Monday, November 28, 2011

A Christmas Story House & Museum

I knew my husband was a huge fan of A Christmas Story, having experienced year after year of him wanting to watch it all day during the holidays.
Planning our honeymoon in 2007, our travels were going to take us across Ohio on the way home. My husband demanded that we must make a stop off in Cleveland at A Christmas Story House & Museum.
Even though the movie was released in 1983, A Christmas Story has that retro feel due to it's 1940s setting.
The Christmas Story House is open year round, one of several sites where scenes for the movie were filmed. It has been remodeled to appear just like it did in the holiday classic.
On the last leg of our honeymoon, we rolled up to the house, bought our tickets at the museum across the street (where naturally the movie was playing) and headed in to take a look.

We posed for a photo next to the leg lamp in the front window. We checked out the tinsel covered Christmas tree. We took a gander at the turkey waiting in the white enamel oven, at any moment expecting Bumpus's hounds to barge in and knock us down in a mad attempt to get to the bird. We even saw Ralphie's glasses resting on his notebook next to his neatly penned Christmas list.
In 2008, my husband made a fruitless plea for family and friends to bid to win him a stay at A Christmas Story House, an auction that has been held several times since. Last year the winning bid was $3,200. A little steep for our Christmas spending, but hey, we've all got our dreams! Considering that it's a package for four complete with Chinese turkey and a major prize, I'm sure it is quite the experience.

A Christmas Story House
3159 W 11th St
Cleveland, OH 44109

Monday, October 17, 2011

West Baden Springs Hotel

If you enjoy great architecture, the West Baden Springs Hotel in Indiana is a sight to behold.
The hotel features an enormous domed atrium that was the largest free-spanning dome in the U.S. until 1955. It was the largest dome in the world from 1902-1913.
From the hotel's web site I learned that George Rogers Clark discovered the area's mineral springs and salt licks in 1778. Due to the beauty of the land and the belief in curative powers of the springs, the area was ripe for resort development.
In 1832, the French Lick Springs Hotel was built. In 1855, a hotel was built in the town of Mile Lick, which later became known as West Baden.
By the late 19th century, seven rail lines brought guests from all over the U.S. to the area.
In 1901, the entire hotel was destroyed by fire. Then owner Lee W. Sinclair took the opportunity to build the hotel of his dreams, complete with the world's largest dome, decorated like the grandest spas of Europe. The architect was Harrison Albright.
In 1902 the hotel opened for business and advertisements touted it as the Eighth Wonder of the World. The grounds included golf courses, bowling, a pony and bike track, swimming and more and attracted the likes of Al Capone and professional baseball teams.
The hotel was used for other purposes from the 1960s-1980s and was in fairly good shape then but eventually fell into disrepair. In 1991 a portion of the exterior wall collapsed.
The West Baden Springs Hotel was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974 and was reopened as a hotel in 2007 at a cost of almost $100 million in restoration.
Even if you do not plan to stay at one of the hotels guest rooms, you can tour the hotel or dine in the on-site restaurant.
I visited this fall, as some of my grandfather's family had settled in the Martin County, Indiana area.
Stepping in to the beautiful domed atrium with the floor lined with millions of tiny mosaic tiles and seeing how tall the dome was, I would have expected the room to carry a lot of noise, but it was as serene as a library and quite peaceful.
We toured the grounds and walked along sweeping porches lined with rocking chairs where people enjoyed a cup of coffee or a good book.
Walking the circular halls we took in all of the historic photographs and soaked up some of the history of what this hotel has been and what it has been through to emerge once again as a beautiful example of architecture.
I hope to spend a night at the hotel in the next year or two.

West Baden Springs Hotel
8538 West Baden Avenue

French Lick, IN 47469

Friday, September 2, 2011

Kansas City Workhouse

We were on our way to find some BBQ in Kansas City, Missouri, when we caught sight of what appeared to be a castle at 21st and Vine. We veered off to have a look.
As luck would have it, it was a beautiful specimen, and was for sale! I just know my husband is working on acquiring the building for his queen. Or, more likely, so that he can host haunted houses there.
The building was built as a workhouse, or prison, in the late 1800s. Prisoners built the building using stone from a nearby quarry.
From about 1918-1970 the impressive stone structure was used as city office space, after which it was abandoned.
It looks like vandals have had their way with it in recent years, but the structure still looks good.

