Restaurants

Exploring Homer, AK

Well, we awoke on the Homer Spit on the beach. Awesome. What’s more awesome? Eagles on the beach. Super awesome! We saw a juvenile that we took a bunch of pictures of right on the edge of the water, before one of the kind beach photographers with us let us know that there were some adult eagles down the beach. So, we slowly made our way down the beach where we saw THREE adult bald eagles. So awesome!! We took A LOT of pictures and spent almost two hours on the beach. Here are a few pics:

 

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After our picture fest, we got ready to go and headed into breakfast at the Sourdough Express– a restaurant that we had read about in an article discussing delicious sourdough pancakes. It is also well known for its efforts to locally source most to all of its ingredients (including meats from sustainable local sources). Pretty awesome! We ate a delicious meal (including reindeer sausage! Sorry, Vixen) and then decided to check out the rest of the sites around Homer. By the way, I’ll note here that I’m not sure Reindeer sausage is for everyone… it has a very particular flavor (and is smoky). Reminds me of venison. Anyway, I digress.

 

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We headed up into the mountains to check out the skyline drive that promised to provide us with some beautiful views of Homer, the Spit and the Mountains. We made our way up through the obviously wealthy area of Homer and took a short jaunt over to another Russian Orthodox Church first [All Saints of America; information below]. This time, there were people there (the last Russian Orthodox church we were on our own). Here, we met a woman (Sharon) who told us that we were welcome to go in and look around and that the Father would be down to show us around. True to their word, a few minutes later he did come down and chatted with us for a bit about the church. He and his wife travel from another town every so often to have church services here… pretty cool. It’s a small little church with gorgeous decoration.

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From the church, we headed next to the Carl E. Wynn Nature Center just up the road. The visitor center was closed at the time we arrived, so we just grabbed a trail map and headed out for a walk. We didn’t see any Moose to our dismay, but the trails were well-maintained, the views were great, and then area in general is a great little spot. I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the area!

 

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After the nature center stop, we moved on and drove along Skyline drive, stopping here and there for a picture stop because of the sweeping views of Homer and the mountains and volcanoes. We made our way across and back down to the visitor center where we parked and let my mom go in and gather her beloved brochures. Andrew and I also hopped out and said we were going for a short walk. The truth was, we had researched and called a bakery in Homer called, “Two Sisters Bakery” while we were in Seward to order a Birthday Cake for my parents (Today’s the big day. Yep, both of them). We made our way down to the bakery and were immediately happy with our decision. The inside is a cool little wooden bakery and restaurant with a huge display of baked goods and food for people to try out. Andrew ordered a cinnamon roll and we paid for/picked up the cake (chocolate cake, caramel filling, cream cheese frosting). They had decorated it beautifully—especially considering how small of a cake it was… with a blue Happy Birthday and a row of fresh flowers. The cake was so delicious. Highly recommend if you are in the area and want a bite to eat or want to order a cake.

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After cake and sandwiches in the RV, we tried to make our way to Homer Meadery only to discover that the Meadery shutdown and is no longer functioning. So, we headed off to the Homer Brewing Company, a large brown building seemingly in the middle of nowhere. My dad, Andrew and I went in and order a few tasters of beer—basically small 4oz. glasses, $2/glass. They had EIGHT beers on tap—very impressive! The inside of the brewery was pretty cool- one side had the brewery itself with all the equipment on display to see. The other side of the brewery was the “taproom” of sorts. They had a few tables and some merchandise and a small bar. After we tried out our samplers, we decided on a beer that we all liked and had him fill up our Seward Brewery Growler [don’t forget to visit our tip for microbrewery drinking while traveling- purchase a growler at the first brewery and just refill as you go]. We also picked up a pint glass to add to our collection (We opted for the Abbey Ale to fill our growler).

 

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After the brewery, we headed uphill to the Bear Creek Winery (following the Homer Fermentation Trail). There are only 11 wineries in Alaska and 1 of them happens to be in Homer. Interestingly enough, they do not grow grapes here. Instead the source them and make the wine here… they had quite a few wines available to try. The idea here is that you pay $___ for 6-8 samples of wine (you choose which wines you want). They have pure fruit wines, chardonnays, zins, ports, and even one ice wine, although sadly, they did not have the ice wine when we were there. My dad and I each made our list of wine and the ladies working the wine brought out halibut spread on crackers and cheese for palette clearing. The wines were awesome! The fruit wines blew me away—they had a Pomegranate wine made with Pom and Grape and it was phenomenal! They even had a mead that we made sure to try (and bought a bottle of for the road). It was a great top and the folks are super nice!

