Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fire Station 1 Update: Almost There

While my longtime dream of living in a converted firehouse may never come to fruition, at least I will soon be able to dine in a nearby one on occasion. While rumors that Fire Station 1 would be opening last Friday proved to be somewhat premature, renovation work appears to be winding down and the restaurant may be opening its doors by the end of this week.

According to a tipster (thanks!), FS1 hopes to be open as soon as Thursday, though they admit this target may be somewhat ambitious. Regardless, barring unexpected setbacks we should expect Silver Spring’s newest restaurant to be online shortly. The proprietors have been providing updates via their Twitter feed. One tweet was this photo taken last Friday of the interior:

And here’s a more recent shot of the interior (with new employees?):

Here's some additional details on FS1 I received from the aforementioned tipster:

- There will be 16 beers on tap on the lower level and 12 on the upper level. There will be some overlap in beer selection between the two bars.

- It will have a 21-pizza oven.

- Valet parking will be available. (What is this, Bethesda? Be very careful who you hand your keys to around here.)

- It will be open until 2AM on weekends.

But will it have a fireman’s pole for patrons to slide down? It would be enjoyable to watch people attempt this feat at closing time. You know what'd also be really cool? A fire hose that shoots beer. It would make for one hell of a keg stand.

Also, why do they have "brewing company" in their name if they don't brew beer? Discuss.

UPDATE: More on FS1, courtesy of The Gazette.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Bridge on the Street Wayne

Outside of thinking it might look a little awkward, I don’t really give a rat’s ass whether the new library has a pedestrian bridge or not. However, at a time when the county government has a ONE BILLION DOLLAR budget deficit, is it really prudent to be constructing an elective $800K addition such as this simply because a vocal minority demands it? It's surprising that this continues to be considered by many as a viable option. Given the current fiscal climate, even Ike Leggett must be reevaluating his support of the bridge.

As reported on ThayerAvenue.com, the East Silver Spring Civic Association is the latest group to lend their support to the construction of the bridge, voting overwhelming to do so in their meeting last night. What actual weight their support carries, I have no idea. The type of people who openly express RAGE over the prospect of that they might have to pay 50/75 cents an hour to park at a library (“It's un-American!”) are likely the same ones who have no problem with all Montgomery County residents shouldering the cost of an $800K bridge during a recession.

If they are going to ultimately build the bridge, here are some potential ways to do it equitably:

- Conduct a county-wide survey of residents’ preference for a library bridge. The $800K (plus overruns!) price tag will be divided equally and added to the tax bills of those who responded in the affirmative. The cost doesn’t even need to be divided uniformly - I have no qualms with making the supplementary charge progressive based on income. To prevent freeloaders from using the bridge, only those taxpayers who helped pay for it will be permitted to cross. Each of these people will be issued a keycard required to access to the bridge. Even better, to avoid sharing of keycards, a biometric identity validation system can be installed.

- Collect a toll from each library visitor who wishes to cross the bridge to offset construction costs. Of course, the toll would probably need to be in the thousands of dollars per crossing (about on par with taking a trip on the ICC).

- Only permit sufficiently disabled people to cross the bridge, as they are the ones for whom the bridge is intended. We wouldn't want any excessive wear on our precious bridge, would we? A physician would be stationed at the entrance to the bridge. Each prospective bridge-crosser would be required to submit to a comprehensive physical exam. If the doctor determines that the person is physically unable to take the elevator to the first floor and cross Wayne Avenue, they will be permitted to utilize the bridge. Otherwise, they will be made to walk their able-bodied ass across the street.
I’ve also been wondering lately how it is that the staff of the current Silver Spring library is permitted to actively promote the construction of a bridge at the future library. Not only do they have pro-bridge signs displayed all over the library grounds, they are distributing the lawn signs inside the building. They have every right to be in favor of the proposal, but in general are government employees allowed to make overt stands in the workplace on contentious political issues?

At this point, I’d be fine if they just kept the old library and sold the land allocated for the new library to a worthwhile retailer. At least the current library is in my neighborhood. Most of the books I check out are ordered from other branches, anyway.

On a related subject, one development that should be interesting to follow is Ike Leggett’s recent proposal to start charging for parking at the Rockville and Bethesda libraries.
Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio and City Council member Mark Pierzchala said the elimination of free parking for the library would have an adverse effect on the city.

"Of course I don't like it. It will have a negative impact on Town Square," Pierzchala said of the mixed-use development in the heart of the city. "We don't know who'll pay" for parking.
Really, how cheap and/or poor are people in Montgomery County these days? Parking in Rockville costs a dollar. I though MoCo residents were wealthy, or did all the rich people move to Virginia already? Perhaps I am just out of touch with the common man.

