Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sweet Summer Getaway

The rains seem to have finally lessened and the sky opens up blue and bright these days. I think it's safe to say that Minnesota has finally reached summer, or at least the close approximation of warmer months here that pass from gorgeous, mosquito drenched to unbearable humidity. These past few days, though? It's been breathtaking. There are these cardinals that have been hanging out around my house and every morning I wake up to hear them calling to one another. I'm so thankful not to have to worry about warming up my car, or getting that squeaky windshield wiper replaced. I simply don my new Marc Jacobs sunglasses and glide outside. (Currently obsessed with these ridiculous glasses. I stalked them at Marshall's for about a month before the price finally dropped to something more reasonable than $120. Mwa ha!)

Despite the soaring gas prices, I can't just let that car of mine sit unattended in the garage, we had to take her out for the first no destination summer drive. I clenched my jaw and hummed my I'm-Getting-Away-With-Something tune (Doo, doo, doot, do dooo) and filled up the tank. It still cost slightly less than the sunglasses.

We had the top down, my tresses tamed by an old floral scarf and Matt's nose slathered in SPF 35. We took Hwy 55 out and eventually turned the car towards Red Wing. It was late afternoon and our stomachs started to rumble. Matt knew the perfect spot to go. He'd once been home on a summer afternoon watching the Food Network when he saw this place on a food destinations show. He's immediately gotten in the car to go investigate. We've been back a couple of times since and it is such great discovery.

What you do is drive through historic downtown Red Wing and take the Wisconsin turn. The minute you get over that bridge, hang a left (follow the bikers.) There's a sign for a Fireworks stand that has since relocated. You twist and turn down the short, swampy road and arrive at the Harbor Bar. It a decent dive inside, lots of space and rocking Aerosmith tunes, but outside is where the party is at.

There's a dock out back and it's right next to a camp ground, so the atmosphere is very come as you are. There are hammocks and hanging chairs for seating and a glorious view of downtown Red Wing, just across the river. Reggae music pulses through the air and soon you find yourself feeling down right irie.

I took a seat in a brightly painted chair while Matt bellied up to the bar to order us a couple of drinks. I looked to the big grill where there is usually a one legged Jamaican guy tending the meat. "What do you want?" Matt asked.

"Summer Shandy," I responded. I'd gone back to the Leinenkugel's brewery in Chippewa Falls in mid-May and found that they do make one variety of beer that I find tolerable. I thought it might be a nice summer drink.

"No, no, that's okay - that's okay - no - really..." I looked over at Matt who was waving his hands around. Standing up a bit, I was horrified to realize that the one legged man was actually the one tending bar. Here he was upended at the back of the bar, digging under boxes and boxes of beer cans to try to find my request. Matt finally convinced him that we'd be fine with two waters and came back to the table. I guiltily sipped from my plastic cup.

A waitress approached us with some menus. For me, there was no doubt what I would be ordering. With the mouth watering smells wafting off of the grill, how could I order anything but the jerk chicken? Matt got the steamed grouper, touted as a Jamaican specialty. When the waitress came back I requested a Blue Moon, since that was listed on the menu as a beer option. I wasn't going to puff a fattie, but felt that there needed to be some sort of imbibing to properly appreciate this summer locale.

She granted my request and I leaned back and put my feet up, soaking in the sun. Kids were running around, playing and the adults were leisurely sipping their afternoon drinks. Every so often the whirr of the blender would break the easy lull. Nothing like a long drive to a slow moving destination to allow for the proper appreciation of a summer afternoon.
Then, our food arrived:

I had a whole half a chicken doused in their Jerk sauce accompanied by red beans and rice and a cabbage side. Matt's grouper was covered in what he called a Jamaican Gihardinara. There were all matter of peppers, veggies and incredible flavor. It punched up the fairly boring slab of fish that lay beneath it.

My chicken was a wonderful combination of sweet, savory and spicy. The blackened skin sang from the earthy coals that it had crisped it into oblivion. The tender meat, slightly pinked tinged from the long, slow roast just fell off the bone. It would have been a little dry, were it not for the extra swab of Jerk slathered over the top.

While I can't go so far as to say it's the best jerk you can get around here (that honor goes to Toney at the Whistling Bird in of all places, Gilbert, MN.)

It was, however, the furthest I've ever gone after only having been in the car for around an hour. We talked about maybe, one of these days, taking a vacation down to the Florida Keys. We've never really gone on a real vacation, out of state, involving an airplane together. Maybe we could go to the Hemingway house and see the cats.

Knowing the likelihood of this happening, I starting musing, instead that we need more destination dining options. We have road tripped to the Monarch just for one of their fabulous burgers and would drive up and back to Duluth were it not for the fact that my family is there and I can't just dine and ditch. These gas prices are kind of difficult to manage, but who knows how many of these glorious sunny days that I'm going to get before either my convertible dies (it is a Volkswagen) or the weather craps out on me again?

Bellies full, fingers licked and sunscreen depleting, we climbed back into the car and pointed it Northeastern, we had some back country Wisconsin roads to traverse and only so much sun left in the day.


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