Sunday, October 12, 2014

Vacation Begins

Aside from Christmas travels, it's been a little over two years since I actually went on vacation. So when my job took me to Fairfax, Virginia, for the weekend, I decided to take a few extra days for myself. 

This morning I slept in, had a leisurely morning at the hotel, sleeping in and lounging around with the Food Network and a cup of hotel coffee. Then I hopped in my rental car and headed toward Maryland! Because when you live in Texas and are 6 or more hours from any other state border, it's exceedingly exciting to drive for just under an hour and be in another state! 

It was around noon when I checked out of the hotel, so I looked for good restaurants along the route from Fairfax to Annapolis. Urbanspoon recommended Delia's Pizzeria and Grille, which serves Italian, Greek, and Peruvian food. Wait . . . Peruvian? Yep. Why not throw some South American cuisine in with the Mediterranean? I was intrigued, so to Delia's I went! 

It. Was. Delightful. 

I was greeted by Nick/Niko, the uber-friendly restaurant host with a heavy Greek accent, who showed me to a table and checked on me frequently throughout my time there. Since it was my first time at Delia's, Niko also brought me a complimentary appetizer of tzatziki and fresh pita. So nice, and so tasty! One of my dining strategies while traveling is to order things that are most unlike what I could get from the restaurants at home . . . so I went straight to the Peruvian section of the menu and ordered chicharron con yucca, which the menu described as "marinated pieces of fried pork, served with yucca, onions, and green garnish." And just for kicks, I also got a Peruvian drink called chica morada, which is made from purple corn and pineapple, with some cinnamon and cloves thrown in for good measure. 

Everything was so good! The yucca (which I'd never had before) was cubed and fried. It tasted kind of like a cross between a white potato and a plantain--very starchy, with a hint of sweetness. The spices on the pork were just wonderful. The small bowls of green and creamy yellow stuff were sauces for the meat and yucca--a jalapeno/lime/cilantro sauce and a honey-mustard mayo sauce. The chica morada was sweet, yummy, and unlike anything I've ever had before. Corn and pineapple sounds strange, but if you think about it, corn is kinda sweet and creamy, which complements the sweet tanginess of pineapple. The corn-pineapple combo reminded me a bit of eating a corn and pineapple salsa/relish, and the pineapple-cinnamon-clove combo was reminiscent of wassail. 

While I was attempting to eat the vast amount of food before me, a woman sat at the table next to me, and we struck up a conversation and chatted throughout the rest of my meal and all of her meal. She's from the area and suggested some places to visit while I'm in the area--including some restaurants, a basilica, and a monastery. She also told me the story of why there's Peruvian food on Delia's menu. Delia's used to just be Italian and Greek, and there was a Peruvian restaurant next door. Well, I guess the Peruvian restaurant had to close, and Delia's acquired that space and expanded their own restaurant into the former Peruvian restaurant. But they hired several of the Peruvian cooks and added a handful of their dishes to their own menu!

Between the amazing food, the delightful conversation with my dining companion, and the friendly banter with the waitresses and Niko, it was unquestionably my favorite dining experience in a long time.

With a very full belly, I continued on my merry way. The highways there (at least the ones I drove on) were lined with trees that were starting to change colors for fall. So pretty! After getting checked into my hotel in Annapolis, I headed downtown and just walked around, took pictures, and in general looked like an oblivious tourist. The best word I can think of to describe downtown Annapolis is charming. It's preserved a lot of its historic character, many of the buildings are red brick and look so classy, and a number of the streets are cobbled rather than paved. There's apparently a sailboat show going on this weekend, so downtown was bustling. 

I had already picked out a place to eat dinner, but was still really full from lunch. But dinner was really my best bet for going there, and I didn't want to wander around downtown after dark (that whole being alone thing), so I decided to head toward the restaurant and order something small and light. 

On the way, I drove over this wonderfully scenic bridge. While driving over, I thought, "I need to find a place to park so I can come back up onto this bridge and take pictures!" I went back and forth across the bridge a couple times looking for parking on either side, and landed in a great little park right at the base of the bridge. The bridge was breezy and beautiful, stretching over the Severn River which branches off the Chesapeake Bay. The park was serene, with lots of folks out fishing or just sitting quietly.

From there I went to Cantler's Riverside Inn, about which I was excited for two reasons: 1) they're right on the Chesapeake Bay and serve very fresh seafood, and 2) Wiki Travel described them as a family style restaurant "where you sit at park benches and eat shoulder to shoulder with everyone." Now, on my Santa Fe vacation two years ago, my friend L and I ate at a restaurant with a communal table, and it was so much fun--we met people from Austin, Portland, and New Zealand, had a grand old time, and one woman and I were even sampling bites off each other's plates. 

So that was my expectation for Cantler's, but sadly that was not how it went at Cantler's--or at least with my tablemates at Cantler's. My table consisted of a girl attending the Naval Academy, her parents who were visiting her for the weekend, and me. After an awkward interchange where I eagerly sat down with them, then learned very quickly that they had no desire to chat it up with a random stranger during their special night out and their limited time together as a family, I scooted down to the far end of the table and pulled out my iPad to do a little reading. 

I ordered a crab caprese salad because it sounded light and had crab meat in it. But the balsamic dressing really overwhelmed the crab and mozzarella, and the greens and tomatoes were unimpressive. Upon the waitress' recommendation, I tried a bowl of soup--actually a mixture of a tomato-based Maryland crab soup and a cream of crab soup. It was far tastier than the caprese, and much more appropriate fare for sitting outside on the patio in the 63-degree night air.

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