Archive for May, 2014

MGM Roast Beef

MGM Roast Beef

For the traditional end-of-the-month restaurant review for May, I chose to ride to the Brentwood neighborhood in northeast D.C.  Located across the street from the Brentwood Post Office, at the narrow and oddly-shaped corner of Brentwood Road and V Street (MAP), is a small, unusually-named hole-in-the-wall restaurant named MGM Roast Beef.  Once inside, you can find out what the MGM stands for by one of two ways.  You can ask the proprietor or one of the employees on duty, or you can try one of their hearty, hand-carved sandwiches.  Either way, you’ll discover that the MGM stands for “mighty good meats.”

As you enter the relatively small restaurant you’ll encounter a V-shaped counter, and must decide whether to turn right or left.  Customers who turn to the right can choose one of the 22 seats available for eat-in orders and then enjoy their order amongst the eclectic clientele of office workers, postal employees, civil servants, and construction workers, as well as doctors, lawyers, and executive types.  If you’re there for a take-out order, or there are no available seats and you’re settling on getting your order to go, you turn to the left.  After filling out the little slip of paper with your order, you can watch it quickly and expertly  being cut and assembled as you progress through the line to the checkout.  It’s almost like being treated to a show.

As if to further entice customers, while waiting in line to place and pick up a to-go order, customers are afforded a direct view of the succulent meat as it is being carved to order for their sandwich.  Options on display on juice-drenched wooden cutting boards include more than just the roast beef that their name might indicate.  Having to choose between roasted turkey, a bone-in ham, top round of beef, as well as their famous brisket, can make for a difficult decision.

All of the menu options are worthy in their own right, but my favorite is the brisket, served on a soft, fresh-baked poppy seed-onion roll.  I like to add a slice of Swiss or provolone, and some lettuce, tomato, onions, and horseradish sauce.  Served with an order of real hand-cut French fries if I’m eating in, or house-made potato salad with a to-go order, and it ranks right up there among the best sandwiches in the entire D.C. area.

In addition to the almost exponentially unlimited number of hand-carved sandwich variations, MGM also serves up chicken and tuna salad sandwiches, or even grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly.  They also offer open-faced sandwiches and lunch plates, fresh soups, and creamy cole slaw.  A variety of desserts are of available and of equal quality as well, such as fresh-baked cookies or brownies, lemon pound cake, or a moist sweet potato cake with cream cheese icing.  Most everything is made in-house, and it shows.

If you’re in the neighborhood but it’s too early for lunch, MGM is open for breakfast too.  From breakfast plates to breakfast sandwiches, they offer all of the usual breakfast choices.  But the star of the breakfast options is the Belly-Buster sandwich, consisting of six ounces of brisket and two eggs over hard.  You won’t find it on the menu, but feel free to ask about it.  Regulars know all about it, and now so do you.

Lastly, although it did not affect me personally since I arrived on a bicycle , the tiny size of the parking lot warns that parking may at times be an issue, especially during their busiest lunchtime hours.  However, there is on-street parking in the area, so don’t be intimidated if you pull up and find a full parking lot.  Or better yet, ride there on a bike like I did.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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The Joan of Arc Statue

The Joan of Arc Statue

On this day in 1431, Jehanne d’Arc, or Joan of Arc, was burned at the stake for insubordination and heterodoxy. After succumbing to the flames, the English raked back the coals to expose her charred body so that no one could claim she had escaped alive.  They then burned the body twice more to reduce it to ashes and prevent any collection of relics.  Afterwards, they cast her remains into the Seine River.

A peasant girl born in what is now eastern France, who claimed divine guidance, Joan of Arc led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years’ War, which paved the way for the coronation of Charles VII.  She was captured by the Burgundians, transferred to the English in exchange for money, put on trial by the pro-English Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon,” and burned at the stake as a heretic when she was only 19 years old.

Twenty-five years after the execution, an Inquisitorial court authorized by Pope Callixtus III examined the trial records.  The court’s verdict exonerated her, and she was declared her a martyr.  Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909 and was recognized as a Christian saint by the Roman Catholic Church in 1920.  Saint Joan of Arc is a national heroine of France.  Her feast day is also today, May 30.

