Chattanooga Trip

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Last week I posted about my experience at the 4 Bridges Half Marathon, and I barely touched on anything about the weekend besides the race.  This post is going to be about the sights  and experiences that Susan, her sister, and I had over the weekend.  There might be a little overlap with my previous post, but the majority of the info will be new,  I will not rehash the race or our bed and breakfast, The Mayor’s Mansion, which was awesome.  I will, however, talk quite a bit about food, especially food that is not ideal for weight loss.

The view from the park

The view from the park

The Places We Ate

Anyone that knows me knows that when it comes to going out to eat, I prefer to go to a local place.  It is great to support your local community, try some unique recipes, and bathe in the culture.  This is doubly true when I travel away from Memphis.  I can have the same mediocre steak at an Applebee’s anywhere!  I usually refer to Yelp!, Urbanspoon, the Man vs. Food website, or Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives website to see what is out there.  This trip, however, I did not have to rely very heavily on electronic reviews since my sister-in-law lives in Chattanooga and served as our culinary tour guide.

The first place that we ate at was Good Dog, which is a hot dog restaurant by the park in which the race expo and packet pickup was at.  I know not everyone likes hot dogs, but I do, and this place was beyond amazing.  There were numerous varieties to choose from and a plethora of toppings as well.  The fries were home cut in-house and come served in a cone that sits in a hole drilled into the tables.  There are four types of house ketchup available on the table and a house rub as well.  I went with the BLT dog, which was exactly what it sounds like.  The homemade mayo, called fritesaus was great, and I cannot wait to try some more of the menu items here in the future.

Our food was a little bit better than this

Our food was a little bit better than this

The second place we visited was the Big River Grille & Brewing Works.  This is not 100% local because there is a restaurant open in Nashville, and Lake Buena Vista, FL, but we don’t have one in Memphis, so it counts.  The wait here was insane, so we opted to sit on the patio.  This was a big mistake.  The temperature was steadily dropping and by the time we finished our meal, all of our teeth were chattering.  It was this experience that prompted the trip to Wal-Mart for my cold weather gear.  I did not order a beer since it was cold and we were trying to rush our order, but I really wish I did.  Susan had a grilled chicken sandwich with avocado and bacon, my sister-in-law had a cobb salad, and I tried the Mac ‘N Chicken.  My meal was rich, but very good, and portion was huge.  I only ate about half of it, which I appreciated the following morning during the half marathon!

After the race on Sunday, we went to Taco Mamacita.  This is another local place that is expanding to new markets, namely Nashville and Sullivan’s Island, SC.  The place is billed as “Fresh-Mex” due to the high quality of the ingredients.  We all three opted for the two taco and side deal.  We ordered the California Club (chicken, avocado, bacon), Taco Royale (double stacked taco with chicken and chorizo), and Oy Vey (brisket) tacos, and the Mexican street corn, charro beans, and green chilli rice as our sides.  The California Club and street corn were the far and away winners, but I would have no reservations about ordering anything that we had again.  I also enjoyed a Sweetwater 420 while the ladies had homemade sangria.  There was also something on the menu called a Durty Sanchez, which was a PBR and shot of tequila.  The man beside us order this against the wishes of his wife and young daughter.  She almost had him convinced that it was too early to drink when are drinks from the bar came out.  Whoops!

Durty Sanchez

Durty Sanchez

For an afternoon snack, I suggested that we try an ice cream place called Clumpy’s.  My sister-in-law had never been there, but it was next to Good Dog and seemed promising.  The was a considerable line when we got there and it only kept growing as we waited.  There was only one poor soul working, and he was earning every tip that he got.  The ice cream and waffle cones are homemade on site, so this is what I had.  I used opt out of a cone, but the ones coming off of the waffle iron smelled too good to pass up.  The ice cream selection seems to change daily and my chocolate peanut butter and pistachio ice cream waffle cone combo hit the spot.

