurrying lizards and other small sunbathing reptiles. We walked in the shade of more huge granite boulders and noticed holes, caves, and Indian petroglyphs. I loved every minute of this hike!
When we arrived back at the trail head, Dave had a well-stocked vehicle and offered us several snacks and drinks. After a quick break, we were off again and headed to a high overlook in the park that looked down into the valley around Indio and Palm Springs. On this clear sunny day, we had fantastic views of the towns below. There were several more trails in this area that led down to lower terrain.
We had a wonderful experience the day we explored Joshua Tree National Park and I will never forget all the sights of the Mojave Desert. If you are ever in the Los Angeles or Palm Springs area, take time to go see this wonderful desert park. It is a very unusual, almost prehistoric, setting. Words and photos do not give you the true scope of this beautiful landscape. Go experience it first hand.
Many scientists think that Joshua trees will be reduced by 90% at the end of the 21st century due to environmental and ecological changes. What a shame. I hope you get to see these unusual trees in their natural habitat before they are gone.
Medina Oven & Bar
Whenever we have an event to attend at the American Airlines Center (AAC) in Dallas, part of the fun is deciding where to dine in that area. Several times we have returned to Medina Oven & Bar because we enjoy it so much. When you tire of Tex Mex, steaks & seafood or hamburgers and such – give this little Moroccan/Mediterranean place a try! It is only two blocks in front of Victory Plaza and is an easy walk to and from parking or the actual AAC. The interior is small and well-decorated with comfy seats and lots of Middle Eastern decor, lighting, and metalworks.
Let me begin with their drinks! They have an extensive wine list, but I never get past their specialty “sexy cocktails”. The main item that keeps bringing me back to this restaurant is their Caramel Fig Martini. Words cannot describe it and the photo doesn’t do it justice. Just imagine vodka and lemon juice poured into an ice cold glass with caramel swirled inside and a roasted fig floating in the bottom and ice slivers on top. To me, it is pure perfection. The Pomecello Martini comes in a close second.
We usually begin our meal with the Mixed Platter appetizer that comes with 4 spreads (hummus, eggplant, roasted pepper and harissa) and some of the best Mediterranean olives we have ever eaten. This is accompanied by a basket of fresh pita bread triangles. Everything was delicious.
Our most recent entrees were the Marrakesh Chicken Breast and the Chicken Apricot Tagine (pictured above). The Marrakesh Chicken Breast consisted of two juicy, boneless chicken breasts with olives, roasted potatoes and a lemon sauce. The Chicken Apricot Tagine had two chicken breast fillets seasoned with saffron, cinnamon, honey spices and was served over roasted potato slices and apricots. This dish sounds really sweet but was actually very tasty and more savory than expected. For those diners who are not so adventurous, Medina also serves delicious meat skewers with rice, salads, and flatbread pizzas.
We finished up our meal by sharing a Caramel Bread Pudding with ice cream and nuts. It was served warm, covered in caramel and was most enjoyable. In other words….there was not a morsel remaining!
I hope you will give this little place a try. I do not think you will be disappointed. I do suggest reservations since they are very small and only seat around 40-50 patrons inside. When the weather is nice, they also have a nice little patio for outside dining.
Did I mention the Caramel Fig Martini??? I hope you will check it out!
I can honestly state that I do not think there could be any bad way to see Alaska. I studied information on travel sites for weeks after we had decided to venture to Alaska and I kept seeing the Un-Cruise trips mentioned. My husband and I had done the regular cruise ships before and there was something very appealing about a small ship. Seventy people would be on board versus the thousands on the big cruise lines. I was sold!
In late May, we flew to Juneau, Alaska and boarded the Wilderness Explorer. The weather was perfect for the majority of our trip (rain the last day) and we made memories that I will never forget. Note: when it is sunny in Alaska, the locals call it “cloud failure”, so we were very lucky we had the sunny, warm weather that we did!
The Un-Cruise trip we chose spent one week in the Northern Passages and Glacier Bay. We did not dock in any other town until the last day when we disembarked in Sitka, Alaska – other than picking up a park ranger in Bartlett Cove (a requirement to go into Glacier Bay). Most days were spent kayaking, riding in skiffs, and exploring shorelines, glaciers, marshes, and small islands. We ventured where larger ships could never go. The scenery was spectacular and words could never describe it. Only the full 360 degree experience will ever do a trip to Alaska justice. This was an “adventure” cruise and not a floating entertainment vessel. We were busy every single day and the hard part was deciding what NOT to do! Mornings and afternoons were filled with choices of activities: hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding, shore explorations, skiff rides, etc. Nights were filled with games, cocktails, movies & books, a hot tub, and relaxing tired muscles. Most evenings also included short presentations from a crew member or park ranger informing us about local wildlife, the life of the salmon, or geographic formations in the area. We were fed three fulls meals a day in the dining room and also had snacks and drinks available at times throughout the day. We even came off an island hike one day to find the crew had set up a bar on the shore with hot toddies, hot chocolate, drinks and snacks. What a great surprise!
