Sunday, February 9, 2014

Atlanta – The Romances in Repertory

02/05/2014 – 02/09/2014 Miles MPG Average Speed  
  1291 45.7 48  

Map

Driving listening:


02/05/2014 – 02/09/2014

Priceline Retail $ Savings % Savings
Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort (4-stars) $66.06
($54 bid)

$ 178.08 ($159 pretax)

$112.02 63%
Crazy Ron’s BBQ Old Hickory House BBQ Taming of the Shrew Romeo & Juliet
Much Ado About Nothing Waterside Restaurant    

Wednesday

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I arrived in Atlanta Wednesday and had just enough time before the Zoo closed to snap a picture of the pandas and send it to the girl-child in order to torment her be a doting father.  After that, it was off to the hotel – Stone Mountain being farther away than I usually stay, but the view and surroundings made up for it.

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Crazy Ron's BBQ on Urbanspoon UrbanSpoon, which still thinks I live in Atlanta, sent me to Crazy Ron’s for dinner.

This is a typical, roadside BBQ stand, and I thought it would be good when I saw that the smoker was almost as big as the shack. 

There I got a to-go box of chopped beef, with baked beans and

macaroni and cheese.  The mac-and-cheese didn’t travel well in the cold (40-some degrees), but was still okay.  The rest fared better, and I found the beef to be tasty and well-trimmed, with a good portion of bark. It was covered in a good sauce; what first appeared to be too much sauce, but there was enough beef under it to make a good mix. The beans were okay – I’m guessing they started life in a can, but were doctored enough to taste good.

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Thursday

Thursday morning I had to start the day by finding a tire shop. The change in temperature from 80-degree Orlando to 40-degree Atlanta set off my tire sensors and I had to have nitrogen added.  After that, I set off to find breakfast and Urbanspoon sent me to Rise –n- Dine. I’ve eaten there before, but, well … Urbanspoon said.

No sooner had I parked at Rise –n- Dine, I saw that I had a text from a friend in Atlanta that she was free for lunch. Since it was close enough to lunchtime to skip breakfast, I responded and left the restaurant, expecting to hear where to meet soon – but I heard nothing further, so I figured something had come up.  By now I was getting hungry, so I decided on lunch at Dave Poe’s BBQ and headed in that direction.

No sooner had I parked at Dave Poe’s (a truly disturbing trend being established here), my friend texted again and I was off in a different direction.  So, a bit cranky-hungry, I finally got some food at a Chinese place – no review, because lunch with me is odd enough without me taking notes and pictures of my food. I spared her that bit.

After lunch, I went back to the hotel where they had the firepits around the pool lit, and I spent the afternoon reading while curled up in the cold next to a warm fire.

The reason for the trip was that Shakespeare Tavern was doing three Romances in repertory.  Thursday night was Taming of the Shrew.

Shrew was a solid production with a consistently good cast. Laura Cole, as Kate, shone like the sun … or moon, one.

Friday

Friday morning, I lazed about reading for a bit and had a banana in my room (this will be important later).  Around 10:00, I decided to walk to the main Stone Mountain park for a thoroughly unhealthy lunch at the snack stands, so I set out for the Cherokee Trail and enjoyed a hike along the lake.

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Now, from the resort to the Stone Mountain park is a 3.5 mile hike.  It’s a pleasant hike, mostly level and easy-going. And, arriving around 11:30 after starting my day with a banana, I was quite looking forward to some greasy, high-calorie amusement food.

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Oh …

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A Friday in February is, apparently, not prime season for Stone Mountain … who knew? 

And … I walked here. I am now 3+ miles, an hour and a half, and almost 500 more burned calories away from the nearest food. The banana is a distant memory, burned to cinders by my metabolism well before I ever crossed the lake that’s two miles away now. I hung around for a bit, thinking they might open at noon, but no joy. There was someone in the popcorn stand. I could hear them talking. I could hear the popcorn popping. I could smell the popcorn. But no sign of opening, so nothing for it but to schlep back down the trail.

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All the way back to the hotel, I consoled myself with thoughts of a room-service hamburger. No, a cheeseburger. No, a bacon cheeseburger, with french fries. I am, after all, a thousand calories to the good with just this hike and they’ll deliver charbroiled goodness right to my room while I rest my weary feet.