This the whiskey available at Urban Stack

This the whiskey available at Urban Stack

Dinner was a Urban Stack Burger Lounge, which is actually owned and operated by the same people who own Taco Mamcita.  This was a burger joint with a vast selection of whiskey and beer.  They use local ingredients and have several specialty burgers, which is exactly why I eat at local places, variety and fresh ingredients.  I opted for the Good Day, Sunshine, while Susan and her sister went for a more traditional burger.  My burger was topped with a fried egg, bacon, a white vinegar mayo, and cheddar.  It was big, tasty, and excellent, even if it was not the best burger of my life (that honor is still bestowed upon the Pharmacy in Nashville).  The fries were house cut and there was a homemade chilli ketchup as well.  Also, all of our burgers came with a side of house-made Fire and Ice pickles.  I ate all three orders of the pickles and had no regrets.

Greatest sign ever! No Crocs!

Greatest sign ever! No Crocs!

Our breakfast at the Mayor’s Mansion was also delicious, even though I missed my all time favorite, French toast, on Sunday morning since I was running.  We also stopped at Publix on our way home because Susan loves the subs from there and she cannot get them here since Kroger has a grocery store monopoly in Memphis.  This is the second trip in a row where Publix subs have made an appearance and will be a sign of things to come on future trips to Publix friendly towns.

The Places We Visited

Susan & her new friend

Susan & her new friend

The biggest attraction in Chattanooga besides the mountains is probably the Tennessee Aquarium, which I had actually never been to.  The place is separated into two buildings, with one being the ocean side and one being the river side.  All three of us agreed that the ocean side was better mainly because of the penguins and despite the butterfly massacre.  The penguins were all over the place and very energetic.  They interacted with the spectators as much as the could behind all of that glass.  It makes me feel sad for the penguins here at the Memphis Zoo.  Side note, Susan and I are Memphis Zoo members which carries discounts at almost every zoo, museum, or aquarium in the US, especially the southeast, yet this aquarium was not one of them.  The butterfly massacre is in reference the nets in the butterfly room.  There were hundreds, maybe thousands of dead butterflies caught in the nets surrounding the ceiling.  It was kind of off-putting.  There was a gigantic tank that was four stories tall and all manners of ocean life in it.  There was also a couple of touch tanks where you could touch a shark or ray.  The river side would have been better the otter exhibit would have been open.  That is the major draw for that side of the aquarium, and without it, the place seemed kind of dark and empty.  Also, when we walked into the building, somewhat commented that I looked like Walter White.  I’m 31 and I was compared to a 51-year-old meth dealer with cancer, so that wasn’t great.

Entrance to the park

Entrance to the park

After our ice cream snack, we went to Point Park Battlefield, up on Lookout Mountain.  It is a national park that thankfully had reopened after the government shutdown.  It was a Civil War battle site and has a great view of the city.  There is a small museum, a couple of cannons, and several places to take in the view.  This was the only place we went on the mountain since it was so late in the afternoon.  We didn’t have a chance to go to Ruby Falls or the haunted cavern that was up there.  Apparently the haunted cavern is a top ten haunted house and I was the only one that wanted to go to it.

If you need this sign, you are in trouble

If you need this sign, you are in trouble

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Road Trip: Arlington, TX

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This past weekend, Susan and I traveled to Arlington, TX for Susan’s graduate school graduation.  Susan had been taking master’s degree classes online through the University of Texas at Arlington with her best friend and a few of their coworkers.  So, when it came time to graduate, Susan and her best friend decided that they wanted to walk in the ceremony at graduation, especially since this would probably be the last degree that they earn.  So, on Friday, Susan, her parents, sister, grandmother, best friend, best friend’s boyfriend and family, and I took a caravan from Memphis to Arlington.   This is a seven to eight hour trip, and for whatever reason, I-40 in Arkansas always seems to be under construction, so we wanted to leave early on Friday morning to maximize our trip.  The only downsides to the trip were that we had to take Beau to a kennel since Susan’s parents were going on the trip and I would be missing Mother’s Day with my mom.

