The Bling Before the Brunch
As a guy, it’s a funny thing when you start dating somebody whom you think you could marry one day. There are all of these stages I never would have expected. I guess I just figured one day you wake up knowing it, but it’s different. You kind of always know it, and you wake up every day thinking about it more and more until you realize something profound: you actually have to ask her at some point.
With the help of some friends, I found what I knew was the absolute perfect ring, and hid it smartly in a plain envelope in my underwear drawer. What I didn’t have, was the perfect place to ask Jen to marry me. Luckily, she planned that part wonderfully without even knowing it.
Following a family wedding in Connecticut, Jen had wanted to plan a mini vacation for us somewhere on the east coast. A co-worker suggested Newport & Block Island, a suggestion Jen passed on to me one night at home.
For all of the stories we had shared, one thing I had never talked to her about was this special place that I vaguely remember from my early youth. Some of my best and earliest memories are of sailing Narragansett Bay with my parents, passing bell three (some of my first words), and burning through quarters at the arcade on the wharf, and eating oyster crackers at The Black Pearl. Years later we went back for a family vacation sailing to Block Island, a place out of a painting that I hadn’t been back to for over 20 years.
When Jen suggested we go there for my 35th, birthday I knew right away that’s where I would ask her to marry me. When she found a brunch spot by a lighthouse, I knew exactly how I wanted to do it.
Usually brunch doesn’t make me nervous, but this one I really wanted to get right. The skies were cloudy and it was raining on and off for our drive out to Newport, where Jen thought we had a 1:15 brunch reservation but I actually had a 2:15 set up for us complete with champagne and roses to celebrate what I hoped would be a “yes.” I had persuaded her to pick a dress instead of jeans, and promised I would get the weather to cooperate for our brunch. She thought little of it when I was yelling “come on, sun!” as we drove along.
We arrived at 1:20, and my next challenge was keeping Jen from checking in for brunch where the hotel staff might prematurely congratulate us. It took a little more persuading to get her to come out to the lighthouse to take some pictures instead of going to eat. I think had it not been our second brunch of the day, I would have had a much harder time talking her out of it.
Castle Hill Inn sits on a beautiful little point of Newport, about 5 miles from town after a beautiful drive through old mansions and country clubs. I didn’t even remember until after we had gotten back home that I had been there as a child with my grandparents.
There is an old lighthouse about a 5 minute walk from the Inn where I decided on pictures alone I would ask Jen to marry me. Finding it was a bit of an adventure, given my sometimes shaky sense of direction. I was quiet as we walked along the path, something Jen took note of in addition to my clammy hands. I was hoping we would be alone when we got there, and thankfully there wasn’t a person in sight.
The only problem with my plan of telling Jen we should go take pictures of the lighthouse was when we got there, she started setting up her camera to take pictures of the lighthouse. I had to think quickly or else I would have to take the camera out of her hands to propose, and as a logistics guys I didn’t know how I would pull that off. That’s where #selfie came in handy.
I asked her to come take a selfie on my phone first in case it started to rain so we would at least have one good picture. I’m generally weird, but I think she noticed my extra weirdness had to mean something was up, and hoping it was something good, she went with it.
For some reason I took her hands in mine, not a totally weird move. But I pulled her in way too close, like nose-to-nose close, and started saying about 25% of the things I had planned on saying, and in 5% of the planned order. As somebody who writes for a living, plans out speeches all the time, and even delivers them from time to time, this was an epic meltdown. At one point I just stopped talking altogether for about 30 seconds. I forgot why, and then all I could think in my head was how I should say something, anything, even make a joke about how I had stopped talking. Then I thought no you shouldn’t make a joke because then there will always be a joke in my engagement speech and that would mess it up. Finally, a very patient Jen broke the silence with a leading, “yeah?…”
I got back on track enough to hit the punchline as I dropped to a knee, Jen doing a happy dance as I reached for the ring that still makes me smile every time I think about it. It also really removed any doubt that I was about to get a “yes.” What I think I actually got was “Aaahhhh!!! Yes!!!” And then when I showed her the ring a “Holy F#*%!”
We capped it off with a selfie, smiles brighter than the sun I was never able to coax out from behind the clouds, and headed back to enjoy the best brunch ever.
The Brunch after the Bling
I should preface this entire post with the fact that our Jazz Brunch at Castle Hill Inn came minutes after we got engaged, so it’s entirely likely that my review is quite favorable. I can, however, objectively say that there are few better settings to enjoy some great food and drinks on a lazy Sunday.
The Castle Hill Jazz Brunch is served in an outdoor dining area called “The Lawn,” sitting above a grassy slope full of white Adirondack chairs. Towering above you is a 40-foot replica mast from an old ship, serving as a flagpole and made entirely from the same tree. Behind you is the beautiful Castle Hill Inn, perched atop a little hill like something out of the 1800’s.
I have to digress for a moment to thank the incredible hotel staff who helped me arrange a beautiful bouquet of roses and champagne for our table, along with a congratulations card. Had Jen not said yes, I’m sure I would have at least put the champagne bottle to use, or traded it in for something stronger. We must have been congratulated by a half dozen different employees who had a hand in helping me pull off the proposal, and even a few guests who came by to offer some words of wisdom and encouragement.
It was a cloudy day, even foggy at times, but the perfect Newport atmosphere in a way. Just cool and still enough that we could spend the day outside, watching the boats go by, enjoying the live jazz band, and soaking up the last hours of nobody back home knowing we were engaged, the start of a bubble that would grow to encompass the town by the time we left a short 2 days later.
We started, predictably, with a cheese plate, perfectly portioned with a selection of awesome local cheeses, with marcona almonds, honey, and blueberry jam. There was a Vermont cheddar, a local blue cheese, and a mini brie with some grilled toasts.
For brunch Jen went with her go-to, scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon and potatoes (and we think she also might have gotten a lemony pancake item). I went back and forth between some traditional favorites, a sandwich or even a burger, but eventually landed on something unique – the pulled pork benedict. It was always highly rated in the reviews, and I was feeling lucky so I decided to go for it. It was just a little bit cold, would be my only complaint, but even still it was really freaking good especially as we neared the bottom of the champagne bottle.
Granted, this was our second brunch of the day, having already enjoyed a great farewell brunch at my cousin Charlie’s wedding, so we decided to pass on dessert. The people at Castle Hill, however, had a different plan. They brought us a beautiful pot de crème dessert complete with a chocolate “Congratulations” on the plate.
Jen ordered a champagne cocktail and I grabbed a glass of local rum, and we headed down to a couple of chairs on the lawn where we took in the view and made a few phone calls to share the news before our phone batteries died. Any brunch at Castle Hill wouldn’t be complete without a drink before or after (or both…) on The Lawn.
If you are looking for the quintessential Newport brunch experience, make plans (and make them early) to check out Castle Hill Inn.