To recognize the events of this day in history, I rode to historic Meridian Hill Park in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of northwest D.C. (MAP), to see the statue entitled “Joan of Arc” by Paul Dubois.  The bronze equestrian statue is located on the upper level of the park above the fountains, overlooking the city with a view all the way downtown to The Washington Monument.   The statue is the only equestrian statue of a woman in D.C., and depicts her riding with a sword in her right hand.  The sword she originally held was stolen in 1978, and not replaced until just recently.

The statue was a gift from Le Lyceum Société des Femmes de France (the “Ladies of France in Exile in New York”) to the women of the United States in 1922, two years after she was cannonized as a saint.   DuBois’ original work on which this statue is based is located in Reims, France, in front of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame.

As I was there in the park I couldn’t help but wonder what Joan of Arc would have thought of her status as a popular figure in cultural history, and the existence of this statue memorializing her located in a park in the capital of a country that wouldn’t be founded for more than three centuries after her death.

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John F. Kennedy's Homes in D.C.

John F. Kennedy’s Homes in D.C.

Because he was so young when he was assassinated in 1963, it is difficult to picture John F. Kennedy as anything but a relatively young man.  But had he lived, John F. Kennedy would have turned 97 years old today. To mark the occasion, I decided to go on a JFK-themed bike ride.

I could have ridden back out to Arlington National Cemetery to see The Eternal Flame at his gravesite. Or I could have ridden to Dallas where he was assassinated, although that would have taken more time than I had. But instead of allowing the emphasis to be on his death, I wanted the ride to focus on his life.  So I decided to ride to where he lived, or at least where he lived while he was in D.C.

Prior to being elected President, Kennedy served for six years in the House of Representatives, and then eight years in the U.S. Senate.  During those different times living in the nation’s capital, he lived in six different houses. On today’s ride I tracked them all down to see the places where he lived. It was a great day for a ride, and worth the trip to see these historical houses.

Kennedy had a preference for living in Georgetown, so all of his residences were in that neighborhood except his last one, which was downtown at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  His first D.C. home, as seen in the photo above, was at 3307 N Street (MAP).  His subsequent homes, depicted in order in the photographs below, were located at 1528 31st Street (MAP), 2808 P. Street (MAP), 3321 Dent Place (MAP), and at 1400 34th Street (MAP).

And, of course, his last and most famous residence in D.C., and where he was living at the time he died, was located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), and is named The White House.

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Meridian Hill Park

Meridian Hill Park

On this bike ride I went to one of my favorite parks in D.C.  In a city replete with over a hundred large National Parks and smaller municipal parks from which to choose, Meridian Hill Park stands out.  I originally discovered it by happenstance when I was riding with no destination in mind.  It has since become a favorite destination.

Meridian Hill Park is located in northwest D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, on land bordered by 15th, 16th, W, and Euclid Streets (MAP).  Prior to becoming a park, the land had a storied history.  It was used as a geographic marker by President Thomas Jefferson as part of establishing a longitudinal meridian for the city and the nation which was used at that time.  Later the land was part of the grounds of a mansion built by a naval hero of the War of 1812.  It was also used for a Union Army encampment during the Civil War.  It was even a proposed site at the beginning of the 20th century for the construction of a Presidential mansion to replace the White House.  When that did not get approved, a plan to have the site be used for the planned Lincoln Memorial was submitted.

Finally in 1910, the Federal government purchased the land and, by an Act of Congress, established Meridian Hill Park.  Construction began in 1912 based on a design modelled after the grand urban parks found in many major European cities at that time.  The formal, 12-acre landscaped grounds include unique artwork such as a marble sculpture entitled Serenity, a Presidential Memorial to James Buchanan, a memorial statue of Joan of Arc, a statue entitled Dante Alighieri, and an enormous cascading fountain.  The park is surrounded by concrete aggregate architecture which was based on an Italian aristocrat’s private residence.  In 1994 the park was designated a National Historic Landmark.  It is maintained by the National Park Service as part of Rock Creek Park, but is not contiguous with the main part of that park.

The central feature of the park is the thirteen basin cascading waterfall fountain in the lower-level formal garden.  The fountain includes an Italian Renaissance-style terraced fountain in the lower half, and gardens in a French Baroque style in the upper half.   It is designed with a recirculating water system which, through an elaborate series of pumps, supplies water to two large circular fountains on the upper level, and the cascade found on the lower.  It is the largest cascading fountain in North America.