Back in the room, I eagerly dialed room service and ask to place an order … only to be told that there is no lunchtime room service. Damn you, off-season resort staffing! Damn you!

Waterside Restaurant on Urbanspoon It was 1:30 when I made the call to room service and, after dashing my hopes for a burger, they told me that the restaurant was open until 2:00 – so I rushed downstairs.  No hope of a burger, as they were only serving the buffet, but I can make a buffet work at this point.

Now please keep in mind that it is almost 2:00. I have been up for seven hours, I have walked six miles, burned almost 1000 calories, and I have eaten … a banana. If hunger is the best sauce, then I am about to eat the best food I’ve ever tasted.

This was the worst buffet I have ever been too.

After perusing a measly assortment of dishes, I settled on some anemic chicken-in-sauce and a salad, this being all that was remotely appealing. The peach cobbler was adequate, presuming you don’t mind canned peaches. The small cakes, however, were stale – to the point that they could not be cut with a knife. 

Nasty, bad, and $20.

Friday’s performance at the Tavern was Romeo and Juliet – and I was finally able to get food, a Cornish pasty with homemade ketchup, and a rose-water panna cotta with raspberry sauce.

Romeo and Juliet is one of my favorite plays, probably because it was the first Shakespeare I ever saw. The Zeffirelli version, which firmly established my love for Shakespeare – as well as a crush on Olivia Hussey in specific and brunettes in the literal. 

As with most good productions of this play, Mercutio stole the show … at least until he died. I did take some issue with Nick Arapoglou’s performance as Romeo. My preference, and it is a preference, is for Shakespeare to be performed without emphasis on the rhyme and meter. Yes, it’s poetry, but it is, first and foremost, a play – it is characters speaking.  So when an actor puts too much emphasis on a rhymed word in the middle of a sentence, as this Romeo did, it throws me out of hearing what’s being said and into focusing on how it’s said.

For me, the lines should be spoken by the punctuation and let the poetry flow more organically.

Annie Hester, as Juliet, played the role well, capturing the petulance of a rather spoiled 13-year old in the first act and the grief of a young woman in the second.

Saturday

Old Hickory House on Urbanspoon For Saturday lunch, the Urbanspoon app sent me to Old Hickory House for BBQ.

I arrived while they were still serving breakfast as well, which all looked very good and I plan to go back to try it, but today was BBQ.

I got the chopped beef platter with beans and Brunswick stew.

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The beans were very good – thick and heavy with molasses. And the stew is now top of the list for best Brunswick stew I’ve tried on these trips – rich and spicy, with crisp corn and tasty shreds of meat. I finished all of that stew and would have gladly eaten more.

Unfortunately, the meat on the plate didn’t measure up to the sides. It was cold, with some nasty bits still in it, and no bark at all. I’d hesitate to suggest anyone might do such a thing, but it seemed almost as if it had just been boiled and never saw the inside of a smoker.  If I could have have taken the beef from Crazy Ron’s and had it with the Old Hickory House sauce and sides, it would make a near perfect meal, but this wasn’t.  I did not finish all of the beef.

After lunch, I headed back to the zoo for a bit.

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And then on to Shakespeare Tavern again for Much Ado About Nothing, the last of the three and the best.

This was the second time I’ve seen Ado at the Tavern and it is a joy. Andrew Houchins and Erin Consadine, as Benedict and Beatrice, both give wonderful performances and have perfect onstage chemistry for the roles. Drew Reeves gives a performance as Dogberry that rivals Michael Keaton’s in the Branagh production.

All in all, and despite starving a couple mornings, a great weekend.  I do wish the Tavern would do more plays in rep, as three is far more fun than one. But I’ll be going back for one at a time – the Scottish Play in April, Comedy of Errors in May, and Antony and Cleopatra in June.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Kres Chophouse, Orlando

 
Kres Chophouse on Urbanspoon A little pricey, but delicious and worth it. 

We ate here before seeing Venus in Fur at Mad Cow Theatre

It was a good production at a consistently good theatre … and I don’t just say that because the lead actress spends most of the play strutting about in stockings and a corset …

Not that that hurts …

Dinner started with the K.R.E.S. cocktail, Vodka, Raspberries, Elderflower, Islay, Citrus, Soda. ($9)

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Very tasty and just what I needed after a long week of work.