You know if they are paying for parking in Rockville and Bethesda, we’ll be paying for it in Silver Spring at our new library. There’s another fight we can all look forward to.

Also, in brief...

- Don't miss the latest Handmade Mart this Sunday from 10-5 on The Promenade.

- Nicaro: You're fired.

- Could Fire Station 1 be open by Friday? The Washington City Paper's Young & Hungry blog says maybe.

- I finally tracked down this shirt after seeing it for sale years ago and regrettably not buying it:

For those of you that hate Virginia as much as I do, it can be purchased online here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Quick Natural Getaway in Silver Spring: The Northwest Branch Trails

Everyone is familiar with Sligo Creek Park, which, though it contains miles of trails for jogging and biking, doesn't really remove one from the bustle of traffic or the neighborhoods that surround it. However, just another mile or so up Route 29 along the Northwest Branch Stream are some other, lesser-known trails that offer an excellent opportunity to escape the suburban landscape without leaving the (nebulous) borders of Silver Spring.

While the existence of these trails is old news to the many nearby residents who regularly take advantage of them, I imagine there must be a fair amount of Silver Springers who have driven by the trails' entrances countless times without being aware of their presence.

The best way to access the trails, which run both north towards Wheaton and south into PG County, is via the parking lot at the Burnt Mills Dam where Colesville Rd. becomes Columbia Pike (roughly across from the the Trader Joe's).

The trails can be reached from the parking lot at the Burnt Mills Dam along Rt. 29.

One good option for a hike is a 5.5 mile loop that starts at the aforementioned parking lot and heads north along the eastern side of the stream and returns along the opposite bank. After just a few minutes on the trail, you leave the noise of Columbia Pike behind and enter a wooded area with few overt traces of civilization. This hiking-only trail is part of the Rachel Carson Greenway Trail, which when ultimately completed will stretch from Adelphi in PG County all the way to the Patuxent River.

Looking down at the Northwest Branch from the hiking trail.

Along the trail it is surprisingly quiet, with only the occasional distant traffic sounds reminding you of your presence in the middle of a major suburb. During a recent hike on a sunny weekend, I came across very few other people on this trail. The people that I did see were mostly on the path that runs along the opposite side of the stream. Though not particularly challenging, there are some changes in elevation along this first stretch. There are even portions of the trail on which horseback riding is permitted, though on that particular day I didn't see any equestrian activity.

The Northwest Branch Stream

Just before the hiking trail reaches Brookside Gardens, it crosses the stream and intersects the Northwest Branch Trail on the opposite bank. You can follow this trail back to the parking lot where you started your hike. This trail is much flatter and wider, and though not paved, there are stretches that appear to have been covered with gravel at some point. You'll probably encounter more joggers and dog-walkers on this side than you would along the hiking path across the stream. A small highlight along the trail is this Star Trek-like rock formation.

While they may not be on par with the Billy Goat Trail, the trails along the NW Branch offer a quick natural getaway just minutes away from downtown Silver Spring. If you haven't already, I'd recommend checking them out sometime on a pleasant weekend.

Friday, May 07, 2010

R.I.P. Taste of Jerusalem

Taste of Jerusalem in happier times. Photo by Flickr user tackyjulie.

The restaurant gods giveth, the restaurant gods taketh away. The same week we get a new restaurant on the 8100 block of Georgia Avenue, news comes that Taste of Jerusalem has closed its doors after four years of operation. It's too bad, as I do like Middle Eastern food, though we still have Moby Dick's, Lebanese Taverna and Taste of Morocco. Yes I know the realize the first two are chains, but they are local chains.

Coincidentally, I happened to eat at Taste of Jerusalem just this Sunday night for admittedly only the second time ever. Something did seem amiss, as a woman who I believe was the owner's wife was serving as our waitress and she openly admitted that she had never waited tables before. There were only a couple other parties in the restaurant at the time, which made me worry about how their business were doing. I suppose in retrospect I was right to be worried.

That is a bit of a tough location, as it is away from the main strip, though Pacci's has so far proven they can draw a crowd. Hopefully something worthwhile will take that space. (Not another hair salon, please.)

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Silver Spring News 'N Notes

- I'm very happy for the denizens of Georgetown, whose "Social Safeway" has finally re-opened to much fanfare, but when does our nickname-less Four Corners Safeway get its long-overdue makeover? Is it on Safeway's renovation list, and if so, how far down the list is it? The downtown Silver Spring Safeway was renovated last year, but what about us in the 20901? This is the most convenient supermarket to my house, but due to its mediocrity I will only patronize it if I need something in a pinch. A makeover of the interior would be welcome, just don't touch the classic retro facade.