After falling into disrepair and decay in the 1970’s, the park enjoyed a resurgence thanks to the a group of community organizations which formed the “Friends of Meridian Hill” partnership.  After extensive renovations and restoration, the park now hosts a variety of community arts and educational programs, twilight concerts, and on Sunday afternoons during warm weather, people gather in the upper park to dance and participate in a popular Drum Circle, which regularly attracts both enthusiastic dancers and professional drummers.

Whether or not you become a member of the formal partnership by the same name, one visit to this park and you’ll more than likely want to consider yourself a “friend” of Meridian Hill too.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

 

Woodrow Wilson House

Woodrow Wilson House

While most Presidents happily retire back to their home state after leaving office, Woodrow Wilson decided to remain in D.C.   In fact, he is the only American President to select D.C. to be his home following his final term in office.  So on a recent bike ride I chose to go by the Woodrow Wilson House in northwest D.C.   Sometimes referred to as “the other executive mansion,” the house is located at 2340 S Street (MAP) on Embassy Row in the city’s Kalorama Neighborhood.

Late in 1920 after leading the nation through the first World War, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and creating the League of Nations, the 28th President’s second and final term was nearing its end.  Needing a place to live after leaving the White House, his wife Edith Bolling Wilson began to search for an appropriate residence.  His second wife, she had lived in D.C. before they met and received a small fortune when her former husband, a prosperous local jeweler, passed away.  However, her husband made his own plans.  On December 14, Wilson insisted that his wife attend a concert.  When she returned he presented her with the deed to the Georgian style mansion on S Street.  He had bought the house despite having never even seen it.  The former President and his wife moved into the home on Inauguration Day in 1921.

The Wilsons moved into their new retirement haven, but it wasn’t an easy move.  Prohibition forbid the transportation of alcohol, and that presented a problem for Wilson, who did not want to leave his fine wine collection in the White House for his successor.  The recently elected Warren G. Harding was known to be a heavy drinker.  He appealed to Congress, and Congress granted an exception to Prohibition by passing a special law just for him, which allowed one person on one specific day “to transport alcohol from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to 2340 S Street.”

Wilson, partially paralyzed from a stroke he suffered in 1919, spent his few remaining years in partial seclusion at the house, under the continuous care of his wife and servants.  It was from the balcony of this house that Wilson addressed a crowd in November of 1923 as his last public appearance.  On February 3, 1924, he died in an upstairs bedroom.  He was laid to rest in Washington National Cathedral, becoming not just the only President to remain in D.C. after his presidency, but also the only President to be buried in D.C.   Mrs. Wilson continued to live in the residence until her death in 1961.   She bequeathed the property and all of its original furnishings to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which designated it a National Historic Landmark in 1964.  The National Trust continues to own the house, and currently operates it as a museum.

I think President Wilson would have approved of my adventures biking around and exploring D.C.  He cycled regularly, including several cycling vacations.  However, as President he was unable to bike around D.C. for security reasons.  Unable to ride, he took to playing golf with equal enthusiasm.  In fact, Wilson holds the record among all U.S. Presidents for the most rounds of golf, having played over 1,000 rounds, or almost one every other day.

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The Tomb of John Alexander Logan

On this Memorial Day, I am writing about my bike ride to the final resting place of the founder of the Memorial Day holiday.

Located within the United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery, the forerunner of Arlington National Cemetery and is located on Rock Creek Church Road in northwest D.C. (MAP), is the tomb of John Alexander Logan.

An American soldier and political leader, Logan served in the Mexican-American War and was a General in the Union Army during the Civil War.  He later entered politics and was elected and served as a State Senator in Illinois, and subsequently a U.S. Congressman and Senator.  He also ran but was an unsuccessful candidate for Vice President on the ticket with James G. Blaine in the election of 1884.

More than any of his other achievements, he is probably best known as the founder of Memorial Day.  As the Commander-in-Chief of The Grand Army of the Republic from 1868 to 1871, he is regarded as the most important figure in the movement to create and recognize Memorial Day as an officially recognized national public holiday.