On Friday, the road trip started about like I expected, thirty minutes late with a decent amount of traffic and quite a bit of road construction.  Interstate 40 is probably has the most amount of road work with the least amount of road work completion in America, especially the 120 or so miles between Memphis and Little Rock.  Luckily, we did not get delayed too much by any of the construction, and really had an uneventful trip to Little Rock.  Once in Little Rock, we had our first setback of the day.  My in-laws ended up taking the wrong exit and detoured several miles before returning to the correct route.  Susan tried to call them about this to no avail.  Once they got back onto the beaten path, there was just several hours of driving, avoiding state troopers, and the guessing of the proper pronunciation of small towns in Arkansas and Texas.  This was at least an easier feat than trying to pronounce names in rural Mississippi, which becomes futile after a few miles.  We made it all the way to Rockwall, TX before we had another issue.  My father-in-law hit a chunk of wood on the interstate going well over 80 MPH and needless to say, his tire was not happy.  He busted the rim and had to hobble into a local gas station to change it out.  At least he had a full size spare, even if there was no air in it.  After a jack malfunction, some air pump manoeuvrings, and shifting of luggage, we finally started our final descent to Arlington.  As Memphians, we love to complain about our traffic, but after seeing what residents of the Metroplex endure everyday, I will try to cut back on my gripes.  Once we got to our hotel, my first thought was that our room was bigger than my first apartment in college.  We had a king six=zed bed, couch, recliner, mini fridge, microwave, and huge bathroom.  I can get used to traveling with free hotel rooms!  We went to dinner at the Mexican place next door and called it a night.

Father-in-law changing the flat

Father-in-law changing the flat

Saturday began with a blueberry waffle shaped like the state of Texas, because, why not.  After breakfast, we headed to campus of UT Arlington for Susan’s first, and last trip to a school that she is an alumnae.  My first impression of the campus was of utter shock.  I was expecting rundown buildings and an abandon all hope decor.  I was completely wrong.  The campus was great, with several new buildings, and was much larger than I anticipated.  Graduation was held in their on campus basketball arena, which was just built in 2010.  And since the arena is a little on the small side, and the graduating class was gigantic, UT Arlington spits their graduation up by colleges.  This is genius and saved us several hours of sitting.  After the graduation, we decided to try Chop House Burgers, a local restaurant that has been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, one of my go to shows when eating in new cities and claims to have the best burger in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  I ordered the Mushroom Swiss Burger, Susan ordered the Blacken Bleu Burger, and her father ordered the Cheeseburger, which uses two grilled cheeses as the bun!  Susan’s burger was the best (of what we ordered) and the blackened seasoning had a nice kick to it.  Susan and I shared some fresh cut fries and I sampled some of her parents’ onion rings as well.  The onion rings may have been the best thing that I ate there.  They were double seasoned and deep fried to golden perfection.  I really enjoyed my lunch, but it would not crack my top five, or possibly my top ten list of favorite burgers.

Don't Mess With Texas. Waffle.

Don’t Mess With Texas. Waffle.

After lunch we were supposed to go to Six Flags, but we had discovered that Kenny Chesney was playing Cowboys Stadium that evening.  I went to a Cowboys game there a few years ago, and no one else had ever been, so going to the concert just to see the place was enough for some of our crew.  After some investigation, we discovered that tickets were still available and Susan decided that she would rather go to the concert than Six Flags.  Her grandmother agreed, and even said she would buy our concert tickets, so the concert became an easy choice.  The concert stated at five, and would have four total performers, Kacey Musgraves, Eli Young Band, Eric Church, and Kenny Chesney.  For $50, and that lineup, this concert was a bargain, especially since it lasted a little over six hours!  The only downside is since it was in Cowboys Stadium or Jerry’s World, the acoustics were terrible.  If you didn’t know a song, you had trouble understanding any of the lyrics and forget trying to listen to any of the performers speak.  And the Eli Young Band, who are great live performers usually, were completely inaudible for their entire set.  It was a little disappointing.  How Eric Church and Kenny Chesney have so much energy throughout their sets is phenomenal, especially Chesney.  Eric Church sang all of his hits plus a cover of A Country Boy Can Survive, which is fitting since he is copying Hank Williams, Jr.’s look (sunglasses, beard, drinking whiskey on stage).  Honestly, his hour on stage would have been worth the $50 alone.  They opened the roof when Chesney came on stage since it was such a nice night and he performed twenty-four of his hits!  The most impressive part, at least to Susan and I was that he barely paused between songs, and just kept coming with his high energy performance.  Towards the end of the show, we moved down a couple of levels (we were up rather high) to the standing room only section, and the acoustics were much improved.  I will have to say, however, that the stadium was much better suited for its intended purpose, hosting football games.  Parking was a nightmare around the stadium (as always) but since our hotel was close, I parked on a street going away from the traffic, and we moved to the standing room only section, we were able to make it back to our hotel in under ten minutes.  Some other concert goers that were at our hotel told us the next morning that it took them over two hours to make the same, two mile trip.

