2016 Richmond Jewish Food Festival

(Original Posted on the Richmond Tour Guys blog)

It is the 7th year for the Richmond Jewish Food Festival… and it gets better every year.

The festival had it’s beginnings in the Kiniseth Beth Israel Temple… after 5 years, it got crowded and moved to The Weinstein Jewish Community Center. I had never been to this festival before and was expecting long lines to get the food. The line was long, but it went by swiftly.

As for food, they of course served traditional Jewish food of Eastern European origin, but also offered some Israeli food, which is more Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern in flavor. I opted for the traditional food: Brisket Dinner which was Brisket and 2 sides (a steal at $15!):

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Cholent, Knish, Brisket, cabbage rolls

My plate: Cholent, Knish, Brisket, cabbage rolls

On the left is Cholent, which is a traditional Jewish stew made as an end-around of not being able to cook on the Sabbath since this stew could feed everyone for the whole day. It’s ingredients are as varied as the people who make it and can include, lentils, beans, rice, various meats (not pork, of course), rice, barley, oats, etc.

On the right is a Knish which is a filling inside of some dough that is either baked or fried. Mine was filled with what looked like Potato, but I guess it can contain everything from rice, to meat, to veggies.

There is of course the brisket, which is smoked beef.

The other sides that I got were the Cabbage Roll…. a ground beef, tomato, rice mixtures stuffed inside of cabbage which has become to underdog hit of the Jewish Food Festival over the years.

Also, no Jewish food festival is complete without Latke’s, the famous and delicious potato pancake.

Latkes and Israeli Sampler

Latkes and Israeli Sampler

We also got the Israeli sampler which was Shwarma (meat grilled on a rotating stick and shaved off and stuffed into a tortilla type thing) and Falafel (Mashed, fried Chickpeas). All with a bit of Hummus.

Entry to the event is free and the total for all of this food (and it was A LOT of food) plus two beers was $47. The Brisket Plate with 2 sides is only $13. A steal.

Bubbie’s Bakery  provided lots of sweets and treats. Personally, I can’t go without some Baklava and a couple Macaroons.

What really struck me was how organized the whole thing was. There was a really long line that moved very fast. Once you got to the front, you were sent to a certain numbered booth (all of the booths sold the same thing) with your group to get your food, then there were 6 or 7 registers set up to take payments. It was all very streamlined which I’m sure was developed over several years of trial and error.

There was also several vendors selling various items, Jewish music, and some information on the Jewish culture.

Richmond actually has a long history of a Jewish population, but that’s another story for another post….

If you’re a local, or you are visiting Richmond, it’s definitely worth checking this delicious food festival out. You will not find good, homemade Jewish food like this anywhere else in Richmond.

And if you do… tell me where! at Matthew@richmondtourguys.com

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Why I Watch Pro-Wrestling, How To Appreciate It, and Brief Primer

Wrestlemania 29 in NY Giants Stadium

Wrestlemania 29 in NY Giants Stadium

When it comes up in conversation that I watch Pro-Wrestling, the first thing people say is “isn’t that fake?” or “like UFC?” And I just shake my head. People just don’t get it. So I thought I might explain it.

You see, I watch a lot of WWE Network, and WWE TV programming and would like to post some musings on it from time-to-time. Although, I’m sure nobody reads this, if they do, then I would like a reference point to point people to go back to when I do review a WWE PPV or muse about the sport.  So this post will be all about why and how I appreciate Pro Wrestling; and a bit about the business.

Now, there are some people who may have watched it back in the day (either 80s/90s, or late 90s/early 00’s) and will have no idea what’s going on, so I will also give a brief summary to catch those folks up in separate post that I will link later.

The “Fake Issue” and How to Appreciate Pro-Wrestling

This whole “isn’t it fake?” question is probably the most annoying thing people say, because they know it’s staged, and are pejoratively implying that I think it’s real or that I don’t get it. 

I’m not stupid.

So we begin by letting you know that it is scripted and staged, not fake. It is a show. If someone says to you “I’m going to go see Grease on stage,” would you respond by saying “but isn’t that fake?” No, you would not. 

Two wrestlers having a match are performing a piece of art with their movement and often words. One has to appreciate professional wrestling as its own distinct art form. 

Think of Pro-Wrestling more as athletic theater simulating fighting. Vince McMahon, WWE CEO refers to it as “sports-entertainment,” (though most hardcore wrestling fans will tell you that’s BS) but that is the category that Pro-Wrestling would fall under. It’s not like wrestling promotions try to pass it off as purely competitive anymore.

In summary: Pro-Wrestling is its own, unique art form. 

So now that we’ve dealt with the whole “isn’t that fake?” thing I’ll get into the two ends of the fan spectrum.

