7 Things to Do in Cheyenne, Wyoming
There are ten days in July when tens of thousands of people descend on Wyoming's capital for Cheyenne Frontier Days (cfdrodeo.com), the biggest rodeo event in America. It dates back to 1897, making it the second-oldest event the USA after Mardi Gras. In addition to the adrenaline-charged bronco-bucking spectacles, it includes parades, concerts featuring national acts, and costumes galore.
The rodeo more than doubles the town’s population of 60,000, but Cheyenne has plenty to offer the rest of the year, too. Yes, crash courses in westward expansion, frontier history, and rodeo abound, and you can get a comprehensive and thorough tutorial on it all on the Cheyenne Trolley tour. But there’s also plenty to eat and drink, nature to explore, and locally made items to buy. Only 90 miles from Denver (shuttle service is even available), Cheyenne makes for a fine destination, whether you’re just passing through, seeking a weekend getaway, or looking to set up camp for a few days.
1. Western Studies 101: Cowgirls and Rodeo
"It's sort of like hockey, except the other team is a bull. And he wants to kill you," said my guide at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum (oldwestmuseum.com), a stronghold of the Old West and everything that made it iconic. “People do wild things all the time. It’s just a matter of what kind of wild you grew up with.” She was, of course, explaining rodeo. The museum sits on the grounds of Frontier Park, where the epic annual event takes place, so photos, videos, and relevant artifacts like saddles and costumes make up a sizable part of the collection, but bronco bucks are merely one chapter of Western history presented here. An array of historic stage coaches, covered wagons, and carriages illustrates the evolution of this distinctive mode of transportation; an assemblage of photos and artifacts chronicle the emergence of Frontier Day traditions.
Tradition, however, will be the last thing on your mind at the Cowgirl Museum of the West (cowgirlsofthewestmuseum.com), a downtown storefront that pays tribute to the brazen, boundary-breaking broads whose very lives are the stuff of Hollywood screenwriters' dreams. Women who roped 500-pound steers and raised six-plus children while forging successful film or recording careers, women who shot and taxidermied wild animals during Victorian times, and activists who made Wyoming women the first women in the nation with the right to vote—they’re all immortalized here. Add that an extensive collection of early cowgirl fashion (a welcome development that came on the heels of women getting arrested for wearing pants), and it’s a wonder the Smithsonian hasn’t come calling, especially since, like the Smithsonian, entry here is free.
2. Day Tripping: Wyoming Wilderness and a Presidential Monument
Forty miles west of downtown, halfway between Cheyenne and Laramie on I-80, is a rest stop with a visitor center. But calling it a rest stop is a major injustice. It’s the pull-off point to see the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Monument, which was commissioned in 1959 in honor of the 16th president’s 150th birthday. The cast-bronze sculpture, which clocks in at 30 feet and 7,000 pounds, was originally located on the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway and the manifestation of his long-held vision of coast-to-coast transportation; it was moved to I-80 in 1969. You could get away with calling the visitors' center a museum, with placards that detail the area’s military history, wildlife, the daily life of pioneers and settlers, and the construction of the highway. Here’s where you can also learn that Lincoln’s commitment to travel did not end with the roads: He’s responsible for signing off on the Union Pacific Railroad. But for a full education on that, head back to town to the Depot Museum (cheyennedepotmuseum.org), located in the historic Union Pacific Railroad depot.
The highway, of course, is a modern creation, but you can take Happy Jack Road, the scenic route that runs 40 miles from Laramie to Cheyenne and along Medicine Bow National Forest, to see the natural landscape as it looked for time immemorial. Make sure you stop along the way to take in the scenery.
3. Distillation Nation
Once upon a time, when the West was a land of moonshiners and whiskey-runners, tough-talkin' gunslingers knocked back raw hooch around campfires while en route to the next town. These days, though, Wyoming, like every state in the nation, has small distilleries where producers use local products to make whiskey, gin, vodka, and more. The Equality State’s newest is Pine Bluffs Distilling (pinebluffsdistilling.com), which sits on an expansive farm property about 45 miles east of downtown Cheyenne, close to the Nebraska border. Longtime home-brewer Chad Brown opened the distillery in November 2017, and he’s made it a family affair, with his sister overseeing the distillation and his dad volunteering in the tasting room. Chad co-owns the distillery with his aunt and cousin. Unlike the majority of America's 1,500-plus small-batch distilleries, this one is also a malting facility, selling malted grain to craft breweries. See how they prepare the grain, bought straight from local farmers, then stroll through the distillery for a look at the practically alchemistic process that transforms corn and rye into booze. The airy tasting room, dominated by a colorful larger-than-life mural of the farm, serves spirits and cocktails. Feel free to bring some food, grab one of the board games, and settle in with some friends for the afternoon.
