This is the second of a series I’m writing about the trip my wife Sarajo (Sj) and I recently took to the D.C. area. I’m going to go day by day and go over our exploits so readers can learn what to do (and not do) in the area if they ever get out there. We were lucky enough to stay with our good friends Kathleen and Shea in Virginia, located right at the end of the Metra line into D.C. Please see the previous installation if you want to be horrified by terrible travel hijinx HERE.
Day 2 of our trip dawned with a windy, rain-spitting mess that would severely cramp my plans to take photos. Kathleen had to work in the morning, so Sj and I planned to explore Virginia a bit prior to meeting up for lunch. We started out with a previously planned trip to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna. The rain stopped for us, but overcast skies and blustery winds fought to make my photography near worthless. The place was nearly deserted and it felt like we had the whole grounds to ourselves, cool but somewhat unsettling–like being on the set of a lower quality post-apocalyptic series on SyFy channel.
At one point I was down by a pond taking some shots of cypress knees when two geese smoothly cruised toward where I was crouched. At first I refocussed and took a few shots of the oncoming head goose, but quickly realized that I was on its hit list! As it neared land, the neck went down and out came a quite burble of a hiss and an evil glint in the cold dead black eye. I gave a nervous chuckle, but backed away a bit to another area of swamp, careful not to fully turn my back on an angry goose. Do not taunt a mad goose!
Our chilly excursion over, we met up with Kathleen for our first brewpub visit, at Fall’s Church, VA at Mad Fox Brewing. Opening in 2010, Mad Fox is quite large with a 63 foot wooden bar and (at 1PM on a Friday) was somewhat spartan appearing. This place reminds me a bit of a late 90’s Rock Bottom in style.
I tried a fair number of the beers and here are a few snippets with my 0-5 ratings:
1) The Altbier was crisp and almost lager-like but with more yeast flavor–4.
2) The Orange Whip IPA had nice citrus fruit character and was well balanced–4.
3) The Barrel Aged Leaded Stout was rife with cinnamon, coffee, light vanilla–4.
4) The St. James Irish Dry Stout was thin, bitter and just not great–2.75.
But most of the beers were in a solid 3.25-4 zone out of 5. The food was likewise a bit across the board. My medium-rare Steak Frites was solidly medium-well and quite tough, while Kathleen’s flat-bread pizza with figs was wonderful. I felt like the idea of these dishes was to be upscale European pub food but seemed to lack a bit of something in the execution. A decent place to try out if you are visiting close by, but I wouldn’t make it a destination if you are visiting the D.C. area.
How about a visit to a Torpedo Factory? This is an old WW2 torpedo factory building that has been converted into a cool art center for local Virginia artists since 1974. The place is enormous and has a very large collection of studio and gallery space over three floors, and is also right on the waterfront of the Potomac River. We wandered around this cool old building for some time, ogling lots of artwork ranging from textiles, to metals, to painting, and of course photography. It was cool to see many artists at work in these studios and actually get to speak to them about their work. A cool destination for the art-minded individual and a good thing to do on an overcast and rainy day. And where else can you buy a nearly life sized paper mache horse?
My Local Homebrew Shop
After making our eyes bleed with perhaps too much art, we stopped off at Falls Church’s My Local Homebrew Shop, a tongue in cheek name for a–you guessed it–small local homebrew shop. I hail from Minnesota where we have the giant powerhouses of Midwest Supplies and Northern Brewer available to us, but I appreciate the smaller local stores as well. Shae is an occasional homebrewer and frequents this spot, so Kathleen thought it would be fun to take us. The place is tiny, but with a decent selection of homebrew supplies–more than enough to get started and keep you brewing. But they also serve beer on tap! One of the guys working let us sample our way through some local craft beers while we looked around and we could have ordered a pint if we weren’t pressed for time. They also fill growlers and have a small but well curated bottle shop stocked with some excellent local beers and some hard to find Belgians. We bought up on a few bottles to take back to the hinterlands. I wish we could have shops like this in Minnesota! The staff were really helpful and more than happy to give us pointers on other beer-centric places to visit on our trip as well.
Dogfish Head Ale House
While we did not have time to go all the day to Delaware for the “real” Dogfish Head, we did stop in at the Dogfish Head Ale House right across the highway. Think brewpub-themed Friday’s for the vibe here. The place was just starting to get busy (it was actually Friday night after all) and Sj managed to snag us a table in the bar before hoards of post-work thirsty drinkers took over the place. While they don’t actually brew there, they had a good amount of Dogfish Head’s beers on tap and also did samplers so we could try through several that we hadn’t tasted before. Just two weeks prior to this visit, Dogfish Head started distributing to Minnesota–something I’ve been waiting for for at least 10 years. And now I finally got a chance to try out one of their pubs. Irony you are not lost upon me. We had some snacks to go along with our beer and our server was very entertaining. The winner (beer-wise) was the refreshing new SeaQuench Ale: a blend of Berliner Weisse, gose and kolsch with black lemon (there is such a thing?) sea salt, and coriander.
After our beery diversion, we arrived back at our friend’s home, where poor Shae had been trapped in the garage for some time since Sj and I had their spare set of keys. Oops! Sorry we were drinking great beer while you tried to recover from your flight delays while lurking in a dark garage…
Now in need of sustenance we all piled into the car and went out to Elephant Jumps, a very authentic Thai restaurant that’s been open since 2010. There we had some pretty amazing and spicy foods that put the fine finishing touch on a busy day of exploration. I wish this place was near me, because I’d be there weekly at least.
Back to our home base and a much needed rest! Thus ends our first real day in Virginia with a plethora of animal themed events and locations! Next up: Air and space, BBQ, and more breweries!