August 3rd, 2015


Post-Surgery Victory Lap 2015: June 25: Baltimore

So, we started our trip in Baltimore because the touring company of Pippin was there. There’s a bit of a story here. In December 2014, Ralph offered to take me to New York City to see the Broadway revival of Pippin, which I desperately wanted to see. I was most interested because they’d done a reimagined staging of the show that kept elements from the original Broadway production that have been watered down over the years and more importantly, it was done in cooperation with a circus troupe called Les 7 Doigts de la Main. So, it would be Pippin, a show I’ve always kind of loved, with Cirque du Soleil style acrobatics and stunts. I was so excited that we would go to NYC to see this show and have a lovely Christmas weekend with a slight tinge of “we’re doing this because January 2015 is unlikely to be much fun.” Our plane tickets were bought, we had a line on good seats for the show, and...I got diagnosed with a bad case of the flu on Christmas Eve. It stunk. We had to cancel Christmas Day dinner at our home, I missed my niece and nephew’s first Christmas, and we had to cancel our trip. So, this was finally my chance to see this show, and it did not disappoint! But, that was the end of the day...we did some other things too.

We started our day at The Breakfast Shoppe, a cute little place in a strip mall. Despite the inauspicious location, the “BS” had a cozy atmosphere, great food, and an impressive collection of chicken and rooster knickknacks.
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Their food was great! Ralph had the Knapsacker, a hearty scramble of eggs, cheese, potatoes, mushrooms, and ham. I had a bite or two, and it was delicious, and certainly a breakfast that would keep you going for hours. (Ralph: the Knapsacker is the smaller version of the Backpacker, which would be enough of a meal to keep one going all day.)

I had their Cinnamon Roll Pancakes with a side order of excellent bacon. The Cinnamon Roll Pancakes were a decadent breakfast treat glistening with butter, cinnamon and sugar and I really enjoyed them. Ralph’s breakfast may have had more of the staying power of protein, but mine provided a sugar high to rival any illegal substance out there.

From there we did some shopping for supplies we either forgot or were low on when we packed. We’d planned to have a light lunch at G & M Restaurant, but there were two problems with that idea. One, we were still full from breakfast, and felt we would be for hours. Two, upon perusing their menu, we weren’t sure you could really have a light lunch there. I’d been wanting to eat dinner at a fancier place because we were going to the theater, but we decided that G & M was actually plenty fancy for dinner, and decided to return there later.

Our next stop was Charm City Cakes, which I really wanted to see because I was a fan of the Food Network show “Ace of Cakes,” and I think they do great work. Charm City Cakes is open to the public for certain hours each day and they have a small display area of their masterpiece cakes. They had cupcakes for sale and a variety of licensed gear (big surprise). Unfortunately, no one was visible who was working other than the cashier/receptionist in the front. We did buy a cupcake, and it was good, but I think their main appeal is the stunning design work they do. The cake we tasted was as good as any other high-end bakery we’ve tried, but not especially memorable. On the other hand, their giant “Virginia is for Lovers” rainbow-themed cake was a real show stopper! I’m glad we stopped by, it wasn’t as much fun as seeing Duff Goldman, the owner/chief cake artist do a demo here in Pittsburgh a couple years ago. He was just as funny in person as he was on the show!
(Ralph: The cupcake definitely made me feel that Charm City Cakes cared more about the appearance than about the taste. On the other hand, I did get an answer to my question of “how do you cut such an ornate cake?”: a buyer receives a diagram of where the supporting structures are with cutting guidelines.)
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Next we went to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor with a plan of walking around and picking something to do. We first stopped at a Tourist Information spot and were overwhelmed with attractive options for spending a few hours before dinner and the show. We settled on a boat tour of the Inner Harbor. This turned out to be a lovely activity for the afternoon. It was slightly overcast but still pleasant outside, and we enjoyed cruising the harbor and seeing the sights. The narration on the boat was a bit hard to hear, but it was interesting. We heard about Baltimore’s history and current status. We also were made aware that like Pittsburgh, a lot of industry is being replaced by condos and shopping centers. We got some good pictures, too.

Then it was time for dinner at G & M. Ralph started with a cup of Maryland Crab Soup, which he said was fine but not particularly special.

I had a fairly ordinary house salad. Then the real stars of the meal arrived: my giant crab cake and Ralph’s amazing “stuffed shrimp,” which was shrimp piled high with crabmeat. Both our entrees were buttery and delicious, and full of the fresh flavors you really only get when you’re by the sea. We really enjoyed our meal there.
(Ralph: I should not have been so surprised by the stuffed shrimp. Michael Hoffman had told me that the shrimp was piled high with crab. I guess that despite the forewarning, I still thought that “stuffed” would imply that there would be crab on the inside and shrimp on the outside.)

We skipped dessert at G & M to try an Italian pastry shop, Vaccaro’s, recommended by our friend Alex Yeager as the finest in Little Italy. I don’t remember much about the creamy, lemony pastry because it turned into one of those things where we got stuck in traffic going to the pastry shop and then to the theater, and service in the pastry shop was disinterested and slow. The pastry was wolfed down in the theater parking lot, and while fine, was nothing special. I believe we didn’t experience this pastry shop at its’ finest, and would give it another chance some other time.

Despite the pastry shop snafu, we made it to our seats with 5 minutes to spare. First of all, we splurged on this and had amazing seats in the balcony that sat over the orchestra seats. We were close enough to see the actors’ facial expressions and high enough up to get the “full picture” of the dance and acrobatic numbers. I was a little nervous -- I’d waited so very long to see this show. I was hoping it was everything I’d dreamed it would be. I wasn’t disappointed!