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Back in Homer “downtown” we stopped by a few gift shops and also “The Cool Juicy Bus”, an old school bus that was turned into a smoothie café. The girl working at the bus was really friendly and had a huge menu of smoothie mixes and fruits as well as add-ins such as flax and hemp and proteins, as well as soy/almond/coconut and other non-dairy/dairy milks. We chatted with her a bit and learned that originally, her mother and father owned the bus and drove around and up to Alaska (noting that her mother was a bit of a gypsy). She decided to set-up the smoothie and bus and the rest is history. Two other people came up while we were waiting. Both Homer-ites and both knew the woman who owned the bus… and they chatted with us. Everyone is so nice here!

 

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My mom had heard from the Visitor Center that there was a really cool authentic Russian Café about 40 minutes out of Homer. So, she called and asked about availability and then we were off. We made our way to the town of Nikolaevsk. The “town” wasn’t really much to see- a small run-down area with a few small buildings and houses. The Russian Café [Samovar Cafe] was located near the end of one of the roads. A small building with a wide-open parking lot; no other cars. We parked and slowly made our way to the front door. It’s really hard to adequately describe what awaited us on the inside of the building. Today, as I type this over a week after that experience, I’m still not 100% convinced that it actually happened and/or was real. The café has a small outdoor area that is covered from the rain. The inside is a small room that is jam-packed with just about every Russian trinket you can think of from teas and traditional spoons to nesting doll sets. In front of us was a small bar “area” with 6 stools and behind the bar was Nina. Nina the Russian; dressed to the nines in traditional Russian clothing. She greeted us with a great big smile and welcome. What followed I can’t be sure… there was some VERY quick speaking with a heavy accent and discussing the options of meals, food, and “experiences”. This culminated with the four of us sitting at the bar for the “Russian Experience”. We were not allowed to speak to Nina while she was “cooking” and we were not allowed to ask questions. She gave us booklets and pamphlets of information on her, on Russian, and on the café.

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We were to receive several courses each coming just as quickly as the next. We started with borscht- a traditional soup that was very similar to vegetable soup (heavy on the tomato) with a small squirt of sour cream. With this, each couple also received a plate with a slice of Rye bread and a traditional Russian Pierogi. The Russian pirogi is more of a potato bread- a soft roll stuffed with a mashed potato substance. Both breads are served cold but were very delicious when dipped in the borscht. The perogi may have been my favorite part of the meal J.

 

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Next, the four of us received a mixed combination platter- essentially a sampler. It had sausage on it, sauerkraut with craisins, small meatball dumplings (looked like your more western-style perogi), and pickles. For dessert we were each served a cup of tea and a tall dish with cream puffs, whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and a cherry. After dinner, Nina dressed us in traditional Russian garb and took pictures of us by a giant nesting doll. Then, just like that, we were thanked and ushered out the door.

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The experience was cool. It really was… and it was unlike anything we’ve ever done. Was it authentic Russian? I’m not sure because I’ve never been to Russia, but my sense is “no”. Here’s why: the sausage she served us was microwaved and cut off of a giant plastic-packaged sausage. The dessert simply looked like cream puffs from Costco with Hershey’s syrup and Ready-whip. I wouldn’t classify those things as “Traditional Russian” but perhaps I just don’t know Russia.

The food was delicious, don’t get me wrong and as I said, the experience was fun and unique. The café was lauded online by various travel and news companies including National Geographic and folks on Trip Advisor loved it. To me, though, it seemed to much like a push to get money and take advantage of the customers. There were signs everywhere when you walked in—taking 4 photos cost money, taking more cost more; to sit at the bar instead of outside under the awning cost money, the plate that we split four ways was about $25 (to me it was not worth that amount). The bread was something like $2/slice. Microwaved sausage just makes me really sad. The kraut, the borscht, the perogi, and the tea were my highlights of the meal. While it was fun dressing up—it wasn’t necessary. It just seemed really staged. In the end for four people, we spent well over $100 for 4 cups of tea, 4 cups of borscht, 2 slices of bread, 2 perogis, 3 desserts, and a plate with 1 cup of kraut, 4 slices of pickle, some meatball dumplings, and a couple slices of sausage.

Additionally, on the phone, Nina had told us that we better bring “green paper” (aka cash) with us. She insisted on it, despite the fact that the front door said she accepted both Visa and MasterCard. Now, I totally understand businesses (especially tiny ones like the one she had) not wanting to pay the fees to charge credit cards, but it just seemed weird because we were even given the option of using a credit card (and realistically, we probably would have ended up spending more).

