I occasionally write about unique eateries that I come across in my travels. In the past I have written about Hillbilly Hot Dogs in Lesage, WV (see link), Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, OR (see link), Lambert’s Cafe – the Home of Throwed Rolls in Sykston, MO (see link), the Wigwam in Ravenna, KY (see link), Fat Smitty’s Burgers in Port Townsend, WA (see link) and dozens of other unique places. Last week (Feb. 8, 2017) we were introduced to another fabulous place called The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, TX. Much like Fat Smitty’s in Washington or Hillbilly Hot Dogs in West Virginia, this is a quirky themed eatery (or in this case, a resort…).
The place is huge and includes a giant playground for the kids, which includes two old school buses and more. Funky art and rustic decor surround the resort. Its setting in an almost rural area of Houston makes it even more fun.
Of course, decor and quirkiness are a great draw, but if the food is so so, one may not want to return. Not the case at The Shack. Their burgers are huge, flavorful and there is a great variety to choose from. For those that like to imbibe, there is also a full bar. And their Fried Pickle Chips are to die for!
As I noted above, the place is quirky. For instance, the Men’s Restroom is totally quirky/rustic. A really nice touch…
The Men’s Room had wooden Saloon Doors for the stalls and an old rustic sink for washing hands. There was art on the doors and on the walls. No themes….just quirky all the way!!
Everywhere you look there was fun art and unique kitsch. Here are a few more shots of this fun place. Definitely worth a visit if in the Houston area.
I will have a different post about the Virginia Creeper Trail as part of my Bike Trail Series, but I wanted to post an article about the non-bike portion of our trip to Damascus, Abingdon, and Bristol, VA. Besides the bike trail, there is so much more to see and do on a road trip down to this part of Appalachia.
We began our trip by leaving early in the morning on Saturday to drive to Damascus via the towns of Hazard and Whitesburg in Kentucky on US Highways 23 and 119. Once into Virginia, we passed through the small towns of Pound and Wise.
The entire drive that morning was beautiful as we passed through the mountains of Kentucky and Virginia. The mountains were laced with fog and low clouds in this beautiful part of Appalachia. Many of the plants and telephone lines were covered with the invasive Kudzu (also known as Japanese Arrowroot) plant…though obnoxious, it does have its own eerie beauty.
Our first actual stop on the road was right as we entered the town of Pound. As we come down the hill there is a large mural painted on the side of a wall by the highway. As always, I stopped to grab a photo to add to my growing collection of wall murals from around the US and Canada. We then drove through the little village of Pound to see if there was anything interesting, which there wasn’t. But, these small little towns always have a charm about them.
Along US 23 after getting into Virginia, we came across signs that said we were on “The Crooked Road.” The Crooked Road is Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, a driving route through the Appalachian Mountains from the Blue Ridge to the Coalfields region, following U.S. Route 58, but also with parts on U.S. Route 23.
The road winds through over 333 miles of scenic terrain in southwest Virginia, including 19 counties, four cities, and 54 towns. Famed Bluegrass musicians such as Ralph Stanley, Joe Wilson, the Carter Family Fold and others, all hailed from this area.
From Pound we made our way into Wise, VA on US 23 and just continued on the road to Damascus. Our trip eventually took us into Abingdon and then on to Damascus. From there we then went up US Highway 58 to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and near the top of Whitetop Mountain where there is a station called Whitetop Station where the bike trail begins (actually begins about a mile away in North Carolina).
It was a beautiful drive up there and they departed on their ride down the hill. Whitetop Station is about 3500′ in altitude and Damascus is at 1952′, so in a 17 mile stretch they would drop about 1600 feet. (I’ll cover that in a separate Bike Trail Post) After dropping them off, I drove a few mile back to Green Cove Station, which is another stop along the Virginia Creeper Trail. It was packed with bikers, but is also a very scenic part of the route.
Both Whitetop and Green Cove have snacks, drinks and also sell some t-shirts and hats, proceeds of which go to benefit the Creeper Trail Association that maintains the trail.
The stations also carry a few tools and some spare tires, etc., that have been donated by other riders.
Certainly worth a brief visit to see their offerings if you are up that way.
