Archive for July, 2010


I travel quite a bit. I dine out quite a bit. It is a rare occasion when I find a restaurant that is worthy of its own Chronicle. After 12 years of pretty much non-stop travel, I can think of 6 that stand out:

Beau Jo’s Pizza – Idaho Springs CO…Gritty Mc Duffs – Freeport ME…Terry’s Turf Club – Cincinnati OH…Crook’s Corner – Chapel Hill NC…The Outback Steakhouse on Huguenot Road in Richmond VA…and now Perky’s in Alta Vista VA.

Perky’s would be a perfect place to feature on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives show on Food Network. As I walked across the gravel parking lot toward the gray painted brick building with just a few windows, I kinda wondered if I was given false information. Maybe the clerk at the hotel told me about this “best restaurant in Virginia, no lie” place because I complained about the lack of towels in my room, and he had to hump a set up to me. Maybe this dude wanted to punish me. (I had no towels. I don’t think I was out of line to ask for some) Sending me to some dump would be the desk clerk’s way of spitting on my burger.

Perky’s is no dump.

But…with all due respect to the proprietors of this Perky’s place, the outside appearance doesn’t exactly say, “Eat Me”. Hmmm…I guess you really wouldn’t want it to say, “Eat me”. Maybe, “Eat here!” What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t look like a place you would drive by and say, “ooohh let’s stop there! That looks good!” It’s divey looking. It’s not ugly, it’s just not pretty.

This changes when you get inside the door. Not so much structurally; inside the door it maintains its dive appearance. But when a girl named Ashley greets you with her bright smile, and her sweet southern accent, things pretty up immediately. When you take in that aroma of grill fire, beer, and bacon, you know you’ve made a good choice. Perky’s is not a dive; it’s a nice restaurant with a distinct personality…a vibe.

The best thing about the place is that it isn’t trying to be anything. It is what it is. You can tell when a place tries to create a vibe or a personality; that didn’t happen here. This place is authentic. The personality of Perky’s is simply what it became through its aging process.  

Ashley sat me down at a booth across from the bar as I took in the ambience. A few buck heads, a bobcat and a skunk stuffed and mounted, a sign that said, “If you are grouchy or mean, a $10 charge will be added to your bill for putting up with you.” (Ricks $10.00 is deducted from his paycheck automatically),another sign reminding us that they have the right to refuse service to anyone, a couple of cattle skulls, and about 100 different license plates were all mounted on support beams and walls throughout the place.  

In front of the bar, there were 10 round top barstools on chrome stands fixed to the floor. The brick-red vinyl padding on the stools looked thin, and well used. The stools matched the linoleum bar. There are whiteboard signs with today’s specials…Beef Kabob, Crab Cakes, Grilled Tilapia, and Rack of Lamb. The pretty waitresses in tight jeans (not that I was looking) move from kitchen to dining area with purpose, but they don’t seem rushed. The girls seem to get along and help each other out. Every now and then a few would get together in a little nook on the other side of the constantly swinging kitchen door for a chat.

Behind the bar is the grill. It’s not hidden behind a kitchen door; it’s out there for all of us to see what’s going on. Greg Toren is the grill master…I guess his title is Chef and General Manager. I don’t care what his title is: Greg is a grill master. I can only imagine how crazy it gets when the evening rush comes in. Working with Greg is Rick; another grill master who I’m guessing is the guy who gives up $10 every paycheck. He seemed pleasant enough to me. Both of these guys have a nice rapport with everyone; the customers at the bar, the waitresses, and the folks from the kitchen.

 About 12 to 15 feet to the right of the grill and the bar is…is…is…


There had to 100 different bottles to choose from. Micros, world brews, as well as your standards were available. I was in a slight hypnotic trance when Karen (pronounced Kay-rin) came up and introduced herself.  She told me she was my waitress, she asked me how I was doing, and if I would be interested in a cold beer. Karen (pronounced Kay-rin) is my new favorite waitress of all time. Big expressive eyes, silken hair pulled back into a ponytail, a heather gray Perky’s t-shirt, and of course the nice jeans that I already mentioned, but are worth mentioning again. As pretty as Karen is, what I liked most about her was that she had full access to the beer cooler. I chose a Harpoon IPA, and just like Kay-rin, it didn’t disappoint.

Over the next 10 minutes, I pondered over a mostly steak and seafood menu that reminds us why we shouldn’t judge books by their covers. This place has a nice variety of entrees, but it doesn’t do more than it should. It’s a little bit more than what you would call standard fare, yet the menu is primarily just simple American food. I picked a ribeye and grilled shrimp instead of grilled salmon (I had a note from my mother), salad and green beans. I also had another Harpoon because I stick with what works.

The meal was great, not good…GREAT. The steak was grilled just right; the shrimp were as good as you could get anywhere, the bacon in the green beans was very bacony, and the fresh, crisp salad had a sliver or two of bacon as well. Bacon makes everything better. It was all outstanding. A few reviews I read after I left Perky’s used the phrase “comfort food”… I would disagree. I would say “good food in a comfortable place”. This food would stand up against any kitchen.

