Small-Town Treasures

Down-home cooking, bike tours, mountain hikes and porches with rocking chairs await along the road to Western Maryland

$500 Getaway

September 24, 2006|By Susan Thornton Hobby | Susan Thornton Hobby,[Special to the Sun ]

HERE'S TEMPTATION NO. 1 IN THE little towns west of Frederick: the porch rocker.

Wind your way along Route 34 toward West Virginia, through Boonsboro, Keedysville, Sharpsburg. All the narrow front porches have rocking chairs.

In Sharpsburg, the inn's front porch surveys the town's evening life -- damp-haired teenagers walking by under kayaks, the new French bulldog puppy next door, the elderly man with red electrical tape on his glasses holding a mountainous ice cream cone. People watch, rock and ruminate in the quiet.

But the problem is temptation No. 2: the food. The area is dotted with "family restaurants" with down-home food -- the deliciously sloppy Red Byrd Special (a Keedysville restaurant's take on the Big Mac), homemade coleslaw and peach pie. Plus the aforementioned ice cream. Eat like that, and you'll look like the nearby hulk of South Mountain.

So here's a way to have your temptation and eat the pie, too. Get off your duff and earn your food -- bike the trail along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, hike in nearby Greenbrier State Park, explore the caves, cycle the Antietam National Battlefield, all within 12 miles. Then feel justified in your residence on the porch and your indulgence in the ice cream.

You don't want to start on empty, so a quick stop for food is in order. It takes about 75 minutes to travel along Interstate 70 from Baltimore to Jeannie B's Family Restaurant in Myersville, but it feels as if you've taken the Wayback Machine 50 years.

The sign in the window says "Closed," but ignore it, they just forgot to turn it over to "Open" today. The hostess, Virginia, opens doors for folks with walkers ("I got this one, sweetie," she reassures), and also grills their sandwiches and mounds the chips and pickles on their plates. She calls kids "doll babies." She flirts with old men.

Virtually everyone in the restaurant knows each other and is busy visiting table to table, making fishing dates or discussing the rain on the Angus pastures. The food is good -- specials such as smoked sausage or rib-eye steak -- and the tea is sweet. And if you want to skip the chatter and get right to the great outdoors, pick up the eight-piece fried chicken to go ($8.99).

Then head north on Route 17 and west on alternate U.S. 40 to Greenbrier State Park, Western Maryland's answer to Ocean City.

With more than 1,000 yards of beachfront and a glassy lake circled by a lazy hiker's footpath, the park is good for a post-lunch wade or stroll. But there are also eight miles of more-strenuous hiking trails, some of which lead straight up the mountain to the Appalachian Trail, which is about 2,175 miles long. Even the roast beef platter and coconut custard pie at lunch can't justify that kind of slog today, but 3 million to 4 million people a year hike some portion of thetrail.

A visit to Greenbrier State Park is a peek into another world. Weekend picnickers flock by the thousands to grill, play soccer and fish. Rainbow-striped hammocks from El Salvador and Guatemala swing from the trees; fathers and toddlers nap in them in the afternoons. Cupped by mountains, the lake is small enough to circumnavigate in the paddleboats and rowboats for rent at the boathouse ($10 an hour, open weekends). And the park's visitor center is archetypal: a large-mouth bass gapes from a bubbling aquarium, stuffed bear cubs pose on tree branches, and luna moths and stag beetles slowly crumble on their pins under glass.

Biking and hiking

From the park, take Boonsboro Mountain Road over the mountain to Boonsboro (nothing like truth in advertising). Follow Route 34 to the Jacob Rohrbach Inn in Sharpsburg, where, since you've done all that hiking and boating, you've earned one of the inn's homemade peanut butter cookies with a chocolate kiss on top.

The innkeepers, Paul and Joanne Breitenbach, rent four antique-filled rooms in the big house, or a newly renovated summer kitchen in the back garden. The summer kitchen's thick walls and preserved cooking fireplace hark back to the room's original use, but the new plank flooring, rain shower head and French doors leading to the porch bring it up to the 21st century quite comfortably. The porch looks over the back gardens, with dahlias and tomatoes and bush roses. There's a hammock, too, but resist, at least for now.

Because it's time to cycle for your supper.

Down a country lane about a mile-and-a-half from the inn is Snyders Landing. Park here, unload the bikes and cross a little bridge to reach the C&O Canal, which floated cargo boats pulled by mules from Washington's Georgetown to Cumberland from 1850 to 1924.

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