Friday, September 28, 2018

Hagerstown Maryland – A Depot and “Dolce” for Dinner

In August, Laurie and I embarked upon a 3 week road trip…the longest trip we’ve ever been on.  Our primary focus was New England but we had destinations to explore along the road both going to and coming from those 6 Northeastern states. 

While we avoid the Interstates when practical, we far prefer the side roads and secondary highways.  However, for our first couple of days, with the distance to be covered in a bearable time, utilizing the Eisenhower Interstate System was a necessity.

Our first overnight stay was at a Hampton Inn right off the Interstate in Hagerstown Maryland.  I had a restaurant picked out for dinner so we put the address in the GPS system…and then along the route I had to do a U-turn!

This handsome former railroad depot is located at 50 North Burhans Boulevard near downtown Hagerstown.  This 2-story structure was built in 1913 by the Western Maryland Railroad.  It replaced an earlier 1-story frame depot.

The Western Maryland Railroad was formed 1852 but the railroad didn’t reach Hagerstown until 1872.  The tracks west from Hagerstown to Cumberland Maryland weren’t completed until 1906.  Through mergers, the railroad finally became part of the Chessie System (CSX).  Passenger service to Hagerstown ended in the late 1950s. 

The tracks are long gone and this building sat abandoned for a number of years.  However, in the early 1980’s, it was sold to the City of Hagerstown.  It was then renovated and it became the home of the Hagerstown Police Department.  I’m happy to see that the building was preserved and that it’s been put to a worthy use…

It was early evening in the downtown area of Hagerstown and traffic was light.  It is a nice looking section of town.  Hagerstown is the County Seat for Washington County Maryland and the city proper has a population of about 41,000. 

The city is home to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park and Washington County (including Hagerstown) has 102 listings in the National Register of Historic Places!  Of these 102 listings, 16 are Historic Districts with multiple structures.  We managed to visit 2 of those Historic Districts at the end of our summer adventure as we headed back south…but those visits will be covered in a much later blog posting.

This was our dining destination…Dolce Pizza Gourmet and Eastern European Restaurant.  We had dined here before…back in the summer of 2011…on our way to visit upper New York State.  Reviews by diners on TripAdvisor and Yelp have continued to be favorable, so our hopes were positive.

The dining room is quite small but cozy.  We noticed that the tables and chairs matched this time, unlike on our previous business.  When we ate here 7 years ago, we were the only customers when we arrived and we had a chance to chat with the owner…her name is Julia. 

Dolce is a family affair.  Julia, (the owner and the chef), is originally from Moldova, a former Soviet state and now a tiny Eastern European country (population about 2.5 million) sandwiched in between Romania and Ukraine.  Her family assists in operating the restaurant.

This chalk board gives new customers a hint or two about the restaurant.  First of all, pricing is pretty reasonable.  Secondly, you don’t see stuffed cabbage on too many menus! (Note the little Moldovan flag at the right of the photo)

I had the Stuffed Cabbage when we visited Dolce back in 2011…and I really liked it.  Laurie ordered the Moldovan Chicken on that occasion and she thought that it was excellent.  While the menu at Dolce leans heavily on Italian food, other different or interesting options are available.

Is Dolce a local family operation?  Does Julia’s former homeland fit into the equation?  You bet!  Note the wall full of articles and awards about the restaurant and Julia.  

There also is a colorful clock from Romania, a picture of family heraldry and then there is that plaque.  It commemorates perhaps the greatest Moldovan leader, Prince Stephen the Great, who ruled from 1457 – 1504.  During his reign he was successful in fighting both the Hungarian and Polish Kingdoms as well as the Ottoman Empire. 

What about the traditional dolls?  Julia’s handsome and engaging sons were working during our visit and Julia’s very cute granddaughter had to have something to play with while her daddy worked didn’t she?! 

As you can see, we opted for the Italian portion of the menu on this occasion.  We had a large pepperoni, ham and sausage pizza for dinner.  It was definitely well above average with quality ingredients although the crust was a little thicker than we prefer.  We did enjoy our meal!  There was a lot of pizza take out business during our visit...