If I have any regret, and I don’t; it would be that I didn’t have my meal at the bar.  It would have been nice to sit there, watch the grill choreography, and chat with the local gentry. The people at the bar seemed to come for conversation as much as for dinner. I could have had some fun there. This is a friendly place. But then again, if I sat at the bar I would have missed Karen, so no regrets. None!

Perky’s sits almost secretly on the southbound side of US Route 29 in Alta Vista VA. The place is definitely off the beaten path, but still accessible. It’s about 20 miles south of Lynchburg, about 40 miles north of Danville on a pretty drive through the country. Great for a day trip if you’re in Northern VA, or the DC area, but keep in mind that it’s only open for dinner.  I think it would be a cool place to visit in the fall as the leaves are turning.

The restaurant is good enough to be a destination all its own, but there are other attractions in the area as well. Local hotels are very close and very inexpensive, so get a room and take a tour of that beer fridge.

More info at    http://perkysrestaurant.com/

Tell them The Large Man sent you.

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Pretty Girls

So it’s the last night of short, but challenging road trip. I’m chronicling from a comfy barstool in an amazing restaurant in Louisville, Jeff Ruby’s.  This place is about as nice as it gets. It stinks of class…and sushi, but those two odors go hand in hand.

I’m sitting at one of those high tables in the lounge area with a colleague from my industry. We can’t sit in the dining room because we’re wearing shorts. I’m a little hurt, because I actually took the time to iron my shorts.  Now the dude I’m with on the other hand, he’s lucky to be allowed on the street. He’s wearing khaki shorts, running shoes,  and white crew socks with red stripes pulled up to the middle of his calf. All strategically accessorized by his muted red golf shirt with his blue company logo on the left side of his chest, and what looks like a barbeque sauce stain on the right side. I guess he couldn’t find his neon yellow “I’ve Given Up” T-shirt.

Katy, our server for the evening, walks up and asks us how we’re doing and what can she get for us. I ask her for a beer list, my bro with the socks asks for a scotch and soda, “and the key to your heart.”

So now I’m assuming that I will be dining alone this evening. Because when a 50 something year old dude in poor shape, khaki shorts, running shoes, white socks, and a rap like this starts laying it on a gorgeous 25-year-old waitress in one of the most upscale restaurants in Louisville, and this restaurant is stuffed to the rafters with millionaire “blue blood” Kentucky horse people, it’s only a matter of minutes before she resigns without notice, and leaves the restaurant with William f-ing Shakespeare here to do a little mattress dancing, so she can share “the key to her heart”.

Why do pretty girls make men and boys do such stupid shit?

I guess I can’t blame Shakespeare. Katy is beautiful; tall, dark, half Irish, half Cherokee, and half just plain smokin. She is so attractive you have to describe her with 3 halves.  She is a good sport too, because Shakespeare has been relentless through the entire meal. She’s not upset, or even irritated. She’ll do her job with a smile, and send us on our way. I bet she will spend a little extra time in the shower tonight though. I’m just sayin…

I understand, and appreciate the attraction of a beautiful woman. I’ve spent most of my life in a constant state of amazement when it comes to a pretty girl. I married a pretty girl, so I don’t think about that stuff anymore.  Well, most of the time I don’t.

But, I used to. There was a time when that was all I thought about.

I blame the Stanley twins, I blame a girl who grew up down the street from me named Laurie, I blame first kiss Debbie, and first crush Angie.  I blame Sheila, I blame my wife. A lot of you women reading this are to blame, save my Mom, my sister, and a few cousins. Actually I have some hot cousins, so I blame them too.

“The key to your heart”…give me a break! Lines like that make me look bad by association. Katy will have no interest in becoming a fan of The Large Man Chronicles now. There goes my younger demographic and a potential new reader. Damn!

But then again, I put one of my buddies in a similar situation one time…

A long time ago in a land far away (June, 1978…Virginia Beach) while celebrating the miracle of high school graduation, my friend Kevin and I were on an oceanfront balcony on the 9th floor of the Marjac Hotel. It was beach week. We stood facing the beautiful Atlantic Ocean as nighttime began pushing the day away. We watched the girls on the boardwalk, watched the sea roll in and out…we inhaled that salty ocean air mixed with the coconut smell of Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion, like it was a drug. The high-five had not been invented yet, but had it been available, we surely would have given each other one. We were at the beach. He was on his way to West Point; I was on my way to the University of Hard Knocks. His destiny was a planned one; mine just kinda worked out. No matter our destiny, we both had a lot of life experiences we needed get through in the next 5 days.

We turned away from the ocean and stared into the room that was attached to our 9th floor perch, and there they were. Lori, Rachael, Christie, Mary, Karen, Kim, and a handful of other suntanned babes were there. All friends of ours, some graduating, some a year or two younger, some older, all of them were incredible. Kevin and I faced this harem of beauties, and wondered…just wondered.

In the middle of this wondering moment, two more chicks walked into the room: Our friend Adri, whom we had known for a few years, as beautiful as an ocean sunrise, and more fun than the last day of school; and her sister Andrea…whom we did not know, but oh baby! Oh my!