4. The Nighttime Is the Right Time
Whether you’re a banking exec from London, a college student, or a worker fresh off a demanding day on the oil rigs, everyone is the same when they belly up to the bar and order a bottle of beer. Watering holes around the city are easy to come by, to be sure, but what looks like one man’s dive is another man’s treasure. Sleek new bars, as a rule, will always turn heads, but don't overlook the local watering holes. There's no better way to get the pulse of the city than chat with its those who know it best over a few drinks. I was lucky enough to hit Alf's, a virtual roadside tavern, on karaoke night. A veteran DJ came to the rescue of singers who needed a boost and some crooners even had revelers slow dancing. The proceedings were slightly more polished at Scooters, another proudly no-frills joint where the participants seemed to have serious training and the man overseeing the music put on an auditorium-worthy show of his own when he took the mic. But for a true country music experience, you'll want to head to the Outlaw Saloon, which features live music most nights (a $5 cover charge applies) on a stage overlooking a dance floor. But with three individual bars, the venue is sprawling enough that you can hang out without feeling like you're at a concert.
But about those sleek bars, there's at least one, it seems, in every city and Cheyenne is no exception. The Paramount Ballroom is a bright, modern, laid-back space downtown where locals linger over creative craft cocktails and elevated bar bites like cheese boards and deviled eggs. The sister venue, Paramount Cafe, turns out excellent coffee drinks next door.
5. Tea Time
Bars are egalitarian, but high tea tends to remain a bougie affair. English, Irish, and Scottish immigrants brought their homelands’ afternoon-tea tradition to the frontier during the Victorian era, and the custom is preserved almost single-handedly at the grand Nagle Warren Mansion (naglewarrenmansion.com). The mansion was built by a senator, who later bequeathed it to his son, who married a daughter of J.P. Morgan; she, in turn, gave it to the local YWCA. (After all, last thing she needed was to care for another property.) Today, it’s a charming bed and breakfast. Proprietor Jim Osterfoss insists it’s not a museum, but anyone with an interest in architecture or design will be mesmerized by original fixtures, woodworking, molding, stained glass, and more. As far as renovations go, Jim told me, “We try to be historically sensitive, but don’t have to be hysterically correct.” Now, about that tea. It’s served every Friday and Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the mansion’s elegant sitting room. A gorgeous spread of both sweet and savory sophisticated finger food is up for grabs (just grab daintily, please), and the special blend of Nagle Warren tea that’s poured all afternoon is available for sale to take home.
6. What's in Store
Yes, you can absolutely get a flashy pair of cowboy boots and a bona fide Stetson hat in downtown Cheyenne, as well as frontier-themed tchotchkes and bedazzled apparel galore, but you can also get handmade silver jewelry, crocheted doll clothes, old books on American history, cooking, and Far Eastern art, or vintage mid-century modern glassware. And that’s just for starters. The Wrangler Store, which opened in the 1960s and is now part of the national Boot Barn chain, is the anchor of downtown, situated in a distinctive red brick building that’s been home to a series of retailers since it was built in 1892. It’s a ranch-wear emporium with extensive shelves of cowboy boots for men, women, and kids. Embroidered, emblazoned, stitched, and studded, they run from rugged to ornate.
It’s easy to be charmed by the rugged chop houses, the historic train depot, and all kinds of Wild West–minded stores and attractions that dot the streets, but it was the small stores that delivered the biggest treasures. My companion and I spent about two hours in Phoenix Books & Music, chatting with the soft-spoken owner Don McKee, a musician and committed collector who’s made a career out of digging for vinyl. While my friend thumbed through the stacks of well-curated records, which run the gamut from vintage country to soul to free jazz and eccentric gems, I picked through shelves of cowboy pulp paperbacks, tomes about trains and birds and rivers, Native American histories, life manuals of a metaphysical stripe, and old road atlases. After narrowing down my picks to nine books, including a novel by Louis L’Amour, the Danielle Steel of Western pulp, that teased, “He battled for his range against winter, a wild bunch and a hard-driving woman!” we headed around the corner to Mid Mod (midmodetc.com), an emporium of vintage furniture, jewelry, dishes, glassware, and more, so beautifully staged that it was more of a design museum than your average secondhand store.
7. Vintage Delights
It’s hard to walk past the Atlas Theatre without slowing down to gawk. The magnificent building was completed in 1887 and turned into a theater in 1908, but it suffered a series of misfortunes and recoveries before receiving National Landmark status. Even after all this time, it's still a working theater, home to the Cheyenne Little Theatre Players (cheyennelittletheatre.org/atlas), which was established in 1930, making it one of the oldest community theater groups in the US. Tours of the opulent building are offered during Frontier Days, and they're in the process of putting together a year-round schedule, too.