This area near Green Cove is dotted with Christmas Tree farms and is a lusciously pastoral environment for both the bikers and those tat are driving the back roads. The scene above is indicative (and you can see the Christmas tree grove on the left side).
From Green Cove I headed back down to the town of Damascus and drove around. Damascus touts itself as “Trail Town USA.” The reason for this is because many trails seem to converge into this town, most specifically the Appalachian Trail which is America’s most famous hiking trail and then the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail, which is one of the more well-known bike trails. There are apparently a few other trails that come through the area.
The entire town is set up to handle this “trail traffic.” There are outdoor shops, a number of bike shops that sell and rent bikes, there are outfitters that provide the things needed for hiking and camping such as tents and sleeping bags. Many of the eateries in town also cater to this type of crowd, thus giving the town a very relaxed and very friendly atmosphere. Sundog Outfitters was a great place for this and also has a large bike repair area with most of the items needed. We know as we had to get a repair done there during our visit.
Another thing I liked about the town was the murals. I am always looking for interesting murals and wall paintings. There are 4 or 5 murals including the Trail Town USA mural (shown above) which features a large compass and a life size mural poster of the Appalachian Trail with a pioneer on it. The Town Park features some interesting murals on the Restroom Walls…one of them I took has become one of my more popular Instagram photos. Following are a couple more I came across.
Unfortunately, as I noted above, Julianne’s bike broke down along the first few miles of the trail and she and Marissa ended up being stranded. They made their way to the Upbeet Cafe and the Creeper Trail Cafe, located along the trail on Taylor Valley Road, but really way out of the way for a car from Damascus. Map is below.
Actually, the Upbeet Cafe, where Julianne was stranded, is further north up VA 725. Fortunately, a good Samaritan took her in a truck from the Upbeet to the famed Creeper Trail Cafe where I was able to find her and get the bike loaded.
As a result of the downed bike and the time required to drive to Taylors Valley and back to Damascus, we decided to call it a day and go again on the next day. So, we drove back into Damascus, got the bike repaired at SunDog and then found our way to a place to eat.
I am always about eating at local places when on the road and had researched to find that the Old Mill Inn in Damascus was THE place to eat in town. There are many other eateries, but this one is along the river and overlooks a scenic waterfall.
The thing about this unique eatery is that the menu is upscale and the dining experience is nice, but they cater to the casually dressed bikers and hikers. We were given great treatment by Kara Maguire, who is related to the owners. And we got a special treat when the Head Chef, John King, came out personally to serve us our unique and tasty dishes. All this while we sat at a table overlooking the waterfall behind the mill.
The atmosphere was casual, but the dining experience was upscale. They first brought us some Asian inspired tacos as an appetizer. These were so good that they disappeared before I could even get a photo! For dinner, Julianne got a vegan dish called Beet Risotto that included some root vegetables that had been steamed and spiced and were laid on top of the risotto. It was very tasty. I picked up a nice pulled-pork three cheese sandwich with their homemade “Mill Slaw.” Marissa had a chicken curry sandwich which was also quite amazing.
After dinner, we spent the night in Bristol, Virginia. I had earned a free night through my Choice Hotels points and stayed at Quality Inn and Suites. It was a nice restful evening as prepared to get up early the next morning to return to Whitetop.
Our drive up to Whitetop Station on Sunday was phenomenal! Along the roadway there were many places where we saw sunbeams coming through the trees, such as the photos that I have included below. Reminded me of a reference to Paul the Apostle in Acts 9:3 in the New Testament that says: “And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven.” Indeed, on US 58 near Damascus, we too enjoyed the lights from Heaven on that Sabbath morning.
After dropping them off on the trail, I made my way back down the road and visited a couple of the bridges and then went on to Damascus and did more driving around town to find old buildings, little bed-and-breakfast places and ultimately a place for us to eat dinner.
On Sunday we stopped for lunch at a place along the trail called In the Country Bakery and Eatery. There are actually many places along the trail, some of which are actually a challenge to get to via automobile but have been built specifically to handle trail traffic. I
already mentioned the Upbeet Cafe and Creeper Cafe above. But on this day we stopped at In the Country which sit on the outskirts of Damascus. They offer sandwiches, baked goods and home made fudge. Their food was reasonable and they had indoor and outdoor seating with a view of the trail across US 58.
