Latest burger is the king, by 11 lbs.

Not quite a year ago, a Clearfield, PA, restaurant topped the previous world hamburger record by coming up with one that was 18 pounds heavier.

Now, a Michigan spot has topped that burger by 11 pounds and given it an appropriate name: the “Absolutely Ridiculous Burger.”

The new burger king comes from Mallie's Sports Bar in Detroit's Southgate area. It's 134 pounds, comes on a 50-pound bun, is topped with bacon and cheese, takes 12 hours to make -- after giving 24-hour notice -- and goes for $350. No word at this point on what beverage the establishment will recommend to help wash down the monster.

It will take some time before the Guinness Book of World Records, arbitor of all such ludicrous but oddly fascinating claims, verifies the burger project. Meanwhile, pub owner Steve Mallie, 39, says he's confident that accolade will easily come through.

The 2 1/2-year-old pub's menu notes, "There is ABSOLUTELY no reason for this burger but if you order it, we'll make it, and you figure out what to do with it!"

The man who makes the whopper, which was four months in the planning, is chef Arthur Laramie. In an interview with The Detroit News, he said, "The record kept changing on us and getting higher, so we figured lets just shoot for the moon and blow the record away. This one is going to be hard to beat."

Detroit hamburger restaurants
• Active Diner in Detroit
Dowd's Guides


Spain opens another bullet train link

From the BBC and the Times of London:

Spain's first high-speed rail link between Madrid and Barcelona became operational Wednesday, after years of delay.

Hitting speeds of 186 mph, the first AVE train took 2 hours, 35 minutes to cover the 342 miles to Madrid.

A total of 17 trains, each expected to carry some 200 people, will now be operating daily between the two cities. The train takes passengers right into the heart of Madrid.

The burgeoning high-speed system will be linked to the French TGV network at Perpignan in 2012, theoretically making it possible to travel by high-speed train from London to the Costa del Sol.

The high-speed line is the third to open in Spain in the past two months. AVE trains now transport passengers from Madrid to Málaga in 2 hours, 30 minutes, and from Madrid to Valladolid in 55 minutes. Until it opened in December, the latter route took nearly three hours.

Almost unnoticed by the outside world, Spain has engaged in a frenzy of high-speed rail building in recent years and is fast catching up with the world leaders, France and Japan. By 2010, the government claims, Spain will have the most extensive high-speed rail network in the world.

“We have the largest amount of high-speed rail under construction, with five times more than the next country, Japan,” said MarÍa Teresa Fernández de la Vega, the deputy prime minister. “In just two years’ time, we’ll have the largest number of kilometers in operation.”

How to Travel Europe by Train
Eurail Passes
Timetables & Fares
Dowd's Guides


Inaugural Wine Expo set for Big Apple

The New York Wine Expo, which its organizers say will be an annual event, debuts Friday, March 7, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan.

The three-day event, co-located with the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York, is an exposition that will cater to both the general public and the trade. Visitors will be able to sample from among 600 different wines from more than 150 winemakers, as well as take in demonstrations, panel discussions and seminars.

For consumers, the event will be open from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday and 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday. Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. will be dedicated to the trade. Ticket prices change after Feb. 29. Full details are available on the Web site.
International Foodservice & Restaurant Show
The Javits Center
Dowd's Guides


NY brewery gets grant for 'green' project

Brewery Ommegang, located in the small Central New York town of Milford, has been awarded a $4,000 grant to help plan an environmentally responsible expansion project.

The money, awarded by the Southern Tier Regional Planning and Development Board and the local soil and water district, will be used to minimize the project's environmental impact. The expansion will incorporate a water-permeable parking lot and a sod, or "green'' roof to minimize runoff. The roof also will conserve energy, and an on-site power plant that uses brewing byproducts will help reduce the use of other fuels.

As I reported in earlier postings, the green movement is growing among breweries, such as in Oregon and Massachusetts.

The Ommegang microbrewery was opened in the fall of 1997 five miles south of Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and near Oneonta, home of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Its architecture is based on traditional Belgian farmhouse architecture, and set on a former hop farm. The company brews five Belgian-style ales.

