Because you can always go downtown
Churches seem to be on every corner in the historically black part of Harrisonburg (specifically, the neighborhood surrounding the intersection of Myrtle and Kelley Streets), including the oldest of the bunch: the 121-year-old Bethel AME Church. Actually, there are only four churches, but all of them are within easy walking distance of each other. Three are black congregations, one is Latino. The AME, just off the Myrtle/Kelley intersection, has about 35 parishioners, and they’ll have a neighborhood icon — Ralph Sampson Sr. — singing at tomorrow morning’s service. Also cool: One of the ancestors of the people who built the church lives next door. She’s about to turn 103 and has lived in the walnut-tree shaded house for all but about six years of her life. Sadly, small congregations can’t afford full-time pastors, so they get commuter ministers (as you might guess from the less-than-permanent nameplate of the current occupant, who lives in the Charlottesville area).
I love this little Venezuelan restaurant in downtown Harrisonburg — Las Chamas, owned by Maria Chavez, who puts extraordinary effort into making it a laid-back, home-cooking success. Hang out on a Saturday night, and rocky/bluesy Tom Weaver might be singing — always a plus. It’s a meaty place but also has plenty of excellent vegetarian options. My favorite is the vegetarian platter (a takeout version is on the far right of the photo of food), which includes two fried eggs over easy, black beans and rice, yuca salad (like potato salad), little fried corn breads, an avocado slice and fried plantains (the photo also includes a side order, an arepa). The cachapa chicken (sort of a like a sandwich) is popular, but I think the signature dish might be the platter with shredded meat. The sauces (picture above) are crucial: use them (green is parsley, white is garlic, brown is un-effing-believably hot). Maria is a HUGE football (read: soccer) fan, as you can see by the TV and her World Cup chart. Las Chamas is at 50 Mason Street in front of Urban Exchange. (NOTE: I gathered the food photos — except for my vegetarian shot — from the Internet, because I didn’t want to hang over people taking pix of their meals :)
Harrisonburg fire fighters respond to a blaze in an apartment over Kline May Realty on Main Street just off of Court Square late Tuesday evening. Although the blames were doused quickly, I’m told, it was a difficult fire because of the narrow steps inside the building.
Occupy Harrisonburg meets every Tuesday evening in the gazebo on Court Square, quietly discussing issues of importance to the 99%. Today, they said, a cop came up and told them they would be trespassing after 6 p.m. (there’s a sign in the background). That, of course, is absurd. People use the gazebo day and night — some to talk about issues, others to hang out, others to read books. It’s just idiotic to place a restriction on its hours. The cop eventually left, the handful of Occupiers said, and they got the impression that the new rule was they had to vacate the area by dusk (and that the sign referred only to the Courthouse grounds proper). Again, dumb. Not only is there no noise issue, but “dusk” would all but eliminate Occupy for those long months when the sun sets before 6 p.m. Let me stress that this Occupy group consists of about eight retirement-aged people, such as former professors, engaging in intellectual discussions. They aren’t building an Occupy Village.
Cue the CNN music — breaking blog news (kind of): A worker at the little sliver of space beside Rocktown Bikes and Las Chamas on Mason Street in front of Urban Exchange says the space is being transformed into a three-story building, with plans for a restaurant and apartments. #theregoesmyview
Fortunately, these are not mortgages. (Boris Auto Sales used cars lot on Washington Street on the edge of downtown Harrisonburg.)
Thumbs-up to Belen’s Thrill of the Grill. I had the $7 Shiitake mushroom/cheese sandwich yesterday with grilled onions and enjoyed it. Very simple — no banana peppers or tomatoes or anything — but that might be why it worked so well. The cheese is velvety, a change of pace from sandwiches that offer Swiss or provolone or whatever. It comes with potato chips (or, for another $1, tater tots, which are inexplicably popular with millennials) and a pickle (YAY). In keeping with the sourcing-local-ingredients theme, I think it would be cool if Belen used Rt. 11 chips, but I don’t know if they’re offered in bulk, so it might be too pricey. I’m eager to see his vegetarian-friendly specials — I could envision local cheeses and tomatoes being put to good use. Anyway, tasty stuff from a good guy. Belen’s food truck is on Wolfe Street, just west of Liberty Street in downtown Harrisonburg (in what will soon be a food-truck court).
Belen’s Thrill of the Grill, the first of what will be three to five food trucks on a big lot on West Wolfe Street (just off of Liberty) in downtown Harrisonburg, is open at its new location. Leo Cook, a James Madison University graduate who earned a law degree at Virginia and now lives in Orlando, is helping develop the site. He was here today and told me he hopes to be open in about a month. “Open” means having an array of food trucks that will park on both sides of the building shown above. Eventually, it also means having a restaurant and/or brewery in the building, a further manifestation of Harrisonburg’s astonishing transformation into a hipster beer town.
The next truck on the lot will be a branch of the hyper-popular Grilled Cheese Mania. The owner was there today and said she plans to park the truck on the site soon and open shortly thereafter. Also coming, they said, is a branch of Taste of Soul. There HAVE to be tacos, too, right? Belen Martinez, the 28-year-old Harrisonburg High School graduate in the photos above, said he’s trying to help the tasty hole-in-the-wall downtown restaurant El Sol start a truck at the site. (I’ve always told people that El Sol is essentially a taco truck stuck in a wall, anyway.) Although many trucks appear to be meat-centric, most are vegetarian friendly (Belen all but dared me to tell his mushroom sandwich apart from his steak sandwich in flavor.)
The view from the site, as the happily enthusiastic Belen noted, is splendid — and it’s even more expansive in the next lot, which sits a little higher (it’s to the left of the second-to-last photo).
Why the explosion in food trucks in Harrisonburg? I think it has to do with our young, hip population — and the fact that we’re not a high-income area. So you can get a good meal for $10-15 at a food truck instead of $20-50 at a cool restaurant.
And from the truckster’s point of view, as Belen said, “I don’t have to pay $2,000 rent, so I can buy $9 or $10 grass-fed beef” — meaning high quality at reasonable prices.
Graffiti in the long, skinny space beside Rocktown Bikes and Las Chamas on Mason Street in Harrisonburg. They’re finally gutting the former restaurant — rumor is that it’ll morph into a kabob joint — and somebody decorated the place.
One of my new favorite things at the Venezuelan place on Mason Street in downtown Harrisonburg … mango/milk.
I finally made it to this store — Save & Prosper, a Russian general store about a 25-30 minute walk from the heart of downtown Harrisonburg on Virginia Avenue near the old stockyards. Sadly, it was closed Sunday, but on the way there I noticed two things: 1) the residential area of North Liberty Street, perhaps the most down-and-out part of town, is full of houses accessible only by a short flight of steep stairways, like you see in hilly mountain towns in Appalachia (but not so much in Harrisonburg); 2) manhole covers here are made in India (how exotic).
I’ve always thought this apartment building on West Gay Street in downtown Harrisonburg was charming.
Raymond, who grew up in the Bronx/Manhattan/Queens, came to Harrisonburg as a Fresh Air Kid in the ’60s or ’70s — and decided to live here. Saturday afternoon, he took one of his eight kids — seven boys, one girl — for a stroll on Court Square. Raymond has lived in the Burg for about 40 years now.