The Inn at Blackford's Crossing
Where: Route 34 between Sharpsburg, Md., and Martinsburg, W.Va.
Hours: Open for lunch from 11:30 a.m., dinner from 5:30 p.m., Tuesdays to Sundays.
Credit Cards: AE, MC, V.
Features: American and Continental cuisine.
Non-smoking section? No, but staff will try to accommodate non-smokers' needs; in some cases an extra room can be opened with advance notice.
Call: (301) 432-8200.
*** Word of mouth? "The Civil War" on PBS? For whatever reason, the Inn at Blackford's Crossing has been "discovered."
We paid a Sunday brunch visit to the inn (which is not far from Antietam battlefield) on a frigid day with snow on the ground and ice in the streets -- the kind of day when, one presumes, sensible people would prefer to sleep late and wait for a thaw. But the place was packed with diners.
It took a few extra minutes to get served, but when we did, we understood the reason for the crowd. This is the kind of place that people not only visit, but revisit. Customers may come as sightseers, but they leave as fans.
The only real disappointment was the building itself, a newish structure with simple Williamsburg lines. It's not ugly, mind you, but it's not a quaint period inn, either. A brick hearth and some country artifacts do make an effort at charm, and our waitress was a sweet-faced, sweet-tempered country girl with a long braid who would do an authentically ancient inn proud.
Obviously, the food is the real draw here. We knew from our first bite of the hollow, popover-like rolls that we were into something good.
We were pleased that the Sunday mid-day fare included not only egg dishes and other standard brunch-isms, but a good selection of the regular dinner specialties -- at about half their evening cost. While not everyone is prepared to tuck into lobster Thermidor at noon, those of us who like nothing better will be delighted not only with the quality of the dish, but with the modest price tag.
The baked onion soup ($2.75) had a savory blanket of nutty Jarlsberg cheese and a deep-dyed flavor that indicated it was made with quality stock. (And, in contrast with many similar soups, it wasn't too salty or bogged down with soggy bread.) But the seafood toast ($5.50) was really extraordinary. The "bowl" was a thick hollow slice of deep-fried bread, filled with the richest imaginable stew of cream, shrimp, tiny gold-hued mussels and bay scallops.
There were no berries visible in the juicy chicken breast blackberry ($6), but their flavor had a strong presence in the cream sauce -- which was not blue. And the aforementioned Thermidor, in which chunks of lobster were mixed with lobster-infused cream and returned to the shell, was the most elegant way to eat this most delectable of shellfish.
Hurry off to the battlefield if you want; I'll stick around for a piece of cheesecake, with a decisive dairy note and a light touch of lemon, or a couple of wicked slices of chocolate pate, headily spiked with rum.