Kansas City Workhouse (Brant’s Castle)
2001 Vine Street
Kansas City, MO 64108

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Arcadia, OK

We detoured into Arcadia, Oklahoma once we saw that part of Route 66 passed through the town, mainly to check out the giant soda bottle.
Unfortunately we were not bowled over by it. It looked to be pretty new and modern, but years from now I'm sure it will be a big hit.
The bonus was that we decided to drive further and ended up stopping at the Arcadia Round Barn. What a beautiful specimen!
The round barn, now beautifully restored, was built in 1898. Inside we found an impressive collection of round barn history from all over the U.S. and a charming older man named Sam, dressed in cowboy attire. There were pictures of the upstairs loft and the ceiling looked stunning. The loft is available for rentals.
Inside the barn was also a small selection of gift items for sale.

Leaving the barn, we explored some of the beautiful historic buildings nearby, and then headed on to try to find OK Country 66, where one man has build replicas of many classic roadside attractions. We drove past a couple of times without seeing it, but once we did we thought it was even better than we expected, but, alas, the gates were closed and there was no sign on when they would be open.

We didn't have to go away empty-handed, however. While at the round barn, I had noticed some information on the ruins of a 1920s filling station nearby, and I spotted it in our search for OK Country 66. We got out and admired the stone pillars and walls that remain, and on our way back to the Interstate my husband stopped at the round barn once more and ended up finding out that Sam, the man holding down the fort at the barn that day was also the owner of the filling station.

The detour into the Arcadia area to check out Route 66 turned out to be one of the highlights of our vacation for me.

Arcadia Round Barn
11250 E. Highway 66
Arcadia, OK 73007

Old Filling Station
E Danforth Rd near Oklahoma 66
Arcadia, OK 73007

Friday, August 26, 2011

Old Country Store

When I decided that the Old Country Store in Lorman, Mississippi would make a nice stop for lunch on our summer vacation, I did not remember that this was THE place that Alton Brown said had the best fried chicken he's ever had during an episode of Feasting on Asphalt.
We rolled up to the restaurant run by Mr. D, housed in, what else, an old country general store, well over 100 years old. Inside we found well-worn hardwood floors and rolling ladders along a wall covered with wooden shelves of wares.
We were greeted and took a seat at one of the white cloth covered tables. After placing an order for iced tea, we headed to the next room to fill our plates.
We found bread, mac and cheese, salad, black eyed peas and more, but no fried chicken. We took our first round of food back to the table and decided to wait for the next batch of bird, and soon I noticed everyone else in the dining room seemed to be perched on the edge of their seats waiting, too. I thought we might have to fight someone off to get some chicken!
Soon a few people got up and made their way to the buffet room, hovering near the door. After declaring the potato salad very good, my husband headed in to wait with the others, and within minutes the hot fried chicken was on our table.
The chicken breast I had was huge, juicy and crispy, and in my haste to eat it I actually burned my fingers a bit.
This was really only my second "famous" fried chicken sampling, and out of the two I will say this one was much better. I will have to get a few more samplings under my belt before I can declare it the best ever.
As we were finishing up our lunch, Mr. D made his way into the room and started talking with some of the diners.
The atmosphere was fun, service was good and if you are looking for a comfort food stop along Highway 61, the Old Country Store has got you covered.

Old Country Store
18801 Hwy 61
Lorman, MS 39096

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beer Can House

Zipping through Texas we needed a diversion, and what could be better than taking a gander at a beer can house?
John Milkovisch started working on the Beer Can House, located in Houston, Texas, in 1968. According to the house's web site, Ripley's Believe It or Not estimated that over 50,000 cans adorn this monument to recycling.
After the death of John and his wife, the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art took over the house.
Admission to the grounds or a guided tour can be purchased for a small fee on Saturdays and Sundays.

