Category: Photos

Eat This Blog: Sage Apple Onion Pork Loin

I happen to have a 13-year-old who is enjoying growing his own herb garden. Ryan’s not a member of 4-H, FFA or any of those other organizations which generally promote this type of behavior.

He simply has an herb garden. And loves it.

Ryan is quite proud of this garden and has begun bringing me fresh herbs to use in my cooking. The first delivery has occured and it was a couple containers, each holding big leaves of sage and basil respectively. Sage works quite well with both pork and stuffing so I decided those would be the big items of tonight’s dinner. For some sweetness, the pork loin would be covered in a good apple butter, specifically from Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Indiana. I finely-chopped a good handful of Ryan’s fresh sage, added it to the apple butter, and then coated the pork loin with it. I then cut some sweet onion, Red Delicious apples and a couple bulbs of kohlrabi into large chunks. These fuits and vegetables made a bed in the bottom of a roasting pan, and the pork loin went on top. These slow-roasted at 200 degrees F for 4.5 hours. As you can see in the above photo, I served it with some stuffing and steamed vegetable as well.

Thank you, Ryan, for helping me create a great dinner!

Tonight’s Dinner: A Good BBQ Pork Sandwich

Inspired by the sirloin steak sandwich I had at Quaker Steak & Lube a few weeks ago in Charleston, WV, this evening’s dinner was just a bit on the filling side. I’d slow-cooked a pork loin (seasoned with Kosher salt, pepper and granulated garlic) in a crock pot in its own juices for the entire day. I then drained it and removed the fat, then shredded it and mixed it with two bottles Jack Daniels’ Old No. 7 sauce. I then sautéed some bell peppers and onion in unsalted butter, and served the whole of it on a warm ciabatta roll with a slice of provolone cheese. Yup, this works.

Thanksgiving Dinner 2009 at the Occoquan Inn, Occoquan, VA

A slice of the fresh Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Pie, with whipped cream. Dessert first, right? Other available desserts were an Apple Cinnamon Cobbler and a Chocolate Coffee Mousse.

We’d been planning this trip for a while: Spending Thanksgiving with Mary’s youngest son, LCpl John Winckowski, USMC, just north of where he’s stationed at Quantico, south of Washington, DC. It fell to me to find a place for Thanksgiving dinner so I headed to Serious Eats out of New York City to ask the question:

We’ll be in the Potomac Mills area for Thanksgiving. Does anyone have any suggestions for a decent (i.e., comfortable, pleasant, not fast food) restaurant for 6 or so for dinner? Doesn’t quite matter if it’s a “traditional” Thanksgiving Day meal, although that would be preferred.

The first answer, from user Womandingo, included the following:

Alas, the Woodbridge area is not known for its culinary diversity. You might want to come a few miles north on I-95 to Occoquan, a really pretty place right on the river where there are some lovely little locally-owned restaurants … One really nice place in Occoquan is The Garden Kitchen – – I don’t know if they’re doing a Thanksgiving dinner, but I would be surprised if they weren’t … Check out the Occoquan Inn, another pretty place, that IS serving Thanksgiving dinner and taking reservations now – … I wish I could give you better information about the area around Potomac Mills, but, alas, it’s just not designed for gourmands – or even people who want to eat better than fast food … Good luck.

Womandingo is quite correct about the lack of diversity around the Potomac Mills Shopping Center itself. The area is loaded with chains, ranging from White Castle to 5 Guys, Denny’s to Chili’s and Applebee’s and just about everything else. It’s just not well-suited for anything close to a “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner, especially a dinner to share with someone who’s had mostly Mess Hall food for months at a time.

After a couple false starts I finally nailed down a noon reservation for us for Thanksgiving dinner at the Occoquan Inn in Occoquan, Virginia, for their limited menu from noon to 4 p.m., the only time the Inn would be open on Thanksgiving Day. Womandingo’s other suggestion, The Garden Inn, a block away from the Occoquan Inn, was closed for Thanksgiving.

A brass historical marker on the front of the Occoquan Inn indicates the older construction is circa 1780, although the framed copy of the ghost story next to the marker places construction in 1810. The building, the village itself, the river that runs through the valley behind the Inn … this is all authentic older America. Occoquan’s city hall is a converted one-room schoolhouse, one which is quite similar to the circa 1861 schoolhouse Briahna lives in.

We arrived at the restaurant shortly before noon and, as other guests headed behind the Inn to the river, we were the first ones seated. It turned out our reservation was for the table near the center of the front window, making for a beautiful view of the village. By 12:10, the Inn was packed with guests.

Mary, John and Briahna after being seated.

For the rest of this post, I’ll let the photos basically speak for themselves. This was a beautiful meal. If you have a chance to enjoy eating at the Occoquan Inn as we did, make sure you do. Thanks Womandingo!

While you may not think of shrimp as an appetizer for Thanksgiving, Mary’s family does follow this tradition. These were plump and flavorful shrimp, with a wonderful dipping sauce.

Marinated mushroom caps, with whipped cream cheese with bacon and balsamic. The filling was incredibly light and airy with a rich flavor.

Baby spinach salad with hot bacon dressing and boiled egg. The spinach couldn’t have been fresher or crispier. A Ceasar salad was also available, as were a Virginia Clam Chowder and a Blue Crab Bisque. Briahna and I had the chowder and while it’s almost impossible to get a good photo of, it was positively stunning.

The Traditional Tom Turkey Dinner with roasted turkey, stock gravy, baked ham (which wasn’t listed on the menu), country-style stuffing, sweet potatoes, whipped potatoes, crisp fresh vegetables and housemade cranberry sauce. This plate was huge, piled high, and quite simply, too much wonderful food to finish with desserts in-sight! Other available entrees were Roast Prime Rib of Beef with horseradish sauce, Baked Rockfish Supreme in an herb marinade with shrimp and wild rice, and Chicken Imperial stuffed with blue crab and a lemon Hollandaise sauce.