Adri was (and still is) one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. She was Brazilian, by birth, and by soul. She had this dark, thick mane of sun streaked hair, dark dancing eyes that smiled at you even when her mouth did not. She had the body of a dancer, a grown woman dancer, at the age of 17. I don’t remember being around her when it wasn’t a joyous time. I have a theory on global warming; it’s Adri. She could have been the perfect girl, but for one very important and really inexcusable flaw: She was madly in love with her boyfriend, and that boyfriend was not me.

Adri’s older sister lived in Brazil. She was visiting her little sister in the States, I don’t know the story about why the sisters were separate. But they were together now. The polar ice caps were surely in jeopardy.

Andrea was a vision. Simply, gorgeous.

Kevin and I stood on the balcony, and we stared at this girl like she was a cooler full of ice on a desert island. It was like the Wendy Peffercorn moment in the movie The Sandlot. (If you don’t know it, you need to – it’s great) To say she was pretty would be unforgivably understating her presence. She was exotic. She was Adri’s sister, she was as pretty as Adri, BUT, as far as we knew she didn’t have a boyfriend. If she did have a boyfriend, he wasn’t there, so he had to be at least 1,000 miles away. So as far as Kev and I were concerned, she didn’t have a boyfriend.

My buddy and I stared through the sliding glass door of that balcony. I insisted that I was the guy that needed to initiate contact. Kevin insisted that Andrea was in need of a man taller than me. Kevin being 6 ft 7 inches tall caused me to question his objectivity. Kevin was a good friend, but if he tried to make a move and failed, Andrea would have a bad impression of American boys as a whole, therefore ruining any chances I may have. This needed to be my job. I needed to step up – for America. I kinda remember feeling the weight of all the young men of our great nation on my shoulders that night. All of them but Kevin of course; he was on his own.

This was an intense moment, timing was everything. While Kevin became very animated, trying to attract attention, I stayed calm. I was composed, I was mature…I was tranquil. A Brazilian chick would appreciate my gentle and romantic nature. I wasn’t loud, I wasn’t 6 ft 7, I was just cool.

People came in, people came out, we talked to the girls and guys out on the balcony and through the door in the suite. It was a high school party. Beer, wine, Malt Duck, laughter, and raging hormones were all around.  But in all the chaos, all the while, I would look to see if she noticed me…this striking Brazilian goddess. When would she look my way?

And eventually, it happened. I knew it would. It was not perception, it was real.

As I stood on that balcony and stared into that suite, at this beautiful, exotic girl with skin the color of caramel, she made eye contact with me. She smiled. She smiled and held her gaze on me for just an instant, but it was enough. I felt no hesitation or fear. With only the expression in her eyes, she invited me into that room to talk to her. I saw it, Kevin saw it, it was real, and it was over. It was me.

Her smile was like a tracking beam…it drew me to her. I put down my beer, looked at Kevin and winked, and started across the 9th floor balcony toward the woman who I was sure to spend the rest of my life with. It all seemed to move in slow motion – like the instant replay of the most critical moment of an NFL football game. As I stepped toward the suite, into the threshold, the loud thump drew attention from everyone. On my short journey to the woman I would love forever, I crashed into a closed sliding glass door.

I was walking so deliberately and focused on my destination…my destiny, I didn’t notice that someone had closed the door. Housekeeping was on their game that day; that was some transparent freaking glass. Andrea’s smile pulled me in, the clean glass door knocked me on my ass. BAMN!

It was loud. It was startling. It was also, apparently, very funny. Kevin was laughing the loudest, but that may have been because he was right beside me – outside, on the balcony. I got up on one knee, looked inside, and could see all the girls and a couple of random dudes laughing their upright asses off. Andrea made eye contact again, and turned away. She was a sweet girl. She was the kind of girl who would never laugh at a guy who tried to walk through plate-glass to win her affection…to win the “key to her heart”. Other than in my dreams, I never saw Andrea again. I don’t think Kevin did either. I had blown it for America.

Had it been someone else, I would have found it funny too; especially if it had been Kevin. I had a knot growing on my forehead that looked like a pregnant walnut. My friend Rachael brought me a towel and some ice, and applied her homemade compress to my skull, and to my pride.

She asked me if I was alright, I told her “no”, but I “will be”. She asked me “What happened?”

“What do you think?” I snapped back.

She gave me a “Rachael” stare that without words said, “I’m helping you out here, dude. Mind your manners”.  I calmed myself, and apologized for the snap. You don’t f with Rach.

Then she asked me if I had met Adri’s sister yet, and I said, “No!”

“Well, when you can get up, you have to go meet her, she’s really nice. And she’s gorgeous!”

“Thanks Rach, I’ll have to do that”, I replied.

When I was able to explain to Rachael how I ended up on the floor, she asked me why pretty girls make men and boys do such stupid shit.

A question for the ages, Rach. A question for the ages.

They’re picking up the barstools here in Louisville, and sweeping the floor. It’s last call. I gotta go. Thanks for reading.

The Large Man

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