Because you can always go downtown
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.
SATURDAY AT THE HARRISONBURG FARMERS MARKET 4: A Mennonite girl (I think) helps sell bread, a Latino kid works his mother’s produce stand, art on sale, dog apparel (Harrisonburg is a very hipster, dogster town), flowers ($14), and an impromto ukelele concert.
SATURDAY AT THE HARRISONBURG FARMERS MARKET 3: Some of the non-produce food at the downtown farmers market.
SATURDAY AT THE HARRISONBURG FARMERS MARKET 1: Some of the produce on sale today at Turner Pavilion downtown, including lots of heirloom tomatoes (be prepared to pay close to $10 for three big ones), fancy mushrooms (the guy said they take about a week to grow — great renewable resource), lots of everyday produce, blueberries and rhubarb (another stand had cantaloupes), Asian eggplant (the only type of eggplant I like — creamier and milder than the Italian variety), gooseberries (a European staple that the seller said have proven surprisingly popular at the market), another look at those pretty heirloom tomatoes, and squash blossoms .
A while back, I reviewed the Friendly City Food Co-Op. Essentially, I said it was a cool, valuable addition to downtown Harrisonburg — a store whose local products and speciality food under one convenient roof trumped the higher-than-normal prices.
Happily, the Co-Op appears to be prospering and, beyond a doubt, is continuing to improve. The produce section, especially, is massively better than it was two or three years ago, when you had to watch out for severely wrinkled vegetables or mold on fruit. Produce today is generally fresh, varied and — whenever possible — local.
Friendly City’s deli is still very limited — and, personally, I’ve always thought the baked sweets were mediocre and hugely overpriced — but the store-baked baguettes are a great addition (they’ve replaced bread from outside bakeries, which — naturally — had significant markups).
God, how I miss Dave’s Taverna pizza dough (it disappeared, of course, with Dave’s downtown restaurant). You’d think somebody would be willing to make and sell quality dough to the Co-Op. The $3.50 price (as I recall) obviously includes a good profit margin. Oh well.
Ice-cream selection is good now (although I still think a loss leader like Breyers’ vanilla-chocolate-strawberry would be a good addition — sell it at supermarket prices and attract customers who might pick up a couple more items while in the store. Quit rolling your eyes, Steve ;)
I’m very happy with the new wine section. It actually has genuine bargains — tasty reds from $10-$14. It’s my go-to everyday wine shop now, rather than the Court Square place (though I’ll still go there when I want to stock up on a bigger variety of wines).
Bottom line: I’m a huge fan of the Co-Op, shopping there three or four days a week. Not only are there plenty of things I’ve come to depend on at the store, but the atmosphere is very cool. (Oddly, my other primary grocery store is the antithesis of the Co-Op … Walmart, which — btw — does have Italian shrink-wrapped gnocchi, not to throw out a hint.) And I love the little bargains scattered around Friendly City — like the discounted Talenti ice cream today.
So, again, the Co-Op is a downtown treasure. And it plans to expand in the next several months.