Thursday, November 27, 2014

South Dakota Tour Continues from Wall to Hill City

When I woke up in Wall, I was ready for a very full day two in South Dakota.

The rain had not let up all night and it was pouring as I headed into Wall Drug. From the moment I pulled my rental car up I knew this was going to be a place like no other. It seemed to go on for blocks and I soon learned that this was only the front.

I met with Rick Hustead, whose grandparents had started Wall Drug in 1931 as just a drugstore. Ted, a pharmacist, and Dorothy were having trouble getting customers until Dorothy had the idea to put up “Free Ice Water” signs along the highway.

The ice water turned into .05 coffee and both brought in enough customers for Wall Drug to now be 76,000 square feet and one of the biggest attractions in the country.

Rick and I continued to talk in the restaurant over breakfast about Wall Drug and the endless products being sold here.

Breakfast certainly satisfied my sweet tooth, though I did at least add a scrambled egg for a bit of healthy protein. The rest was cherry pie, a maple donut, and s’mores ice cream.

I had asked what their most popular breakfast items were and that’s what I got. I had to agree that they are worth stopping at Wall Drug for – especially the Cherry Pie.

He also showed me the Wall Drug wines, available in the restaurant and for sale in the stores. Then Rick took me to explore some of the complex.

We walked over to the Old Fashion Soda Fountain. It’s a favorite of customers as there isn’t anything like it around here. This is where you can get their homemade ice cream and hand-made sodas.

Next there was the souvenir shop, a window of musical puppets, jewelry store, donut shop, gift store, Rockhound shop, a travelers chapel, and, of course, a pharmacy.

After a while, I left Rick to head out and explore on my own. I knew I couldn’t see everything (that would take a full day), but I wanted to take some photos and look around.

Behind the stores there were alleyways with artwork and additional places, such as the Western Art Gallery, the Print Shop, Western Wear store, leather goods shop, and more.

That wasn’t the end of it either. If you headed outside, you’d find the Wall Drug Backyard, with additional stores and attractions, like the Mining Experience.

I paid for some souvenirs I bought and I walked around the town of Wall for a short while, but I had to get on the road for my next appointment in Hill City.

Fortunately the drive didn’t take too long and I was soon at my next stop, Prairie Berry Winery. I met with Michelle Slott for a tour and tasting of their large selection.

The Red Ass Rhubarb is the most popular wine here, but my favorite was definitely the Pink Slip Moscato and I left with a bottle to take home.

The food at Prairie Berry Winery was also quite impressive. The menu was filled with fresh items and lots of vegetarian. I really enjoyed my meal with Michelle.

It was raining very hard and I decided to skip my visit to Miner Brewing on the other end of the parking lot. It looked like the brewery was quite full.

I drove the 10 minutes to my hotel, a very welcoming Holiday Inn Express. After I got settled and the rain had let up, I headed out to explore.

I walked around downtown Hill City before I headed back to the hotel to change for dinner. The downtown offers shops, restaurants, and a selection of unique places, such as the Black Hills Institute Museum.

There was also Teddy Bear Town, a shop that holds the Guinness World Record for the largest Teddy Bear Collection. They have over 6,500.

Just outside of the entrance to downtown Hill City is the Black Hills Central Railroad. From this depot in Hill City you can take a two hour roundtrip ride on the 1880 Train to Keystone and listen to a narrated history of the area.

It was raining when I headed to High Country Guest Ranch for the Chuckwagon Dinner Show and the Native American Brulee Show. I had been warned that the latter might not take place if the weather didn’t improve. Unfortunately, it did not.

I did get to enjoy the musical cowboy show with a dinner of beef, chicken, potatoes, applesauce, and cowboy beans. I can’t say it was the best meal I had in South Dakota, but I did enjoy the signing and the fun, relaxed atmosphere.

After dinner, I was detoured by construction to downtown, so I took it as a sign and stopped at one of the bars for a nightcap before I headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. Day three in South Dakota was not only full, but it was very special as I was going to see some of the nation’s most treasured sites.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Discovering South Dakota

As a child, I drove with my parents and my brother cross country almost every year. We would stop along the way, sometimes for a few hours and other times overnight if there was a lot to see. By going different routes we managed to see all of the continental United States.

