Trip Rpt. No. 6 -- A little of this, a little of that.
Jun 18, 2014
From Winchester, I went to visit my Mother in Martinsburg, PA (Not West Virginia) for several days. There is really very little to report except that Mother is slowly improving physically, but short-term memory issues are no better.
Martinsburg is neither a historic nor culinary destination -- what can I say, it has one stoplight and four pizza places. There are a couple of highlights, however. Mamie's Café is worth noting and worth repeat visits. My younger brother loves their breakfasts and my older brother is partial to one of the salads they serve. For my part, their sandwiches are fantastic -- the BLT is made with thick homemade bread with generous slices of tasty bacon and tomatoes that taste like they once were in a garden. Its tarragon chicken salad is to die for.
But the best are the homemade baked goods many of which are Pennsylvania Dutch specialties. I suspect that they sell about 100 juicy apple dumplings on a good day. The glazed donuts sell equally as well. Their raisin-filled cookies are the best that I have ever eaten except for my Mother's and Grandmother's. I have not tried the lemon meringue pie or the coconut cream pie for the fear that I will become addicted -- and I am not a big dessert eater. The only problem is that it is always packed to the gills and it is not open for dinner.
Traditions Restaurant is a hop, skip, and a jump from Mother's. It is supposed to be a Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant -- the servers are in "plain" clothes, there are quilts on the walls, and they do not serve alcohol. They have some traditional fare such as "pot pie" that consists of ham and dumpling-like noodles, soups with rivels (tiny dumplings), homemade breads, and great pies and cakes.
But, I fear that they have gotten away from the Dutch traditional. There is a very glossy insert now in the menu that lists Pennsylvania Dutch specialties, which now include Chicken Parmesan and Garlic Shrimp. Who knew?
Shepherdstown is a small town on the south bank of the Potomac River in eastern West Virginia. Over the years, I have heard many times from many people that it is charming little place. So, I decided to stop and see for myself. Besides, I had just picked up my mail and needed to stop somewhere to review it. Even on a road, there is paperwork to complete and bills to pay.
The town was founded in the mid-18th Century and prospered in the 19th. It is full of pretty and well-maintained residences. Shepherds College is there but the main industry appears to be tourism -- a weekend getaway place for well-heeled people from Washington.
So, there are a lot of charming guest houses and nice restaurants. Most of the later are situated on the main drag (a hill) that feels almost like a pedestrian mall but is not. With Antietam and Harper's Ferry nearby, there are some additional activities to keep visitors interested because there is not much in Shepherdstown to keep someone with an inquiring mind busy for very long.
My favorite part of the town was the restaurants -- what a surprise. Given its size, it has a lot of them and some very good ones I got to sample two. The first was called the Yellow Bank Restaurant that was located in an old red-brick bank building -- I think that it was named for the yellow awnings (strange, but true).
Anyway, I started with a good Greek salad. The main course was a wonderful crab cake -- about one-half pound of pure crab meat with only a binder. It was wonderful it is simplicity and freshness. It was accompanied by cole slaw which was wonderful by its complexity -- not only the traditional shredded cabbage and carrots, but blue cheese and jalapeno. It was a great combination.
The wine list, however, was a tad funky. On the left page, there was a list of Chardonnays and a list of Rieslings followed by a list of other white wines. On the right, there was a list of Pinot Noirs and a list of Bordeaux -- yes, Bordeaux was used as a varietal name and, no, not all the wines there were from France. These were followed by a list of other reds. It was noted on the bottom of the page that glasses of Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Bordeaux were available -- no indication of the winemaker. The Chardonnay that I had was nice but I thought that the list was bizarre for a restaurant that was trying very hard to capture a high-end clientele.
I also tried a new restaurant called Domestic -- not surprisingly it uses domestically raised/produced ingredients and beverages (I strongly suspect that the coffee and tea are not domestic, however.). I would go back in a flash. For my first course, I had a grilled romaine Caesar Salad -- it is really surprising what a difference a little (and I mean little) grilling makes. It was wonderful and I washed it down with a nice Chardonnay. No problems with the wine list here. The salad was followed by a pan-seared cod that was cooked perfectly -- so flaky and moist that it melted in my mouth. It reminded me of the fish that Casey and I had in Sorrento but this fish was covered with cherry tomatoes and green olives in a reduction and accompanied by some fried onions. It was fabulous and I washed it down with a nice Zinfindel. I was one happy camper when I left.
