Friday, November 27, 2009

The danger of telling the world about your favorite place

When you find a truly great place, a tiny gem in a field of rocks that look like chain restaurants, you cherish it and visit it often. While you love it, you are often hesitant to tell people about it, lest it become played out, crowded, and suddenly, a different place altogether.

For stores, or events, who cares if there are 100 people there. If you know the store owner, you might even get a heads-up when new gear arrives. But a restaurant you like to go to on Friday nights? Or a coffee shop with four seats? Dilemma.

There's a restaurant near the house I rented with friends in DC called Two Amys. When it first opened, it was a neighborhood gem. Tucked on a side street behind a popular Mexican restaurant, it subsisted mostly on overflow from that restaurant and maybe Cafe Deluxe. It had great pizza and a cozy little bar in the back that was perfect for meeting friends or a date, but it also had no parking and no "lobby." All of this made it charming and kind of a local favorite. Then it was discovered by Washingtonian in 2003 and picked for the cover of its Cheap Eats edition. Suddenly, the place was overrun by suburbanites desperate to escape the duldrums of their strip-mall Pizzeria Uno and California Pizza Kitchen. You couldn't get a table there on a weeknight, let alone a Friday. Even takeout was a problem, since the front of the restaurant was clogged with people waiting for a table. Parking in the neighborhood, already at a premium, became a nightmare. We stopped going there and found other neighborhood places that were just as good, but undiscovered.

Imagine my horror when the place all the hipsters have been buzzing and Twittering about was discovered by the Morning Call's Retail Watch. Word on The Bookstore Speakeasy (336 Adams Street, South Side Bethlehem) is out.

it's a book...
...actually, it's the drink menu.

When Beata, Jorge, Courtney, Mark and I went last week for cocktails and microbrews after work, we were impressed. The place is cool - can't say I've ever been anywhere like it - but it isn't cheap. But that's what everyone said last week: The El Vee, Lehigh Valley Style blog and LV Scene all wrote reviews, Lehigh Valley With Love gave it a shout-out, Channel 69 stopped by, and Retail Watch proves again just how out-of-touch The Morning Call is. If you are thinking about going, check out the menu online and read at least one of the reviews so you don't look like a rookie. Here are a couple of tips: It is located between Fourth Street and the Trans-Bridge bus station. There is no dedicated parking, just meter parking at lots and on the street. The door says "THE BOOKSTORE" and you have to push open a curtain inside to find the bar. The Bookstore offers a limited menu, but the owners just introduced a prixe-fixe dinner menu, $35 for four courses (not bad), Thursday-Saturday between 5-7 p.m.

Best cocktail on the planet: the sidecar. At The Bookstore, it costs $11.00.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Goosey Gander & the Lehigh pep band

Last Friday, Donna and Mark and I were picking up lunch at Goosey Gander (102 W. Fourth Street, Bethlehem) when...

See the drum major's baton? It's a tiki torch.

Check out the gander sandwich (above, right).

Lehigh beat Lafayette in their 145th meeting on Saturday, 27-21 in overtime. Theirs is the most-played rivalry in all college football history.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Comment Moderation & Lehigh Pub

This blog received a number of negative comments in a row this afternoon about Lehigh Pub.

In case you hadn't already figured it out, this blog's purpose is to educate people about what the Valley has to offer and to encourage Valley natives and transplants to visit local businesses. I'm not fond of publishing anonymous negative comments (though as long you aren't shilling for profit, anonymous positive comments, and shilling for a good cause or because you genuinely like something is okay by me).

The Express-Times recently covered the story of two college students who refused to pay a mandated tip at the restaurant. There are two sides to every story; however, the restaurant refused to comment in the article, so make up your own mind.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Easton After Five

For my first Style column, I plan to highlight a few things to do "after 5" in Easton. I think most people already know about the Easton Farmer's Market and cute downtown retailers, and Easton's fabulous restaurant scene. Add to that: Townies know where to go to see a cover band and drink a beer, and Lafayette College students know which places will serve them underage.