On the day in May that I was walking past, a sandwich board for Emma’s Old Time Photos (emmasoldtimephotos.com) beckoned me inside. Val Martin, the owner and photographer, was presiding over a rack of old-timey costumes, a wardrobe to clothe cowboys and cowgirls, coquettes, can-can dancers, and villains and mavericks of every stripe. Val, who often sets up her studio here, was inspired by the western-themed photo studios in Deadwood, a major tourist destination. From that, her more low-key, cozy version of the concept was born. An affable expert on Cheyenne (she also works as a guide for Cheyenne Trolley Tours), Val has a way of putting people at ease for their photo sessions. She can accommodate couples, individuals, or big groups. She regularly operates as a pop-up at the theater, but keep track of her moves on her Facebook page, because she can also be found at fairs and other events.
9 Artsy Things to Do in Columbus, OH
Thanks to a notoriously rabid college-football fanbase, Ohio’s capital city is perhaps best known for its athletics, but there’s way more to Columbus than Buckeye Nation would have you believe. With no fewer than 80 arts-oriented organizations around town, indoor kids young and old will find more than enough here to stimulate their creativity, from world-class museums to art-school fashion shows to hands-on crafts to venues centered around popular interests like comic books and dinosaurs. Explore the contemporary galleries in the Short North Arts District, do some museum-hopping, or settle in for an outdoor movie—no matter what you do, this fertile community offers no shortage of inspiration. 1. Take a Crash Course In Comic-Book History The work of native son Bill Watterson greets visitors to Ohio State's Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum & Library. (Courtesy Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum & Library) Home to the largest collection of comic and cartoon-related material in the world, the archives of Ohio State's Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (cartoons.osu.edu) boast more than 300,000 original cartoons and 2.5 million comic-strip clippings, a small portion of which are on display here. A gem of a museum, it features the work of renowned print artists such as The Legend of Wonder Woman’s Trina Robbins, Ohio’s own Will Rannells, whose dog portraits covered highly regarded midcentury magazines such as Life and McCall’s, and my personal favorite, native son and Calvin and Hobbes auteur Bill Watterson, as well as rarities and lesser-known treasures like the first African-American comic book, produced solely by Black writers and artists, and Roe v. Wade comics, both pro- and anti-choice. Tailor your visit to the annual city-wide Cartoon Crossroads Columbus festival in September, check out a rotating exhibit (recent examples include one devoted to the satire of MAD Magazine and one to Toronto-based small imprint Koyama Press), or just come in to spend some time in the reading room. The hours are tied to the university’s schedule, so appointments are highly recommended, but if you plan in advance, you can request off-site materials to use while you're there, or book a group tour for behind-the-scenes info and trivia. The cherry on the cake? It’s all free. 2. Pay Homage to Master Artists Old and New The Columbus Museum of Art's architecturally impressive Margaret M. Walter Wing serves as a high-design backdrop for the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions alike. (Courtesy Columbus Museum of Art) The Columbus Museum of Art (columbusmuseum.org) turns 140 years old in 2018, and the state’s first charter museum has plenty to celebrate. In addition to a permanent collection that includes works by Picasso, Cassatt, Degas, and other masters alongside pieces from more modern visionaries like Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, Jerome Liebling, and Ahmed Alsoudani, rotating exhibits vary widely, focusing on everything from the power of Star Wars fandom to the 19th-century Parisian art scene (the latter a peripatetic partnership with the Guggenheim Bilbao that made its sole U.S. stop in Columbus). Admission is $14 for adults with discounts for students and seniors, and there's never a charge for kids 5 and under, but bargain-hunters would do well to visit on Sundays, when everyone gets in free, or Thursday evenings, when you can pay what you choose. Families will want to pop into the Center for Creativity and let the little ones loose in the textile-rich Wonder Room, where they can explore a next-level blanket fort and develop a signature style at an interactive fashion station, or dig into the concept of motion in the Big Idea Gallery, then make mobiles based on the pieces in the museum’s collection. But whatever you do, don’t miss the opulent, larger-than-life painting from presidential portraitist Kehinde Wiley on the museum's second floor. Before Barack and Michelle, there was Portrait of Andries Stilte II, a modern-day spin on a 17-century Dutch work, starring a Columbus local as the model. The original is placed nearby for reference, and though the two pieces couldn’t be more different in style and execution, the likeness is uncanny. 