(Hello, happy readers! As most of you know, because I’ve been totally unable to shut up about it, I’m currently on holiday back in the States. Family time! Summer food! Baseball! Hurrah! To fill a gap in my blog whilst I’m away, my father volunteered to write about a fantastic meal that my parents ate recently. So, without further ado, here’s the first ever guest post on Mi Casa-Su Casa, by Mr. Tom Kirk!)
Summer time road trips are a Kirk family tradition. This summer my wife and I planned a road trip that would begin in our home state of Georgia and take us up to Pennsylvania, onward towards northern New York, out east through Rhode Island and home again via Washington, DC. We planned to kick off the trip with a visit to the D Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia on our way to spend the 4th of July in Pittsburgh with my sisters. I spent a little while looking for a nice place to eat nearby the Memorial and came across a wonderful website for The Mill Stone Tea Room. I called ahead and made reservations for two, and Nancy and I spent time anticipating the fine menu and the beautiful setting. Charlotte, the lady who took our reservations, could not have been nicer.
We left for Bedford on the last day of June. As we were pulling out of the driveway, at the very beginning of our 6-hour-long drive, our mobile rang. It was Charlotte to tell us that there had been a violent storm the night before. The Mill Stone Tea Room, and most of the rest of the county, was without power! She was unsure about being able to serve us that evening, but asked that we call back in the afternoon to get a final word. We drove away…into the unknown. Da Da Da Daaa!
Four hours later, Charlotte called back with the bad news. The vicinity would be without power for a week to 10 days! We thanked her for her concern, wished her the best of luck, and made a vague reference to seeing her some other time…knowing that that would never happen. We made several calls…to the hotel where we were booked…to the Memorial itself…and got no reply. Nancy came up with the bright idea of calling the local Police Department. The fine young officer who answered the call advised us to steer clear of central Virginia all together! We plowed on North toward Pennsylvania.
Within an hour or so, just as the sun was starting its descent, I started to notice that all of the roadside signs were bent almost in half. I mentioned it to Nancy just as we noticed a long, long line of cars on the side of the road. Ominously, some of them had gas cans strapped to the hood. That half-mile-long line of cars ended at a gas station.
We had driven into the aftermath of one of the most violent storms of the last half century. The storm had killed 22 people and knocked out power to more than 4 million homes and businesses on a line from Washington, DC to Southern Indiana! In addition to the half-mile-long lines to get gas (premium grade only, the regular gas was gone hours ago) we discovered that there was no prepared food to be found. No worries, we had plenty of fresh fruit and cheese, some crackers and water.
As it got darker, we realized that we weren’t seeing any lights anywhere. All of the homes and businesses were in complete darkness. It was point-blank eerie. With all of the hotels closed, we came to the conclusion that we were going to have to drive 4 or 5 more hours to reach my sister’s home in the wee, small hours of the morning. That decision made, we both relaxed and strapped in for the long haul. We crawled out of the car at about 2am…14 hours after we’d left home.
Fast forward two weeks…The Pirates at PNC Park on the 4th of July…Nancy’s brother’s beautiful lakefront home…the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown…one of the most beautiful drives I ever taken across Central New York State…time with Nancy’s family in Rhode Island…that drive across the George Washington Bridge into New York, New York…Dinner with our niece in DC…We had a fine, fine fortnight!
Nancy and I enjoy the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, DC.
Exploring the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. framed by the REAL home run king’s locker.
It was while on the road south of New York City that I mentioned that we really had no one waiting for us in Georgia…that our original plan had us getting home on Sunday, and that if we drove straight home from Washington DC, we’d be home on Friday night. The cat was cared for through Sunday…we could still visit Bedford, the Memorial and the Mill Stone Tea Room. Nancy’s eyes lit right up!
Our new G.P.S. machine is a marvel! Without it, we would have been without the marvelous food that the Mill Stone Tea Room provided! The Mill Stone Tea Room is (as we say in Georgia) “out in the county”.
Enter a two room building with low slung ceilings, a muted yellow color all about, a bar to your left and a the dining room to your right. It was a joy to lay eyes on Charlotte; the sweet lady who had steered us away from Central Virginia two weeks earlier.
Charlotte told us that they had inherited this 150-year-old chopping block. They don’t chop stuff on it any more..
The shot from our table. Through the window are three tables and a wine bar.
Nancy was driving, so I felt free to ask for a local brew. Any and every time we travel, I search out something local…a beer with character. Our British friends, who were here a few months ago were properly impressed by American beers, (and there were several)…not the mass produced, mass marketed, Olympic Sponsors that most of the world can’t get away from, but a beer with heart and flavor and passion. Such a beer was ‘Legend Brown Ale’. I was extraordinarily impressed!
Legend Brown Ale… a very fine local brew.
Nancy and I shared two appetizers. The first was a beautifully prepared dish consisting of a perfectly balanced variety of locally-grown mushrooms on a bed of stone ground grits.
Local mushrooms on a bed of grits.
Our second appetizer was fresh and seasonal gazpacho. The gazpacho was the perfect counterweight to take the glow off of a hot Virginia day spent outdoors at the D Day Memorial. I remember cucumber chunks lending a cooler, happier bite.
Cooling and delicious gazpacho.
When it came time to order our main meals, I debated the wisdom of a full on ‘grits attack’ and then succumbed to my desire for their shrimp and grits…I’m from Georgia after all!
I didn’t even know, up until 5 or 6 years ago, that the combination of shrimp and grits was a possibility. I have become a bit of a shrimp and grits snob in the recent past. The Mill Stone Tea Room’s shrimp and grits was top of the line. I was especially impressed by the ‘stone ground’ nature of the grits. They had a wonderful crackling flavor that you needed to take time to appreciate fully, while the shrimp were done to a state that I could only describe as al dente. They were perfect, as was the size of the portion… no oversized “American” portions here!
I risked a “grits overload” to try the shrimp and grits.
I also managed to steal a few bites of Nancy’s main meal, a big, thick pork chop with unique summer beans and white gravy, which she described as “remarkable…brilliant…memorable…faaaaaantastic!”
Nancy’s main meal of a pork chop with summer beans and gravy.
I turned down dessert in favor of a second round of Legend Brown Ale, which left me in a state of restaurant bliss. It was truly one of the dozen best meals I’ve ever eaten. Our trip…delayed as it was…to The Mill Stone Tea Room in Bedford, VA remains a sweet memory. I’ve promised myself that we will return…perhaps with friends…perhaps with you!