On the same site they have a great ice cream place called Off the Beaten Path Ice Cream Shoppe. It so happened that July 17 was National Ice Cream Day so we all indulged in ice cream.
They offered about 20 different flavors and also had some sherbets so it was perfect for a very warm day.
After lunch and a little relaxing Julianne and Marissa took off for the remaining 13 or 14 miles of their trip to Abingdon, Virginia on the Creeper Trail. I too made my way to Abingdon via US Highway 58 and took a couple of detours to get photos of the trail with them riding on it. I also found a couple of nice bridge shots along the way.
Apparently, the last few miles of the trail to Abingdon have a grueling gradual uphill climb, but not nearly the altitude change. Indeed, Damascus sits at 1952′ while Abingdon is at 2087′, which means about a 100′ rise. However, there was still some downhill from Damascus apparently.
I got to Abingdon much earlier than they did and was able to drive around the little town, which also caters to the biking crowd and to the hiking crowd. I discovered a movie complex with great wall art so had to grab a couple of shots. Always like fun Wall Art.
Abingdon has a Virginia Creeper Welcome Center at the end of the trail and it includes many old relics from the railroad and also has the last train engine to ride along that railroad from the 1980s. The final bridge, bridge number one, is the end of the trail and in that vicinity there are other little things to see.
After we loaded the bikes, we departed for Kentucky via Bristol, VA where we had spent the night previously. Bristol, VA is one of those unique towns that actually is split into two states. The drive along State Street will feature flags of the United States and Virginia on one side of the highway and flags of Tennessee and the United States on the other side. There are theaters, and number of murals in the town and the fairly well known large archway that welcomes people to Bristol.
While driving through town we came across a fast food place called Pal’s Sudden Service. We didn’t stop there to eat (we were already full), but I loved the unique building design — totally quirky. And I really got a kick out of their road sign — Exercise Daily. The building only has drive thru windows and no other windows. But the giant hot dog and hamburger can’t be missed! They apparently are located mainly in east Tennessee and southwest Virginia, with 28 shops dotting this region. The company got its start in Kingsport, TN, where the original Pal’s still sits with its giant Burger Holding Muffler Man statue (looks like I need another trip!)
Our Drive back to Lexington from Bristol took us through Cumberland Gap and we were able to take the famed Cumberland Gap Tunnel which brought us into the town of Middlesboro.
Originally completed in October 1996, the tunnels each carry two-lanes of traffic. Each tunnel was bored through 4100-feet of solid rock. At the tallest point, the tunnels are 30-feet high. Cross passages, located every 300-feet, connect the two tunnels and are equipped with fire extinguishers and phones for emergency use.
Since the mountain releases approximately 450 gallons of water every minute, thick PVC liner around the tunnels ensures that the bores stay dry. Air quality is monitored constantly by electronic sensors, and ventilation fans are located every 600-feet to keep air circulating in the tunnel. Variable message board signs are located in the Cumberland Gap vicinity to warn drivers of impending hazardous traffic and weather conditions or to direct traffic flow. AM and FM radio stations can be overridden with emergency messages as well.
The town of Middlesboro, KY is one a few towns in the United States or perhaps even the world, that is built completely within the confines of a meteor crater. We stopped there for dinner at a Mexican restaurant and enjoyed some fairly good food. From there we zipped back up through Barbourville and Corbin and then back into Lexington.
It was a quick two day trip, but it was very fun and the scenery was amazing. The mountains of Appalachia especially in southeast Kentucky southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee are very beautiful. We look forward to taking another trip to the area in October when the colors should all be changed. Needless to say, the summer brings its own variety of colors in the wildflowers, some of which I captured in digital form…another plus to a trip like this!
I recently made a trip up to Cleveland to visit family in Little Italy (see the post about the Little Italy neighborhood HERE). While there, I got to spend a day with my sister and her husband visiting sites in and around Cleveland as well as a few small treks on my own. With the challenge of only a couple of days, I made it a point to visit some of the quirky and offbeat sites as well as a couple of historic things. We saw a good deal of Cleveland and also visited the Kirtland area, which will be added to a different post.