3. Keep Up With the Contemporary Crowd Movie buffs turn out for the annual Wex Drive-In, a free outdoor film festival screening classics and cult faves in 35mm. (Courtesy Wexner Center for the Arts) Since it opened in 1989, the Wexner Center for the Arts (wexarts.org) has put artist residencies and the commission of new work front and center, and this commitment to contemporary creatives can't help but benefit the community. Expect elite-level programming, like a retrospective of photographer and director Cindy Sherman’s work that made its only appearance outside of Los Angeles here in Columbus. Upcoming highlights include a deep dive into the outré visual art of cult director John Waters, a 16-film series devoted to the work of Ingmar Bergman, and a live performance incorporating footage of a current-day house party into a reading of the unerring Joan Didion’s ‘60s-set essay The White Album. Entry is $8 for adults, but if you’re counting your pennies, visit for free on a Thursday after 4:00 p.m. or on the first Sunday of the month (college students and those under the age of 18 get in gratis anytime), or attend an open event like the Wex Drive-In, the annual outdoor film festival that screens classics, cult faves, and underappreciated masterpieces, all in 35mm, for true movie buffs. Try the on-site cafe for a light, locally sourced lunch, and be sure to allow time for the gift shop, where the generous selection of beautiful art tomes and fun knick-knacks just might put your suitcase over the weight limit. 4. Support Next-Generation Talent Taking it all in at Chroma: Best of CCAD, an annual campus-wide juried show featuring standout student work. (Ty Wright for Columbus College of Art & Design) Local stalwarts like CMA and the Wex may get the lion's share of the love, but don’t sleep on the Columbus College of Art & Design (ccad.edu), a private, nonprofit art school that’s a never-ending font of boundary-pushing creative output, thanks to a revolving cast of students and a supportive circle of alumni. Swing by the college’s Beeler Gallery (beelergallery.org), a public exhibition space that hosts a roster of complimentary art and design exhibits in addition to a visiting artists and scholars series. Catch talks with makers of all kinds, as well as special programming involving painting, photography, sculpture, installations, and performances. To get a taste of the college aesthetic, stop by the semiannual art fair ($5 in advance, $7 at the door) held each semester, and shop for everything from paintings, prints, and sculptures to glassworks, housewares, and jewelry, all courtesy of CCAD students and grads. In the spring, catch the fashion show, the MFA thesis exhibition, or the campus-wide juried show, and you might just discover the next big thing. 5. See Things From a Global Perspective The Pizzuti Collection's Go Figure exhibit, on display through mid-August, features five pieces by photographer Deana Lawson, including “Wanda and Daughters,” 2009 (left), and “Cortez,” 2016 (right). (Courtesy the artist and Rhona Hoffman Gallery)A tightly curated repository of contemporary art set inside an urbane, impeccably restored historic building in the Short North, the nonprofit Pizzuti Collection (pizzuticollection.org) makes its donors’ private holdings available to the Columbus community. The well-rooted sculpture garden aside, the gallery forgoes permanence in favor of rotation, deploying its 18,000 square feet in service of a fascinating lineup of exhibitions. During a recent visit, paintings, mixed-media pieces, eye-catching sculptures, and large-scale installations from 21st-century Indian luminaries such as Anish Kapoor and Dia Mehta Buhpal were on display. This summer, two completely different shows have moved in: one dedicated to well-known contemporary artists’ studies of the human form, and the other to the documentary-style imagery of photographer Alex Soth. With such a high rate of turnover, you could visit the Pizzuti every couple of months and have a different experience each time, and at $12 a pop for adults, $10 for seniors, and free entry for students and children, you’ll want to do just that. 6. Get Down With the Dinosaurs (Courtesy Robb McCormick/COSI) It’s not exactly Jurassic Park, but dino-fans should make the Center of Science and Industry’s new Dinosaur Gallery (cosi.org/exhibits/dinos) a top pick on their must-see list. Opened in late 2017 as a partnership between COSI and New York’s American Museum of Natural History, the 14,000-square-foot space gives aspiring paleontologists plenty of face time with these Mesozoic marvels, from full-size cast skeletons displayed alongside the latest theories and hypotheses about dinosaur biology and behavior to massive models like a 60-foot-long Apatosaurus, a six-foot-long T. rex that walks in place, and a true-to-size, climable replica of an Oviraptor nest discovered in China. Entrance to the gallery is included with admission to the museum ($25 for adults, $20 for kids ages 2-12), but if you want to make a full day of it, a Do-It-All ticket costs $15 more and offers unlimited access to COSI’s 3D movie theater, motion simulator, and planetarium. For the ultimate excursion, get handsy with the interactive exhibits, see how you measure up against the dinosaur of your choice, and settle in for a bit of star-gazing. 7. Sow Your Wild Oats An improv night at Wild Goose Creative, one of many wide-ranging events on offer at the nonprofit community-oriented arts space. (UA Creative Studios) If you prefer your art a bit less polished, with a commitment to grassroots organizing and local artists and makers, the arts-for-all approach of Wild Goose Creative (wildgoosecreative.org) might just fit the bill. The venue serves the community, offering mentoring programs, software-development courses, and business-for-artists classes, but it’s also a destination for a deep slate of recurring events, from figure-drawing classes and improv nights to dance-party karaoke and open-mic storytelling. Keep an eye out for one-off happenings, like an Iron Chef-style cooking challenge or yoga for (and with!) your favorite canine companion, as well as monthly gallery exhibitions covering such diverse topics as the transgender body form and art inspired by Midwest literature. Costs vary depending on the occasion, so consult the Facebook page or website for detailed information. 