"Don't be taken in by appearances," they tell us. "You can't eat atmosphere." They have a point; I, too, have eaten my share of lousy meals in charming rooms-with-views.
Wait till you see the Turning Point Inn, though. Sitting far back from the road, surrounded by lawns and trees, its Georgian beauty beckons the visitor down the long drive. Could such a handsome place offer anything but delectable food?
Inside, the inn (which offers bed-and-breakfast as well as meals) was still decorated for the holidays, with a Victorian Christmas tree dominating the foyer. (As some folks are too busy during the Christmas season to get together with friends, the inn leaves its trimmings up for a while for festive post-holiday reunions.) Even without seasonal gewgaws, the interior is exceptionally pretty, with fine architectural detailing -- the house was built in 1910 -- and gracious, homelike rooms adorned with collectible dolls and family photographs.
A couple of caveats, though. Because of the inn's popularity, it may take a couple of tries to get a prime-time dinner reservation. And the modern dining room, alas, looks like a nice suburban rec room; try for something in the old part of the house instead.
The menu is prix-fixe, but the price was, for some reason, not listed on the menu. If we have to ask, we wondered, can we not afford it? (Our dinners, which included soup, salad, entree and dessert, were $25 a person; appetizers are extra.)
Once past that intimidating hurdle, diners will find plenty to tempt them. Turning Point meals are characterized by challenging combinations, ample portions and big, bold flavors.
We were starved by the time we got to eat; no bread is brought until the salad course. But when the food arrived, it proved worth the wait. Lobster stew ($3.95 extra) was pure lobster cream, with no veggies to cut the intense flavors. Earthy grilled duck sausage ($7.95) was served with a pungent blueberry sauce with vinegary overtones and a hint of dill. Salads were top-notch and well-mixed, with dressing coating every morsel of greens.
One of the more unusual dishes featured Tasso ham, which has a barbecued taste and a spicy bite, tossed with oysters, pasta and cream. A lighter pasta would have been an asset, but the combination of richness and exotic zest was alluring. Pork chops were taken out of the realm of simple grandma cooking with a sweetly tangy glaze of maple syrup and rum; spaetzle and sauerkraut added a --ing Teutonic note. Even dessert -- an apple cake rich with raisins and nuts -- was as gutsy as it was gorgeous. These flavors elicited not a sigh of bliss, but a "Wow!" of excitement.
@Turning Point Inn Where: 3406 Urbana Pike, Urbana (junction of routes 355 and Hours: Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; dinner 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sundays.
Credit Cards: MC, V.
Features: American and Continental cuisine.
Non-smoking section? Yes.
Call: (301) 874-2421.