While my China travels seem a distant memory, I’m still challenged with a dose of wanderlust due to an inability to sit still for too long. As such, if you’re in the United States during the first quarter of 2016, it’s possible you’ll see me, Doc or the FORKS Tour Van, roadtrippin’ our great country. Read on to learn more about my 2016 plans.
Often during my speaking gigs I’m asked “What about the USA, do you just travel to foreign countries, or do you travel your own country?” First, it should be noted that over the course of my adult life, I’ve visited 49 of our great United States (North Dakota, for some reason, has eluded me) and three of the five United States inhabited territories. I can read between the lines of questions that fall into this category, and I truly believe that due to our nations history of settlement by immigrants and its natives, our country is a diverse wonderland where perhaps one could find a taste of culture from any of the more than 60 countries I’ve traveled. I’m the first to advise any potential traveler that anyone can find the world in our own backyard—one needs only to be open to looking for it.
That’s what I’ve been doing. I just returned home from a three-week blast across the country. With a little business and speaking to do and spending time with family on the east coast, my good friend and WorldRider logistics manager John “Johnny A” Angus and I completed a tour that found us cruising some 15 states. Here’s a quick overview of the highlights—with, of course, a few culinary notes.
Washington DC & McLean VA
The most important highlight of the DC/Virginia segment, of course, is spending Thanksgiving with family and friends. My dad, Wayne, made the journey north from Florida to spend his first holiday alone since the passing of his wife in late September. So nice and important for him to be surrounded by love and good food during a time of grieving. Johnny A and I tried our best to convince him to “roadtrip” with us as we were heading to Florida next. He opted to stick to his plan to fly out of Reagan International Airport, and when we dropped him off several of the skycaps were fascinated by the FORKS Tour Van and asked permission to take a picture—they were from Ethiopia and Kenya—two of the countries I traveled by motorcycle.
A trip to DC is not complete without visiting historic sites, monuments, or the seat of our nation’s government. At the White House we met a woman who’s resided just across the street for over three decades and has watched pass through the revolving door of the White House five (p)residents. Concepcion Picciotto set up her own “peace camp” on the sidewalk just beyond the gates of the White House lawn in 1981. If she ever leaves or abandons her camp, Capital Police will tear down her camp. Years later National Park Service rules changed, forcing her to move to the sidewalk across the street. A documentary film “The Oracles of Pennsylvania Avenue” released in 2012 features Concepcion and other persistent and persevering White House protestors.
Curious Explorer Tip (McLean, Virginia): Stop in say hello to Mr. Sun Sun Cleaners & Alterations 1300 Old Chain Bridge Road, Mc Lean, VA 22101 703.448.3776
At the other end of the Washington DC Mall, we paid tribute to fallen veterans at the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial where we located among the more than 58,000 names inscribed along the nearly 250 foot wall, the name of Donald R Marshall, once a resident of Bricktown New Jersey, where John grew up and who was a classmate and served with John’s brother-in-law. Donald died in battle in Vietnam at 19 years old.
Many DC visitors mark the Lincoln Memorial as their favorite, for the iconic sculpture of our sixteenth president looks across the chasm of the reflecting pool at the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building.
Culinary Tip (Arlington, Virginia): SER, a Spanish restaurant that means “to be” simple. easy. real. We approached the diverse menu with a small “tapas” plate attitude and enjoyed amazing food including Octopus a la Gallega, Mejillones, Manchego, Pimientos del Padrón, Papas Bravas and good wine as well as brilliant service. Visit SER near the Ballston Metro Stop and tell Dimitri and Murtaze that Allan and Johnny A sent you. SER 1110 N Glebe Road Arlington, VA 22201 703.746.9822.
After nearly a week with my brother and his family, Johnny A and I piloted the FORKS Tour Van south with the GPS guiding us ultimately to Marco Island. Along the way we stopped for dinner in Richmond—the capital of Virginia. Sadly, we didn’t have time to get the mandatory photo of the state capitol building with the FORKS Tour Van. This just means we must return for more great food an discovery in the future.