I started off one of my mornings by going to Lake Erie at Kenneth J. Sims Park in Euclid, which is right on the lake and offers some nice views. It is also home to the Henn Mansion Historical Site. and getting some marvelous photos of the sunrise over the lake and saw some geese and a blue heron. Those that follow my blogs and Facebook posts know that I love nature as much as I like traveling and seeing quirky sites.
I next made my way into Cleveland to go visit the “birthplace” of Superman. In the 1930s, teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, both of whom went to the same Glenville High School and both had the same love of science fiction stories, either as novels or comic strips, and even lived only a couple of blocks apart, created a comic book hero named Superman. Siegel ended up writing the original stories and then Shuster would put them into comic book form. (See a more complete story about these two HERE.)
Nowadays, the neighborhood is actually kind of a scary part of Cleveland. It has suffered a great amount of urban decay as some of these photos below indicate. But the neighborhood and the street that Superman memorial is on, is generally well-kept. It is a predominantly African-American neighborhood now and the people in this neighborhood take good care of their homes despite the age of the buildings.
Both the house that Superman was “born” in and then Joe Shuster’s house as well have a big superman S on the front of the fence along with a big plaque commemorating the history of Superman and the stories of Jerry and Joe. Obviously, when you think about Metropolis for Superman, or Gotham City for Batman, the cities are old and dark much like New York, Chicago or even cities like Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
I got a chuckle out of the street names for both the street that Superman “the story” was created (Kimberley) and then Superman “the comic book character” (Amor) was drawn. In both cases they have street signs with the original names of the artists. And both streets come off of Parkwood, also known as “Lois Lane.”
After my visit to the Superman sites, I joined much of my Laurienzo family for a big breakfast at a place called Alfredo’s at the Inn in Mayfield Village. Though known for their Italian Cuisine in the evenings, they also have a nice breakfast menu and buffet. It is really a good place for big groups like ours.
After a nice breakfast, my sister Tina and her husband Jim took me on a grand tour of Cleveland including Downtown and some of the surrounding areas. It was nice to spend an extended time with them and get to know them better. My sister Tina, the second oldest, always seems to have a bright shiny countenance. Jim is also lots of fun.
Cleveland is an old industrial city and thus there are many old buildings and lots of old housing districts. There is the old steel mill section that is now been refurbished in there trying to use it as a shopping or entertainment district now. And, being both a Lake Town (Lake Erie) and a River Town (the 100 mile long Cuyahoga River — the river is famous for having been so polluted that it “caught fire” in 1969. The event helped to spur the environmental movement in the US.), there are many bridges dotting the city.
The two Art Deco style sandstone sculptures on the bridge (shown above), known as the “Guardians of Traffic,” were created by New York sculptor Henry Hering. There are actually eight of them. They were completed in 1932 and were named by the bridge’s engineer, Wilbur Watson. Each guardian holds a different ground vehicle.The Cleveland Magazine had a very nice writeup about the Guardians in a post in 2009. It is worth a read and can be seen HERE.
I have always been fascinated by bridges, especially large viaduct types of bridges. Cleveland has a couple of these. The Detroit–Superior Bridge (officially known as the Veterans Memorial Bridge) is a 3,112 foot long through arch bridge over the Cuyahoga River. Construction began in 1914 and the bridge was completed in 1918. At its completion, the bridge was the largest steel and concrete reinforced bridge in the world.
Until 2007, the Main Avenue Bridge was the longest bridge in the state. Though no longer the longest, the bridge is still considered to be the longest historic bridge in Ohio. The total structure length of this historic bridge including ramps is 8000 Feet The bridge’s clearance over the river is 100 Feet.This bridge is a significant example of a deck cantilever structure, and represents a significant engineering achievement of the time. Five people were killed during the construction of this bridge.
The city is also a treasure trove of some unique statues and monuments. Most notable is the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. This monument to Civil War soldiers and sailors from Cuyahoga County is located in the southeast quadrant of Public Square in downtown Cleveland. It was opened on July 4, 1894. It was designed by architect Levi Scofield, who also created the monument’s sculptures.