Some activities were led by a guide and others were just you on your own. The kayaking was fantastic. One memory I will always have was a day we spent kayaking in crystal clear glacial water near waterfalls, birds, floating chunks of ice and with mountains all around. We were close enough to the glacier that we could hear ice cracking and see small “calving” activity when in the distance we see a huge cruise ship approaching (only 2 ships are allowed into Glacier Bay each day). We gave them wide berth and they sailed in, made a wide turn, and then were off. We could see a few people out on the top of the cruise ship looking at the glacier and almost as soon as they had sailed in, they were gone. We had the opportunity to see this beautiful wilderness up close and personal – for an entire day.
We explored tidepools and picked up big colorful starfish. We hiked in marshes and bogs and saw fresh deer, wolf and bear tracks. We kayaked close to shore with curious minks watching us. We rode in skiffs and saw otters, eagles, jellyfish, and whales. We explored small islands and walked through mossy forests finding spring flowers, bear scat, and breathtaking views. We sailed through blue waters spotting eagles, killer whales, brown bears, moose, sea lions, mountain goats, puffins, and humpback whales.
We enjoyed every single minute – an adventure of a lifetime. It seemed almost unreal. We were living in a National Geographic documentary.
We enjoyed meeting our fellow passengers and the crew, and in a group that small, we knew a little about everyone. There was a three generation family, a couple of groups of friends, and most were couples like us. We bonded over meals and outings. The captain and staff were all multi-taskers so you got to see them in many different roles. There were lots of handshakes, hugs, and I admit – a few tears when we parted.
This cruise is not for everyone. If you want gourmet meals, Broadway shows, shopping venues, pre-planned excursions and formal dinners you will be out of luck on a Un-Cruise trip. If you want daily adventures, unspoiled wilderness, and being up close and personal with nature – this trip will be for you.
There is no need for a wallet on this cruise. Everything is included. Any adventure you want to try is paid for. The only added expense for us at the cruise’s end was for alcoholic beverages.
The things I learned on this Alaskan adventure: #1. I wish I had gone sooner and stayed longer. #2. Alaska is more beautiful than any movie, video or photograph illustrates. #3. Luckily, there are still unspoiled areas like this that man has not yet destroyed or polluted. #4. No matter what the label says, waterproof gloves are NOT waterproof!
Hopefully, I have the chance to return one day….
Stock and Barrel
One day before New Year’s Eve, I was online searching for a restaurant that still had available reservations for dinner. Our usual holiday party plans had fallen through and I really did not want to sit home alone in our pajamas like the empty-nesters we now are! Open Table came through for us and reminded me via email that several places still had availability. After a few minutes of searching, I happened upon Stock & Barrel in the Bishop Arts District of Dallas. Why not? There was no price-fixed menu, the food choices looked great, it was casual dining and they had a few early dining slots open. Click. We were in!
Valet parking was conveniently located behind the restaurant. ($5 and you text when you leave the restaurant for your car to be brought up) We were cheerfully greeted by the host and were seated at a center table. The decor is the new upcycled, warehouse look – very modern with clean lines. The noise level was moderate but energetic. There were large mirrors, a nice bar, an open kitchen, pendant lighting and additional seating in an enclosed patio. Our server, Evan, was a great addition to our evening. We tried the drink special, “Sure Thing” made with vodka, bubbly, elderflower and peach. Delicious! We enjoyed the smoked red beets for our appetizer and it did not disappoint. We ordered the Smoked Sakura Pork Shoulder and the Wagyu Meatloaf (below left) for our entrees and both dishes were fantastic. The meats were a little unusual but perfectly seasoned, cooked, and tasty to the last bite. We also shared a dish of Caramelized Brussels Sprouts and Crispy Okra – and this Southern Girl can tell you that both were spot-on! Portions were nice but not overly huge, so we decided to share a dessert. The Warm Toffee Croissant Bread Pudding (below right) was one of the best bread puddings that I have ever eaten. It was a moderate portion (and I wished I had ordered my own at this point) with caramel ice cream and salted English toffee sprinkles. (think Heath bar crumbles….yum!) It was perfection.
Overall -this last minute, thrown together planning ended up being a wonderful night! We found a fantastic restaurant that I cannot wait to go back to. We enjoyed the beautiful lights and decorations walking the streets in the Bishop Arts District. We felt like we at least did SOMETHING for New Year’s Eve and best of all…..we were in our pajamas at 10:00 and safe at home watching the big celebrations on television! Happy New Year and welcome 2017!!