- Juvenile druggie survivalists setting up a (lightly) armed camp in the middle of Sligo Creek Park? Sure, why not. Reading this story resolved for me a mystery from earlier in the day of how someone reached this blog after googling the phrase "sligo creek golf gunmen".

- Jessup Blair mansion, which had been used up to a couple years ago as low-income housing, will be renovated and could potentially be converted into office space.

- This Saturday at Fenton Street Market: crepes.

- It seems like Pacci's has been quite popular since it first opened last Friday, and though I haven't been back since my sneak preview, I have had take out Pacci's since then. (Thanks to @ThayerAvenue.) My favorite pie so far is the quattro formaggi, since I love anything with Gorgonzola. For those of you who have yet to try the new pizzeria, here's a guest review of Pacci's submitted by a reader:

Pacci's Mini-Review

by AverageJoe

So it's thoroughly unfair to review a restaurant in the first half hour that they are open, but a lot of people were asking how the place was (and judging by the number coming through the door, quite a few took the initiative to go find out themselves), so here are a few first impressions.

First of all, their website still says that they are "opening soon", but does list a phone number. I called at 5:30pm to confirm that they were actually open, and got no answer, but decided to drive by anyway. Sure enough, there were large signs for a grand opening from 6-11pm today. Parking was tough in the service road that I normally use to park for Taste of Jerusalem, and the "drive through", which is familiar to many as a cut through to the Fenton Street Village Garage was completely blocked with four parked cars. Sure enough, the place was quite busy. Even though it was only 6:20, the staff seemed a bit frazzled. A "Welcome to the neighborhood, we're glad you're open" got a "Yeah, so are we." in return.

I took a look at the menu. Kudos to the staff for having TONS of takeout menus all around the long counter against the window, as well as a few large laminated menus for folks at the registers to order off of. I couldn't help but feel like I was in the way when looking at the laminated menu, but like I was getting out of line to look at the paper ones. Oh, the pressure!

All of the pizzas are personal sized, 12" neapolitan pizzas. My wife wanted a "Capriciosa", a red pizza with fresh mozzarella (more on that in a bit), mushrooms, ham, artichokes, black olives and basil. I ordered what may have been the first panini in the nascent history of the restaurant, with prosciutto, mozzarella, tomatoes and pesto.

A few more notes on ordering. Even though all of the toppings are out front, and made fresh to order in the wood fired brick oven that was running at 931 degrees, according to the digital display just below it, you cannot choose your own toppings. You must take one of the selections on the menu. With 26 very enticing options, that shouldn't be a problem. More importantly, the credit card machines have not yet arrived, so the whole joint is cash only. I didn't see anyone have major issues (there is an ATM on the block), but I was surprised not to see any signs, handwritten or otherwise, to that effect.

While I waited, I checked out the patio - a nice sunny area, but not too exposed, between Pacci's and the World Building. I can't wait to have lunch there on a warm day in the future. The restaurant is long and narrow, so the space seemed ample, even though there were just a handful of tables in the back. The bar was full, as was much of the counter that ran the length of the restaurant along the window. A nice cross-section of Silver Spring residents were enjoying the place, the crowd didn't skew particularly young or old. The decorations are still a work in progress, and I could envision Spiro going the DaMarco route with some quiet music and artwork on the wall, or the Roger Miller route, and having a big flat screen with soccer games on to go with the chatter.

The blog had mentioned that there will be early morning offerings of pastries and espresso, when I asked, they said "eventually." Right now, they open at 11am, and the menu is the same all day.

Possibly because of the historic panini (Paninis are made in the kitchen in the back, the brick oven pizza is up front), or possibly because my order got confused (a waiter walked off with "my" pizza), I ended up waiting almost 40 minutes for my takeout order. I'd never hold that against a brand new restaurant, but in the future, they'd do well to "take care" of folks that are kept waiting that long. At $11.50-13.50 for a typical personal pizza, they can spare a fountain drink to keep people happy. I was stuck awkwardly standing or sitting, pretty much in the way of the entire restaurant's comings and goings, for that time.

