Friday, March 18, 2016

Lunch Friday?

It's a personal best: I went to the Northern Neck four out of the last five days.

Today's trip was twofold. After scheduling a late afternoon interview, I'd received an unexpected lunch invitation, with the qualifier, "Wherever you wish."

I was quick to remind  my lunch date that my mother taught me that when you're invited to lunch, you let the host choose the place. Almost immediately, I heard back, "Let's go to the Kilmarnock Inn. It will be quieter there and we can have a nice lunch."

Honestly, we could have had a nice lunch anywhere on the coastal plain today given what a drop-dead gorgeous day it was, the sky a brilliant blue and the breeze warm enough to have the car windows down as I blasted Ryan Adams' "1989" and Tim Buckley's greatest hits.

Sailing past the turnoff to Merroir - where I'd been just last night - I thought about how much I'd been out at the river this week, how I'd have crossed the Rappahannock six times and the Pamunkey four times by the time I got home tonight.

Looking down from the top of the White Stone Bridge, I saw a couple of boats out on the water, reminding me of the times my favorite cop took me under the bridge, once because we were chasing a pod of dolphins.

As beautiful a day as it was, I couldn't help but notice how different the light is in mid-March as compared to late summer.

All I can say is, bring on the bright light.

The restaurant at the inn was hopping but we were led to a table with two wing chairs, making for an enclosing-feeling space tucked in a corner. Housemade cheese biscuits to start the meal didn't hurt, either.

Despite the season, I ordered the Crab Louie salad, aware that I wouldn't be eating local crab, but craving lumps of crabmeat (and fried croutons) nonetheless.

Tasty as the salad was, the conversation was every bit as good, as we discovered all the things we had in common, from school memories of like eras to a fondness for email communication to dreaming up second acts.

Things got a little raucous more than once (I always hear my Richmond grandmother's voice in my head, saying, "Karen, no one wants to hear you making all that racket"), but because we outlasted most of the dining room, it wasn't our problem.

When our chipper server offered dessert, I said sure, my host jumped on the bandwagon and we managed to stretch out our conversation for close to another hour, all in the service of eating decadent slices of chocolate chocolate cake.

To our everlasting credit, we at least refrained from housemade ice cream on our cake.

By the end (or nearing the beginning of dinner for the staff), we both admitted that lunch had lasted a lot longer and been a whole lot more fun than we could have hoped for.

It was a damn good thing my work assignment was nearby.

I was interviewing a former first lady's secretary, not because of her former job but because of what she'd created out of the former slave quarters on her house's property: the most incredible outdoor dining room imaginable.

We're talking an early 19th century building completely restored and redone as the best party room a person could hope for. A giant wooden chandelier from Mexico hanging from original arched ceiling. A trap door in the diamond pattern-painted floor leading to a bricked root cellar. Doors that opened out with a view of the property, 125-year old sycamores and lush fields of a nearby farm.

Turns out the owners of Good Luck Cellars, a nearby winery I know well, were at their celebratory first shindig last Fall. We agreed about the convenience of starting at the winery and ending up here for dinner and conversation late into the night.

It was getting late in the afternoon, very late, but the convivial space had a hold on us and she kept showing me finds - numbered bricks unearthed from the old foundation, a liquor jug a former neighbor recalls seeing in the building as a child, pieces of cracked pottery from inside the walls.

As I was getting ready to hit the road, she told me I needed to come back for a dinner party.

My mother taught me that when you're invited to dinner at a charmingly-restored slave quarters, you say yes to the hostess immediately.

This second act is working out awfully well.

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