Lobster bisque ($8) to start, and good enough that I was halfway finished with mine before I remembered to take a picture.

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  I opted for the elk loin ($35) … actually the first time I’ve had elk.

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The jus wasn’t necessary, as the elk was tender, juicy, and flavorful.  Not a bit gamy and more tender than most steaks.  I was very pleased with the choice.

My companion had the filet ($34).

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It was bigger than it looks in the picture.

For sides we had Brussels sprouts ($8) and vegetables ($7).

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To my taste, the vegetables were very good and the sprouts were okay (maybe a bit underseasoned).

All in all, a really good dinner and I’d return.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Atlanta – Othello and Stone Mountain

10/4/2013 – 10/6/2013 Miles MPG Average Speed  
  950 44 59  

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Driving listening:

 


10/4/2013 – 10/6/2013

Priceline Retail $ Savings % Savings
Hilton Downtown (4-stars) $62.41
($50 bid)

$ 178.08 ($159 pretax)

$115.67 65%

This hotel had some mixed reviews.  Reviewers called the decor “dated”, complained that they smelled marijuana in the hallway and in their room, and one review claimed they were given a room without a bed.

I was quite happy with it.  The decor was a bit older and some of the fixtures were clearly older, but it was clean, well-appointed, comfortable, and, at $50 / night, the view of the $69.99 Motel 6 next door was entertaining.

 

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The hotel does charge $25 / day for parking, which is ridiculous, so I parked at the Emory Hospital lot.  It’s only 1/2-mile away and costs $6 / day, or $0 if you leave early before they have the booth manned.

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That lot is also right across the street from Shakespeare Tavern where we were going to see Othello.

I do not recommend the route above, which Google Maps came up with.  Instead, get to Peachtree St NE immediately and stay off of Pine St NE.  Pine St, especially in the early evening, has a certain uncomfortable element to it. 

Dining

Ray's in the City on Urbanspoon Ray’s has several locations around Atlanta.  The one downtown is nicely appointed and we arrived for dinner well before it became crowded.

I started with Ray's "New Orleans" BBQ Shrimp ($12) and I was a bit disappointed with it.  Like many attempts at the New Orleans style of BBQ shrimp, this had more heat than flavor.
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The portion size, for the price, seemed quite small, as well.

For an entree, I had the Parmesan Crusted Scallops ($32) which came with “Lobster risotto, basil, balsamic reduction”.

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With this, also, I was underwhelmed.  $32 for four scallops is a bit high and even with the Parmesan crusting, they seemed flavorless.  The risotto was extremely salty, with not even a hint of lobster flavor.

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The praline bowl I got for desert was better, with a crunchy bowl, praline sauce, ice cream, and berries.  But it wasn’t enough to make up for the previous courses and I left disappointed.

Entertainment

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We went to Stone Mountain during the day and rode the tram to the top.  The day was hazy and bright, so pictures were a bit washed out.

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After some time at the top, we took the mile-long path down the mountain and then around it to the parking lot.

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Next trip I want to hike around the mountain and then up and down.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Atlanta–Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Christopher Titus

6/6/2013 – 6/9/2013 Miles MPG Average Speed  
  1100 46 54  

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Driving listening:

 


6/6/2013 – 6/9/2013

Priceline Retail $ Savings % Savings
Marriott Atlanta Airport (4-star) $58.61
($48 bid)
$94.08
($84 pretax)
$35.47 38%

The bidding for this trip put me in the Marriott across the street from the Westin I’d stayed at last time. They’re both nice hotels at the right price, but I haven’t been thrilled with the area – it’s pretty empty of anything but a few hotels and warehouses.  So next trip I’ll likely spend a bit more for downtown or the areas north of Atlanta. 

The point of staying so far out is to avoid the parking charges, but both of these hotels have the same parking rates as downtown hotels.  Downtown, if I’m willing to walk a couple blocks, I can put my car at the Emory hospital parking lot across from Shakespeare Tavern for a third of the hotels’ parking rate.