I am what is known as a “smart fan” (Smark). A smark is a member of the “Internet Wrestling Community” (IWC). This is mostly males under 50 who have been watching it since they were young and haven’t stopped once it was no longer cool. We follow backstage news on “insider” web-sites such as Pro-Wrestling Torch and spend time Youtubing obscure matches and events, then discussing them. We also listen to several Pro-Wrestling Podcasts that talk about the business from an insider’s perspective. We talk about the business using “insider” terms. A lot of this news consists of keeping up with politics and real-life beefs between wrestlers behind the scenes. We tend to analyze (over-analyze, more like it) the product and judge the living hell out of it if we don’t like what was going on. We still watch it almost no matter what.

Think of it like Sci-fi fans loving Starwars, but spending time judging George Lucas’ decision to put Jar-Jar Binks in a movie and make Anakin a whiny little ______ while hanging onto and speculating about every bit of news that comes out about Episode 7 hoping that it will be better.

The other side of the coin is what fans like me refer to as a “casual” fan. This is someone who enjoys the show as a show, not over-analyzing and criticizing every little thing that happens (or doesn’t happen). These are the fans that will just stop watching if the show isn’t keeping their interest like any other show on television. A lot of these fans are children who some of the more outrageous aspects of the characters appeal to. Many are people who have watched it off and on since they were kids, but aren’t necessarily fanatic about following every aspect of it. They may not watch every week, but will often go to live shows.

Where as a “smark” would refer to a bad guy as a “heel” and a good guy as a “baby-face” and so-on with other industry insider lingo, a casual fan would just say “bad guy” or “good guy.” They wouldn’t judge the show through an analytical lens like I would.

Neither is better than the other. In fact, a lot of smarks really want more casual fans to watch. If there are more casual fans spending money, it will keep the industry going. Smark’s opinions often differ with WWe management on how to make this happen.

To clarify: I am a “smark.”

I enjoy, above all, the athletic entertainment aspect of wrestling. A great wrestling match is a combination of timing, chemistry, athleticism, and cool looking moves that are chained together and create a flow. The latter is known as “chain wrestling” and would look a bit more like amateur wrestling. There is brawling, which is a lot of punches, kicks, and throwing moves. There may be a lot of high flying acrobatic moves. The purpose of this is to tell a story.  

A good match such as Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins from Raw in 2014 may not have all of the characteristics, but enough to make it entertaining. A great match, such as CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan from Money In The Bank 2010 combines most of the characteristics. A legendary match such as Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker from Wrestlemania 25 contains all of them.

The other aspect of the show is the “promo” or “mic-work.” This is the smack-talking that goes on to hype these matches and fuel the story-lines. A great interview may be funny, it may be intense, it may poetic, it may be dark, or it may be a straight-forward smack talk. Which direction the promo takes depends on the character. The Rock used humor and smack-talk. Mick Foley (Mankind) used humor and intensity. The Undertaker used a lot of darkness in his interviews.

One of the major complaints of modern wrestling is that the promo segments are often too long and are more prevalent than actual wrestling matches. Another complaint now a-days is that all of the promos in WWE are scripted by a writing staff and can come off as very unnatural and forced which takes away from the telling of the story. 

As mentioned above, story-telling is what pro-wrestling is all about. Some people have called Pro-Wrestling a “male soap opera.” I suppose that’s an apt description though I’ve never been much of a fan of that term because it involved soap-opera. The combination of traits that make a match as mentioned above is the conduit for which the story is told. Whether it be the young up-and-comer trying to knock the veteran off of their perch, two power-houses trying to prove who is the bigger bad-ass, or an intensely personal feud between two-people. The promo aspect works to move the story forward and sometimes can be the major conduit for which the story is told leading up to a match. This is especially true if the match is between two older-wrestlers who can’t handle the physical toll of nightly action. A good example of this is Undertaker vs. Triple H from Wrestlemania 27 and 28.

The best part of Rasslin’ is live events. Pro-Wrestling made it’s reputation on live events. There is nothing quite like seeing Pro-Wrestling, especially WWE Live. I have been to a few live shows. some are televised such as Raw, some are House Shows which are not televised and often don’t do anything to further story-lines, and some are “PPVs” which are monthly big events that culminate and begin new story-lines. I went to Wrestlemania 29 in New York, NY in 2013. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. 80,000 screaming fans from all over the world coming together to enjoy “the show of shows.”

That is probably the thing that I love about wrestling, the camaraderie between the fans of the sport. I think anybody can be converted into a wrestling fan on some level by experiencing being apart of a great wrestling crowd.