The facility is open to the public year-round, for daily tours and tastings. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Memorial Day to Labor Day, and noon to 5 p.m. otherwise.
Cooperstown Visitors Guide
Baseball Hall of Fame
National Soccer Hall of Fame
Dowd's Guides


'World In a Teacup' at UC Berkeley

The growing popularity of a wide variety of teas makes the Hearst Museum's "World in a Teacup: Tracing the Global Journey of Tea" symposium and tasting especially appealing.

The event is scheduled for March 1 at the Bancroft Hotel in Berkeley, CA. A companion vendor event and exhibit talk will be across the street at UC Berkeley's Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology. A map of the event is available online.

"Experts will explore tea from its ancient origins in Asia to its spread to Britain, India and the rest of the world," say the event organizers, "as well as tea's contemporary production, preparation, retailing and role in popular culture.

"Seven vendors will offer samples of their wares after the symposium, and a curator will talk about the museum's tea exhibit that features sample bricks of tea, tea sets and information about tea's cross-cultural evolution and its ceremonies."

The program is part of an ongoing series of public events at the museum that examine the culture of food. Tickets ($18-20) include admission to the symposium and the vendor event.

City of Berkeley Official Web Site
UC Berkeley home page
U. of California Botanical Garden
• Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive
Dowd's Guides

Barista Championship set for Minneapolis

The title of the nation's top barista will be decided at the four-day U.S. Barista Championship scheduled for May 2-5 in Minneapolis.

The event is sponsored by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), the world's largest coffee trade association, and Krups, the title sponsor of the event and a leading manufacturer of premium home espresso and coffee machines.

During the competition, the nation’s best baristas come up with their own coffee concoctions. Challengers prepare and serve 12 orders -- four espressos, four cappuccinos and four original signature drinks of their own creation -- in a 15-minute timeframe. As they ready their coffee beverages, contestants engage the audience, explaining their actions and selections, while expertly working the competition’s official espresso machine, a three-group La Marzocco.

Last year, Heather Perry of the Coffee Klatch in San Dimas, CA, took the top spot and went on to represent the U.S. in the World Barista Championship in which she took second place. The world event is scheduled for Copenhagen, Denmark June 19-22.

Minneapolis Convention & Visitors Bureau
Minneapolis Tourist Attractions
Minneapolis Nightlife
Mall of America
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Where to stay in Vegas

If you're looking for neat, clean, simple lodging in Las Vegas, may we recommend the same place O.J. Simpson is presently staying?

I'm sure we would be treated the same way in similar circumstances, and at taxpayer expense!

Dowd's Guides

Drink calorie listing nears in NYC

Food calories have been getting most of the coverage in news about New York City's new regulation requiring chain restaurants to display calorie information. However, the rule includes cocktails, sodas and other beverages that appear on menus as well.

The law is scheduled to go into effect March 31, in place of a different version that was struck down last year by a judge.

However, the New York State Restaurant Association has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the latest regulation which would require restaurants with more than 15 outlets across the country to be in compliance.

Giving consumers information about the calories in what they're drinking can help them make better choices, Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told Business Week.

"We've gotten to the point in our food culture where people expect to have a sweetened beverage with their meal," she said. "People end up drinking a lot more calories than they think."

An 8-ounce margarita on the rocks has 290 calories. That size is the equivalent of a cup, but in many restaurants, drinks come in much larger sizes.

"It's really a shock to see a drink is 500, 600 calories," Nonas said. "That's almost a third of what you should eat for the day."

New York City, which banned trans-fat-laden cooking oils from all restaurants last year, is the first U.S. city to enact a regulation requiring calories on menus.
Dowd's Guides


Pioneer Valley has Massachusetts spirit

“In the sleepy west of the woody east
is a valley full, full o’ pioneer.
We’re not just kids to say the least.
We got the ideas to us that’s dear”

When Charles (“Black Francis”) Thompson wrote the opening lyrics of “UMass” for his Boston rock band the Pixies, he succinctly captured the free spirit prevalent in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts.

At least the 1997 album “Death to the Pixies” captured that segment of free spirits at some of the region’s famous colleges: Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith, UMass Amherst, Springfield.