Around the time I was 10, the vacations were by airplane and there were states I would never see again. South Dakota was one of those. 

With my new role in charge of the Midwest Travel section for, I had more reason than ever to get to South Dakota so I was excited when the tourism board invited me on a trip.

The day started with an early morning flight and included a tight connection, so I was pretty tired and hungry by the time I met Julie Jones-Whitcher of Rapid City Tourism

We had planned to meet directly at The Journey Museum, but I had called and asked her if we could meet somewhere for a late lunch first.
We met in Main Street Square and proceeded to Alternative Fuel so I could load up on some energy.

It was a delicious combination of a chicken salad sandwich, barley soup, and a latte that got me ready to explore the downtown with Julie by foot.

I’m not sure what I expected, but Rapid City surprised me on every corner. First, there was the square, complete with a stage and fountain, and an amazing art in progress. 

The Sculpture Project is a privately funded exhibition that is being created by Masayugi Nagase while everyone watching. It’s fascinating to see him sculpt and even more fascinating to watch the faces of the children who stand mesmerized watching him.  

I would be coming back in a few days for an evening downtown so we concentrated on the things I wouldn’t be able to see as well at night. 

We then went down Art Alley, the town’s graffiti project that displays some incredible talent.  From there it was the historic district.

All along the way, Julie pointed out one of the things that makes Rapid City so interesting and unique – the bronze presidents. On every corner, you will see as statue of a president of the United States.

Every presidency is represented and they are already working on a spot for Barack Obama. The sculptures are fascinating as each depicts something personal about the leader.

We drove to our next stop, The Journey Museum. I could easily write a story just on that (and I will for  Go Midwest at It’s a fascinating place that shows the history of this area of South Dakota through films, exhibits, and demonstrations. I also loved that there were so many hands-on opportunities for children to learn through doing.

I will have to go back to The Journey Museum again someday as I couldn’t stay very long. I wanted to get to The Badlands before dark and it was just over an hour away.

The Badlands were amazing! I was blown away by the rock formations surrounding me.

I asked at the information booth which area would be best for an easy short hike and I was told to go to the Cliff Shelf Nature Trail. 

I enjoyed the walk (with the pavement it was more of a walk than a hike) to get up close with the scenery and vowed to come back and spend an entire day here.

I got back on the road and stopped at Cedar Pass Lodge within the park. I was led her so I could see a beautiful sunset, but it was, unfortunately, too cloudy. I did take Julie’s advice and order the Indian Buffalo Taco. 

It was fantastic, though I wouldn’t have thought it was a taco. The meat and cheese were on a soft, sweet dough, like that of a funnel cake.

It was getting pretty dark so I headed back through The Badlands to the west. I was thankful that there was no one else behind me so I could drive slowly and take in the breathtaking rocks surrounding me before I came out of Badlands Loop Road and onto the highway.

I was in Wall for the night at a small motel. It was a busy week in town and everything else was booked up. It didn’t matter at all to me because I was exhausted and ready for sleep. I had another long day in front of me discovering so much more that South Dakota had to offer. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Party Time with at Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival

After a morning of checking out the Grand Market, my daughter Sam and I still had a full day and night ahead of us at the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival.

We got back to the press room at Caesar’s Resort in time for a fun and candid conversation with Martha Stewart . It was a press only round table. I had never met her before and was surprised how relaxed she was.

One of the things she talked about is a subject close to my palate – infusing vodka. Ms. Stewart, who has a farm in Bedford, New York, said, “Black currants are the basis for cassis. It flavors the vodka very nicely. Within two months, the vodka is great and it only gets better and better. “

She also added, “I use raspberries in vodka. I use strawberries. I grow a lot of citrus on my farm, lots of lemons and limes. I use that a lot for the drinks."

"When I have a lot of lemon or sour oranges, I squeeze them and freeze it for ice cubes, and keep that in the freezer for drinks. That makes delicious drinks. The orange and lemon peels make very good vodka infusions.”