Now adays, with social media, Podcasts, and “shoot” (legitimate, out of character) interviews, fans can connect like never before with Pro-Wrestlers. Having Chris Jericho re-tweet something you write is pretty darn cool. Social media also gives fans a lot of power to influence the events of WWE by making their voices heard.

In summary: I watch Pro-Wrestling as a show. The physicality makes for telling a great story. Being a wrestling fan is an interactive experience… especially at live events and with social media. Yeah, it’s extremely cheesy sometimes and sometimes moves look really fake. Sometimes there are the stupidest characters. When there are just awful segments, you just kind of wade through the BS, suspend your disbelief in some instances, and enjoy the good stuff.

And if your a Smark, complain a little.

Historical Hobbies: Antique Bottle Collecting

Through my job at Restoration Builders of Virginia, I meet a lot of fellow history enthusiasts of all stripes. One day, a gentleman named Ty called the office to ask if we ever found old bottles and mentioned that he would to buy them.

My interest was piqued.

And while our lead carpenter wants to hold onto her treasures that she has found during our jobs, I decided to go check out the meeting of the Richmond Area Bottle Collector’s Association. It also gave me a chance to flirt with my passing interest in journalism that has surfaced since learning more about my Dad’s life as a newspaper man.

This post originally appeared on my blog over at my tour company website: Richmond Tour Guys:

One man’s trash from 100 years ago, is another man’s treasure today. Today’s topic is antique bottle collecting as a hobby.

Richmond has a deep history. This history is preserved and bequeathed by official entities such as university historians, museums, historic sites, and preservation organizations. Also filling this role are several layperson historians, antiquarians, bloggers, and (of course) tour guides. One of the most important but often overlooked players in this endeavor are the amateur archaeologists and antique collectors who recover, store, and track old rubbish. Refuse from 100 years ago can reveal much about the history of the City of Richmond.

A few nights ago I attended a meeting of the Richmond Area Bottle Collector’s Association. I learned a lot about bottles, the hobby of bottle collecting, and what this refuse can tell us about the history of Richmond.

What Bottles Reveal About the Past

Bottles come in all different shapes and sizes: cathedral, slug plate, whiskey flask, bitter bottles, medicine flasks, ink bottles, and many, many more. Some hold miracle tonics, elixirs, and medicine. One such product on display at the Association meeting was “Celery and Caffeine,” a potent elixir to fill the imbiber with vim and vigor, no doubt! One of the more famous quack medicines from Richmond was “Valentine’s Meat Juice” a Beef Extract that claimed to treat a range of ailments and was prescribed by doctors into the 1950s.

Rooney’s Malt Whiskey by Straus, Gunst, & Co.

Of course, many of these bottles contained alcohol. In many instances, these bottles are the remnants of Richmond distilleries that have long since disappeared. Most of these are such unexceptional aspects of Richmond history that many people have never heard of them. If not for these bottles, their names might be lost to history. One such distillery was Strauss, Gunst, & Co., a Richmond distillery that operated from 1866 until 1919 (Prohibition) that produced multiple whiskeys; including the Rooney’s Malt Whiskey pictured here.  Another distillery was the Phil G Kelly Company that operated in Richmond from 1905 to 1915 and sold many variations of whiskey using the label “Straight Whiskey” and was sold largely through mail order. The “straight” label was there to differentiate themselves from watered-down fake whiskeys that were passed off as real whiskey by unscrupulous distilleries that sought to con consumers.

Phil G. Kelly, Co. Straight Whiskey

Phil G. Kelly, Co. Straight Whiskey

Fun fact: some whiskey bottles look like medicine. That’s because during Prohibition, distillers often sold their whiskeys as “for medical use” and you could still obtain whiskey via a doctor’s prescription.

The Hobby

The hobby itself is like any other hobby. You like something and think it is neat, so you collect it. This creates a demand and thus a market of buyers and sellers. Collectors range in age from teenagers on up to retirees.

Most collectors that I asked started collecting any old bottles and then at one point narrowed it down to specific types of bottles that they especially fancied, so that their collection didn’t get out of hand. One gentleman I met specializes in collecting local Coke bottles. Another collects Pepsi bottles.

They don’t seem to have any sort of feud going.

One gentleman specializes in early 20th Century bottles for German bitters. The president of the club, Bruce, specializes in bottles featuring Cowboys and Native Americans. There are some folks that collect bottles of certain shapes. Bruce’s wife, who showed me around and explained a bit to me about the hobby, collects cathedral bottles. These are ornately shaped bottles made to hold pickles. The gentleman I contacted about the club initially, Ed, collects ink bottles. Some collectors specialize in bottles from a certain geographic area such as Baltimore, San Francisco, and of course, Richmond.