However, the Pioneer Valley -- which consists of Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties where the Connecticut River runs through – has a lot to offer visitors besides college campuses.

Despite its celebrated iconoclastic attitudes emenating from the schools, it honors its traditions in such places as Old Sturbridge Village and Historic Deerfield, recreations of early New England villages that can actually make your kids like history.

Overall, it is a region replete with art galleries, performance spaces, the Basketball Hall of Fame (shown above), the Big E exposition complex, the Six Flags New England amusement park, and bookstores. So many bookstores, in fact, that nearly a decade ago a New York Times story put collectors wise to the opportunities there:

“Our three-day visit was dedicated to browsing and buying amid the valley's rich and collegial network of bookshops and private dealers. More members of the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers (36) are to be found in this area than in bookish Greater Boston (25).”

What to see:

Old Sturbridge Village, Route 20, 1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge (800) 733-1830 -- This 200-acre layout is the largest outdoor history museum in the Northeast. It presents a look at a rural village of the 1790-1840 period, with more than 40 restored original buildings, including homes, a meeting house, sawmill, blacksmith shop and country store. Costumed “history interpreters” carry out the community’s daily activities and interact with visitors. Upcoming events include “School Vacation Week” activities (April 19-27) to help keep restless kids busy, “Muster Day” (May 17), a grand gathering of militia reenactors, complete with guns, fifes and drums.

Historic Deerfield, 80 Old Main St., Deerfield (413) 775-7214 -- 
The complex is situated on a 330-year-old, mile-long street. It includes 13 museum houses built between 1730 and 1850, and the Flynt Center of Early New England Life which displays more than 25,000 objects made or used in America between 1650 and 1850. Although the museum houses are closed in winter, many events are held. Among them, a winter lecture series, weekend hours for the Flynt Center of Early New England Life, and such activities as a “Colonial Chocolate Celebration” on Feb. 9 leading up to Valentine's Day, and a “1704 Colonial Encampment Weekend” on Feb., 29-March 2. Then, on March 1, is “Winter's End Tavern Night” at Hall Tavern
 when Colonial reenactors from throughout New England gather. It’s open to the public through advance reservations. Among upcoming events: “Dinner in a Country Village” and “Maple Days” in March and “Discovery Camp” and “School Vacation Week” in April.

Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, 1000 West Columbus Avenue, Springfield (877) 446-6752 -- This monument to basketball encompasses displays, artifacts and interactive sites celebrating all levels of the game invented at the Springfield YMCA in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith. The spherical Center Court atrium is organized around a full-sized basketball court where a multimedia program called “The Moment” is presented there.

Six Flags New England, Route 159, 1623 Main St., Agawam (413) 786-9300 -- This sprawling seasonal theme park, once known as Riverside: The Great Escape, runs the gamut from aquatic attractions to thrill rides to exhibitions to live entertainment. The amusement park is scheduled to open in April, and the water park, Hurricane Harbor, in May. A lot of its attractions are DC Comics-themed, including “Superman: Ride of Steel,” a roller-coaster that is 208 feet tall and drops 221 feet into a tunnel, reaching a top speed of 77 mph.

Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, Springfield Museums, The Quadrangle, Springfield -- Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield, and many of his 44 illustrated books (“The Cat in the Hat,” “Green Eggs and Ham,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”) are celebrated in bronze sculptures by Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, Geisel's step-daughter.

Where to eat

In college towns, particularly those grouped in Hampden County, dining spots of all sorts are abundant. Likewise in the vicinity of the major tourist attractions. A few samples:

Union Station, 125A Pleasant St., Northampton (413) 586-5366 -- This former train station was designed and built in 1896 by noted architect H.H. Richardson (Albany City Hall) and became a restaurant, banquet and catering operation in 1999. It has four dining and drinking venues, including steak-and-seafood, Italian. The Tunnel Bar and The Deck.

Fitzwilly's, 23 Main St., Northampton (413) 586-8666 -- The is a historic pub style eatery, housed in a 19th-century Masonic hall with exposed brickwook and tin ceilings. It’s been a popular spot for more than 30 years, serving everything from sandwiches and salads to steaks and seafood.