So all of that being said, would I do it again? Probably not. Am I glad we did it? Sure. Why not? I’m all about new experiences and branching out… I’m just not sure I’d rate it as highly on the “must do” in/near Homer, AK as the others.

After dinner, we piled back into the camper wondering what just happened. We made our way back to the Homer Spit and our campground via a bumpy gravel road, complete with beautiful views and another friendly eagle. Then we hit the hay.

 

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Not a bad way for parents to spend their Birthday, eh?

 

Homer Resources:

  1. Campground: Homer Spit Campground Information (showers: $1- unlimited time)
  2. The Fresh Sourdough Express: Website; Trip Advisor Reviews; Facebook Reviews
  3. Skyline Drive: Information (the drive is located between East and West Hill Drives)
  4. All Saints of America Russian Orthodox Church: Church Website (located off of Skyline Drive) 
  5. Carl E. Wynn Nature Center: Website Information; Trip Advisor Reviews
  6. Two Sisters Bakery: Website
  7. Homer Brewing Company: Website
  8. Bear Creek Winery and Lodging: Website
  9. The Juicy Bus: Website Information
  10. Samovar [Russian Café] in Nikolaevsk, Alaska: Nina’s Main Website; Webpage on Russian Cafe “Samovar”

 
Google Map Showing Our Path and Stops for the Day (excluding the Russian Cafe):

Google Map Showing Route from Visitor Center in downtown Homer to Russian Cafe [Samovar] and return to Homer Spit Campground *Note- these directions use the gravel road. To take main roads, take Sterling Highway 1 out of town (north) and then in Anchor Point, make a right on North Fork. This will be the SECOND right turn for North Fork Road that you see when leaving Homer. The first North Fork Road is the gravel Road. Once you turn on North Fork, follow the road all the way to Nikolaevsk. You’ll see a painted sign on a building reading “Cafe”. You can turn left at this building [follow the arrow] and it will take you down and around to the Samovar Cafe.:

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Categories: Alaska, Hikes, Microbrews, Restaurants | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Restaurant Review: Sticky Rice

Two of our friends (Sarg and Logan) are headed to Europe for 18 days beginning Monday, so we wanted to make sure we could get together and catch up before they head off on Euro Trip 2 and we never see or hear from them again! So, we decided to go to H Street in DC because it’s close to Andrew’s work (Union Station) and the rest of us (somehow) didn’t have to work today (Friday)! We couldn’t settle on a place to go and it was a Friday so we were worried about crowds and what not… one way or another, we ended up at Sticky Rice (thanks, Logan)! Sticky Rice is located at 1224 H Street NE. Washington, DC. If you drag the below map a bit to the right you will see Union Station pop up on the left-side. It was only about a mile walk. If you are not done with walking, there are also a number of buses that run down H Street. You can use WMATA’s Trip Planner or Google Maps to find buses/metros and times (in Google Maps you can also select the arrival or departure time and/or date to make it more accurate).

If you do end up walking be sure to watch out for the sidewalks that are under construction (especially now because of the street car project). There are pretty solid sidewalks on the far side of H Street if you’re coming from Union Station. Anyway, on to the food…

We had made a reservation for 6:30PM and showed up around 6:15PM or so. The place was pretty empty but looked like a great laid back atmosphere. The guy up in front opened the door for us and asked us if we wanted to sit inside or on the deck. Hey, it’s summer and it’s DC and who doesn’t love eating outdoors?! He took us upstairs and past a few tables to the back door. Outside was a cute little deck with a bunch of tables, a nice shaded overhang, a giant tree hanging over a portion of the deck, and some really cool string lights and lanterns. Like I said, sweet atmosphere.

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We were promptly brought water and asked for our drink orders. They have happy hour specific specials that are served at the bar only, but they also have happy hour specials in the restaurant ($1 of all beers, discount on mixed drinks, other assorted deals) that ran until 7PM. So, we ordered sake flights (because why not?) and we found out that the bartender just chooses the sakes that you’ll get to try (but you can make requests). Love it. Great idea. We also ordered beers because it was happy hour (and why not). The menu has loads of options from sushi and sashimi to asian bowls to sandwiches to the famous sticky balls themselves. On top of that, they have a TON of vegetarian options- so herbivores need not worry about having options. I myself am not a huge seafood fan and I think I ended up eating more than the rest of the crew!

