Life On The Road

Bill and Laura Johnson live their lives on the road.

They spend more than half the year traveling in their motor home to various states, motivated only by what they think might be interesting. The couple, both in their 60s, told me that they love the potential of going to new places and meeting new people across the United States whenever they want.

I met the Johnsons during a recent visit to Nashville. We ate lunch at the all-you-can-eat family-style restaurant Monell’s, where the barrage of food seems like it’ll never end.

Click here or on the picture above to read about my lunch with Bill and Laura, including their life before their motor home and the ups and downs of always being on the move.

Crying Out Loud

Town crier Michael Wood — the 85th stranger I met — took part earlier this month in an attempt to set the world record for the World’s Loudest Crier.

Click here for some details on the competition, which was part of broader celebrations to celebrate the reformation of the East Riding of Yorkshire. That’s the northeast region of England in which Michael lives and has for decades performed as the resident town crier. He has made a career out of reviving the ancient art of using just his powerful voice to make public proclamations.

BBC News’ Look North has some video footage from the event, which was held in the town of Beverley. In addition, the site Just Beverley has a wrap-up of the day’s festivities. Michael won not only World’s Loudest Competitive Cry but also World’s Quietest Cry (in an email, Michael tells me the latter was an April Fool’s joke).

I met Michael and his wife Margaret in December for a pub meal of fish and chips back when I was back in my home country of England for Christmas.

During the interview, he previewed the crying contest and also told me all about his life that took many interesting twists and turns before he became a town crier.

Separate from this month’s contest, Michael has won a host of awards for his crying. As he told me late last year: “It might not mean anything to anyone else, but it’s nice to be able to say, ‘I’m Michael Wood, British town crier champion.’ Nobody from TV comes knocking on my door, but it’s given me a lot of satisfaction.”

A Night At Nellie’s

Doug Schantz doesn’t care for sports and doesn’t cook — but that didn’t stop him from following through on his dream of opening a gay sports bar in Washington, DC.

Nellie’s Sports Bar has been open since 2007 and remains incredibly popular with a mixed gay and straight crowd, with different events each night.

In mid-March, I met Doug at his venue for dinner. He told me about growing up in the closet, and then his years working in advertising after college, and eventually how his entrepreneurial spirit led him to quit that industry and launch Nellie’s.

Click on Doug’s picture above or on this link to read about my dinner with him.

Searching For Strangers

Do you live in Nashville, Chicago or Washington DC and want to dine with a stranger?

If so, click here to organize dinner with me and be featured on Dining With Strangers. I’ll be traveling to Nashville in April and Chicago in May and am eager to interview anyone in either of those cities. There are no restrictions on who I’ll meet, so get in touch and let’s get dinner. The rest of the time I’ll be home in DC and happy to meet with anyone there.

You can also book a dinner by emailing mail@diningwithstrangers.com

Sole Celebration

In Christy’s Shoes — an organization that hosts shoe fashion shows to raise money for non-profits including women’s shelters and more — is hosting a fundraiser next month.

Jacki Barnett, one of the organization’s founders who I interviewed in March last year, sent me details of the April 10 event, which starts at 4pm at the Clarendon Ballroom at 3185 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, Virginia. There’ll be a shoe fashion show with products from Gossip on 23rd and DSW, as well as a silent auction and a DJ performing.

Jacki and two friends created In Christy’s Shoes in memory of their late friend Christy Levy Peters. In February 2006, Christy — a 33-year-old mother to a then-10-year-old daughter Sydney — was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Christy passed away in April 2007. “She was a wife and mother and sister and a best friend, and we lost her too soon,” Jacki told me during our dinner at Bourbon Steak in Washington, DC.

Christy loved shoes, and the friends eventually came up with the idea of hosting shoe fashion shows as fundraising events for non-profits that support women in challenging circumstances. This year’s Sole Celebration — the fourth annual fundraiser — will benefit the charities Doorways for Women and Families and The Women’s Home.

Tickets for the event are $60 and include a swag bag and hors d’oeuvre. To purchase tickets, or to sponsor the event, visit the In Christy’s Shoes website.

Kanki Sushi

Here’s the last of three short restaurant reviews from my recent New York trip.