Culinary Tip (Richmond, Virginia): Stella’s a lively place tucked down a residential street that features “rustic & modern greek cuisine.” This time we relied on Yelp to guide us to something local and not far from the freeway. Stella’s has been serving Richmond since 1983, and on this Monday night the place was packed, with the hostess turning away people at the door. We lucked out, however, with a bit of patience and a good story, we were seated in under 30 minutes. Dish of the night: Grilled octopus. Be sure to try the lamb and take a chance on any of the Greek wine offerings. Stella’s 1012 Lafayette Street Richmond, VA 23221 804.358.2011
St. Augustine, Florida
Known as the oldest city in the United States, Saint Augustine was settled in 1565 by Spanish explorers and ultimately served as the capital of Florida (under Spain) for some 200 years.
Today tourists saunter up and down St. George Street where they’ll find the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country or wander the Colonial Corner, while still others might search the various watering holes in search of the Fountain of Youth, as did one of St. Augustine’s earliest visitors, Ponce de Leon.
John and I stumbled into a dusty and somewhat ramshackle shop littered with nostalgia, a collection of empty wine bottles and decades old eclectic items for sale. I counted some 13 clocks of varying designs. Part wine shop and bar, part flea market, it’s easy to walk right past “The Monk’s Vineyard” on St. George, but don’t, you will want to say hi to Hank Williams, the legendary proprietor and occasional banjo or sax player (ask him to play) who will be quick to share that his business, at one time a thriving restaurant and owned by his dad, is for sale. Hank has stories, which are much better than his wine selection. Sitting her sipping a glass of wine with Hank feels more like visiting with a long lost friend where time slips by slowly as you reconnect and learn about each others fascinating histories.
Curious Explorer Tip (St. Augustine, Florida): You need to check out The Monk’s Vineyard 56 Saint George Street, Saint Augustine, FL 32084-3608 904.824.5888
Marco Island, Florida
Sitting a tiny microclimate in southern Florida west of the everglades and south of Naples is the tiny island of Marco, or Marco Island. My brother Jim has lived and built business on Marco for more than twenty years.
Some five years ago my Mom and stepfather, Howard, pulled roots from their home in the Black Hills of South Dakota in the shadows of Mount Rushmore to the milder and much warmer weather of Marco. Coincidentally, Johnny A’s mom, Bette and her husband Bernie moved south from New Jersey many years ago. Though our respective mother’s don’t know each other well, they both live on the same island. For many years, Johnny A and I have discussed the possibility of embarking on a road trip that would end up in Marco with our mothers, but for many years we always found reasons not to make it happen. That changed with this 2015 fall/winter road trip.
Marco Island is a major tourist destination, with its sandy white beaches, beautiful resorts and intimate and easy to reach location, it consistently ranks on top islands lists by major travel sites and magazines. Though I’m drawn here to spend time with family, including my now seven year old nephew, Aiden. Already and at such a young age, Aiden is a vociferous reader. So I presented him with his own personalize dopy of FORKS. He tells me it’s “very interesting, and a bit harder to read” than some of his other books. The first night he read 37 pages, and was caught up past his bedtime cuddling up with the book in bed. Even better, young Aiden has a much more adventurous palate than children his age. He eagerly shoved his fork into seconds and thirds and next day leftovers of the Chicken Curry Lentils dish I prepared—inspired from a Burmese (Myanmar) recipe that just might make the next book or grace the pages of this website in the future. Delicious, hearty and good for you!
The highlight of my time in Marco is early morning walks with my mom on the Island Golf Course. The hour long ritual is often celebrated with bald eagle sightings. There’s a huge eagle’s nest just off the fairway along the back nine. Two eagles tend to either ready-to-hatch eggs, or young eagles.
I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the hour or so mom, Howard and I spent at on the patio at Stan’s Idle Hour Restaurant in Goodland, a wacky if not cute outpost that while close in proximity is a far stretch from the tourists and scene on Marco. Perhaps that’s because Woodland could be the place where many of Marco’s service workers call home and where Harleys, monster trucks and trailer homes form a landscape that seems more Florida than the rest of the island.