Butterfly Chinese & Japanese Restaurant, 48 Russell St., Hadley (413) 585-8989 -- Local restaurant critics have said good things about this stylish new restaurant just across the Coolidge Bridge from Springfield. Full Japanese, Chinese and vegetarian menus, offered in cutting-edge décor.

Where to stay

A variety of Web sites offer a categorized collection (hotels, b&b’s, cabins, hostels, inns and campgrounds. of possibilities: Pioneer Valley Lodging, Valley Visitor.

Dowd's Guides

Andorra calling


This just in.

After hosting thousands upon thousands of visitors from all over the globe, my drinks Web site just got its first visitor from Andorra.

That may not mean anything to most people, but for someone like me who has had a lifelong fascination with maps, geography and tiny, out-of-the-way countries (see San Marino, Liechtenstein and Kiribati), a real-time connection with someone in Andorra is like striking gold.

I've visited a couple of tiny countries -- Luxembourg, located at the confluence of Belgium, France and Germany, and Antigua & Barbuda, an islands-nation in the Caribbean, for example -- but they're easily reached.

The Principality of Andorra is a bit more remote, tucked into a 174-square-mile pocket in the eastern Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain. Local legend says it was founded in A.D. 805 by Charlemagne the Great. The earliest document known that mentions Andorra is the act of consecration of the cathedral of Santa Maria of Urgell in 839.

Despite its location,10 million tourists manage to find Andorra each year. That must agree with the 72,000 locals since tourism provides 80% of the country's income and the population has the highest average life expectancy of any nation in the world (80 for men, 86 for women).

One of the biggest attractions is the large amount of area for skiing. This Sunday, for example, the main race of the Andorran Ski Championship will be held and thousands of fans will flock to the mountains for the event.

But that's the touristy stuff. When I visit a country I prefer to find something offbeat. In Andorra, that can be the bordas, the old traditional mountain homes. More than two dozen of them have been converted to public restaurants, most of which are known for a signature dish. Thus, a tour of the bordas is a gastronomic treat that comes highly recommended.

I'm making out my dining list right now. If I can just link up to my Web site visitor, I may even be able to get a personal tour.

About Andorra
Lonely Planet's Andorra Overview
CIA World Factbook: Andorra
Dowd's Guides


America's most romantic inns selected

April L. Dowd photo

An establishment recently featured by TASTE FORTRAVEL has been named one of 2008's "Top 10 Most Romantic Inns of the Year" by American Historic Inns and iLoveInns.com.

The Reluctant Panther Inn in Manchester Village, VT, owned by Jerry and Liz Lavalley, is the latest incarnation of a historic inn that was razed by fire in October 2005, then rebuilt and expanded for a November 2006 re-opening. (See full story here.)

In September 2007, the Lavalleys were given the "Innkeeper of the Year Award" by the state of Vermont and in November 2007 they received a national award from Santé Magazine for their spirits and hospitality program.

Inns were selected to the Top 10 list for attributes including scenic settings, interior beauty and sense of place, hospitality and overall romantic mystique. There are more than 19,000 inns and bed and breakfasts nationwide.

The award and review process involved both staff from as well as industry experts and involved with inns, innkeepers and guests on the road, on the phone, on the web, and in debate among its staff and its travel writers.

According to American Historic Inns’ President Deborah Sakach, “We believe our efforts have produced a wonderfully unique selection of the country's best inns that give each guest the opportunity to experience the ultimate in romantic travel. All the inns we selected specialize in the gift of romance for you and the love of your life.”

The other establishments selected for the list:

Landrum, SC -- The Red Horse Inn
Lahhaina, HI -- Ho’oilo House
Valparaiso, IN -- Songbird Prairie Bed & Breakfast
Hannibal, MO -- Garth Woodside Mansion
Sharon, PA -- Buhl Mansion Guesthouse & Spa
Leavenworth, WA -- Run of the River,
Newport, RI -- Hydrangea House
McHenry, MD -- Lake Pointe Inn Bed & Breakfast
Juneau, AK -- Pearson’s Pond Luxury Inn & Adventure Spa

American Bed & Breakfast Association
B&B Inns Online
Romantic Inns & Hotels
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