8. Block Out Time for Independent Auteurs Illustrator and designer Sherleelah Jones displays her work at Blockfort, a collective that provides gallery and studio space to entrepreneurs, performers, and organizers as well as artists of various mediums. (@blockfort/Instagram) On an industrial block in downtown Columbus’s Discovery District, a former auto-parts store now plays host to a cross-discipline congregation of entrepreneurs, performers, organizers, and artists of all stripes. In keeping with its independent ethos, Blockfort (blockfortcolumbus.com) doesn’t keep regular business hours, but the fledgling cooperative welcomes guests for monthly gallery openings, and for studio tours by appointment. To catch a glimpse of the artists in action, call ahead to arrange your visit (614-887-7162), then spend an enjoyable hour or two perusing the goods and making small talk with the creators. Look for hand-printed t-shirts from local favorite Alison Rose, whimsical paintings and mixed-media work from Jen Wrubleski, woodlands-inspired illustrated screen prints from Logan Schmitt, and vibrant, melancholy-tinged portraits courtesy of illustrator and designer Sherleelah Jones—the last three, all CCAD grads. To stay up to date on the latest happenings, visit the website to subscribe to the mailing list, and check social media for up-to-the-minute announcements. 9. Burn the Candle at Both Ends At The Candle Lab, choose from an array of aromas to create your own custom-scented candle. (Maya Stanton) This one is more craftsy than artsy, but those without a painterly bone in their body should be relieved to hear that they don’t need so much as a soupçon of artistic talent to participate. A regional mini-chain founded right here in town, The Candle Lab (thecandlelab.com) could be a distant cousin of the paint-your-own-pottery studio, except here, customers create their own custom-scented soy-wax candles. With more than 120 aromas available, from bergamot and bubblegum to pine needles and pomegranate, fragrance hounds will delight in the variety on offer. However, those prone to indecision (ahem, yours truly) may find the sheer volume of options overwhelming. Not to fear: You’ll make an initial pass to note your favorites, then team up with an expert who will help you make sense of, well...your preferred scents. I eventually chose rosemary, hops, and amber musk, a combination that didn’t sound too promising, but my pro somehow managed to divine a cohesive, on-point blend from the hodgepodge I selected, and I wound up with a final product that suits me to a tee.
6 Great Things to Eat in Wilmington, North Carolina
As a coastal community below the Mason-Dixon line, Wilmington's restaurants feature seafood and Southern cuisine galore, but the city also provides a variety of less-expected options, with everything from Cajun to Korean on offer. (That said, on my recent visit, I primarily stuck with seafood and Southern cuisine, because when in Rome, etc.) Sure, entrees at some of the more upscale places can run a bit high, but you'll find plenty of relatively inexpensive alternatives in the area too, as long as you know where to look. Here are six delicious, budget-friendly bites from my last trip to Wilmington and nearby Wrightsville Beach—each one $16 or less. 1. PinPoint Restaurant Beef tartare at PinPoint Restaurant. (Courtesy Andrew Sherman) Any decent French bistro can provide a serviceable steak tartare, but if you’re craving something with a bit more flare, this gussied-up take from downtown-darling PinPoint is just the ticket. Chef Dean Neff’s critically acclaimed menu puts a refined spin on traditional Southern recipes and regional ingredients—say, hummus made with North Carolina butterbeans instead of the customary garbanzos, or baked oysters with a ridiculously good local-shrimp topping to complement the usual butter and breadcrumbs. Everything I tried, from the octopus-and-pickled-shrimp lettuce wraps to the smoked-and-fried catfish to the decadent oyster stew to the bountiful seasonal vegetable plate, was out of this world. But if I had to return for just one dish, it would be the beautifully composed plate of beef tartare ($16), a puck of raw meat, perfectly chopped and seasoned, surrounded by an artful assortment of pickled beech mushrooms, fennel fronds, an intriguingly textured preserved egg yolk, dabs of caper aioli, and a pile of house-made waffle-cut potato chips. For an elegant treat-yourself meal, run up the tab a little and add a glass of sparkling rosé ($12) to start and one of pastry chef Lydia Clopton’s indulgent creations, like the amazing passion fruit tart with fromage-blanc sorbet and honey-chamomile caramel ($8), to finish. You won’t regret a single bite. 114 Market St., Wilmington; 910.769.2972; pinpointrestaurant.com. 2. The Trolly Stop The Trolly Stop in Wrightsville Beach. (Maya Stanton) With four franchises across the state, this mini-chain has been keeping North Carolinians’ hot-dog cravings at bay since 1976. The original location, just over the bridge from downtown Wilmington in Wrightsville Beach, makes for a perfect pit stop, both before hitting the sand or after a day spent in the sun and salt air. The selection of sausages is meat-centric, as you might imagine, with all-beef, beef-and-pork, ground-beef, smoked-pork, and turkey varieties on offer, but there’s a vegetarian option as well, and all veggie toppings are chopped fresh daily. To build your