If you want to visit Antietam and Harper's Ferry, my recommendation is to stay at Shepherdstown and take day trips to sightsee. Having been to all of these places, I predict that your palate, your stomach, and your intellectual will thank you for doing so.
For those of you who do not know it, Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, is a small town located in a gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains where eastern West Virginia, northwestern Virginia, and southwestern Maryland come together. The old part of the town is located at the point in the gap where the Shenandoah flows into the Potomac River. It is a beautiful spot with steep hills and fast flowing rivers. Thomas Jefferson captured it in prose that is almost poetry --
"The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature. You stand on a very high point of land. On your rights comes up the Shenandoah having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to see a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac in quest of passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder and pass off to the sea."
In the first half of the 19th Century, it was a boom town. The rivers powered armories that made most of the guns for the US Army as well as mills for grain and lumber. Also, there were railroads, canal boats, and roads to transport raw materials to the Ferry and finished product to market. The older parts of the settlement were on the flat sections next to the rivers and a lot of housing was built into the sides of the hills -- like Italy.
I was in Harper's Ferry in the mid 1970s. As I remember, it was a pretty setting but it was very run-down. There was very little else, except shops operated by aging hippies who sold tie-dyed t-shirts, macramé, scented candles, and incense.
Not so now. It was the Park Service to the rescue. The old part of the town in the flats is now owned by the Service and operated as a Park. They have restored some buildings and are conserving others. As I have some to expect, they have a great introductory film, good exhibits on a lot of the aspects of the community, and very informative tours. There are no parking spaces in the lower town and I understand that parking is limited in the upper town as well. So, the Service has a very spacious parking lot about 1.5 miles away and operates a very efficient bus service between the lot and town. As I mentioned, I suggest that the Park Service take over management of the Veterans Administration.
As an aside, you can tell my admiration for the Park Service grows with each experience with them. So, I decided to get a lifetime pass which costs $80 for the less mature and $10 for those of us over 62. So, I ponied up to the ticket kiosk, whipped out my $10 bill and asked for a pass. The Ranger told me that I could not possibly be over 62. I was so elated that I almost volunteered to pay the $80 and call it a day. But, common sense prevailed. But, I think that I am now permanently biased towards the Park Service.
Alas, one can get food in Harper's Ferry but it did not appear to be a culinary destination. But there were other attractions to the Ferry besides the scenery.
First, it was the scene of John Brown's Raid that significantly heightened tensions between the North and the South before the Civil War. The Service does an excellent blow-by-blow description of the Raid -- probably the best that I have encountered. It highlights the humans involved, rather than merely reciting a series of facts -- it is history related as it should be.
Second, there was a lot of activity here during the Civil War. In fact, the Ferry changed hands eight times during the course of the War -- although the Confederates only held it for several months total. Almost immediately after the start of the War, the Federals blew up their extensive armories and arsenals to prevent them from falling into Confederate hands. This alone would have devastated the local economy. The subsequent military occupations essentially stifled the economy to the extent that the Ferry never again regained its manufacturing base. I found all of this stuff fascinating but I am probably a minority.
Finally, it is a hiking center. The Appalachian Trail goes through the Ferry as does the C&O Canal Trail and other lesser trails. Someday before I need knee or hip replacements, I would like to hike in this area and see for myself what Jefferson described --
"But the distant finishing which nature has given the picture is ... as placid and delightful as that is wild and tremendous. For the mountains being cloven asunder, she presents to your eye, through the cleft, a small catch of smooth blue horizon, at an infinite distance in that plain country, inviting you, as it were, from the riot and tumult roaring around to pass through the breach and participate in the calm below. Here the eye ultimately composes itself, and that way, too, the road happens actually to lead. You cross the Patowmac above the junction, pass along its side through he base of the mountain for three miles, the terrible precipice hanging in fragments over you, and within about 20 miles reach Frederictown and the fine country around that. This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic."
But, when I do, I plan to stay and eat in Shepherdstown.