Save for legend-spangled New Orleans, I haven't spent much time in the Old Confederacy. i.e., the American South. So, when I found myself on the way to Washington Dulles International Airport last week for a flight to the U.S. West Coast, I detoured and took a look around Leesburg, a smallish town 20 minutes from the airport in northern Virginia.
The weather didn't cooperate; it was chilly and there were May showers drenching the May flowers, but the redbrick and stone downtown of this historic northern Virginia city provided an engaging place for a ramble. I borrowed a yellow rain slicker like the kind I wore in the third grade from my friend Liz, and we set off on foot, rain be damned.
A highlight: A shop called Creme de la Creme (101 S. King St.) that specializes in gift items - not cheap knockoffs but nice linens, pottery, French cutlery, stationery, graphic arts items and other goods. I bought a packet of vintage London postcards for my English-born wife and had a fine time poking through the merchandise. By then, the noon hour was approaching and the rain started falling more assertively, so Liz and I popped into the Georgetown Cafe and Bakery, to nosh and catch up; we hadn't seen each other in two years.
The Georgetown (19 S. King St.), I noticed later, was the recipient of some scathing customer reviews on Yelp.com, but we had a good meal there. Our young waitor was personable and efficient, my hearty bowlful of French onion soup was the perfect warmer for a chilly, wet day, and Liz, who has lived in England, liked her tea. No one rushed us as we lingered over lunch in the wood-paneled main dining room.
I will say this, though: The Georgetown's coffee was uninspired, and I am a java fan. To remedy this, we headed off to the Coffee Bean, a nearby shop known for its caffeinated drinks. I zipped up the rainy-day slicker, and we were off. We passed the delightfully named Tally Ho cinema, a two-screen theater that features live entertainment and movie-theme nights and bills itself at least in part as an alternative-culture space. I don't know about that, though; I noticed the not-so-alternative "Ironman II'' was playing at the Tally Ho (19 W. Market St.).
At the Coffee Bean (110 S. King St.), we settled in at a vintage wooden table in what felt like someone's living room - the shop sells beans and pours beverages and it is located in an former private home. Sadly, it may become a private home, or some other business, again soon; the Coffee Bean's co-owner told us that the place will shut down June 30, due both to the recession and the fact the owners have been running it for a long time and want to step away. In the meantime, they are selling off coffee roasters and other equipment.
We also had a look around Leesburg Vintner (29 S. King St.), a well-stocked wine shop that showcases Virginia vintages and wines from other locales, too, of course. Time was when Virginia wines would have drawn snickers or yawns, but no more. The Old Dominion is producing wines that have drawn positive reviews from consumers and wine critics. Thomas Jefferson, remember, famously tried (and failed) to produce wines at his Monticello estate upon his return from France, and while even this gifted polymath couldn't pull it off, latter-day successors armed with modern knowledge and techniques are doing better.
After Leesburg Vintner, it was off to Dulles and the great American skyway. My ramble around Leesburg's pretty and compact center was short but sweet. I hope to go back.