We left the press room and headed to the tent on the beach at Caesar’s for the Burger Bash. I have to say I was a bit disappointed.

They ran out of burgers pretty quickly and seemed to bring more sporadically. What did come in was terrific, however.

Our favorites were: Black Bean & Quinoa Veggie Burger with roasted beets, tarragon aioli and pea tendrils; Roasted Lamb Burger with feta, fresh herbs, oven roasted tomatoes and Kalamata olive oil; Lobster Burger with crispy potatoes and peppered may; Black & Blue Burger stuffed with blue cheese and steak sauce and topped with crispy onions; and the Peking Duck Burger with Hoisin Sauce, pickled cucumbers and green onions.

I was also impressed with the burger-shaped desserts.

We had a short rest to get an appetite back before the Clam Bake. It did work out that Sam doesn’t eat red meat so she didn’t have much at Burger Bash and I can’t eat seafood so I didn’t have anything at the Clam Bake.

The band playing at the Clam Bake was excellent. We had a good time listening to music from the last 30 years while we sat at long tables and talked to the other guests.

Everyone (except me) was given a Corona bucket that contained a whole lobster, clams, corn on the cob and potatoes. There were also salads and clam chowder on buffet tables.

I was careful not to touch anything other than a Malibu and soda and a Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey with iced tea from the bar.

Marcus Samuelsson stopped by and greeted the guests for a few minutes before we left to shower and get ready for the final event of the day, the Beach Soiree hosted by Robert Irvine.

We were a bit early so we went up to Nero’s Steakhouse in Caesar’s Atlantic City and had cocktails. I really liked their Sucker Punch (Belvedere vodka, triple sec, simple syrup, passion fruit purée, and cranberry juice).

After we finished our drinks we went back to the Caesar’s beach tent. Sam and I both felt that it was the best event of the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival.

There were lots of cocktails and gifts for the guests. Viniq made some delicious drinks and the DJ was great. Although the description of the party said “passed hors d'oeuvres,” there were stations with food such as Bacon-wrapped Wasabi Stuffed Shrimp with habanero tartar sauce, South Florida Stone Crab Conch Fritters with passion fruit, and Mini Cuban Pressed Spring Rolls.

My favorite was the Cuban Roasted Pork Empanadas with golden raisins and salsa verde. Sam loved the Jerk-spiced Mahi Tacos with mashed avocado in sambal aioli with green apple slaw.

For dessert, we had a replica of one of my favorite treats growing up – Coconut Snow Balls.

Robert Irvine greeted the audience and spent a while on stage interacting with the audience and taking selfies with many of the guests. Marcus Samuelsson also joined him on stage.

It was a long day, but we made it through and finished with a great time at the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Grand Marketplace at Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival

I've attended many food festivals around the country and the Grand Market is almost always my favorite event. It's a chance to sample many different foods, wines, and spirits, as well as watch cooking demonstrations and meet personalities.

This year, the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival, hosted by Caesar's Resort, moved their Grand Market outside for the first time. It was held in the park of Bally's Resort in Atlantic City. The weather cooperated and the outside location allowed some food trucks to join in the fun.

With the help of my daughter, Sam, I was able to enjoy lots of finds -- some new and some old favorites.

Guy Fieri's Fish Taco, from his new Bally's Restaurant, was a fan favorite.

14 Hands brought a fruit-filled Unoaked Chardonnay

Bay Shore served a delicious Lobster Bisque.

I was surprised that I hadn't previously sampled Absolut Texas, a limited edition worth trying.

Goodway Gourmet Cafe had scrumptious coconut macaroons.

Barefoot Wines has done it again, this time producing a must-try Tropical Fusion.

Sam loved Rigatoni's Famous Crab Cake

Delaware Spirits Spice Infused Rum with vanilla bean was smooth and tasty.

Sammy D's Philly Cheesesteak Dumplings was my favorite food.

I love my New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and won't forget Dryland. 

Waffatopia brought along yummy Caramelized Waffles. 

SKYY Vodka poured some great cocktails, including a Pear Vanilla.