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Something that is really cool about this place is that in addition to their plethora of asian dishes and plates, they also have tater tots. I mean, come on. Can you say best restaurant ever?! On the night we went they had both regular and sweet potato tots- we opted for sweet potato tots and they came with two dips- one that tasted like a spicy ranch and one that tasted like a spiffy mustard. Both awesome. We then of course, had to try the sticky balls. We got one order of the “sticky balls” and one order of the “veggie balls”. So what are they?

Sticky Balls: Tuna, crab, sriracha rice in an inari pocket deep fried topped w/scallions, wasabi dressing and eel sauce

Garden Balls: Shiitake mushrooms, red pepper, cilantro and spicy rice in an inari pocket then tempura fried and
drizzled with eel sauce

Trust me. Try the balls. You will never go back. While I didn’t have the regular “sticky balls” because I don’t eat seafood, I can still vouch for them- we ended up getting seconds. On both balls. And I know what you’re thinking- what about the eel sauce? I actually did some research online and found out that most eel sauce is just soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. Sometimes it is made by simmering eel bones in the process– but I’m assuming since the Garden Balls were marked “Vegan” on the menu that they didn’t use that kind on the balls. Either way, no trace of eel flavor. Just pure heaven. Spicy and rice-y and just amazeBALLS.

We also ordered some other dishes:

Free Luggage: This was a special roll that isn’t on their normal menu. I can’t remember everything that was in it but there was fish roe and rice and avocado and it was gone in 30 seconds.

Godzirra: GIANT roll that has jumbo crunchy shrimp, avocado, cream cheese, spicy sauce, cucumbers, tempura crunchies, and tobiko. It was ginormous but still disappeared quickly

Southroll: A vegetarian roll that had tempura sweet potato and honey in it. It was awesome and delicious and gone in 20 seconds.

Some Type of Sashimi: I don’t remember the name of the last sashimi that Sarg ordered but it was gone as quick as it came so I’m sure it was fantastic :0)

After we ate all this food, we sat there longer, had another beer and then decided that we would order MORE food. We got another order of both balls and another order of sweet potato tater tots. This was about 2.5 hours in… about 3 hours in, one of the guys working, I’m guessing Manager, came over and offered a free round of beers for hanging out so long. Yes please. Such awsomely nice people at this restaurant (and not just because of the free beer!)

It was great to relax and just talk and catch up and not feel the pressure to get in and get out because we need to serve more customers vibe. If you want a truly enjoyable and delicious meal, I highly recommend Sticky Rice. Worth the trip and you definitely won’t regret it!

Want to see the menu? Check it out here.

Want to make a reservation? You can do so on Open Table.

Want more info on Sticky Rice? Check out their Website.

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Garden Balls front right; Stick Balls back left. Sushi and Sashimi back left. Sweet potato tots front right.

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Date Night: Faccia Luna

If you ever find yourself in Old Town, Alexandria, I highly recommend Faccia Luna for a delicious and amazing Italian dining experience. It’s right around the corner from our place which makes it even more awesome. Last night it was so hot and we had gone for a walk and decided that we should have a date night. So, naturally, we wanted a place close by that was delicious. Andrew suggested Faccia and I am glad he suggested it. The restaurant is fairly big and accommodates a large number of guests, but as you might guess with any delicious restaurant in Old Town, it is usually crowded… especially when it’s above 100 out. So, when we arrived it was packed and folks were waiting in line. Rather than spend a half hour waiting around, we asked if we could eat outside and the hostess said sure and that no one was eating out there because it was so hot. Oh well, we’re not like everyone else :).

Faccia has a great beer and wine selection, which we usually partake of, perhaps a little too much. I was just super thirsty, so rather than chug down a beer to quench my thirst, I opted for a seltzer. Andrew, true to the Italian spirit, had a Peroni. We each ordered an appetizer and an entree, which was probably a poor decision given how much food comes with each dish! Worth it anyway. I wish I had more pictures but I was too busy gobbling :).

For appetizers, Andrew had the meatball sliders. As described in their menu: 3 meatballs on toasted rolls with pomodoro sauce, parmesan and arugula. They’re pretty much heaven on a roll. I may have stolen one.

I had a salad on their special list for the week; a pear arugula salad. It was a bed of arugula topped with some pecans, pears, and pineapple… tossed with a champagne vinaigrette. YUM

For dinner, Andrew had a Margherita pizza and I opted for their Angel hair pasta with garlic and marinara. Obviously, we opted for more of the simply dishes, which don’t get me wrong, are AMAZING… but they also have more hyped up dishes like pasta pockets filled with butternut squash in a sage butter sauce; pasta pockets filled with ricotta and spinach in a cream pomodoro sauce; and pasta pockets filled with fresh mozzarella and roasted red peppers in a basil cream sauce. Mmmmm they also have sandwiches and TON of pizza combinations. Again, I highly highly recommend.