Beer Can House
222 Malone Street
Houston, TX 77007

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bud's Broiler

Bud Sanders opened his first broiler in 1952 in New Orleans' City Park. Today there are several locations of Bud's Broiler, but we wanted to visit the original.
When we arrived well past the standard lunch hour, we still had to wait in line with those eager to have one of Bud's charbroiled burgers. I grabbed one of the few wooden tables with benches along the wall and waited about 15 minutes for my husband to order two burgers and fries and make his way back to the table. Many of those who arrived after us headed upstairs for seating or took their food outside.
The patties seemed to be coarse ground, certainly nothing fancy but the standout here, which I had to try, was the hickory sauce topping, so I had ordered their #2 (meat with their own hickory smoked sauce) with onions. The sauce was a nice addition.
Bud's also serves hot dogs, sausage, chicken, fish, root beer, shakes and fried pies.

Bud's Broiler (City Park)
500 City Park Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Rodney, Mississippi: "ghost town"

I discovered the "ghost town" of Rodney, Mississippi online and we were able to make a visit there on our latest vacation.
Said to be settled by the French in 1763 as Petit Gouffre (Petit Gulf), the town was renamed Rodney in 1828. The town thrived as a river port in the 1840s and 50s, but in the mid 1860s a sand bar formed and the Mississippi River changed course, which forever changed the course of this town.
The Presbyterian church in Rodney still bears an imbedded cannon ball above the center arched window on the top row of the building. A sign informs "Rodney Presbyterian Church chartered in Jan. 1828 as the Presbyterian Church of Petit Gulf. Shelled by the gunboat 'Rattler' when Federal sailors were captured by the Confederate cavalry while attending Sunday services September 13, 1863."
Near the Federal style Presbyterian church there are several signs detailing more history of Rodney.
We walked around the quiet town with the sound of bugs being our only accompaniment. There were several houses and buildings in a state of ruin, and a store with an old gas pump in front. There were also some well-kept houses of those who now call Rodney home, and a charming Baptist church topped with a silver dome.
A heavy rain storm began just as we would have gotten out to visit the graveyard and church, and soon the gravel roads we used to arrive seemed a bit treacherous with the amount of rapidly falling rain, so we decided it would be best to head out.

Lorman, MS 39096

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Shack Up Inn

Planning our summer trip I was looking for some unique lodging, and the Shack Up Inn certainly fit the bill.
Located in Clarksdale, MS in the Mississippi Delta, the Shack Up Inn and Cotton Gin Inn sits on what was a working plantation, with authentic sharecropper shacks, seed bins and the original cotton gin.
We spent the night in Fullilove, one of the sharecropper shacks, after taking in some blues at Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale. The night we spent at the Shack Up Inn was a quiet one. I hear that many nights they have live music on site. So we busied ourselves checking out all of the nooks and crannies in our shack which were filled with journal entries, coins, wine corks and mementos from years of travelers past.
The shacks are air conditioned; ours had a full sized refrigerator, microwave and coffee maker, a bathroom and even a piano.
Clarksdale seems to be in the midst of a business revitalization and I think there will always be a spot open to check out some live music. There were also several interesting restaurants in town. Rust sounded great and we enjoyed a meal at both Ground Zero (a blue plate special!) and Stone Pony Pizza.

Shack Up Inn

1 Commissary Circle
Clarksdale, MS 38614

Friday, August 5, 2011

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop

While visiting New Orleans this summer, we had time to stop by Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop in the French Quarter, supposedly the oldest continually occupied bar in the United States.
The building dates back to around 1722 and is rumored to have been owned by pirate Jean Lafitte.
Approaching the bar on a Thursday night we could hear the noise of the crowd both inside and outside from quite a way down the street. The shuttered doors were opened wide to the streets.
We were escorted to a table in the piano bar area in back where there was no electric lighting, just candles in glass jars providing a bit of light here and there.
Enjoying a beer back in this dimly lit room we couldn't help but think of all of those who had been there before us.