Memorial Day is a Federal holiday wherein the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces are remembered.  Celebrated annually on the final Monday of May, the holiday originated after the Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War, and was called Decoration Day.  Over time, the holiday has been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service and was renamed Memorial Day.  It also typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.

So today as you pause to honor those service members who paid the ultimate price while serving their country, you might also want to remember John Alexander Logan.   He may not be the reason for the holiday, but there might not be a holiday without him.

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This is the 100th post on this blog, so I decided to use the occasion to write about the thing that makes traveling around and exploring D.C. possible for me – the bicycle.  It’s also a good topic because it is the anniversary of the introduction of the bicycle to the United States, which were seen for the first time during this week  in 1819 on the streets of New York City.

Alternately called “velocipedes,” “swift walkers,” “hobby horses” or my favorite, “dandy horses” for the “dandies” that most often rode them, they had been imported from London earlier that same year.  Shortly thereafter, in August, the city’s Common Council passed a law to “prevent the use of bikes  in the public places and on the sidewalks of the city of New York.”

Riding a bike on the sidewalk is still against the law in many major cities, including some parts of D.C.  But both bikes and how cities now accommodate and even encourage their usage have changed a lot over the last 195 years.  During this ride I saw many other bikes and riders.  I also saw and used specially-built dedicated bike lanes, paths and trails.  And there was signage specifically for bike riders, and designated parking and storage space for bikes.  The city of D.C. also has a robust bike share program, through which bikes can be rented.  I also rode past Nationals Park, where they even have valet parking for bikes.

My bike rides in D.C. over the past few years would have been a lot different if all these changes had not taken place.  I probably wouldn’t have discovered or gone to many of the places I’ve seen during my rides.  And without visiting those different places this blog would not exist.  So with today’s blog post I celebrate the introduction of the dandy horse in this country, which made this blog possible.

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The American National Red Cross Headquarters

Today is the anniversary of American National Red Cross, which was co-founded by humanitarian Clara Barton on this day in 1881.  So if you’re out today for a bike ride in downtown D.C., I recommend riding by the headquarters for the American National Red Cross, which is located at 430 17th Street (MAP), just a few blocks from the White House.  You could also go by their administrative building at 2025 E Street in northwest D.C. (MAP), where on the grounds you will find the Red Cross Memorial.

Clara Barton, who was born in Massachusetts in 1821, worked with the sick and wounded during the Civil War and became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” for her tireless dedication.  In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln commissioned her to search for lost prisoners of war, and with the extensive records she had compiled during the war, she succeeded in identifying thousands of the Union dead at the Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp.  She worked out of a location on 7th Street in D.C., known as The Missing Soldiers Office.

She was in Europe in 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War broke out, and she went behind the German lines to work for the International Red Cross.  In 1873, Barton returned to the United States, and four years later she organized an American branch of the International Red Cross.

The American National Red Cross later received its first U.S. Federal charter in 1900.  Although not a branch of the government, the organization, under a second charter issued by Congress in 1905, continues to this day to provide services to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and to the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as to state and local relief units coping with natural disasters.

The organization started 133 years ago today is still going strong.  It currently supplies more than 40 percent of the blood and blood products in the U.S.  It is also involved helping victims whenever disasters strike, such as hurricanes, tornados and floods.  The American Red Cross also is actively involved in supporting America’s military families.  And the multifaceted organization provides an array of training to more than 9 million people each year, in the areas of first aid/CPR certification, lifeguard training, babysitter’s training, as well as training for first responders and nursing assistants.

I encourage everyone to learn more about what they do, and then get involved either through donating blood, donating money, or donating your time.  You’ll be glad you did. And undoubtedly, so will someone else who is in need.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Scabby the Rat

Ask the average resident who the biggest rat in D.C. is, and you’ll probably get a variety of responses.  The replies will range from a number of politicians from both poltical parties, to Daniel Snyder, the owner of The Washington Redskins.  And while those may be valid answers in their own right, the rat to which I’m referring is one that I saw on a recent bike ride.  His name is Scabby.

Scabby the Rat is a giant inflatable rat with sharp, menacing buckteeth and claws, beady red eyes and a belly scattered with festering scabs and swollen nipples.  He is used by protesting or striking labor unions as part of protests against companies which are utilizing nonunion employees or contractors, serving as a sign of opposition and to call public attention to those companies’ practices.