Christo, another Richmond, Va manufacturer

Christo, another Richmond, Va manufacturer

A few of these collectors may be experts on their bottle type and have written books on the subject. Ed Faulkner, the gentleman that I originally contacted, had written a book on antique ink bottles with his wife. One of the other gentlemen mentioned that they wrote a book on Coke Bottles.

Amateur Archaeology

The most compelling part of this hobby is the “treasure hunting” or amateur archaeology aspect. One gentleman, Tom, invited me to a privy dig. It is exactly what it sounds like… you find an old toilet hole and dig in the area where the excrement would have gone. These often doubled as trash cans. Everything organic (ie: the poop) has decomposed and turned into dirt while everything inorganic, such as metal and glass, are artifacts waiting to be discovered by the adventurous digger. Said diggers may keep them, turn them over to a museum, or sell them for profit. Often the digger will strike a deal with a property owner to split the booty in exchange for the right to dig.

Treasure hunting does not take place only in toilets. One teenage bottle collector shared what he found when he went digging down by a creek bed. Not only did he find bottles, but he found an old pipe and some arrow heads. Another way that treasure-hunters score booty is digging through people’s barns and sheds in rural areas. People often have junk lying around that they are happy to let people pick through. Some of these everyday items to the history enthusiast are treasures.

As evidenced above, bottle collecting also tends to cross over with other antiquing. A gentleman named Craig brought a giant iron skillet that he found while cleaning out under a ladies house for her to display at the meeting. Another collector brought a 1923 Shockoe Creek Sewer System bond that he purchased at an estate auction. I also saw some old soda and beer signs.

Richmond Area Bottle Collector's Association Meeting - Show & Tell

Richmond Area Bottle Collector’s Association Meeting – Show & Tell

Clubs

Most Geographic areas have a Bottle Collector’s Association. The one that I visited was the Richmond Area Bottle Collector’s Association which has been around since 1970.

People come from all over the region as far as Virginia Beach to come to this meeting every month. The meetings contain a show & tell where people show off recent finds, collectors put out bottles for sale, and of course: club business such as finances and newsletters and what not. At every meeting there is a different program. The particular night I was there, they were voting in a competition with categories such as “Best Find,” “Best Richmond Bottle,” “Best Dig Find,” and “Best Non-Bottle,” among others. It’s a place where like-minded treasure hunters can come together and share their findings.

Each club will usually host a show once per year and bring in vendors from around the country to buy and sell bottles. It’s also a good chance to have a bit camaraderie between collectors, a chance to find that one bottle that you need to add to a collection, and maybe make a bit of coin.

Table With Good For Sale

Goods for sale at the meeting


The Bottle Market Place

Apparently, bottle collecting can be a pretty lucrative or at least self- sustaining hobby. In the antique bottles marketplace, one can buy and sell at one of several aforementioned bottle shows and expos that are held around the U.S., on-line, or at auctions. Some bottles sell for thousands of dollars. If one digs something up under an old house, it may be worth $100 or so.

That’s a pretty good profit margin.

In my conversation with Bruce, the club President of several years, he mentioned that the hobby is self-sustaining for him, as it is with many others. He doesn’t pay bills with the hobby, but on the whole doesn’t have to spend any of his income to keep the hobby going. A revenue neutral hobby is not always easy to come by.

The value of the bottles depends on a myriad of factors. One is location. Years ago there may have been towns right next to each other that had their own bottling plants. For example, Coke and Pepsi were bottled in Richmond, Petersburg, Norfolk, and several other cities that were within a relatively close distance to each other. The location was stamped very prominently on the bottle. A Richmond bottle from 1903 may be worth more than a Petersburg bottle from 1903 because Petersburg produced less of them.

Color is also a factor in the value of the bottles

Color is also a factor in the value of the bottles

Another factor in the value of the bottles is when it was made. My biggest question was: “Without dates on the bottles, how can you tell the age?” I was informed by Cliff that it is quite easy to tell. Pre-1845, bottles were often made hand before complicated machining processes came about and you can tell by the rough nature of the bottle. Certain methods of producing bottles would come in and then out of fashion as new processes were invented. One could also figure out the age of bottles by who produced it. If you know that our old friend, the “Phil G. Kelly Company” only produced whiskey from 1905 to 1913, the bottles would be from that time frame.

Color is also a factor. A green 1904 Richmond Coke bottle might be worth more than a clear 1904 Richmond Coke Bottle.

Bottles may be valued as low as $2. At the meeting that I attended, one Petersburg Pepsi Bottle purchased for $10 at a flea market was appraised at $500-$600.

I was told that some bottles go for as much as $15,000… that’s not a typo. This is potentially big business for something that was dug out an old toilet.

As valuable as some of these bottles may be monetarily, the true value lies in the preservation of Richmond’s history through these every day treasure-hunters.