Annapolis Restaurant Week and Miss. Shirley’s Cafe Review

Annapolis Restaurant Week Begins
Annapolis Restaurant Week Begins

Annapolis Restaurant Week has started, as of this morning you can get some “deals” on an array of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, being served this week only by Annapolis area eating establishments.  Two course lunches are being offered for $15.95 and  three course dinners for $32.95 or start the day with a two course breakfast for $12.95,  The last week of February is generally a slow time of year for restaurants, so by offering special menus at reduced prices, restauranteurs seek to entice more diners to come out and fill their tables. The majority of the participating restaurants are located in the downtown area, which is great for me, as this means I can walk to the restaurants and burn off some of those calories I will inevitably be adding to my plate.

If you take a look at the various menus, what you see is not always so much as a reduced price as it is more food offered for the money you’d normally spend at a particular restaurant, although this really individually varies. So my advice is to go to the Annapolis Restaurant Week website, see who is participating, and closely read their menus. What I noticed is that restaurants that already offer a lower price menu are not as enticing. But if you have been saving some of those  higher priced establishments for a special occasion, this may be the week to indulge.  Some are really going all out to offer you a large selection of their premium dishes. Since I already made my Saturday night reservations, I will reveal that The Rockfish in Eastport, for example gives you appetizer choices that include Oyster Rockefeller and entrees that include Rockfish (but of course given the restaurant’s name) as well as tempting desserts, while some other restaurants offer one single fixed menu choice.
One restaurant which has quickly grown in popularity but is not participating over the weekend (because they already have long waiting lines) is Miss Shirley’s Cafe.  They are offering a two-course breakfast and a two-course lunch special to be part of Annapolis Restaurant Week, but I would suggest unless you wanted to order what is on that menu, just order what you want. In fact maybe you want to order what Peter and I had last Saturday.
RW2It was a raw rainy day, a good day for indulgences.  Plus part of the fun of dining at Miss Shirley’s is studying the menu. There are so many choices and unusual combinations of food items, with a heavy emphasis on cheese, bacon, eggs,and butter because this is a brunch kind of place, that you find yourself having fun just imagining what you might be eating before it arrives.  This was my fifth visit, while it was Peter’s first time. Usually what I do when I go with my daughter Alex is to unofficially share a meal by encouraging her to order something big such as the trio of breakfast sliders or trio of lunch sliders, and then order something small like grits or oatmeal. For us it works perfectly because if you take half of your meal home and it was something oozing with grease and butter, while it tastes marvelous when freshly prepared it loses its appeal when reheated the next morning. If you ask to share, there is a plate sharing fee for the added plate.
Peter and I ordered two very delicious sandwiches :  Cloak & Dagger Shirley’s Way for $12.99 and Cuban Huevos Sandwich for $14.95. These are both in the same price range as Restaurant Week offerings without an additional course, but since we could barely finish our plates, we certainly did not need any more food! Our waitress was very enthusiastic about the Cuban Huevos Sandwich, telling me she orders it all the time and I could easily taste why. It is a delicious combination of Smoked ham, slow roasted pork, Swiss cheese, fried egg, pickles and mustard on Ciabatta bread.  I chose savory grits, creamy in texture and flavored with diced bacon, as the accompaniment.  Peter’s sandwich consisted of  hot corned beef, coleslaw with toasted almonds and Swiss cheese on a slice of pumpernickel and a slice of 7 grain toasted bread served with Russian remoulade (a mayonaise based sauce ie a fancy name of Russian salad dressing). He also chose the grits.   We traded half a sandwich and I immediately took a bite of the corned beef sandwich which was exceedingly rich. To my palate it tasted as if the bread had been grilled in butter, but maybe that was the flavor of the mayo. I had to take another bite. Thus my photo shows a bitten into sandwich.  Ah well.

For my long term preference between the two sandwiches I found the Cuban Huevos sandwich to be more satisfying,  I enjoyed it to the very last bite and did not grow tired of it, so I can understand why the waitress was so enthusiastic. I’d order it again or better yet, try to make it at home although I’ll need to prepare some slow roasted pork first. However, the corned beef sandwich is really tasty as well but I would suggest you definitely need to split it with someone else and then mix it up with a salad, soup, or another sandwich.  RW!