The show began with no overture, just the strains of instruments tuning up and then the dreamy first chords of the opening number. The curtain looked like an circus tent in sepia tones, and as the chords began, a larger than life silhouette of the Leading Player appeared and gradually shrank down to the actresses’ shadow as she parted the curtain and began singing the opening number, “Magic to Do.” Perfect way to begin, as the Leading Player drives the whole show, much like the circus ringmaster she is dressed as in this version. I was optimistic -- the silhouette/shadow effect gave me a few chills, it was that perfect. Then the sepia curtain came up to reveal the rest of the cast singing and engaging in various circus performances. Oh, it was amazing! My one complaint was that there was so much going on that you couldn’t see it all. I’ll attach a video at the end to show so much I just can’t put into words.

The rest of the show unfolded in a similar vein. Under a dreamy, star-spangled big top tent, the “Life and Times of Prince Pippin” played out. Using the circus theme gave the company the right mix of alluring and subtly menacing, because this production brings out the underlying darkness of this musical that’s so often lost in revival productions of it. The show’s “theater company” makes a business of luring in impressionable young men and convincing them to do a circus trick that ends in their deaths. Despite the fun, seventies’-style score, there’s an element of darkness to the show, and this production had just the right touch of it. It also got the beautiful lesson of love that is the heart of the show just right. There was a genuine sweetness to the second act that I really enjoyed.

I can’t finish talking about Pippin without mentioning Adrienne Barbeau, who has the featured role of Berthe, Pippin’s grandmother. Folks, Ms. Barbeau is seventy years old now and absolutely fabulous. She can still carry off a corset way better than I could at 45, and she did a trapeze routine! It was one thing to see the young chorus/circus performers on the trapeze, and they were amazing. It was even more impressive to see her go up there with her two young men and perform. The whole cast was awesome, but she really owned every moment she was onstage in her brief role.

The other thing that I have to talk about with Pippin is just how sexy it was. This is a bit tricky for me. Sexy stuff often slips into being sordid and tawdry or into being coy and euphemistic; Pippin mostly did neither, and I want to do neither in my description.
It certainly touched the sordid in the scene where Pippin seeks fulfillment through casual sexual revelry. And it touched the euphemistic in the acrobatic pantomime that accompanied Pippin’s first night with Catherine.
But mostly it was just pure dazzling eyeballs-dry-out sexiness, with lots of lithe acrobats in fantastic performances.
I can name several super-sexy scenes from the show:
The first appearance of the Lead Player;
The pinup-flavored quick-change act of Fastrada;
But it’s possible that the big winner was Adrienne Barbeau’s fabulous trapeze routine as Berthe. She was super sexy - not just sexy for a septuagenarian, but sexy in a way that would draw stares at any age.

Post-Surgery Victory Lap 2015: June 26: Delaware

We got off late on Friday, with intentions to get to Philadelphia and explore a bit there before eating dinner with friends. But I took it into my head that we should try to have brunch in Delaware.

The Delaware diversion was a purely collector’s impulse. At one time, I dreamed of visiting all the restaurants listed in Roadfood, but after several years of fairly diligent Roadfooding, I’ve hit only a few hundred of those restaurants; I don’t think that goal is viable. But I still have a ‘collect them all’ mentality. So I’ve reduced my goals to smaller collections; I’m still trying to eat at all of the Roadfood honor roll (37/100), and I’m trying to eat Roadfood in every state (40/50).
But we hadn’t previously eaten in Delaware, and from Pittsburgh, Delaware is not really en route to anything but Delaware. So I was tempted into the detour because we were already so close.

We chose Dutch Country Cafe as our destination because the Roadfood review mentioned breakfast food and we thought we could get there in time for brunch. But the drive was slow, albeit pleasant, and they were no longer serving breakfast by the time we arrived.

The Dutch Country Cafe is in the Dutch Market, which appears to be a former big box store in a strip mall that’s been divided up into a bunch of small Amish stalls. The effect is very utilitarian and severe.

We sat at the counter, and this may have been a mistake. The service was extremely lackluster; we had to wait a long time to receive drinks, a long time to get our order taken, a very long time to receive our food, and a very long time to receive our bill. I never did receive the soup that I ordered. When I asked for the bill, I said in my best chilly tone, “please take the soup off the bill”. The waitress said, “Oh, did you still want that?”
We saw later that there was booth seating on the other side of the kitchen. Perhaps if we had chosen seats there, we would not have felt forgotten and forlorn.

The lunch menu did not seem to have much Pennsylvania Dutch character. The only thing that seemed out of the ordinary was the chicken and corn soup. Had I received the soup, I might have an opinion about that.

I got an American sub, with salami, white cheddar cheese, fresh juicy tomato, and pickled peppers, piled high enough on a sub roll that was necessary to eat it open-faced because the sandwich could not be closed. It was actually a very good sandwich, particularly because of the tomatoes.

Lori’s beef and bacon melt was much less nice. It tasted much more of grill and grease than beef or bacon.

Afterward, I got a very nice soft pretzel at the pretzel stand across the aisle.

With our late arrival, the excruciating slowness of the service, and traffic delays around Wilmington, we had no time to enjoy Philadelphia at all this day. It would be an error to judge the whole state by this bad experience, but nevertheless I was muttering “stupid Delaware” for most of the trip.

We had dinner with our friends Seth and Karen in Cherry Hill. Karen had prepared a beautiful feast, including four different types of quiches, a very fancy vegetable tart with cucumber and carrot rosettes, and a beautiful caramel apple tart. We were very impressed that she could do so much, particularly with four young children.