Then out came the fried dough with powdered sugar!  It’s served with all of the meals and it’s yummy!  We (really I) managed to go through a couple plates of these goodies…

For the second time in 8 years, we were glad that we stopped at the Dolce Pizza Gourmet and Eastern European Restaurant.  It was a nice start for our summer adventure.  This restaurant is located at 792 Frederick Street in Hagerstown Maryland.  Phone: 301-745-6300.  

You can check out my post from our 2011 visit by clicking on the following:  Dolce is also on Facebook at:

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Freddy’s comes to Oak Ridge Tennessee!

Yes…we were impatiently waiting for this day!  I’d been following the progress and looking for the opening for months.  We’d been gone most of August and I finally got around to check if this local project/business had opened yet…

This is it!  Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers finally opened in Oak Ridge.  Despite the 42 mile drive (one-way), we ‘had to’ make the drive for dinner this past week.

Yes…this is a fast food restaurant and I don’t usually eat at or talk about fast food chains.  From time to time we do frequent Firehouse Subs, Lenny’s Subs or Kentucky Fried Chicken, but Freddy’s alone is ‘blog worthy’!   

This is the dining area at Freddy’s in Oak Ridge.  It’s pretty basic with tables and booths but with its red and white theme, it is a cheerful venue.

Customers place their orders and pay at the counter.  The cashier gives you a number and they call you up when your food is ready to be picked up.

FYI…we are comparing Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers (fast food) against the venerable Midwest based (casual dining) Steak N Shake operation.  Steak N Shake has servers and Freddy’s doesn’t.  Steak N Shake has a black and white motif and Freddy’s is red and white.

Now onto the food…

This is a Freddy’s Bacon and Cheese Double Steakburger. ($6.19)  It’s cooked on a flat top grill and it’s flattened like Steak N Shake’s burgers but Freddy’s version is crispy around the edges, it’s bigger, juicier and they just have more flavor.  The pickles are thick lengthwise slices…adding to the difference.

This was one of my 2 Double Steakburgers… That’s how much I like them!

Laurie ordered a large vanilla Frozen Custard shake to accompany her meal.  It was thick and very good.  Shakes come with an extra-large straw…necessary due to the thick creamy shake. (Large Malts and Shakes are $4.59 ala carte) Note the sauces and branded seasoning.

This was Laurie’s combo meal…A Bacon and Cheese Double Steakburger with Freddy’s terrific French Fries. (We shared the french fries!)  With the Shake, our cost was $11.39.

Laurie was raised on Steak N Shake burgers and fries.  She likes Steak N Shake enough that she chose it as the place for our anniversary dinner a couple of years ago!

Headline!  As per my better half, and with my complete concurrence, Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers is significantly better than Steak N Shake…and/or Culver’s for that matter.  It’s no contest!

Note: Freddy’s in Oak Ridge offers a 15% discount to the military on Mondays and to seniors on Tuesday…the day we dined there! ($4.31 saved)

Freddy’s also markets their own French fry dipping sauce.  There are 2 versions…the original and this spicy jalapeno version.  We bought this bottle to take home for use with sandwiches. ($4.99) While I preferred it with my sandwich, I still would rather have ketchup with my fries. (Ketchup is available for customers)

There are about 2 pages of frozen custard options on the menu including 31 mix-ins and toppings.  A veggie ‘burger’ is available as are hot dogs, chicken tenders, chili, cheese curds and chicken sandwiches.

Other Freddy’s locations in East Tennessee are in Bristol, Johnson City, Kingsport and Morristown.  I was told that others were planned for the Knoxville area on Chapman Highway and in Alcoa…all too darn far from our home.  We need a Freddy’s on the west side of Knoxville or in Farragut.   Lenoir City would even be better!

The Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburger store in Oak Ridge Tennessee is located at 349 South Illinois Avenue.  Phone: 865-272-5177.  There is a drive-up window for those on the go.  The company’s website is at  The company now has over 300 locations in 30 states.

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Fun and Food in Birmingham Alabama

Following our breakfast experience at Big Bad Breakfast, it was time for some fun!  David II and Amy had a family fun venue in mind so off we went!