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop
941 Bourbon St.
New Orleans, LA 70116

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Gibson's Donuts

We stopped at Gibson's Donuts in Memphis, TN on our way out of town for breakfast. I knew they had an impressive neon sign, which we didn't get a great picture of due to the lighting at the time of day we were there, and I knew the place seemed to have a following.
Inside it was your pretty basic donut shop with cases of donuts, coffee and people enjoying said goodies. What caught my eye almost immediately was what looked to be a red velvet cake donut starting at me from the case.
Indeed it was a red velvet donut, and it was wonderful and rich, topped with the perfect cream cheese icing.
They also had real cream for their coffee, none of that powdered crap.
The icing on the cake for this stop, though, was meeting the owner, Don, in the dining room and having a nice chat with him about the remainder of our vacation plans. He told us about the Memphis zoo and also clued us in to a restaurant called Middendorf's that serves thin fried catfish in Louisiana. We had a thoroughly enjoyable conversation with him and we will be "regulars" at Gibson's now any time we are in town.

Gibson's Donuts
760 Mt. Moriah Rd.
Memphis, TN 38117 

Arcade Restaurant

We've been to Memphis, TN many times, but on our visit this summer I decided to see what type of historic restaurants were in the area, since we love soaking in the character of these beauties. I came up with the Arcade Restaurant, Memphis' oldest restaurant, which is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
According to their web site, Greek Speros Zepatos founded the restaurant in 1919. In the 1950s, his son updated the restaurant to it's current diner style. The Zepatos family still runs the restaurant.
The attractive Arcade has even been featured in scenes from many movies.
We rode our bikes to the Arcade for breakfast, but another great way to arrive is via the Historic South Main street car line, which will take you on a scenic route through one of Memphis' restored business districts. We used the street cars a lot on this trip, and they are very beautifully restored. Each ride was only $1 (make sure you have exact change) and the drivers were friendly and helpful. A helpful rider also told us that day passes can be purchased for just over $3.

Arcade Restaurant  
540 South Main Street
Memphis, TN 38103

Friday, January 14, 2011

Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co.

Years ago a friend of mine heard of the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. in Chicago and we decided to try it while we were in town for a concert.
The address has been etched in my mind ever since, even though we live in a small town in Central IL.
On my first visit, the two of us arrived at the narrow brick house at 2121 N. Clark on a Saturday night to find the place packed to the gills. A white-haired gentleman eventually made it to the entrance area and asked us how many were in our party. We said two, and he said "an hour and 10 minutes". He did not take any names. We learned that one of the notable things about the restaurant is that they will not take names, they remember you by sight, and are pretty damn accurate about your potential wait time.
We waited at the bar and enjoyed big glasses of red wine. At one hour and 10 minutes after our arrival, right on the nose we were tapped on the shoulder and taken to our cozy wooden booth where, now ravenous, we immediately ordered the first thing we could see on the menu: Mediterranean bread.
Our waiter soon brought the flat bread, draped over a platter and covered in dried herbs and cheese to our table where we tore at it like wild dogs.
Soon our 1/2 pound steaming pizza pot pies arrived, baked in ceramic bowls. I had the sausage and mushroom and my friend Minney, who does not eat pork or beef, had just mushrooms. Deeeeee-licious!!
I later told my husband about the entire experience, and after we saw the restaurant featured on the Food Network he wanted to try the place for himself.
I told him that I could taste green peppers in the sauce (since he is a pepper hater), but I wasn't sure if the flavor would bother him or not.
The two of us visited and had a repeat great experience (he absolutely loves the pies, green peppers and all), and now we make a point to go once a year.
It has become a tradition during December. We go to Chicago for Christkindlmarket, eat dinner at the Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. and take two frozen pot pies home which we prepare and eat together over wine on Christmas eve.
I would also suspect that it is a good place to work, even with the standing room only crowds, since year after year we recognize the waiters and bartenders as those who have been there for years.
The restaurant alone is historic in that it has been serving up these wonderful pizza pies since 1972, but according to the following from their web site, the location itself has some interesting history.
"If the building ever did possess gentility, though, it was abruptly forsaken on February 14, 1929, as the guttural yammering of submachine guns in a garage almost directly across the street brought the notorious 'St. Valentine’s Day Massacre' to headlines around the world. Rumor even has it that the house at 2121 North Clark served as a lookout post for hoodlum henchmen of the Valentine gunners."
So, if you go for the great food, the possible history or the hosts who can distinguish you from the waiting crowd, the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. does not disappoint.

Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co.
2121 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614