own, pick a dog and an array of accompaniments (on the lighter side, perhaps relish, diced onions, sauerkraut, or salsa; on the heavier, bacon, cheddar, or chili), or choose from one of the pre-paired styles listed on the wall. I went with the German, deli mustard and kraut on an all-beef “northern dog” ($3), and while I missed the snappy casings of the griddle-cooked franks from my hometown go-to, Gray’s Papaya, it was still a satisfying snack that disappeared way too quickly.94 S. Lumina Ave., Wrightsville Beach; 910.256.3421; trollystophotdogs.com. 3. Savorez Seared tuna tostadas at Savorez. (Maya Stanton) Savorez sits on an unassuming corner in downtown Wilmington, with a nondescript brick exterior belying a casual, bright-red dining room that serves some of the best Latin American food in town. Before opening his own shop, chef, owner, and native son Sam Cahoon cut his teeth at Panamanian-inspired local favorite Ceviche’s (more on that below), and the hotspot’s influence is clear. When we stopped by for lunch, the room was bustling, and though we had to wait a few minutes for a table, it took us longer to decide on our order than it did to be seated. The reasonably priced menu (even at dinner time, nothing goes for more than $20) runs the gamut from tacos and empanadas to vegan chiles rellenos and hearty sancocho, but in keeping with the beachy locale, we stuck with the seafood offerings, and we weren't disappointed. These crispy seared-tuna tostadas ($12) were the standout, their layers of rich ingredients (yuzu aioli, creamy avocado, and fatty, barely cooked fish) offset by lively ones (pineapple salsa, pickled shallots, and fresh jalapeño), with bright pops of sriracha “caviar” adding that extra bit of oomph. At two bites apiece, the portion size might be dainty, but each well-balanced morsel packs a ton of flavor. 402 Chestnut St., Wilmington; 910.833.8894; savorez.com. 4. Roberts Grocery Roberts Grocery in Wrightsville Beach. (Maya Stanton) With its 100th birthday fast approaching, Roberts lays claim to the title of oldest store in Wrightsville Beach, but though it may have seniority, this little market isn’t resting on its laurels. It’s best known for picnic fixings like chicken salad, pimiento cheese, and made-in-Wilmington small-batch ice cream sandwiches from Nye’s (nyescreamsandwiches.com), but the fried chicken is the real find here. Seasoned overnight, cooked daily on the premises, and served so hot it’ll singe your fingertips if you try to tear into it too soon, this is the platonic ideal of fried chicken, all crackly skin and juicy, salty meat, best when eaten straight from the wax-paper-lined box. 32 N. Lumina Ave., Wrightsville Beach; 910.256.2641; robertsgrocery.com. 5. Catch Crab cake at Catch. (Maya Stanton) As someone born and raised in the mid-Atlantic, not far from the crustacean-loving state of Maryland, I know what I like in a crab cake. In my (humble, unimpeachable) opinion, the best representatives of the genre go easy on the binding, taking a light hand with the seasonings and any other stuff that might interfere with the sweet, delicate flavor of the crab. Happily for Wilmington residents, the signature version at Catch, a seafood-centric spot tucked away in a strip mall 15 minutes from downtown, does just that. Chef-owner Keith Rhodes serves his lump-meat-filled patty ($16) on a bed of gently scented pirlau (the southern cousin of the staple rice-and-peas dish found in cuisines worldwide, from Persian to Trindadian, under a variety of similar names), adorning it with a shower of edible petals and presenting it with a side of lobster cream so good that I unabashedly finished it off with a spoon. If, somehow, crab cakes aren’t your thing, we also loved the Top Chef alum's take on diver scallops, which, that evening, married the sesame-seeded, brown-crusted mollusks with a spiced sweet-potato puree, briny Prince Edward Island mussels, crisp-tender bok choy, and a fragrant coconut-curry sauce. Be sure to get there early for the best selection; we went on a Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. and just missed the angry-lobster special, but it looked so impressive on its way to the neighbors’ table that it had me planning my next visit, even while the first was still in progress. That's what I’ll be ordering the next time I’m in town. 6623 Market St., Wilmington; 910.799.3847; catchwilmington.com. 6. Ceviche's El Quatro sampler at Ceviche's. (Maya Stanton) The city's first ceviche restaurant debuted in a former cupcake shop in 2014, but it was met with such a warm welcome that it quickly outgrew its original tiny digs. Two years later, after a remodel, both the food and the space grew more ambitious, with the menu expanding on its much-loved namesake offerings to feature quintessential Latin American plates of ropa vieja and arroz con pollo alongside newfangled dishes like langoustine cakes and mojo-rubbed ribs. But to this day, the selection of citrus-cured raw fish remains irresistible, especially when paired with one of the daily drink specials. Go on a Monday for $6 fresh-lime margaritas, or try the half-priced bottles of wine on a Wednesday, but whatever you do, don’t miss the langoustine de coco ($12), in which chunks of the small lobster’s tail mingle with ginger, onion, red pepper, cilantro, and avocado in a bath of citrus and coconut, or the corvina ($10), in which cubes of sea bass meet a traditional preparation of lime juice, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeño. (You can also opt for a sampler with all four varieties for $24.) Some things are classics for a reason. 7210 Wrightsville Ave., Wilmington; 910.256.3131; wbceviche.com.