After dinner, we walked past 7-11 and picked up some dessert (I know, not the most beautiful dessert location)– salted caramel ice cream. ah-maze-ing. If you haven’t tried this yet, do it. I was skeptical at first, but oh my gosh it was soooo good. Back at home, we settled in with our ice cream cones and full bellies to watch Harry Potter… Chamber of Secrets. It doesn’t matter how many times I see the movies, I still want to watch them and dream of going to Hogwarts. Even if it’s not real, our date night was still oh so magical (I know, AWESOME pun). 🙂 Hope you all had a great week!

Faccia Bar

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Restaurant Review: Chadwicks

A couple of Andrew’s undergrad friends came into town a few weekends ago for another friend’s wedding in Georgetown. Naturally, guests in town = an excuse to try out restaurants in the area. The morning of the wedding, we headed to Chadwicks, a great place with locations in Georgetown and Old Town. Chadwicks serves American and Americanized food. We went for brunch which turned out to be quite delicious. Andrew ended up with Eggs Idaho which basically means scrambled eggs , bacon, and cheese stuffed into crispy potato skins. Delicious. After waffling (breakfast pun intended) I decided on the huevos rancheros with scrambled eggs by suggestion of the waiter. I was beyond happy with my choice. Eggs, tortillas, refried beans, cheese, guacamole. Heaven.

The prices were good, the staff was friendly, and the restaurant itself was pretty cool. It definitely seemed a lot smaller from the outside- but to our surprise, had a large upstairs in addition to its downstairs and bar seating. Definitely a must try if you’re ever in Old Town Alexandria or Georgetown!

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Waffle/Wafle Shop– Knocking em’ off the Bucket List

Waffle-Wafle Shop- Arlandria, VA
Check out that bad boy to the right. Looks pretty tasty, right? That’s the Desayuno Tipico- served up fresh at the Waffle Shop in Arlandria, VA. The great thing about this somewhat-sketchy restaurant in a somewhat-sketchy neighborhood on the Northern end of Del Ray, is that the restaurant spells “waffle” in two different ways on the same side of the building. Fantastic.

When you walk into this restaurant, you’ll see a bar with backless stools that have pain chipping off them. There’s a small grill, two waffle irons, some cans of soda, and a couple loaves of white bread on the shelf behind the counter. There are two or three employees hanging out, wiping down the grill and checking on the one or two other folks in the joint. The bar probably sits a max of 20 people. We sat down and one of the employees walked over with a big smile, welcoming us, and hanging us each a menu.

The menu ranges from greek food to mexican dishes to philly cheese steaks to waffles and ice cream or waffles and chicken. They’ve got scrapple, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, grits, eggs, toast, etc. We spent $38 for the four of us. We got: 3 coffees, 1 diet coke, 8 eggs, 3 waffles, scrapple, ice cream, bacon, a hot dog, onion/peppers/tomato, black beans, rice, and plantains. Not to shabby.

The desayuno tipico consists of the following: eggs, hot dog, veggies, black beans, rice, and plantains. DELICIOUS!

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Pork Barrel BBQ

Pork Barrel BBQ. Del Ray, VA

Yesterday, we went to Pork Barrel BBQ for dinner with two of Andrew’s friends, Josh and Dani. Pork Barrel BBQ was one of the restaurants on our 2012 Restaurant Bucket List! It was delicious. In the image at right you will see all the food that we purchased for the four of us. The total came to $53 and it included: 1lb. pulled pork, 1lb. brisket, 1/2 rack of ribs, two sides of mac n’ cheese, one side of collard greens, and one side of Texas caviar (white bread was free). For those of you who don’t know, Texas caviar is a black eyed pea salsa-esque dish– it has onions and peppers and spices in it. Absolutely scrumptious!

You order the meal at the register, sort of cafeteria style. You wait for your number to be called and pick up your tray of dishes. Along with that, you can order sodas or non-alcoholic drinks. Any beers, wines, or cocktails get ordered at the bar. The strangest part of the meal? There are no plates. You simply get a piece of butcher paper to put down on the table and you fork your food onto to it to eat off of…  Each table also has there 3 house made sauces- a mustard bbq, an original bbq, and a sweet bbq. Meghan thought the sweet bbq was the tastiest.

Pros: great microbrew selection and cool pole-style tap; not crowded, local and tasty grub

Cons: the brisket was pretty fatty ( but Meghan is also not a brisket fan to begin with)

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