I'm gathering a small group of transplants and natives to have dinner at Sette Luna (a place where we love to take our friends from out-of-town) and then explore downtown Easton at night. I already have a list of no fewer than EIGHT things happening that night and plan to encourage everyone to do what they like and report back. I'm also taking suggestions from the floor (read: you). Then I'll compile everyone's thoughts into a 1500 word column for the magazine.

If it's okay with you all, I'd love to preview at least part of the column here, to get your feedback before my December 15 deadline. You'll have to tune in to Style in March to get the full story.

Let me know what you think! Want to join us?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve in the Valley

I'm sure it's not just a Lehigh Valley phenomenon, but Thanksgiving Eve is the biggest party night of the year around here.

There are a multitude of reasons for this. First of all, expatriates return home for some mandatory time with family who stayed in the Lehigh Valley. One can only handle so much of that, so after a few hours of unpacking and getting caught up on family dysfunctions, a stiff drink may be in order. For those who are not traveling out of town, it's a chance to catch up with old friends who are only in town for a few nights. Since it isn't a religious holiday and there's no reason to wake up early on Thanksgiving, it's prime for staying out late. Most people tend to stick close to home (and to the bars that were second homes), but some will flock to the bigger entertainment venues. Either way, it's a good excuse to get dressed up and show everyone how well you have done for yourself since the days of braces, driver's ed, and passing notes (which I doubt kids even do anymore w/ the proliferation of text messages). Here are a few fun parties I have heard about:

Pigpen Bar & Grille (702 Union Blvd., Allentown) has The Large Flowerheads, "Groovy '60s Music You Love," and no cover for ladies.

Allentown Brew Works (812 W Hamilton St, Allentown) has its regularly-scheduled Trivia Night, Whitehall High School 5th Year Reunion, and more.

Starters Riverport (17 W. Second St., Bethlehem) has DJ Cap Cee, no cover, and a naked chick rolling in leaves on the invite. (?!)

Sands Bethlehem (77 Sands Boulevard, Bethlehem) has Lauralea & Tripp Fabulous in the Molten Lounge, 8:30pm - 12:30am, no cover.

Blue Monkey (1092-1094 Howertown Road, North Catasauqua) is feature live music from Common Bond.

Drinky's (5 Centre Square, Easton) needs to update their web site, but I am sure they will be having a party.

Metromix is hosting a Thanksgiving Eve Bar Crawl at Firehouse, PigPen, Mezza Luna and Roosevelt's 21st, beginning at 7 p.m.

Natives, is there a spot that your high school friends have claimed as their own?

Transplants, will you be celebrating Thanksgiving Eve out of town at your old watering hole? Or will you be out in the Valley, laughing at all the awkward reunions or tagging along with your significant other to their reunion?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I miss Trader Joe's

In DC, there were great grocery stores (Trader Joe's, Whole Foods), bad grocery stores (Safeway, Giant), and corner markets.

I really miss the variety and relatively low prices at Trader Joe's. They had some classic items which I stockpile when I have a chance to go. These include Big & Chunky Applesauce, a million Indian items, frozen goodies including to-die-for mac and cheese, Avocado's Number guacamole, soups, Dunkers cookies, tiramisu gelato, and French Market Lemonade. Their cheese section is drool-worthy. And I'm always game to try something new there, because the cost is so low (me: Do I like New Zealand Sweet Apple Rings/Indian Fare Punjab Choley/Pizza Parlanno? friend: Get it, it's only $2.99!). A Facebook group 1,500+ members strong hopes a Trader Joe's will open in downtown Easton, and I concur. I am tired of making the pilgrimage to King of Prussia and Westfield, NJ (where they have wine! Three Buck Chuck!).

I don't miss the prices at Whole Foods, but I did like the samples and staring at the bakery displays. And, they always had a good beer selection and the most beautiful organic produce.