Us in front of Jerry's World

Us in front of Jerry’s World

Also at the concert, our group saw something quite funny.  At Cowboys Stadium, there are huge walls of glass that extend from the floor to the ceiling several feet above.  As you approach one of these walls, it is easy to confuse them for doors.  Or at least my group did, along with a few others.  Well, we noticed within ten feet or so of the wall and turned around to find the actual door.  Well, this poor guy behind us was not so fortunate.  He approached the wall in full stride, and never slowed down until he crashed face first into the wall!  He hit it so hard that people on both sides of the wall stopped and watched the man stagger away from reverberating wall.  The man was too stunned from the hit to be outwardly embarrassed, and we had to clear the area to keep from laughing directly in his face.  We did notice, however, as we passed the wall that the man left a grease spot on the wall from his forehead, nose, and mustache!  I lost it when I saw that, but did refrain from snapping a picture.  My only question is did the man think that the wall was a door or that there was no wall at all?  I mean, if he thought it was a door, leading with your face seems like an odd way to open it.

Sunday only had the following three things on its itinerary: drive home, visit the Grand Prairie Premium Outlet Mall, and eat at In-N-Out Burger.  The outlet mall had many premium brands, including several athletic outfitters.  Susan wanted a purse, I was interested in grabbing some new running gear.  I succeeded in my goal, Susan did not.  I ended up getting a new running shirt and two pairs of shorts from Under Armour and a pair of Saucony shoes to use as my everyday sneaker for around $100.  In Memphis, this would have been over $150 easy.  On our way out of town, we stopped at the In-N-Out burger in Rockwall (a nice bookend for our trip) to have some of burger heaven.  I had only had In-N-Out Burger once in my life when I visited Anaheim a couple of summers ago, and I have been craving it ever since.  I am very thankful for their eastern expansion to Texas back in 2011 since it makes my acquisition of a burger slightly easier.  Maybe one day Memphis and Tennessee can have a franchise as well!  This was Susan’s first time to have In-N-Out, and she was definitely impressed with the bun.  With 100% fresh ingredients, including the bun, it is hard to argue with the quality.  I did not try “animal style” a variation of their burger on their “Not So Secret Menu” simply because I find mustard to be the single most disgusting food item on the planet.  Just the thought of it makes my stomach turn, so I avoid it at all costs, even telling some servers that I am allergic to it.  Nothing can ruin a burger like mustard.  Sadly, on this trip at least, the fires were very lackluster and grossly under seasoned.  I guess we will have to make a return trip so they can redeem themselves to Susan!  Our drive home was uneventful and the only real issue was getting caught up in some traffic fives miles from home on I-240 due to some night paving.  But since this happened in Memphis, we knew enough back roads to navigate a detoured route home.

Double Double goodness

Double Double goodness

I have written a rather extension post about our trip and I have not mentioned anything about running.  The reason for this, despite my intentions, I completely ignored my running during this mini vacation.  Yep, I went four days between runs.  And when you take in account that I had three burger joints (Chop House, In-N-Out, and Whataburger), it is plain to see that I was not as dedicated to my health as I should have been.  So my punishment is taking the stairs at work.  I work on the eighth floor in my building, and travel to the basement frequently.  I decided last week that once a week, I was going to take the stairs all day once a week.  As my punishment, I was going to double that.  Yesterday, that meant that I took 1,360 stairs!  Of course, as I am writing this, that doesn’t seem like enough of a punishment, so I am going to take the stairs for the rest of the week.  Maybe I will make this my daily habit, or maybe I won’t skip anymore runs!