The original Scabby was born in 1990, when the Chicago bricklayers union was looking for something big and nasty to get their point across at a protest.  They ended up having the Big Sky Balloons and Searchlights Company fabricate a custom-designed  inflatable rat, which the union used as the centerpiece of their protest.   They opted for using the inflatable character because of the use of the word “rat” to refer to nonunion contractors.

After participating in that first protest, Scabby the Rat quickly caught on with other unions.  Business began booming for the Big Sky Company, which found itself taking orders from all over the country.  Today Scabby’s decendants come in a variety of sizes and appearances, and can be found thriving throughout the United States.  Scabby has even been spotted  on front page of the Wall Street Journal, as well as the New Yorker magazine and the New York Times.  Scabby can also be spotted in an episode of The Sopranos.  In fact, Scabby the Rat has his own Facebook page.

Ever since unions began using Scabby, many of the companies being picketed have filed lawsuits trying to exterminate Scabby, charging that the use of the giant inflatable rats constituted unlawful picketing.  Although some courts initially agreed and barred Scabby from appearing, the National Labor Relations Board ruled in 2011 that the use of the inflatable rat is not considered an unlawful activity in that it constituted symbolic speech.

And with that ruling, I think we can expect to see the rat population grow even bigger.

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The Old Post Office Pavilion

Located approximately halfway between the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building, at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), is the Old Post Office Pavilion, an historic building of the Federal government.  Also known as the Old Post Office and Clock Tower, the Romanesque Revival style building is an iconic structure and one of the most recognized buildings in D.C.  Built between 1892 to 1899, upon its completion it was used as the U.S. Post Office Department Headquarters and the city’s main post office until 1914.  It has been used primarily as an office building since then.

At 315 feet tall, the Old Post Office’s clock tower ranks third in height among the buildings in the national capital city, behind the nearby Washington Monument and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. From an observation deck at the 270-foot level, the tower offers incredible panoramic views of D.C. and the surrounding area. Beneath the observation deck is the tower clock, which is now more than a century old. Below that, on the tenth floor, are the Bells of Congress. These bells are replicas of those at London’s Westminster Abbey, and were a gift from England during the U.S. Bicentennial celebration in 1976, commemorating friendship between the nations.  They are rung at the opening and closing of Congress and for national holidays.

At times the building has had a precarious existence, and came close to being torn down on more than one occasion.  It has also undergone a number of changes and renovations over the years.  In the 1920’s the building was nearly demolished during the construction of the Federal Triangle complex.  In 1964, the President’s Council on Pennsylvania Avenue recommended the demolition of all but the clock tower.  The recommendation was subsequently approved by Congress. But as a result, local citizens banded together, and with the help of advocates in Congress, were able to convince Congress to reverse its decision.  Helping to ensure its future, the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.  It is also a contributing property to the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site.  Despite this, it again faced demise when it was nearly torn down in the 1970s to make way for completion of massive Federal Triangle development project.  However, it was once again spared.

Major renovations to the building occurred in 1976 and 1983, with the last renovation resulting in the addition of a food court and retail space on the ground level, and private and government office space in the upper levels. At that time, this mixed-use approach garnered national attention as a innovative approach to historic preservation.  Most recently, in 1991, an addition was added to the structure which contained more retail space.  However, the biggest change to the Old Post Office Pavilion is yet to come.  At the beginning of this year the food court and stores were closed down.  And earlier this month the remaining offices in the building and the clock tower closed.  This was done to begin the next chapter in the building’s life.

In 2013, the U. S. General Services Administration leased the property for the next 60 years to Donald Trump.  The Trump Organization said it would develop the property into a 250-plus room luxury hotel, to be named Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.  Along with the hotel, the development is slated to include an upscale spa, art gallery, café, bar, three high-end restaurants, a fitness center, library, lounge with fountain, several luxury retail shops, and a large-scale meeting and banquet facility.  The company also pledged to create a small museum dedicated to the history of the building, and to maintain the Bells of Congress and the building’s historic exterior.  The National Park Service will retain control over the clock tower and observation deck and it will keep them open to the public for tours.

It is hoped that the building’s next incarnation will help spark an economic renaissance in D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood.  But much like the history of the Old Post Office Pavilion itself, only time will tell.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]