I never knew about this amazing monument. The monument consists of a 125-foot black granite shaft erected on a square base constructed of rough-hewn granite blocks trimmed in sandstone and housing a memorial building. The shaft divided by six carved bands which list the names of battles in which Cuyahoga soldiers fought and is topped with a bronze statue of the “Goddess of Liberty” signifying loyalty to United States. Four bronze groupings at its base depict the four branches of the Union Army— the Navy, Cavalry, Infantry, and Artillery.
Following are a few more photos from the monument —
Inside the memorial building are a series of marble tablets listing 10,000 Civil War veterans that served with Cuyahoga County regiments or were from Cuyahoga County.
Also in the building, above the tablets, on the east and west walls are the bronze busts of officers who were killed in action. Above the north side door is the bust of General James Barnett, and above the south side door is Captain Levi T. Scofield. The foundation of the column centers the room. On each of the four sides are bronze relief statues portraying the Beginning of the War in Ohio, The Emancipation of the Slave, the Northern Ohio Soldiers’ Aid Society, Sanitary Commission, and Hospital Service Corps, and The End of the War.
Just a couple of blocks from there is the Peace Memorial Statue. Better known as the Fountain of Eternal Life, and sometimes also called the War Memorial Fountain and Peace Arising from the Flames of War, this statue and fountain was designed by Cleveland Institute of Art graduate Marshall Fredericks and dedicated on May 30, 1964. The sculpture, which honors Cleveland residents who served, died, or were declared missing in military service, is situated on Veterans’ Memorial Plaza as part of the Cleveland Mall. The centerpiece is a 35-foot tall bronze figure representing a man escaping from the flames of war and reaching skyward for eternal peace. The bronze sphere from which the figure rises represents Earth. There are also four granite carvings, each representing the geographic civilizations of the world and these are placed around the sphere. The entire structure, including the base, is about 46 feet tall which ranks it as one of America’s 50 tallest statues.
We soon left the downtown area to make our way to the neighborhood of another iconic, yet quirky, location. The 1983 movie “A Christmas Story” was filmed in Cleveland and they now have created a gift store (see their website HERE), turned the house into a memorial, and the famous leg lamp is shown prominently throughout. Some of the old cars that were in the movie and other things are all in the store and it was a lot of fun to go visit a site of a movie that I watched with my children in the 1980s and now with my grandchildren. A Christmas Story is certainly one of those classic Christmas movies for the family.
To continue the “quirky” stops, we next visited Cleveland’s Theater District, known also as Playhouse Square, to visit the “World’s Largest Outdoor Chandelier” which adorns the corner of 14th Avenue and Euclid. The chandelier is 20 feet tall and has 4,200 crystals (actually made from acrylic resin) on it. Playhouse Square is considered the largest performing arts center in the United States outside of New York. The entire square looks like a fun place to visit in the evenings when the theaters are all live and active and the chandelier is all lit up.
Of course, if looking for the offbeat and quirky, one cannot miss out on another Cleveland’s iconic “sculptures,” that being the giant FREE Rubber Stamp. Located in Cleveland’s Willard Park, near the Harbor and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this large sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen is 28 ft. 10 in. x 26 ft. x 49 ft and made of steel and aluminum. It was commissioned in 1982 and installed in October 1991. Oldenburg and van Bruggen are well-known for their large scale sculptures of everyday items (See a gallery of them HERE). I had the opportunity to visit their Shuttlecocks sculptures in Kansas City in 2010 (see the link HERE).
Throughout our travels this day, I also snapped a variety of other shots around Cleveland. There are a few murals, some unique shopping districts, interesting storefronts and more. Here is a small collection of scenes from Cleveland.
To end the day, Tina, Jim and I stopped for a late lunch and then headed towards Little Italy again to visit the famous Lake View Cemetery – a 265 acre memorial park and also home to the 180 foot tall monument to James Garfield, the 20th President of the United States and also the Rockefeller Monument and the Wade Chapel.The Garfield Monument sits on top of a hill and at one time one could look out over all of Cleveland. Now you need to go to the second floor balcony to catch a five-mile view of downtown Cleveland and Lake Erie.
Cleveland is a fascinating city and is certainly well worth a visit. My next visit will include more than a couple of days as there is so much to see in this lovely city….my birthplace.