In my experience Restaurant Week can mean some restaurants fill up quickly and you need to make your reservations in advance, so as not to be disappointed. Remember to read the fine print. Not every restaurant is serving every day at every meal and taxes and gratuities are not included.  Do you have a favorite place? I’d like to hear about it.

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When in Cuba Try a Cigar

Cubastart  That’s me. smoking a cigar. Notice I have a funny expression on my face being that this was the very first time I had smoked a cigar. Well, not really. I had taken a few puffs earlier in the week, outside our hotel iin Havana, but that other cigar wasn’t half as intense as this one was, being that this cigar had been freshly rolled. The handsome man to my right, the one with the black mustache and brimmed hat, well he rolled the cigars. We were visiting his farm in Cuba,

Cuba, you might ask. How and when were you visiting Cuba? The only way to visit our nearest neighboring country to the south of Key West, Florida is to visit as a member of a People to People exchange, a tour licensed and approved by the Office of Foreign Assets Control(OFAC). Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba with my Alumni Association from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Each member of our group, which numbered 18, was required to sign a statement that we would fully participate in all scheduled activities. Our programmed activities began around 9:00 a.m. and continued through the afternoon, with just enough break time at the end of the day for a quick shower and change of clothes before dinner.

I am old enough to remember watching I Love Lucy re-runs on T.V. and the fiery Ricky Riccardo directing his band and playing his congo drums. I also remember hearing stories from my parent’s generation of trips to Havana, the gambling, prostitutes, exotic nightclubs, and flavorful Cuban cigars. What remnants of the old Cuba still existed and how had it changed? I wanted to find out. So I had to smoke a Cuban cigar as did my husband Peter.

Many of the farms in Cuba are owned and run by Cooperatives. Each member of the cooperative receives supplies, clothing and one or two meals along with a small stipend but then also receives a percentage of the profits depending on how long they have been with the cooperative and their contributions. There is also some private ownership, as is the case with the tobacco farm we were visiting, however a percentage of the profit does go back to the governement.Cuba32Cuba33

Now my husband Peter, on the other hand, does look like he is enjoying his cigar. He did promise me that he was not going to take up cigar smoking, regardless of how good it tastes.  What makes these cigars so special is that they are made completely of rolled leaves. There is not chopped up, shredded tobacco inside and of course the leaves are really high quality.

We were treated royally at this farm with a tour of the fields, a demonstration of how the tobacco is dried, cut, and made into cigars plus a cup of coffee at the end of the tour to enjoy with our smoke.  Because of the trade enbergo, which has been in place now for 50 plus years, the United States government strictly forbid us to bring any tobacco, liquor, or souvenirs back with us to the United States. We were only allowed to bring back art and literature.  If  you are wondering what it looked like inside the farmhouse. I took a few pictures.Cuba40Cuba39Cuba38Cuba37

Cuba36  More stories about Cuba to follow next week.

Entrepreneurial Spirit Alive and Well in Cuba

Cuba might well be a socialist country, but during our  February visit we met plenty of entrepreneurs who found ways of making a little extra money on the side. Whether they report their earning to the government or not, I’m not certain.  But they found many tourists eager to part with their “convertible pesos” the monetary unit used when visitors convert their currency to Cuban currency.

Our first full day in the City of Havana, we were lead on a walking tour of the older section of the city. Gathered around two adorable Dachund hounds was a crowd of people cheering and clapping as the dogs made noises approximating the sound of speech. But that was not all. After the crowd dispersed, the owner of the dogs spied my husband Peter and posed him next to one of the dogs after learning we were Americans. First the dog kissed and greeted him. Then when he placed and American dollar bill in Peter’s hand and pointed a plastic gun the dog snarled and bared his teeth.  Of course he received a generous tip for this entertainment, from Peter’s wallet as well as several other bystanders.

Just a few yards away , women in colorful 19th century costume carrying baskets of flowers and fruit, beckoned Peter to pose with them for a kiss. (It must have been that red shirt he was wearing)  I took a few photos and when Peter pulled out one peso to give them they firmly told him that he must give them two pesos, because after all there were two of them. (Well it did make a nice picture)

A few blocks away were street artists painted a solid color to resemble statues, moving in various poses. They too wanted a donation for their performance.  Women guards inside the various museums would embroider and crotchet while “on duty” and would offer their wares on the side, while others would set up stands near churches and other tourists attractions to sell handmade dolls and linens.  In the city of Trinidad, an old man sat on a street corner with a rooster perched on his head. For a price, he too would pose for a picture.