Sea Gull Pier Restaurant, Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, Virginia

Update, September 29, 2014 – Here is a link to the current restaurant that’s at One Island on the bridge:

Update, June 6, 2009 – This post … well, it’s garnered a bit of attention since I posted it about a week ago. I don’t really know how people are finding it, but they’re finding it. And to be blunt, not everyone’s agreeing with what I wrote here. I won’t rehash my opinion in this update; I already posted it in the comments among both agreeing and disagreeing responders. However, I’ll approve any comment having merit while also not being insulting. So go right ahead and post your own opinion, negative or positive, on this particular restaurant. Y’ll kinda have me curious now!

I’ve been avoiding posting this one. I don’t like talking badly about restaurants. But this one has irritated me, and I have to explain why.

When you’ve driven extra miles, more than 150 miles one-way from the hotel you’re staying at, to eat at a single restaurant that’s in the middle of literally nothing, on a man-made island of a project once listed as one of the seven engineering wonders of the world by the American Society of Civil Engineers … wouldn’t you expect to find the best Crab Cake Sandwich you’ve ever had, even if it was just for lunch?

I gotta tell you, I was sorely disappointed.

Granted, we weren’t disappointed with the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel itself. And there are a couple other pics you have to see at the end of this post. But frankly, the Filet’o Fish at McDonald’s is better than the crab cake sandwich you see here.

The $9.95 “Crab Cake Sandwich with french fries” at the Sea Gull Pier Restaurant on Island 1 of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel wasn’t anything close to what I was expecting for either the price or the location. When the dish was delivered, it was exactly as it appears in the top photo; An overcooked (cooked at least twice the time it should have been) crab cake on an inexpensive (read, “cheap”) bun with a portion dish of tarter sauce and some slightly soggy fries. Not even a slice of lettuce there to put on top of it. Definitely nothing close to what a good Chesapeake Bay crab cake should be, is supposed to be, is expected to be, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

My real problem with this isn’t the dish itself. It’s how that poorly-made dish relates to those miles driven. People consistently travel long distances to see the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, to drive those 20 miles of pavement 20 feet over the waters at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, to get off on Island 1 to see the fishing pier, visit the gift shop and eat at the Sea Gull Pier Restaurant. I know because I lived in Norfolk for over three years, and two of my kids were born in the area. And this was still my first visit to this particular attraction and Engineering Wonder.

My real problem is that this sandwich, and anything else served at that particular restaurant, should solidly represent the seafood of the Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, it does not do so, not by a long shot. Honestly, when I bit into the sandwich it was ok, and I was instantly suspicious of the meat being a Chesapeake crab cake from Phillips, which is a wonderful product. If so, that would have been the sandwich’s only saving grace, as Phillips is the way to go in many cases for decent seafood for this purpose. But even it it was, somebody had cooked the Hell out of it and served it up very amateurishly. The result was far from representative of what even that particular seafood supplier would want to see for that product.

Now, having said that, the real reason we went to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel was for John:

This is my stepson Pfc. John Winckowski, USMC, and his mom, my lovely wife Mary, at our table in the Sea Gull Pier Restaurant. Memorial Day weekend with a U.S. Marine. Yeah, that’s the ticket. 🙂 John loves watching the “engineering marvels” shows on various cable channels, so heading to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel was something he’d looked forward to. I’m pretty sure he enjoyed the rest of our visit to that “enginering marvel”.

John and Mary also posed for me at the overlook that looks to the west at the Chesapeake Bay at the far east end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

And for those of you who are fishermen or fisherwomen who want to fish the Chesapeake Bay without a boat, here’s a look at the fishing pier just outside the restaurant on Island 1.

But if you do fish off this pier, do yourself a favor; Pack a lunch.

The Cavalier, Lynchburg, Virginia

Last Friday the gent I was working with in Lynchburg, Virginia, had heard about the hot dogs I’d had at the Texas Inn the previous evening. I’d told him they weren’t all they were cracked up to be. He felt I needed to have something better. He gave me a couple suggestions, including the possibility of a lunchtime pizza, and then recalled a place that served hot dogs having what he called, “A nice red sauce.”

Hmmm, that sounded interesting. Red sauce. I wondered what the Heck that was … So he and I climbed into the company’s white Ford Focus, the one with air conditioning but no cruise control, power windows or power locks (the other car had the cruise control, power windows and power locks, but no A/C) and we headed for The Cavalier.

The place is … unique. From the outside it could be a dry goods store, with its aluminum window frames and glass block halfway up the front wall. Inside, the wood walls were either inscribed with personal graffiti or covered with license plates, flags, and Lord knows what else. For only being there 22 years, it looks a lot older.

Sam didn’t look at a menu … he simply ordered the two hot dogs, “with the red sauce”, including mustard and chopped onion, and a side of seasoned fries. I went ahead and ordered the same.

After probably 15 minutes, the waitresss placed the dogs in front of us, and handed us each a fork and knife saying, “You’re gonna need ’em”. She was right … I couldn’t pick the darned hot dogs up! The sauce looks hot and spicy, but is actually quite sweet. The hot dogs and their sweet sauce were good, and honestly, I could only eat one-and-a-half of them. Why? Well, there were probably two whole potatoes in the basket of fries …

The fries were probably the best part of the meal. Crispy on the outside with tender potato when I bit into them, they were coated with a seasoning mix that wasn’t as powerful as I expected. The seasoning provided a good balance for the fries instead of providing all the flavor. I could taste the potato. That’s quite a change from a lot of fries I’ve had.

Hot dogs and fries. Who’d have thought they’d make the best meals on that part of the trip?