7 Great Things to Eat in Portland, Oregon
From five-star dining to hole-in-the-wall dives, Portland’s food scene has something for everyone. There’s so much tempting stuff on offer that during any given visit, there are far more places I want to try than meals I have time to eat. And the best part? The odd splurge notwithstanding, you don’t have to break the bank to have a good experience. Here are seven delicious, budget-friendly bites from my last trip—each one $15 or less. 1. Rose VL Deli (Maya Stanton) In a small strip of storefronts in the Foster-Powell neighborhood, this spin-off of the well-regarded Ha VL restaurant serves some highly rated bowls of Vietnamese soup. Different types are on offer each day, and I was lucky enough to stop by on a Tuesday, when the VL special noodle soup, called Hu Tieu VL, is up for grabs. For $11, you more than get your money’s worth: a huge helping of clear, piquant broth swimming with shrimp, fish balls, ground pork, pork liver, sliced BBQ pork, and quail eggs, topped with crispy garlic and crunchy scallions and cilantro stems and anchored with a hefty portion of rice noodles. With a dish of the usual accoutrements (bean sprouts, scallions, herbs, and a wedge of lime) on the side, it's a satisfyingly substantial yet not-too-heavy meal. 6424 SE Powell Boulevard, 503.206.4344; rosevl.com. 2. Jacqueline (Maya Stanton) For a high-meets-low experience, sustainable seafood restaurant Jacqueline offers dollar oysters and Rainier tallboys during happy hour, Monday through Saturday from 5:00-7:00 p.m. It’s shuckers’ choice, so you won’t get to pick what you want, but rest assured you’ll be satisfied with the selection. The day I visited, the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou-inspired neighborhood spot was only serving west coast varieties (alongside its usual array of house-made sauces—everything from a classic mignonette to tarragon to tabasco), and each one was icy cold and perfectly pristine. Not content to leave well enough alone, I followed the platter of bivalves with an elegant yellowtail crudo ($15), which paired the fatty fish with creamy avocado, tart grapefruit and ponzu, and a handful of bright-green sprouted coriander, to delicious effect. 2039 SE Clinton Street, 503.327.8637; jacquelinepdx.com. 3. Taqueria Santa Cruz (Maya Stanton) On my last day in Portland, the weather was unseasonably sunny and warm, so I hopped on a bus (well, two buses) and took the hour-long ride out to Cathedral Park, on the banks of the Willamette River in the shadow of St. Johns bridge. After a pitstop for a pint at Occidental Brewing Co. (occidentalbrewing.com), I took a lap around the park, watched some happy pups playing in the water, paused for a selfie under the Instagram-bait bridge, and then wandered back up to the main drag in search of a snack. My friend had recommended a taqueria in the back of a Mexican grocery store, and that’s how I found myself in a bigger-than-expected neon-lit room, watching Dirty Dancing on the corner TV as I waited for my order: a trio of meat-filled tacos. The carne asada was fine, nothing special, but the crispy-edged, well-spiced al pastor was great, and the tender chunks of lengua, draped with a generous helping of pickled onions from the complimentary salsa bar, were even better. And the fact that each one rang in at less than $2 a pop didn't hurt either. 8630 N. Lombard St., 503.286.7302; tiendasantacruz.com. 4. Cheese & Crack (Maya Stanton) A small, 20-seat spot with a low wood counter facing floor-to-ceiling windows, Cheese & Crack offers an array of well-composed cheese plates featuring homemade butter crackers and savory oatmeal cookies, baguette slices, olives, and cornichons, plus spoons full of mustard, honey, and chocolate ganache for good measure. My friend and I split the combo with Mycella bleu and Cypress Grove fromage blanc ($12) as well as a sandwich (pork-shoulder capicola with apple butter and greens; $8) and a salad (mixed greens with pickled cranberries, lentils, and shallots; $4); with a glass of frosé on the side, it made for an excellent sunny-afternoon spread. 22 SE 28th Avenue, 503.206.7315; cheeseandcrack.com. 5. Little Bird (Carly Diaz) Portland’s happy hour scene is unparalleled, especially for a taste of high-priced dining at a discount. On weekdays from 2:30-5:00 p.m. at Little Bird, part of two-time James Beard award-winner Gabriel Rucker’s local mini-empire, choose from half-priced oysters, roasted marrow bones, foie gras torchon, and a double-patty burger with brie ($7), a rich, messy, thoroughly satisfying affair that’s well worth the extra napkins. We'd come specifically for the burger and ordered marinated olives, brussels sprouts, and fries with bearnaise aioli to go with it, splitting the whole lot three ways, which felt almost virtuous and turned out to be just the right amount of food. (I'll admit, though: I could've done with a bit more of that burger.) 