The first day of our mini-break! We have an ordinary breakfast: lemon water, coffee, smoothie. After getting kid squared away and packing ourselves, more decaf coffee for the road. And off in the direction of Shenandoah National Park.
We arrive at lunchtime, too early to stop into our hotel room. So we scout out the small town of Luray, VA for someplace to eat, and end up at what is clearly the town's trendy hotspot: a combination coffeehouse/restaurant called "The Gathering Grounds." All small-town coffee-houses are required to make some kind of pun on the word "grounds." The clientele is an odd mix of student-types with laptops and elderly couples having a staid sandwich. Everyone is white, though, which is something that, after some years living just outside of DC, we now notice and remark upon. A sea of whiteness-- which I got used to after some years living in Montana-- now makes me feel uncomfortable, as though something potentially sinister were going on. We order coffee and chicken salad sandwiches; I have potato chips. The food is fine, the coffee terrible, even though it is most likely the best coffee in town.
We take a pleasant afternoon stroll along Luray's outstanding riverside walkways-- huge investments have been made here in green space and beautification, despite the tiny size of the town. There are more murals here in a small radius than practically anywhere else I have ever been. There are lots of ducks and other waterfowl-- a least bittern is there, and a black-crowned night heron, and a duck that I try and try to identify, but which does not seem to exist. Finally this helps (thanks, Cornell). Some kind of mallard-y hybrid, I reckon. And yet it looked like a totally plausible wild duck.
We are not ready for dinner until what turns out to be late for Luray-- on a Friday night, lots of places seem to close at 8:00, or even earlier. We end up at a place called "Mok-N-She's" (a pun, I guess?) whose crowded parking lot makes it look popular, and general festooning with American flags strikes us as potentially alarming. However, Mok-N-She's turns out to be friendly, tasty, and cheap. We both eat BBQ sandwiches, topped with coleslaw, and french fries, and enjoy the heck out of them. From here on out, every restaurant meal we eat in the Luray area costs precisely $19-and-change (plus tip) for two people. (Hip "Gathering Grounds" cost us a few dollars more.) There is an artificial flower on the table in an American-flag pattern, and an artificial Christmas tree behind me covered in American-flag ornaments. My husband keeps mentioning, hopefully, that Flag Day just passed, but these things look like permanent fixtures to me.
Home to bed, all full of middle-American fried food and charm.
We sleep in a little, drink hotel-coffeemaker coffee on our back porch in the dappled morning sunshine. It is lovely. It's around 10:30 before we mosey on over to the hotel restaurant for some breakfast. We're kind of overwhelmed by yesterday's consumption of heavy food, so we have breakfasts on the lighter side: for me, 2 eggs, toast (homemade!), a fruit cup, decaf coffee. Then we have the restaurant ladies pack up some bag lunches for the road, and head into Shenandoah NP.
Meanwhile, my husband, who is really not very picky about food quality, seems stunned by his burritos. One is full of unseasoned shredded chicken and nothing else (except for the lettuce, cheese, sauce, and sour cream on the outside). The other is filled with some kind of oily ground beef. Much worse than my meal, but I feel his pain: I have eaten burritos like this before, in other small towns, in other times. To some extent, it is a matter of local taste rather than restaurant quality; for instance, the most recent Yelp review of this restaurant reads "My friend, Brad, and I stopped at this place on our way through to town. I had probably one of the best burritos in my life." Unless this review is intended as some kind of sick joke, I have to conclude that some people like this kind of aggressively bland cuisine. The check comes to $19.
I promise to make it up to my husband by taking him to the outdoor frozen custard place we saw on our way into New Market. There is a long line. The people in front of us have a couple of restless kids and are controlling them by grabbing arms and twisting. The vehicles in the parking lot are all massive. Everybody is ordering elaborate, often colorful menu items, many of which I cannot identify. Eventually we get our plain old custards-- a small vanilla cone for me, the plainest there is. Then we sit on a reeking bench outside a cigarette store that's closed for the night, and eat them. It is nice. But we are eager to go back to Luray. New Market just doesn't have the same friendly vibe.
Sunday morning; we're going home today. We have last coffees on our sylvan back porch. Late in the morning, one more stop at the Brookside hotel restaurant. We both have ham-and-egg scrambles (they also contain potatoes) with biscuits on the side. I have butter and honey on my biscuits. More coffee. Check: $19.
We are sad to leave the Brookside. While we are checking out, the owner asks us whether we have seen any bears wandering around behind the cabins. We haven't.
I have planned a long, meandering drive home, because I like that sort of thing. When we get back, my stepson will be coming for dinner in honor of Father's Day. So we stop at a farm stand, not far from Point of Rocks, MD, to pick up a few veggies. I buy sugar snap peas, a tomato, a red pepper, broccoli, and an entire large basil plant. We also buy a pie for dessert: apple walnut. Total cost $31.
Dinner is to be simple, given that we're coming home at 4:30, having a guest at 6:00. I roast a few vegetables for better flavor-- broccoli, red pepper, tomato-- then saute these with garlic, onion, sugar snap peas, and lots of fresh basil. At the same time cook spaghetti noodles. Combine all together with tons of shredded parmesan. Voila, balanced meal. Also a side salad of mixed lettuces, cilantro, and tomato, with a balsamic vinaigrette. Glass of white wine. Plus a Q ginger soda before dinner. Also, apple walnut pie, which is surprisingly good (you never know with "homemade" pies), and decaf coffee.