Plinyland®

While in Sonoma County recently visiting my mother for the holidays, my surrogate dad, adventure pal and winemaker extraordinaire Bruce Patch invited me to go pick up some samples at the local wine storage facility in Windsor.

“It’s right across the street from the new Russian River Brewing Company brewery!” he announced excitedly.

Beer aficionados and IPA nuts will recognize Russian River as the brewer of the difficult-to-source double-IPA-of-legend, Pliny the Elder, of which I have done several posts in my own Quixotic pursuit of.

The wine storage facility was impressive enough — a vast warehouse of towering columns of wine cases between which nimble forklifts navigated down shadowed alleys (a decidedly Manhattan-like scene). But it was nothing compared to the brewery across the street.

Bruce in the warehouse

“I’ve never seen it so crowded,” Bruce announced as we loaded the wine samples in the trunk and crossed the road to the brewery. The lot was massive — I looked about for letters on elevated posts to orient where we were parking (“We’re in the ‘E’ section!”), and wondered if we would be able to catch a complimentary shuttle to the tasting room.

The building itself stretched the equivalent of a city block, if this was a city rather than a semi-rural area just north of the Santa Rosa airport. Inside, the tasting room/restaurant was bustling, people milling about waiting for their table.

Bruce entering Plinyland®

Bruce and I lucked into a couple seats at the bar, our preferred parking place anyway. A couple woodsy-looking northerners enjoying their pints were seated to our left, and gazed at us curiously.

“Your first time here?” the one closest me said. “Yep, I haven’t been to Russian River since it was located at Korbel,” referencing the brewery’s first location at the Korbel sparkling wine facility on the actual river for which the brewery was named.

Selfie with new friends at the bar

“Oh, that was a long time ago!”

I ordered a Pliny. Accustomed as I am to having to hunt for Pliny, which is strictly allocated resulting in many southern California stores selling out quickly and only allowing one bottle per customer, it felt thrilling to simply be able to order one on tap. And another, if I so chose.

My Pliny

My lunch decision proved more difficult — my blood pressure rising as the bartender kept passing by, glancing at my menu and me each time. I eventually settled for the pork schnitzel sandwich (over the burger, open-faced pastrami or fish & chips), which seemed like a solid contender to stand up to the forceful hoppiness of the Pliny.

I attempted to engage Bruce in conversation, but my new friends to the left were feeling chatty and had a variety of questions — where did I come from, what was I doing in Windsor, what sort of beer did I like best, etc. When they finally got up to leave, one of them said, “Well, great to see you again!” which left me wondering if perhaps they had enjoyed one pour too many.

Pork schnitzel sandwich

Our meal and beers finished, we headed for the gift shop. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at resisting the irresistible urge to purchase souvenirs when I am in distant places that offer up a buffet of souvenirs. I held up a “Pliny the Elder” shirt, it looked like it might be a nice fit, I felt like I just had to have it. And then projected forward to seeing it on a hanger in the closet next to the t-shirt from Venice with the lion on it, and thinking, “Why did I buy that??” I opted instead for a memento I knew I would use — a case of Pliny.

I was reminded of an interaction I had with a merchant at The Wine House in West L.A. when I was purchasing some Pliny from them several years ago:

“It’s amazing what they’ve done with this beer,” he said, “It’s not like wine where you get a certain harvest, you produce what you can, and when it’s gone it’s gone. They can make as much Pliny as they want, but they don’t.”

“You mean,” I said, grasping the implication for the first time, “They’ve created a false scarcity?”

His face lit up. “You said it perfectly! They’ve created a false scarcity!”

There was no scarcity at the Russian River Brewing Company — Pliny was pouring unlimited from the taps in the tasting room, and there were cases galore of Pliny to purchase in the gift shop. And somehow, I needed it just a little bit less than I had in the past.

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In the Spiritual Birthplace of Buca di Beppo

Boston is the birthplace of a lot of things. Benjamin Franklin, for example. Cream pie and the American revolution.

As I discovered recently staying at a sweet Airbnb next door to the 17th-century Copp’s Burying Ground in the city’s historic North End, it is also birthplace — or at least the contemporary ground zero — to a certain style of Italian/American dining best exemplified by the chain restaurant, Buca di Beppo.

Waiting for our table in the North End

Buca di Beppo, it turns out from 45 seconds of web research, was actually born in the basement of a Minneapolis building. But it is less the actual brand I refer to than a uniquely American approach to Italian dining. Witness La Famiglia Giorgio’s, a three decade-old institution noted by Boston magazine for its “giant portion sizes” and specialties such as “eggplant parmigiana and steak pizzaoila.” Or the similar Giacomo’s, located nearby, and known for “piles of butter-saturated garlic bread and heaping portions of chicken Parm and marsala”.

In other words, not exactly authentic, regional Italian cuisine. More

Eating New York

“Wait,” said my friend Scott a couple years back when I mentioned I’d never been to New York, “YOU have never been to New York??”

It was as if I had told him that I’d never seen a sunset or walked on a beach.

He was astonished that I — being the avid traveler and food and art lover that I am — had never been to the food and art capital of America.

“I’ve never had much interest in New York,” I said, which elicited a further jaw-dropped gape of astonishment. More

The Immortal Cheesesteak

Ah, Philadelphia. City of Brotherly Love, home of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, where Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, where Rocky ran up some steps waving his arms in the air. John Coltrane came from Philly. So do Tastykakes.

I’d never had a burning desire to go to Philadelphia. But I was deep in the midst of a David McCullough reading bender — having recently finished “1776” and being more than halfway through “John Adams” — and was going to be driving right past the city en route from Washington D.C. to our pal Jon’s family lake house in the Adirondacks.

Already on our East Coast vacation, we had seen important sights in D.C., would be staying in Brooklyn close to where Washington’s troops got whooped by the British, and lodging within view of Bunker Hill and the Old North Church in Boston. More

Crab Season in Chesapeake

We were recently on the East Coast, an adventure whose photos some of you may have seen on my Instagram @skinnygirlsandmayo.

The journey commenced in Washington D.C., although we flew into Baltimore.

“Maybe we should spend a day in Baltimore,” said pal Jon, who was born in Baltimore and happened to be traveling with us. I was reminded of a scene from the movie, “Shape of Water”:

Elaine Strickland: “I’m really beginning to like the house. And it’s only 30 minutes from D.C.!”

Richard Strickland: “It’s still Baltimore, Elaine. No one likes Baltimore.”

The first crab of the trip

We opted to skip Baltimore, heading instead directly for the Amtrak to D.C., which took about 30 minutes.

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