On my last day I needed a quick but filling lunch. Looking around the neighborhood near my hotel in Queens, I found the well-rated Kanki Sushi. This Japanese kitchen offers fresh sushi as well as various other dishes, including shrimp or chicken tempura.

I opted for their lunch special of a bento box packed with more food than I could eat. The box included several hefty chunks of fried chicken tempura, a substantial portion of rice with vegetables, and six slices of incredibly tasty California rolls filled with crab meat, avocado, cucumber and tobiko. All of this food came after a piping hot bowl of Soy bean paste soup with tofu, seaweed and scallion. Great value for under $15.

The service was fast and friendly, and I can’t fault a single thing about this lunch. Along with great dinners at my old favorite Balthazar and new discovery Cafe Henri this was a pretty successful dining trip — even if I didn’t meet any strangers.

 

An Evening At Cafe Henri

During my New York trip I also discovered a great French restaurant in Long Island City.

Cafe Henri, much like Balthazar, offers several dishes you’d expect at a decent bistro, including mussels with fries; hanger steak; croque monsieur and croque madame; and an impressive range of crepes with sweet fillings for dessert.

During my visit I had the soup of the day special, a deliciously rich tomato soup.

After that I had the main course of hanger steak served with mashed potatoes, mesclun salad, baby carrots and red wine shallots sauce. I don’t know what the chef put in the shallots sauce but it was impossible to resist. I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that I asked the waitress for a couple more small jars of the sauce — not because the dish needed it, but because it was so tasty.

I finished dinner with the Nutella-filled crepe. The buttery crepe was perfectly cooked and it contained just the right amount of filling. Not too much to make it sickly, but not too little to make it an uninteresting eat.

Anyone looking for French food outside of Manhattan should seriously consider Cafe Henri.

Back To Balthazar

On a return trip to New York this week, I ate again at the restaurant Balthazar.

Not that the recommendations of a random British guy might mean anything, but for anyone that is looking for somewhere to dine in Manhattan I strongly encourage a trip to this French bistro-style place. This was my fourth visit and I’ve never left disappointed.

The place has a great, lively atmosphere with friendly and knowledgeable staff. The extensive menu has all manner of options from traditional dishes such as steak fries to seafood platters and then desserts including pastries all made in-house.

I always get the onion soup to start with — it’s probably one of the best versions of this simple dish that I’ve ever had. And try to get there Saturdays when they have the braised short rib special, which easily earns its steep $40 price tag.

Victor’s Vines

Victor Pope Jr. can make you laugh in six seconds.

That’s how long his comedy videos are on Vine, an app that lets users upload six-second clips of everything and anything from music performances to rants to comedy sketches. I met Victor for a late lunch in Arlington, Texas earlier this month. He told me that he decided his Vine would show off his bid to be a professional comedian.

His offbeat take on life inspires his Vines, which are often improvised whenever inspiration strikes. But his real passion is for standup comedy, something he’s still honing. While we ate, he told me about his future goal of moving to New York and perfecting his craft so that he can become “one of the greatest standup comedians of all times.”

Click on the picture above or on this link for the dinner interview.

Discovering Dallas

Spent last weekend in Dallas, Texas, for the 87th dinner interview.

Beyond chatting with a comedian (look for the article next week) I also got to explore the city. That included a wander around Dealey Plaza, the site of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It was a weird experience. There’s a large white X painted on the road right where the fatal shot hit, and it was bizarre to see families rushing into the middle of the street and posing on the cross for pictures.

Nevertheless, there’s a fascinating museum on the sixth floor of what used to be the Texas School Book Depository building. That’s the floor where assassin Lee Harvey Oswald fired from, and the museum is packed with interesting artifacts and exhibitions about JFK, Oswald and more — it’s worth a visit.

In significantly less macabre news, after my museum trip I grabbed lunch at the nearby West End location of Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse. I was determined to get some good barbecue during my time in Texas, and this didn’t disappoint. I got a ridiculously cheap yet very generous platter of sliced brisket, pulled pork, and two pork ribs served with mashed potato and baked beans. Fantastic.

Unfortunately I didn’t think to take a picture of the food or the restaurant (although there will be snapshots with the dinner interview). Instead, the above photo is from a cross-street in West End, a historic district with a great restaurants and shops for tourists like me.