215 SW 6th Avenue, 503.688.5952; littlebirdbistro.com. 6. Tusk (A.J. Meeker) Since its opening in August 2016, Middle Eastern hotspot Tusk has earned rave reviews from local and national media outlets alike, and now, nearly two years on, its brunch still commands lengthy waits. But we managed to snag bar seats on a Sunday morning without too much trouble, and it’s a good thing we braved the crowds. The main plates were stellar, from a Cypriot spin on the classic egg-and-meat breakfast combination (think: halloumi cheese and merguez sausage) to baked eggs, greens, and more halloumi in a spicy tomato sauce, and I especially loved the “Bread & Things” side of the menu. We got the kobocha cinnamon roll, a slice of pistachio gooey butter cake (above; $5), and a za’atar biscuit served with hibiscus honey butter, but next time, I’m ordering everything in that category, and another bloody Mary with preserved lemon too. 2448 E Burnside Street, 503.894.8082; tuskpdx.com. 7. Bang Bang (Katana Triplett) For Southeast Asian-inspired fare at a reasonable price, look no further than Bang Bang, a small, mod spot on NE Fremont slinging high-wattage cocktails and the drinking snacks that go along with them. We opted for the glass-noodle bowl ($14), a tangle of the namesake translucent strands topped with piles of spicy ground pork, tangy pickled greens, mixed herbs, and garlic chips, plus a soft, runny-yolked egg and a healthy dash of chili. My advice? Poke the egg and let the yolk mingle with the other elements, then toss everything together and dig in; wash it all down with a white negroni or an old-fashioned, and thank me later. 4727 NE Fremont, (503) 287-3846; bangbangpdx.com.
The 6 Things You Need for a Perfect Picnic
With spring well and truly underway (in our neck of the woods, at least—knock on wood), our thoughts are turning to warm-weather pursuits, and we can’t think of a better way to celebrate the end of winter than by getting out in the sun and soaking up some vitamin D. As picnic season commences, we’ve rounded up great gear that will take your alfresco meals to the next level, so go on, take it outside. 1. The Cooler This limited-edition sturdy nylon pack from the Hunter for Target collection may be easy on the eyes, but it’s as functional as it is colorful, with a 17-liter capacity, an outer pocket for odds and ends, a waterproof exterior, a leak-proof interior, and well-padded shoulder straps and top handle. It’ll hold plenty of Tupperware, up to 20 cans of the beverage of your choice, or whichever combination of the two you prefer. Our favorite touch? The bottle opener that comes clipped to the front of the bag—perfect for the forgetful among us. Hunter for Target Cooler Backpack in red, $50; target.com for stores. 2. The Blanket With a seasonally appropriate leafy-green pattern and three layers—polyester, sponge, and waterproof PVC—between you and the ground, this substantially sized Miu Color blanket will have you sitting pretty at all of your spring soirees. And although it folds down to a foot long and just under a foot wide, you won’t have to worry about finding room for it in your bag, thanks to a built-in handle that allows for convenient carrying. Miu Color triple-layer blanket in Green Leaves, $25; amazon.com. 3. The Place Settings For a small gathering, leave the disposable dishes behind and step it up a notch with this nifty reusable set from Ekobo. Made from recycled bamboo fiber, it's highly portable, with four cups and deep-edged plates that pack away into a bowl that can be used for serving once you’ve reached your destination, with a lid that doubles as a drinks tray. Think of it as Tetris for outdoor dining. Ekobo Recycled Bamboo Picnic Set in blues, $64; food52.com. 4. The Flatware Why go with plastic when you could be using real utensils? Wealers's stainless-steel cutlery kit comes with four sleek, lightweight forks, spoons, and knives, plus a set of chopsticks, in a neatly rolled, water-resistant bundle. The slim case even converts to an upright stand for easy access. 13-Piece Portable Stainless Steel Outdoor Cutlery Kit, $25; wealers.com. 5. The Refreshments Wine bottles can take up quite a bit of room in the cooler, but if you’d rather reserve that space for other things, we have the solution. Enter: the wine tote. This one, from Built NY, is made with a cheery red neoprene that will pad your bottles to protect against breakage and keep them cool at the same time. And because it comes with a corkscrew, you won’t find yourself in the middle of the park at party time, desperately Googling “ways to open a wine bottle without an opener.” Built NY Two-Bottle Wine Tote with Corkscrew in red, $23; amazon.com. 6. The Mood Music What’s a party without the soundtrack? A rugged, bass-heavy Bluetooth speaker like the Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM brings the fun—it shouldn’t break when dropped, and its waterproof exterior makes it resistant to rain showers and grubby hands alike. Plus, with 10 hours of play time and the capability to pair with 8 devices at a time, your friends and family can play DJ to their heart’s content. Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM speaker in SubZero, $100; amazon.com.