This trip was a little different, because I was in town mostly to see three shows, so I did little during the days – other than one visit to the High Museum, I just relaxed at the hotel, reading and using the gym. 

Dining

Smok'n Pig B-B-Q on Urbanspoon On the way to Atlanta (and again on the way home), I stopped for lunch at Smok’n Pig BBQ in Valdosta, GA.  I’ve seen their billboards on previous trips, but never stopped before – now it’ll probably become my lunch on every trip in or out of Florida on I-75.

I was a little worried when I first stopped, because the décor is reminiscent of the Sonny’s BBQ chain, with a large, shiny dining room in a huge building with a salad bar.  They do have two locations, Valdosta and Macon, but there’s nothing “chain” about the food.

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On both stops I got the sliced pork sandwich combo ($8).  The pork was tender and lean, generously piled on a soft bun.  I tried three different sauces: sweet, sweet & spicy, and original.  Of the three, I thought the original was best, with even the sweet & spicy being a bit too sweet for me.

For sides, I got baked beans, Brunswick stew, and, on the return trip, sweet potato casserole.  The beans were pretty basic, but the sweet potato casserole was very good and the stew was excellent.  The Brunsick stew itself is enough to get a return visit from me.

On Friday and Saturday, I ate at a pair of restaurants because I’d read somewhere that the owners had originally been partners in one place, then each opened their own.  BBQ being a competitive sport, I decided to try both and compare them.

Both places are storefronts in stripmalls – about the same size, with reviews, plaques, and porcine-topped trophies proudly displayed.  It’s clear that both owners take their BBQ seriously

Dave Poe's BBQ on Urbanspoon

Sam's BBQ 1 on Urbanspoon

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At Dave Poe’s, I got brisket ($9), with baked beans, mac & cheese, and Texas toast. At Sam’s, I got brisket, with baked beans, sweet tater tots, and Texas toast, but I also added a corn muffin.

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Dave Poe’s brisket was perfectly cooked.  It was sliced unevenly, some thicker than others, but that was almost irrelevant, as the slices were fork-tender and shredded easily.  The sauce was thin, sweet and spicy, with a strong black-pepper flavor. Sam’s served two distinct briskets on my plate.  On the right was a lean flat – the left was more marbled.  Unfortunately, both were served barely warm, so the marbled slices were quite chewy.  The sauce was
Advantage: Dave Poe’s  
The Texas toast lacked any butter, so it was pretty dry and only lightly browned. Sam’s Texas toast was well-buttered and nicely browned.
  Advantage: Sam’s
Poe’s baked beans were thick and sweet, with a slight kick of heat at the finish. Sam’s beans were very thick and sweet, redolent with molasses.  Good, but by the end of the meal I was putting only two or three beans on my fork, because it was just too much sweet and molasses.
Advantage: Dave Poe’s  
The mac & cheese.  Oh, Our Dear Lord of Dairy, the Dave Poe’s mac & cheese …

Not elbow noodles, but huge tubes of pasta that oozed sauce.  A sauce that had both a creamy texture that clung to the pasta, and a bit of stringy, chewy cheese that had incredible flavor.  The pieces of dark brown mac & cheese crust were perfect.
Sam’s sweet tater tots were interesting, different, and tasty.  Made out of sweet potatoes with a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar.

It was some time into the meal, though, before I could appreciate their full flavor, because they were the hottest thing on the plate when it arrived.  Clearly they’d plated the brisket, then the beans, and last the fried tots, which is the opposite of what they should have done to ensure everything arrived hot.
Advantage: Dave Poe’s  

So, on points, it’s Dave Poe’s, but the real test is what’s left on the plate at the end of the meal. 

At Sam’s, I left most of the fattier slices of brisket and about half the beans and tater tots – not because I was full (there’s always room for BBQ), but because I just didn’t want any more of the items.  I liked Sam’s, I’d return there, but it wasn’t enough to make me keep taking just one more bite.

At Dave Poe’s, I left a corner of the dry Texas toast and a plate wiped clean.  If there’d been a scrap more brisket, a drop of sauce, a single bean, or the slightest schmear of mac & cheese sauce … I’d have happily sopped it up with that dry toast.