This is the entrance to TopGolf.  TopGolf is headquartered in Dallas Texas.  As we discovered, the concept involves the combination of a bar, music and dining experience with a driving range. 

This is a view of Birmingham’s TopGolf facility as you approach it from the parking lot along one side of the entrance.  As you can see, it’s a huge 3-level structure.  At this point Laurie and I just expected that this was just a massive driving range…and nothing else.  Wrong!

In most US TopGolf locations, including this one, customers line up at the counter to pay for a spot on the driving range.  Rates are by the hour.  Each climate controlled ‘hitting bay’ can accommodate 1 – 6 players.  A member of your party has to buy a $5.00 membership that allows tracking of your group’s results, allows you to add time at the bay and even (shudder) can share your experience on social media. 

The hitting bay ‘rental rates’ at Birmingham are $25.00 from opening until noon, $35.00 from noon to 5 PM and $45.00 from 5 PM until closing.  You and your group can hit an unlimited number of balls during your time in the bay…   

On the surface, the cost of a couple of hours of family entertainment is less than the price of most movies these days… But most movie theaters only offer popcorn, candy and other high priced snacks.  They don’t have full service restaurants and fully equipped bars to supplement their cash flow.  FYI…TopGolf does have a plethora of snacks available.  This TopGolf location also offers private event and meeting spaces, free Wi Fi and over 200 HGTV’s. 

This is the ‘course’ or driving range.  There are a number of games you can play but basically the goal is to hit your ball as close to the middle of those netted targets as you can to get points.  The technology is pretty amazing.  You enter the names of the players in the computer screen in your bay and then you hit your golf balls in order.  Even with 50 or more ‘golfers’ hitting from their bay at the same time, the computer accurately records the results each time you hit a ball!

While the original concept was developed by a couple doctors from Alabama, the actual TopGolf technology was developed by twin brothers in Watford England between 1996 and 2001.

The upstairs terrace and a second full service bar provided us with a nice place to wait for a hitting bay to open up… The terrace even boasts a fire pit.

This isn’t the greatest photo of our little group… Shooting from dark to light isn’t a strength of mine.  In any case, bottom line we had a great time.  Not only is TopGolf fun, the best part is that this old man, aka Papa, actually won 2 matches out of 3! 

Our only complaint was the service.  Servers are assigned to a number of bays and they take orders and serve players snacks, food and drinks.  I appreciate good service, but our server’s constant requests for additional orders bordered on harassment. 

As of September of this year, there were 41 TopGolf locations in the USA and 3 in Great Britain.  5 more US locations will open this fall and at least 3 more will open in 2019.  In 2019, they will also premier sites in Australia and Mexico.

TopGolf Birmingham is located at 1111 24th Street North.  Phone: 205-847-5757.  This location’s website is at

After all that effort at TopGolf, we decided grab a light lunch or snacks before Laurie and I drove back to East Tennessee and Amy, David II and Emmett Lee flew off to Omaha.  We chose El Barrio Restaurante y Bar for our final destination on this short Alabama adventure…

The interior of El Barrio is loaded with distressed wood, touches of iron work plus creative lighting, all against an over the top wall of colorful Mexican street art.  There also is a large concrete bar…something that you don’t see every day!   

Since I was going to be driving for about 4 hours, I stayed away from the alcohol…but the ladies had a “Barrio Rita” and we all shared Salsa ($2.75), Queso Fundido ($6.50) and Guacamole ($7.00) with a couple baskets of tortilla chips.  The Queso Fundido didn’t have enough ‘bite’ for my taste but it was OK.  The guacamole lovers at the table thought that it was pretty good.

Two quesadilla orders hit the table.  Laurie went for the Shrimp Quesadilla. ($14.00) She thought that it was OK…nothing special.  