Johnny A and I loaded the FORKS Tour Van just about a week after arriving in this sunny paradise, only this week we were treated to unseasonably rainy weather. We set our GPS to take us west, with New Orleans and likely first stop.
New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA)
When it comes to New Orleans usually Bourbon Street, Gumbo, Crawfish, Jazz and perhaps the lower ninth ward might come to mind, but with a nearly midnight arrival in the city that hardly sleeps, Johnny A and I opted out of the mostly greasy, and questionably healthy late night bar food of those NOLA establishments still serving, for the fresh and inspiring food served out of a convenience store in the quieter business district. True, it might seem odd that our first culinary exploration of NOLA would be food concocted by an Egyptian American who settled in New Orleans from New York.
“Are you Cleo?” I asked the the tall slender man who the chef told owned the restaurant and store. “No, I’m Tarek, Clea is for Cleopatra,” he tells me in a thick accent. Tarek started Cleo’s Mediterranean Cuisine some four years ago, it’s open 24 hours, seven days a week, and it’s captured high markets from TripAdvisor.com, Yelp, and Thrillist.com as one of the top restaurants in the city — well, it’s perhaps not one of the best, but it’s certainly one of the best open after midnight and that serves adventurous food for an audience used to frozen Hurricanes and spicy gumbo—give it a try if you find yourself in NOLA late night. Culinary Tip (New Orleans, Louisiana): Late night NOLA gem is Cleo’s Mediterranean Cuisine and Grocery, 165 University Place, NOLA 504.522.4504
Johnny A and I wandered down Bourbon Street and then made our way to Decatur and the French Market where we grabbed a table at Café du Monde, where we imbibed in the local culture and cuisine by downing a handful of tasty beignets and coffee flavored with a hint of chickaree—another NOLA institution. While there we couldn’t resist the opportunity to commandeer a Café du Monde service cap and to add to our cuisine a little connection with a few of the staff.
Our arrival in Texas found us at a relatively normal dining hour, so Johnny A and I enjoyed a tasty meal of red fish, venison and fresh salads at Wink—an old school (they say 14 years in Austin is old school) Austin restaurant. A satisfying meal, though a bit pricey for the portions served.
The true value we uncovered the next morning after a late night at The Elephant Room, an underground speakeasy type bar and live music venue. Baker’s Dozen, a 14 piece jazz orchestra conducted by Doug Baker jammed until nearly 3AM. In the morning, with my head still foggy from the night before, a text message from my good friend Tim Amos advises me that before living Austin it’s imperative we have a breakfast taco at Joe’s Bakery.
Seems it’s nearly impossible to find a breakfast burrito in Austin, but the tacos? Legendary. And nobody makes a carne guisado taco better than Joe—serving Austin since 1962. We paired the pork taco with a more traditional egg, onion, and tomato taco and a few slices of bacon. “The best bacon I’ve ever had,” claimed Johnny A after tasting the fatty pork that was lightly coated in flour before hitting the skillet. Delicious, and off the beaten track. Culinary Tip (Austin, Texas): Try the breakfast tacos at Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop, 2305 East 7th, Street Austin, TX 512.472.0017‘
California Bound and The FORKS Book & Cooking Demo Tour 2016
So sorry for the long and long overdue blog post. Typically, much of this stuff would be doled out in smaller posts with more photography. But life gets in the way sometimes, so I wanted to at least give you a bit of a taste, or flavor of our November/December 2015 road trip.
Beginning in 2016, I will report on travel to Colorado—including to Steamboat Springs where both Johnny A and I will meet with with Jonathan Karl and my niece Emily along with lifelong friends Brian Brown and Dave Almy for a few days skiing at legendary mountain at Steamboat Ski & Resort mountain and trails.
Later in January I will begin a tour with the The Travel & Adventure Show as Doc, the FORKS Tour Van and I will travel throughout the U.S. including Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Washington DC and Philadelphia where I will give presentations, offer cooking demonstrations and do book signings and more. Stay tuned to these pages for more inforaiton and dates. The first show is San Diego January 16-17, 2016. I will be blogging, photographing and posting video and podcasts from the road. Perhaps I’ll see you there!