I got my pizza, and 10 minutes later, another woman brought the panini out, but the frazzled woman running the register wouldn't let either of us get a word in edgewise so that it could be handed over to me! I made it home with a lukewarm pizza (I live off of Sligo Creek Parkway, about 10 minutes away) and panini. The Panini was fantastic, the fresh mozzarella and the basil were both amazing, and the texture of the panini was just right. The salt of the proscuitto was balanced well with the sweetness of the tomatoes. At $7.50, I'd definitely go back for one at lunchtime. The pizza was...just okay, even if they had remembered to put the artichokes on it, which were the main reason my wife ordered the pizza. I chalk that up to a first day experience, and we'll give the pizza itself another shot in a couple of months. For now, if we want a true Italian pizza, we'll stick with the Roman pizza at DaMarco's on Tuesday nights. Their pizza is more consistent, (slightly) cheaper, lighter, and the service is far more friendly, all qualities I have no doubt that Pacci's will pick up as they start to get firing on all cylinders.

On the subject of reviews, this Yelp review of the Quarry House pisses me off more than it should. Note that the douchebag reviewer ripping on Silver Spring lives in Reston.

Where's Lee When You Need Him?

If you've recently passed within a few blocks of the Discovery headquarters, you've no doubt been deluged with advertisements protesting TLC's upcoming series Sarah Palin's Alaska. These ads, sponsored by Defenders of Wildlife and featuring photos of sad/dead/cute wolves and other animals, are plastered all over the Metro station and bus shelters. There's even a giant banner hanging at the entrance to the station.

Banner outside Silver Spring Metro station.

What could possibly possess Discovery to broadcast a show featuring Sarah Palin (and pay her as much as $1.5M+ per episode to star in it)? Well, this is no longer your father's Discovery, it's now a fully-corporate, publicly-traded Discovery. Their current CEO came over from NBC, a network that green-lighted The Jay Leno Show, so make of that what you will.

Who doesn't love baby animals? Sarah Palin.

This is clearly the best funded anti-Discovery effort since the protest organized by the enigmatic man-in-gray "Lee" back in 2008. In retrospect, perhaps we misjudged Lee. His claims against Discovery seemed far-fetched at the time, but maybe Discovery is actually evil and Lee was simply a misunderstood profit. Let's just pray that this protest also ends in someone making it rain on The Promenade.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Goodbye Chelsea School, Hello Townhomes

It wasn't that long ago that we first heard of the Chelsea School's ambitious plans to construct a new campus in downtown Silver Spring designed by the studio of architect Daniel Libeskind. However, like many other Silver Spring development projects proposed over the years, this one will sadly never see the light of day.

The Chelsea School in an alternative future.

The school has sold their land to developer EYA and plans to move out of Silver Spring in the next couple years. You can't really blame them for selling out - their student body doesn't really come from Silver Spring, and they were holding a prime piece of Silver Spring real estate that is ripe for development.

I'd like to know how much the school got for that bit of land. Why doesn't the county also sell EYA the adjacent land where the existent Silver Spring library sits? They could use the money to help pay for our new library and to close their billion dollar budget shortfall, if even just a little. No doubt the alternative would be years of headaches and arguments in "The Community" about what to do with the property.

To commit to this deal, EYA must have a renewed confidence in the residential real estate market, at least in Silver Spring. Based on my completely non-scientific analysis, housing sales in Silver Spring appear to be picking up - the homes I see put up for sale near my own don't seem to stay on the market particularly long. Not that I plan on moving anytime soon, but this is still reassuring to see.

For what it's worth, the May issue of Washingtonian magazine even includes downtown Silver Spring (the 20910 ZIP code) in an article entitled "Where to Buy Now":

Over the last decade, downtown Silver Spring has been transformed from a relatively affordable, slightly shabby area to one of the region's most desirable areas for families and young professionals.
Who's shabby-looking?

Based on their existing projects, EYA tends to build new buildings that look old, a trend which will hopefully continue with their Silver Spring project. Not that I dislike modern buildings, mind you, they would just look a bit out of place across the street from the older single-family homes in the adjacent neighborhood. ("Homes of Happiness in a Charming Sylvan Setting", according to this vintage real estate ad for the neighborhood.)

Perhaps the improving housing market could even resurrect the The Ellsworth Condominiums. Remember them? They were to be built at the corner of Ellsworth and Cedar in what is presently the empty lot behind the civic center. They were marketed as being "The Last Word" in Silver Spring living and even had a sales office open for a time, if I recall correctly. I mean, who wouldn't want to live on The Promenade?

While the condos' website is long-defunct, a reference to the condos ("currently in design") still exists on the Foulger-Prat site. Something has to go there eventually. (A park would be nice.)

UPDATE: Reader D.R. pointed out to me that the website can still be viewed courtesy of the Internet Archive. It is even more obnoxious than I remembered. I particularly love the punctuation usage. "The Last Word: The Ultimate Best of its Kind; All There is to Be Said."