Tacos were the other key item on our table.  This was Emmett’s order of Tacos Al Carbon. ($12.50) Assembling your own tacos is a bit different too although that's what we do at home.  The marinated sirloin steak was served with lettuce, onions and a spicy chipotle sauce.  They were pretty good…

The menu at El Barrio isn’t typical of most “Mexican” restaurants in the USA.  Selection is adequate and creative but somewhat limited.  Don’t expect burritos, chimichanga’s, enchiladas, etc.  There are 4 different taco offerings, 4 quesadillas, 2 tostadas, snacks, salads, soup and “Big Plates” as well as specials Monday – Thursday nights.

We felt that service was just ‘so-so’ and despite the décor, the restaurant felt a little grungy to us.  We didn’t sample enough of the menu to draw any meaningful conclusions regarding the food.

El Barrio Restaurante y Bar is located at 2211 2nd Avenue North in Birmingham Alabama.  Phone: 205-868-3737.  El Barrio is closed on Sunday and Monday.  Website:

…and so ended our family adventures in Birmingham Alabama!  Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Monday, September 24, 2018

Big Bad Breakfast – Birmingham Alabama

Time for breakfast!  Later in the day David II, Amy and Emmet Lee were flying to Omaha and we were headed home to East Tennessee.  But, there was still plenty of time for food and fun before we hit the road.

This is Big Bad Breakfast in Birmingham.  This restaurant concept was developed by Chef John Currence, who is based in Oxford Mississippi.  Currence owns 4 restaurants in Oxford as well as other Big Bad Breakfast locations in Florida and Alabama.  In 2009, he won the James Beard Award as Best Chef South.

Patio dining is available for those who crave an outdoor setting and the ambiance it offers. 

The counter is where customers pay for their meals and where those on the go pick up their food. 

The counter also serves as the ‘store’.  BBB Hats, shirts, coffee mugs, bags of BBB coffee, BB bacon, BB sausage, fatback bacon and fatback smoked sausage are all available…

The dining area features a counter with stools, polished concrete and vaguely industrial minimalist decor.
The Big Bad Breakfast website sets the tone, stating that the “breakfast menu with more than a few surprises opens the door to breakfast cuisine full of inspiration and energy.  One visit to BBB will guarantee you never look at a breakfast plate the same again.”

Here’s our little group sitting in a booth under some wild chicken graphics.  From the left, Laurie, Emmett Lee and his parents, David II and Amy.

The BBB menu states that they offer “the finest ingredients we can source as locally as possible”.  It goes on to state that “every bit of our experience is meant to bring you the best breakfast you have had since you last sat at your grandmother’s breakfast table.”

So…just how did the food measure up?

Emmett Lee had the pancakes, “Flapjacks”, with Bacon. ($10.00) These 3 buttermilk pancakes were sided with BBB House Syrup Blend.  Emmett had a large orange juice to drink. ($4.00) He was happy with his breakfast…

Other breakfast items on this page of the menu include 3 different skillets, one of which is fairly unusual.  That would be the Low Country Skillet. ($12.50) It consists of 2 scrambled eggs, shrimp, andouille, cheddar cheese, onions, peppers, tomatoes and potatoes.  

Lean plates include Steel Cut Oatmeal with brown sugar and fresh strawberries ($8.00) and Avocado Toast…a slice of wheat toast with avocado, pico de gallo, arugula, chili flakes and 2 poached eggs. ($10.00)

Laurie’s breakfast, The Big Bad Breakfast Plate ($10.00), included 2 over-medium eggs, only 2 slices of bacon, a slice of buttered toast and crispy hash (potato) cakes.

She had no issues with the 'hash cakes' but she would have much preferred crispy hash brown potatoes.  A  3rd slice of bacon would have been nice.  Still, it was very good bacon!  The eggs were a bit overcooked...

How is BBB’s bacon cured?  The restaurant acquires the leftover pepper mash from the Tabasco plant in Louisiana.  The mash is blended with dark brown sugar…hence the key to the cure!

