Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It Was One of Our Last Days in Wytheville,...

and we arrived home to find that we had new neighbors—for that night at least. You can almost always tell when someone is making a one-night stopover. Either they don’t unhitch their fifth wheel or travel trailer from their towing vehicle or they don’t unhitch their “toad.” (A toad is RV lingo for a vehicle being towed behind a motorhome. Toad. Towed. We RV’ers are clever folks.)

In a conversation with Neighbor Bob, we learned that he had been involved in the construction of the RV park in Luray at which we would be staying. And he passed along a Luray dining tip—Artisans Grill. So, upon our arrival and a quick change from our driving clothes, we set forth to downtown Luray.

“It was 1933 in the Middle of the Great Depression… Hoover was out, Roosevelt was in, and times were hard and hopeful. A new building arose in place of the old Victorian pharmacy in the center of downtown Luray (left center in the photo below). It was state of the art for its time; with modern Art Deco touches in the architecture, new-fangled terrazzo flooring, and the town’s only electric dumbwaiter. Soon it opened its doors as the Hi-Way Coffee Shoppe, a place for tourists, travelers, and townspeople to stop in for a bite to eat, a cup of ‘joe’ and a bit of conversation.

“Times Change, and Times Change Back…Over the years, the old coffee shop has been the home of a dress boutique and three flavors of parlors (ice cream, pizza, and beauty)…. In 2005, local artists and entrepreneurs, Wes Porter and Eileen Brennan-Porter, decided to restore the building to its former glory, and open the Artisans Grill...” (artisansgrill.com).

There are dining areas on both the first and second floors. The electric dumbwaiter mentioned two paragraphs above must no longer be operational, because I watched a young woman server hoist a tray containing at least ten plates—china plates—of food to her shoulder and march upstairs without missing a beat. I applaud her stamina.

Leading up the stairs was a chalkboard promoting Virginia wines. Do you notice anything unusual here? Yes. Neither of the two wines listed are from Virginia. One is from Paso Robles, CA, and the other from New Zealand.

Buffalo chili is on the menu everyday, along with another soup which on that day was tomato basil. The day was grey and rainy—although not all that cold—but soup sounded good to both of us and we each started with a cup. It was a fairly thick cream soup containing chunks of tomato along with finely diced celery and onion. The flavor was a bit tart, but reminded one of fresh tomatoes. But neither of us detected much basil flavor. This should have been billed as Chunky Tomato Soup.

While waiting for our sandwiches, I took a look at a bottle on the table. Have you ever heard of banana ketchup? No? Neither had I. But the Grill’s website suggests this as a ketchup alternative to eat with sweet potato fries.

“Banana ketchup or banana sauce is a popular Filipino condiment made from mashed banana, sugar, vinegar, and spices….Banana ketchup was made when there was a shortage of tomato ketchup during World War II, due to lack of tomatoes and a comparatively high production of bananas” (artisansgrill.com).

All of the sandwiches on the Grill’s menu are named for artists. Not surprising since the owners are artists themselves. And Chuck’s selection was called the Eakins and was a take-off on a Philadelphia cheese steak.

And now it is time for one of my famous digressions.

“Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins (July 25, 1844 – June 25, 1916) was an American realist painter, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator. He is widely acknowledged to be one of the most important artists in American art history.... For the length of his professional career…, Eakins worked exactingly from life, choosing as his subject the people of his hometown of Philadelphia” (wikipedia.com).

Shortly before we left Philadelphia, a major brouhaha erupted when Thomas Jefferson University voted to sell Eakins famous painting entitled “The Gross Clinic.” This 1875 piece depicted what was then considered to be modern surgery. This painting was controversial at the time with many critics saying that it was too realistic and graphic. The prospective buyers were the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AK. Does Bentonville ring a bell? It is the home base of Wal-Mart, and it should come as no surprise that some member of the Walton family was involved in the prospective acquisition. Fortunately, through fund-raising and other financial machinations, the painting remained in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Enough art history and back to lunch. The Eakins contained thinly-sliced marinated and grilled flank steak, provolone cheese, and sautéed onions on a crusty sub roll.

With the sandwich came one side, and he chose the potato salad. And then added an order of fries. The fries were hand cut (differing sizes is usually a clue), but were simultaneously not crisp and dry as though under a warming lamp. (Chuck has asked that I tell our readers that ‘Mr. Potato is not as discerning.”)

The sandwich contained a generous portion of thin sliced beef with lots—and I mean lots—of melted cheese, lettuce, and tomato. It was very good and was enhanced by the good crusty “sub” roll.

The potato salad—a large serving—was good with red skin potato cubes in a mayo dressing with just a hint of onion for additional flavor.

I chose the Brennan, and since I know nothing about an artist named Brennan, you will be spared the art lecture. This was a pan-sautéed crab cake with lettuce, tomato, and sun-dried tomato tartar sauce on a toasted kaiser roll. The crab cake was delicious and was mostly sweet blue crab with a minimum of filler. I thought that I detected a “bite” somewhere and don’t know if that was horseradish in the tartar sauce or something else. This would have been a 5.0 Addie sandwich if only it had been served hotter. It may have been that the cold tomato chilled the crab cake.

My side of slaw was excellent—very thin shreds of green cabbage with some carrot in a thin dressing.

It was mid-afternoon when we arrived, and we arrived starving. So even after all of this food we still had room for dessert. Artisans Grill makes all desserts in-house and that day’s choices were cherry pie, bread pudding, peanut butter pie, chocolate cake, carrot pineapple cake, Belgian chocolate brownie, strawberry-rhubarb crisp, and our choice of the raspberry cheesecake. Although the portion size was rather small, the cream cheese and raspberry filling was not too sweet and had a deep berry flavor.

Dining options are limited in Luray, and I am sure that, based on this 3.5 Addie meal, we will be returning to Artisans Grill for yet another meal.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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