The continuation of the hopeless fight against the coronavirus once again limited vacation destinations, but that didn’t stop us from traveling to states that were open for fun. Of the forty-nine experiences that were collected in 2021, over half of them involved restaurants with delicious food, beautiful vistas, or were just quirky, and the best five earned inclusion in this annual collection of memories.
10. The Sage Room - Hilton Head, SC
You would never run across The Sage Room, except by accident, as it’s tucked on the backside of other businesses and you can’t even find it on Google Streetview. Fortunately our friends Dan and Grace had been there before and they raved about the food. The most upscale of the new restaurants of 2021 did not disappoint and after careful consideration of their outstanding menu, I selected their Sage Room Benedict, an 8 oz. filet, poached egg, smashed potatoes, haricot vert, and bearnaise sauce, a beef cheeks appetizer, and Creme Brûlée for dessert. The cheeks are not some made-up term, it’s literally the cheeks of the cow, once a throw-away after-thought, now a trendy delight.
9. Nashville, TN
To break up the trip down to Montgomery, AL to see the Christmas Day Camelia Bowl, we stayed a night in Nashville. We started our afternoon by Uber’ing over to visit a friend at his clothing store, chatted a while, and asked where’s a good place for lunch. He suggested Edley’s BBQ a few blocks up the street and it was at the top of the best barbeque places I’ve ever been. The brisket sandwich was as large as it was delicious. We Uber’d back to Broadway to the heart of country music paradise, first hitting AJ's Good Time Bar, named for country superstar Alan Jackson. The band at AJ’s was playing familiar, well-known songs from yesteryear. We moved on to Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, lucked out getting a seat at the bar, and listened to the loud side of country hits.
8. Earl's Hideaway Lounge and Tiki Bar - Sebastian, FL
Earl’s is a biker bar, pure and simple. Dozens of Harley-Davidsons are lined up side by side, many with their owners chatting about their paint job or custom pipes. Inside are lots of TVs and outside there is a stage that features a string of bands playing favorites to the crowd and the braver souls that like to take to the dance floor. But what’s most compelling are the people themselves and if you’re a people-watcher, it’s fun to just sit back and watch these happy people go at it.
7. Blue Hen Cafe - St. Augustine, FL
One of the benefits of traveling during the lowest of the non-peak season is being able to get into most restaurants as we did at Blue Hen Cafe. It’s a tiny, locals place open six hours Wednesday through Sunday that usually has a long line of people waiting for a chance to enter. We waited for perhaps five or ten minutes before being seated, ordered up a cup of coffee, and tried to decide what on their everything-looks-good menu to have. My choice was a monster-sized sausage, cheese, and egg on a brioche bun that was over-the-top delicious.
6. Nokomo's Sunset Hut - Nokomis, FL
You know when you’re in a brand-new vacation place for three days and go to the same restaurant twice because you just have to before you leave, you have found that combination of great food and a good atmosphere that will demand you go back in the future. Such was Nokomo's Sunset Hut which features two floors with plenty of bar and table seating. It’s so big that multiple bands are playing in different parts of the restaurant at the same time. Waiting for a table was going to take hours, so we took a chance, got a drink at the bar, and then stalked out people that looked like they were getting close to leaving. This is Elaine’s specialty, spotting a likely couple and chatting them up. They usually offer us their seats, sometimes letting us sit while they’re paying their bill. Dinner was the best Grouper Tacos we’ve ever had with an unusual, but awesome, side of edamame and black-eyed peas salad. We stopped for lunch on our way back to the West Palm Beach airport, enjoying an equally delightful meal at a peaceful corner table overlooking Robert’s Bay.
During a trip to Vero Beach, we went kayaking with Elaine’s brother and sister-in-law in the Indian River. We each selected a kayak, donned life preservers, and grabbed a two-headed paddle. We carefully launched and made our way through an small access to the river, made a right turn, and headed north. There was no one else around on this beautiful day as we slowly made our way, in no hurry at all. Kayaking was a new experience to the ladies and it had been a while since I paddled, so tipping over was a reasonable concern. To test the depth of the river, I stuck my paddle vertically into the water, and to my surprise, the river was only about three feet deep. We were greeted by a dolphin that surfaced just a few feet away and the many fish that lept out of the water for whatever reason they do that. It was an idyllic day filled with light winds, paddling dipping, and beautiful trees, plants, and flowers.
I was a regular whole blood donor for many years when I worked downtown and the donation center was down the street. During that time one of the blood center screeners mentioned I had good blood for babies, but never explained why. I just figured they said that to everybody to entice them to give regularly. I got out of the donation habit after I had a melanoma removed from my head which necessitated a five-year suspension from donating. After getting COVID in December of 2020, I was eligible to donate convalescent plasma to assist hospitalized people and perhaps save a life. That reestablished the habit of giving and early in 2021 I noticed that the donation form I took home had “CMV-” written at the top and highlighted in yellow. An internet search quickly relieved that this term stood for Cytomegalovirus-Negative, which means I’m one of a small number of people that have never contracted this common virus. Babies needing transfusions should only receive blood from donors, like me, who have not been exposed to CMV, so I’m really important to the most precious and vulnerable patients. Now that I know this, I’ll keep donating every eight weeks for as long as I’m able.
3. Jorrge's Restaurante Cantina
Jorrge’s was a place that was on our want-to-try list for a while, but it wasn’t until July 5th, when our usual haunts were closed did we go check it out, then it quickly became our number one place. It has to be the friendliest place around, for example, people sitting at the bar will quickly offer to move around when there are a couple of single stools available and we need two together. At first, we were surprised and thought maybe it was a one-time deal, but then it happened over and over, and of course, we join in the musical chairs whenever we can. The golden margaritas are great and we typically split a small pitcher, which is good for two each. Jorrge’s is famous for their “Flu Shot” and one or more usually land in front of us, along with occasional tequila or bourbon shots. On top of that, the food is the best Mexican in town.
We had long complained about the cost of cable TV, the cable boxes that needed frequently replaced, and the overly complex remote control. On top of that, we had another HDMI port with our streaming device requiring changing inputs and grabbing one or more other remotes. That ended one evening when we were trying to watch a Pittsburgh Penguins game and found that channel, and only that one, was badly pixelated and unwatchable. Searching for a quick solution, I started a free trial of YouTube TV and we watched the hockey game without issue. A few days later we disconnected all the Spectrum gear and returned it, saving some money and more than a ton of aggravation. The best part of this move was the consolidation of the many remotes into a single Fire TV remote, one that measures only 1.5 by 5.5 inches, and every button, except one, is used a lot. We also now get our “TV” on our iPads, smartphones, and computers, bringing the total number of “TVs” in the house to at least nine.
1. Basement Remodel
Over the last dozen years, we’ve updated everything in the house on the first and second floors, doing all the work ourselves except for the bathrooms and kitchen. The last rooms to tackle were in the basement and we initially decided to contract it out. But then we decided to keep the drop ceiling and just replace the tiles, and then decided to ditch new carpeting and install vinyl flooring. At that point, it didn’t make much sense to use a contractor, as we knew, or could figure out with the help of YouTube, how to do it all and we could take our time. Starting at the top, we removed all the old ceiling tiles, tied up all the tees that were drooping, cut holes for the can lights and registers, and installed the new tiles. We painted the top of the walls French blue and replaced the outdated wood paneling on the lower half with white beadboard paneling. The floors came last, replacing 30+-year-old carpeting with Carbon Gray vinyl flooring. New carpeting on the stairs was the only part we had someone else do. A new 65-inch 4K television, a console, and an area rug completed the transformation.