I never miss Safeway. Each store has a nickname. The one near Georgetown is called the Social Safeway since it is such a pickup joint. It's been called that since before my parents lived there as young professionals. The Tenley store is Secret Safeway (obscured by trees) and the Dupont store is Soviet Safeway (because there is never anything on the shelves and there are always long lines). There may be others I can't remember, but I've blocked most of my memories of Safeway, primarily because the service was so awful and the produce was so peaked. DCist does a good job of outlining all the names and their reasons.

This week, I took an extra look around at Wegman's. The store has done a great job of buying and stocking items that are... dare I say?... Trader Joe's-esque. The organic aisles are reminiscent of Whole Foods, too. I'm impressed. I picked up pumpkin butter, soy milk and frozen organic burritos.

I still like going to small natural foods stores, however. There's something about the smell (is that ginger? patchouli?) and the idea of a local market that I like. Plus, when I find a new one, I like to take the time to explore, and often go home with treasures.

One of my favorites is Nature's Way Market on 143 Northampton St. in Easton. It's been open for 34 years and offers a good mix of fresh produce, pantry items, supplements and beauty products. They also frequently host educational workshops and have a great book and magazine section. This weekend, Courtney and I stopped in to pick up some vitamins, chocolate, mushrooms and energy bars.
Frey's Better Foods‎ at 1575 Main St, Hellertown is right across the street from the Exxon station. On top of everything you'd expect, it has a great frozen section, a ton of grains and nuts, and lots of good organic cleaning products. They have also been around forever, and the staff is very knowledgeable.

Queen's Nutritional Products is a little off the beaten path, near the Giant shopping center at 1450 Pennsylvania Ave. in Allentown. I have heard about Garden Gate Natural Foods at 17 S 9th St. in Allentown but have not visited personally.

Transplants, do you miss your old grocery store?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It Must Be Christmas...

Marie, one of my favorite local bloggers who writes about gardening in Bethlehem, tipped off her readers about the Bethlehem Garden Club Juried Flower Show happening this weekend. Visitors can peruse and purchase house plants, baked goods, holiday decorations, and books. The Club has also designed Christmas & New Year's table settings and decorated Christmas trees for your enjoyment and inspiration.
  • At Advent Moravian Church, 3730 Jacksonville Rd. Bethlehem
  • Friday, November 13, 3-8, Saturday November 14, 10-3
  • Free admission, and free coffee, tea and cookies
  • Proceeds from the garden sale and raffles benefit the BGC Scholarship Fund.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

She's Crafty

My SIL and I were chatting recently about what there is to do in Memphis. She's a recent transplant there and is looking to make friends and get active in her new city. I started Googling away and found a bunch of Meetup groups in her area. I figured she's kind of crafty so a knitting group might be fun. I don't know what it is about young women and needlecraft. Courtney has been talking about learning to stitch-n-bitch forever. I used to make pretty awful counted-cross-stitch designs and give them as presents, but I've hung up my needles for a while. I could be persuaded if the yarn had a really cool name (like Mauch Chunky!) and was made locally!

There are knitting stores that host knitting circles and classes on site, and libraries that invite patrons to BYOK. Classes are cheap - often $5 or less - and the stores often offer discounts on your purchase of supplies.

I found a few knit shops in the Lehigh Valley. Did I miss any good ones?
- Tangled Yarns, 519 Main Street, Bethlehem
- The Knitter's Edge, West Broad St. at 15th Avenue
- Knitwitz & Sew Much More, 828 Main Street, Hellertown
- Conversational Threads Fiber Arts Studio, 8 S. 4th St., Emmaus

There's a Whitehall Knit Wits Meetup Group that gets together weekly at Barnes N' Noble. Also, Allentown used to have an S-N-B group, but their web site is outdated. Happy stitchin'!

Friday, November 06, 2009

November First Friday in Bethlehem

Now that the election is over, please turn your attention to the monthly First Friday celebration in Bethlehem (November 6, 6-10 p.m. on the South Side). I picked up an event guide at Cleo's when I was in shopping for a birthday gift for Mom.