Entertainment

Thursday and Friday nights I was at Shakespeare Tavern for performances of Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

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For those unfamiliar with R&G, it follows Rosencrantz and Guildenstern through their roles in Hamlet, but since they’re rather minor characters they spend much of their time “off-stage” (though they don’t know it’s a play) wondering about what it all means and why they seem to be always waiting for something to happen.

Described as an absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy … it’s just weird. 

But seeing the two in repertory, with the same cast playing the same characters in both Hamlet and R&G was fun.  The actors had the opportunity to perform their characters seriously in Hamlet and then with some comedy in R&G – seeing these on consecutive nights really heightened that effect.

The entire cast was wonderful, as always, but there were some standouts:

Nicholas Faircloth and Paul Hester as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (whichever is which) were great in both productions, but especially in R&GaD.  These are marathon-roles, since the play, at almost three hours, follows their two characters almost exclusively. 

Jonathan Horne as Hamlet.  A great performance, subtly different in both productions.  I can’t wait to see him next month in Fortinbras, when he gets to play Hamlet as a ghost.

Kelly Criss as Ophelia.  Her part in R&G is small, but worth mentioning because it’s not every day an actress gets to walk up stairs and across the stage in a diving mask, snorkel, and swim fins (at Ophelia’s drowning).  In Hamlet, she shined, drawing the audience in when Ophelia is crazy. 

Next month they’re doing Fortinbras, the “sequel” to Hamlet, when all the dead characters get to come back as ghosts and pester the Norwegian Prince who came to rule Denmark by showing up.

Saturday was Christopher Titus at the Punchline.  The show was hilarious and all new material.  If you’re not familiar with his shows, check YouTube for excerpts – he’s a brilliant comedian. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Fort Myers

5/17/13 – 5/18/13 Miles MPG Average Speed  
  458 44 49  

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Driving listening:

 


5/17/13 – 5/18/13 Priceline Retail $ Savings % Savings
Crowne Plaza Fort Myers (3.5 star) $68.81
($58 bid)
$104.16
($93 base rate)
$35.35 34%

Friday

I drove down early Friday and was on the Sanibel causeway by noon to do some kayaking (details on my kayaking blog). 

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After kayaking I was very hungry.  Runkeeper said I burned 1100 calories on that paddle, but Runkeeper can’t take into account the wind and currents.  I’m thinking the mile and a half from the point to the causeway into strong winds and out-going tide counts as 3x.  So I felt entirely justified in having a big dinner.

Lee Roy Selmon's on Urbanspoon Lee Roy Selmon’s is a southwest Florida chain, and I prefer to avoid chains when traveling, but it had a big advantage when it came up in the Urbanspoon app’s random selector: It was really, really close to my hotel.

After 8-miles of paddling and the discovery

that my sunscreen was defective, I was not in the mood to drive far.  I wanted pretty good food, close by, and a lot of it.  The second advantage was that it was Happy Hour.

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The server brought me some BBQ rolls to start.  These are warm, tasty, yeast rolls covered in butter, garlic, and BBQ sauce.

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These were really good and I followed them with soft pretzels and cheese sauce with bacon ($3 for Happy Hour).

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Good pretzels covered in coarse, crunchy salt.  The cheese sauce was a little thin, but good.  And for the entrée, I had their pulled pork with sides of baked beans and maple-bacon creamed corn.

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The beans were really good, sweet with a hint of molasses, but they also had green peppers, which I’m not fond of.  The creamed corn was good, but a little too sweet – which is an unusual thing for me to say.  It’s normally served with the fried chicken and waffles, so that may be why – I think the maple syrup is overused, making it too sweet and thin, but it could go well with the fried chicken and waffles.

The pork itself was excellent and the sauce was a good compliment – sweet and sticky, without being overpowering.  It was well-trimmed, with very little fat.

For dessert, I got the bread pudding with praline sauce and ice cream to-go and ate it back at the hotel.

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So after an eight-hour paddle that afternoon, I was discovering that 1) I was out of shape and starting to hurt, and, B) my sunscreen had expired and I was the proud owner of a nasty, if oddly shaped, sunburn.  So I stopped by the front desk sundry shop to get some pain killers … only to find that they were out of stock until Monday.  Well, not entirely out of stock.

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The three girls working the front desk assured me it would be effective and have no ill-effects.