These are just a few examples, but yes, regardless of the governmental structure, it just goes to show you that there is creative capitalism wherever you travel!

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Visiting Cuba American Style


The swimming pool on the roof of the Parque Central Hotel in Havana, Cuba looked clear and inviting. Quenching my thirst with a welcome cocktail, Cuba’s signature drink, a mojito made of freshly crushed mint leaves, soda water, sugar, lime juice and rum. I imagined taking a dip in the pool one morning or late afternoon, relaxing after a hectic day of sightseeing. But that never happened. Although I was told to pack my swimsuit, there never was time for a swim or much leisure, because Americans are not allowed to visit Cuba as tourists. The only way to visit our nearest neighboring country to the south of Key West, Florida is to visit as a member of a People to People exchange, a tour licensed and approved by the Office of Foreign Assets Control(OFAC). Each member of our group, which numbered 18, was required to sign a statement that we would fully participate in all scheduled activities. Our programmed activities began around 9:00 a.m. and continued through the afternoon, with just enough break time at the end of the day for a quick shower and change of clothes before dinner. The pool didn’t open until 9:00 a.m.

I was traveling with the University of California, Santa Barbara alumni association on a “Gaucho Getaway”. I was also one of three actual UCSB alumni in our traveling group because you don’t have to actually be an alumnus to participate and it was such an intriguing trip, participants signed up from both coasts. I am old enough to remember watching I Love Lucy re-runs on T.V. and the fiery Ricky Riccardo directing his band and playing his congo drums. I also remember hearing stories from my parent’s generation of trips to Havana, the gambling, prostitutes, exotic nightclubs, and flavorful Cuban cigars. What remnants of the old Cuba still existed and how had it changed? I wanted to find out.

Although I had my trepidations about going on a tour with an organized group, it turned out it was a great group to travel with. Everyone was interested in learning about Cuba and respectful of each other, as fellow travelers. Despite the fact that we all rode together on a large (made in Korea) tour bus and were herded around from place to place, initially labeled by our name badges with cameras in hand, we were too absorbed by the sights and sounds, fascinated by the people we met, to be self-conscious. At least I wasn’t. I forgot to be embarrassed of being an ugly American. All the tour guides at the various places we visited seemed so happy to see us. Tourism (even if we were not officially tourists) is the primary source of economic stimulus to the Cuban economy. People from around the globe, countries that include: Germany, England, France, Canada, Japan, Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, Russia, and China all come to vacation on this beautiful island located just 90 miles to our south. In mid February the temperature was in the mid 70’s and the sun shone brightly as it grew warmer each day during our 8 day visit.

Since the socialist revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959 and the nationalization of previously held American assets in 1961, the United States government has maintained a strict trade embargo since 1962– the longest in history. Whereas once the United States provided a large market for Cuban sugar cane, sugar cane is no longer a large export. To acquire oil, the Cuban trade medical care with Venezuela. They send them doctors who work, courtesy of the Cuban government. Children in Cuba are required to go to school until age 16 and if they desire can attend universities and professional schools for free. After graduation, they will be assigned to a professional post for three years and then they are responsible for finding their own jobs.

Due to the ratio of doctors to citizens, we were told one doctor to every 40 families, life expectancy is age 78. Everyone receives a ration book for a subsistence amount of food they can purchase at specially stocked small stores, food that includes rice, beans,flour, cooking oil and a small amount of meat and vegetables. Supplies of powdered milk are limited to children and the elderly. While no one appears to be starving, the population looks quite lean and muscular. They work hard and they do a lot of walking. And those who do have cars, drive around in gorgeous vintage vehicles that make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to the 1950s.

How can those cars have lasted so long? How can they afford to drive those cars with their six and eight cylinder engines when gasoline in Cuba costs approximately $5 a gallon. My husband Peter finally figured it out, six days into our trip, when we stopped at a gas station on our way to the city of Trinidad. A car there was being repaired, the hood was up, and he looked inside. “Why it’s a diesel,” he exclaimed. “They’ve removed the old engine and replaced it with a 3 cylinder diesel probably from Eastern Europe. That’s how they keep them running.”
On that note I’ll end this particular entry with more to come on the specific topics of: Art and Artists, Architecture, Farming, and Entertainment.

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