Tonight, there are:

  • Six places to catch live music and enjoy art and shopping: Stone Soup Studios (301 Broadway), Comfort Suites (120 W. Third St.), Cleo's Silversmith Studio & Gallery (21 E. Third St.), Lehigh Bookstore (Campus Square), Fox Optical (28 E. Third St.) and of course, a DJ at Home & Planet (25 E. Third St.)
  • Five great places to shop for holiday gifts: Shuze (17 E. Third St.), Tallarico's Chocolates (26 E. Third St.), Monsoon (11 E. Third St.), Loose Threads (9 W. Fourth St.), and Cutters Bike Shop (418 E. Third St).
  • Two new exhibitions at The Banana Factory (25 W. Third St.) and Fox Optical
  • Two live theatrical performances: The Tempest at Touchstone (321 E. Fourth St.) and The Lord of Misrule at Zoellner Arts Center (420 E. Packer Ave.)
  • One wing-eating contest at Lehigh Pizza (13 W. Third St.) to benefit Meals on Wheels of Northampton County
  • Two ways to work off those wings: Dancing at Northampton Community College's Fowler Family Center (511 E. 3rd St) and skating at the Steel Ice Center (Corner of Polk & 1st)
  • A million places to have dinner within four blocks: 23 East Asian Bistro, La Lupita, Tulum, Alexandra's Bistro, Lehigh Pub, General Zapata's, Nawab Indian, The Olive Branch, Thai Kitchen, Starters, Michael's Steaks, Sal's Pizza, Lehigh Pizza, Campus Pizza, Sotto Santi, Goosey Gander, Blue Sky Cafe, Wildflower Cafe, and Dave's Deli and Gelato (I am sure I have forgotten some, but those are a good start.)
  • Eight places to booze up after all of the other activities "officially end" at 10 p.m.: Starters Riverport (17 W. Second St), Comfort Suites, Looper's Grille & Bar (313 E. 3rd St.)afeaturing a winter wine tasting, JP Macgrady, Funhouse, Firehouse, Tally Ho, and the brand-new Bookstore Speakeasy

Sunday, November 01, 2009

LV Elections

As promised, TMC's voter's guide was published online recently. It's not comprehensive, but you can "meet" the candidates for PA Supreme Court, Lehigh County Commisioner (sic), Lehigh County Executive, and Northampton County Council by downloading PDFs. I've seen some other "meet the candidates" features recently, so I wonder if they will be online soon, too.

The Express-Times' guide is an interactive site. First, you'll enter your address so that the site can populate your online "ballot." (It didn't include any of my Lehigh County races.) Each ballot page has a full bio as well as an area to cast your "vote." You can even make notes for yourself and print a sheet to bring with you on election day.

There's no reason not to be informed before you hit the polls!

First Mondays in Allentown

Vanessa tipped me off to a monthly event in Allentown called First Mondays.

November's First Monday (on November 2) will be held at Made In Brazil, the restaurant that will be opening soon inside the Holiday Inn (9th & Hamilton Sts., Allentown).

Once it's open, Allentown will be able to boast that it has one of nine churrascarias in the state of PA. Stop by between 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. to preview the restaurant, and to sample Brazilian foods and drinks.

When I was looking for the link, I found the Allentown City calendar of events. I was impressed by the diversity of everything that is going on mid-week. Next Wednesday night after work, you could:
  • Learn what encaustic painting is by visiting Lee Leckey's “Layers” exhibition in the Cressman Library Gallery at Cedar Crest College
  • See A Serious Man at Civic's 19th Street Theatre
  • Enjoy Wacky Wednesday Bowling Night at AMF Legends and Parkway Lanes for $1.00
  • Meet other people interested in Downtown Allentown at Over the Hump Wednesdays at Allentown Brew Works (the Leadership Lehigh Valley alumni will be meeting up there that night as well)
  • Attend a panel discussion on the 2010 Census at Muhlenberg College
  • Be a smarty pants at Trivia Night at Jack Callaghan's
  • Raise funds for United Way by shopping at the Women's Leadership Initiative's Power of the Purse event

That is just ONE NIGHT - a WEDNESDAY - just in Allentown! Visit the Allentown Calendar of Events for more information, and get out there.