While Amy ordered a couple of ala carte items, David II went for a version of the Big Bad Breakfast Plate.  He was happy with it but I would have been asking where the main course was… He had 2 scrambled eggs, 3 slices of bacon, a biscuit and marinated tomatoes as his side. ($10.00)

There was a selection of Big Bad Breakfast Birmingham Specialties for breakfast as well.  The most unusual breakfast item was the Fried Oyster Scramble “Hangtown Style”. ($14.00) This offering consists of 2 eggs scrambled with bacon, onion, tomato, potatoes, mayonnaise and then topped with fried Gulf Oysters and sliced serrano chilies…

I perused the menu and settled on the “Cathead” Chicken Biscuit…crispy fried chicken with cheddar cheese and sausage gravy. ($8.50) To that initial creation, I added an over-medium fried egg. ($1.50) The combination was pretty darn good! (They had my Tabasco sauce too!)

The menu at Big Bad Breakfast is quite large and varied.  As the restaurant also serves lunch, they offer Salads, Sandwiches and Wraps for those who don’t want breakfast for lunch.  BBB also serves beer, wine and mixed drinks and some excellent coffee ($2.95) as well as espresso, latte and cappuccino.  We did buy a 12 oz. bag of the BBB Blend Coffee. ($14.00)

Big Bad Breakfast is an interesting place for breakfast…with quality ingredients imaginatively combined and presented.  In my opinion, for most folks it’s a little pricey and the food a bit pretentious for day to day dining.  But it’s definitely a great change of pace.  We will return!

Big Bad Breakfast in Birmingham Alabama is located at 5361 U.S. Hwy. 280.  Phone: 205-490-7868.  They are open daily from 7 AM until 2:30 PM.  Check out their website and menu at 

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for breakfast!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Friday, September 21, 2018

Family Time – A Visit to Birmingham Alabama

In July, our son David II and grandson Emmett Lee, flew in to visit us here in East Tennessee for a couple of days.  Then we drove them down to Birmingham Alabama to visit David’s better half Amy.  She’s working in Birmingham while eldest grandson, David III is finishing high school back in Omaha…

Laurie took this photo in front of our house.  I’m flanked by Emmett Lee (who’s 15 and taller than me already) and our son David II.

Of course, we had to feed them and a nice fresh salad with tomatoes and blue cheese crumbles started us out.

David II loves Laurie’s pot roasts…so that’s what Laurie prepared for our big meal at our house!  I love the potatoes and carrots cooked in with the roast at least as much as the meat… We sure had plenty to eat!

…and then the next day we were off to Birmingham Alabama.  It’s a very easy drive when compared to the day and half treks to Omaha!

In the late afternoon, we drove over to Amy’s office in Pelham Alabama.  She works for Gabriella White LLC, parent company of Summer Classics and Gabby.  For over 35 years the company has designed and manufactured luxury outdoor furniture for businesses and high end retailers. Gabby produces high end indoor furniture and lighting.  The corporate offices are located in Pelham as is a very large showroom and store…

I took this photo of Amy at her desk in the office.  She joined Gabriella White LLC over a year ago as the Chief Marketing Officer.  She leads the company’s integrated marketing strategy for the various brands.  As that great smile indicates, she loves her job!
I was a bit jealous!  In all my years in retailing, I never had an office that even approached the style and quality of the furnishing in Amy’s office…

Then I took this picture of Emmett Lee in his mom’s office…

David II and Laurie relaxed in the Pelham showroom as we checked out the company’s merchandise for the first time.  Laurie had to sit down as she "started hyperventilating” as she discovered one item after another that she wanted to purchase!  Well, ‘hyperventilating’ might be a little over dramatic on my part…perhaps I should have said that she got a little ‘giddy’ or ‘punch drunk’ viewing the options.

Here are just a couple of the photos I took of the showrooms in the Summer Classics/Gabby corporate outlet in Pelham.  I must admit that I’m not often impressed by retail offerings, but these furnishings are indeed superior to others of the same ilk that I’ve seen elsewhere. 
The Summer Classics/Gabby showrooms are located at 3140 Pelham Parkway in Pelham Alabama.  Phone: 888-868-4267.  For more information on the furnishings offered by Summer Classics or Gabby Home, you can go to their websites at:, or

For dinner this day, we decided on a casual venue.  Based on the positive reviews posted on Trip Advisor and on local feedback, we chose the Flip Burger Boutique which is located in The Summit, which is what seems to be the current “in” shopping and entertainment center in the Birmingham area.
For information about The Summit and to view a directory for this shopping, dining and entertainment development, you can go to

This is the dramatic inside dining area at the Flip Burger Boutique.  This eatery is best described as a full-service upscale burger restaurant…definitely not a burger ‘joint’!  The décor is a bit over the top.  

Outside dining is also an option…with some amazing views of the city and the hills around Birmingham.

Laurie took this photo of me with Amy, David II and Emmett Lee at our table…

You know that this burger place will be ‘different’ than most when you first look at the menu and consider the appetizers, sides and small plates.  Examples include Flip Fries with smoked mayo and ketchup, not too different really but fries with truffle parmesan or with bacon garlic are also available.  Alternatively, how would you feel about Sweet Potato Tots with Burnt Marshmallow Foam?

Laurie is a fried pickle freak so we stayed with the deep fried Pickle Slices with Buttermilk Ranch Dressing.  They were just fine, if not outstanding…   

Amy and David II ordered the Sweet Potato Tots without the burnt marshmallow foam as a side for one of their sandwiches.  No complaints but they didn’t finish them…

This was my burger… I ‘built it’ using FLIP Burger Boutique’s menu which allows you to create a burger your way.  Substitutions aren’t allowed for their list of 15 “Signature Burgers”.

My medium rare (overcooked) Angus burger patty on a Brioche Bun with Feta cheese and a fried egg was quite a creation.  It was pretty good, but it wasn’t outstanding.  The accompanying Brussel sprouts with bacon and ginger were tasty but Laurie makes better ones at home. 

This was Emmet’s ‘burger’.  It was a ‘chicken burger patty’ with bacon.  As his side, he had the Bacon Cheese Macaroni with Gruyere Cream.  Emmett being a teenager with a very limited pallet isn’t a great source for food feedback.

However, his chicken burger begs the question…when is a burger not a burger?  Alternatively, how should we define the word ‘burger’?  FLIP Burger Boutique lists chicken, turkey, lamb, ground shrimp and ‘Fauxlafel’ (chickpeas) under burgers on their menu.  To me, a burger is a burger made with beef…but everyone is entitled to their own viewpoint.

Laurie jumped out there and order FLIP Burger Boutique’s “Earth and Turf” from the restaurant’s list of their Signature Burgers.

This burger is a crossover creation.  The burger patty is a combination of ground beef and ground mushrooms.  My wife loves mushrooms!  More mushrooms, melted onions, Gruyere cheese, pickles and mushroom mayonnaise completed the sandwich.  For her side she had grilled asparagus.  The asparagus was her favorite thing from her meal.  She did not like her burger at all…

I didn’t take photos of David II’s or Amy’s burgers.  I did take a picture of this “Nitrogen Milkshake” that I treated myself with… Unfortunately, I took the picture after the nitrogen vapors had dispelled.  OK, it was a decent milkshake…but what did the nitrogen add to it?  Short lived drama?
To summarize our family’s feedback… Can you spell “disappointment”?  None of us liked FLIP Burger Boutique.  Forget the drama, glitz, etc.  Good food is the key and we just weren’t impressed.  For all the glamour and fancy ingredients, the food was average at best.

I did a little post dining research and various descriptions and depictions of FLIP Burger Boutique pretty much agree with our opinion.  One of them described the food as “Overly salty, overly sweet, overly complicated, overcooked, over fried and just overdone”. 

Try FLIP Burger Boutique for yourself.  As per Trip Advisor, only 6% of their diners didn’t like it.  However, YELP shows that 13.5% of their diners didn’t give favorable reviews…and the trend on YELP for 2018 is downward… The FLIP Burger Boutique in Birmingham Alabama is located at 220 Summit Boulevard.  Phone: 205-968-2000.  During the time I was writing this posting, the restaurant’s website had been out of commission for at least 3 days.  Give it a try at   

Let’s end on a positive note!  Isn’t this hanging pot of flowers beautiful!  These flowers were on display throughout Birmingham’s Summit Shopping area…

That’s it for now… Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave