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The Town's Pub and Eatery

October 25, 2009

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. --Talk about a warm welcome on a cold rainy day.

We were searching for a restaurant in historic Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and asked a man on the street for directions.

"Come to my restaurant," he said.

He escorted us up the stone steps, opened the door, furled my umbrella and called for a cup of hot coffee for us. This was service in a tourist town on a rainy day.

"My name is Tony," he said. "This is Jamie. He'll help you."

And even though it was a half an hour before opening time, Jamie brought cream and told us the specials of the day.

The place was a stone building, three stories high, at 179 High St. called The Town's Pub and Eatery. This house, dating back to about 1840, had been turned into a restaurant, a pub and an inn. The restaurant-side seated about 20 people, the pub-side about four. There was outdoor seating in the front and the back, but there was no call for the outdoors on this eve of the 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry.

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Draft and bottled beers were available, imported for $4.95 and domestic for $3.95. West Virginia wines, Whitehill and Forks of Cheat were $5.95. There was also an assortment of hot and cold drinks and coffees. The dinner menu was on the back of the vinyl-covered menu. Dinner was served after 4 p.m. and offered standard trout, chicken, ribeye steak, tuna, pork tenderloin and soft-shell crab.

We were here for lunch and had already been warmed by huge cups of coffee. I ordered the special for the day, bratwurst and French onion soup for $12.99, but it was a hard decision for the other special was pulled-pork barbecue for $12.99. The professor ordered a roast beef sandwich.

I looked around while we waited for our meal. There were captain chairs at square tables, which were covered with a serviceable olive green oil cloth. The walls were blue and gray; blue on the bottom; a gray chair rail and light gray walls. On the walls were photographs of Harpers Ferry that were for sale.

The overall impression was of a small, dark room with an old wooden floor. The view out the deeply recessed window was magnificent. We watched the mist moving along the face of the fall-colored hills and green rock. The brick train station was straight down the hill from us and masses of yellow chrysanthemums brightened High Street.

Our meal came and we turned our attention to our food. The bratwurst was cut up into small circles of sausage and served with grilled onions and red, yellow and green peppers. The overall taste was sweet for some reason and the food was lukewarm.

The soup was another story. It was very hot and quite delicious. Melted stringy cheese covered the top and there were a lot of cooked onions and bread. The broth was good, tasting of stock and onions. The soup was served in an enormous black bowl, so deep and wide that I gave up spooning the soup and raised the bowl to my lips and drank as if it were a libation.

The heaping roast beef and vidalia onion sandwich, $9.99, was served on Italian bread with a pickle and potato chips. There were no condiments so Jamie brought mustard. The sandwich was substantial and good. The roast beef was the real thing, thickly cut.

Tourists began to arrive. Jamie opened the door for them and asked, "How are you?"

The answers were variations of "wet, cold and hungry."

"Come on in," Jamie said, "You are in the right place."

The tourists bustled in and settled. I overheard one person say, "This is a big anniversary. Whatever happened here?"

But nobody knew and I reflected on the experience of tourists. People traveling are far from home and disoriented and do not know basics. A story, a warm welcome and a good meal translates into hospitality and happy memories when they get home.

Desserts were a choice of funnel cakes $3.95 and homemade triple-berry cobbler $4.95. Never having tasted funnel cakes, I did not want to break my record, so I ordered the homemade-triple berry cobbler. Jamie brought it warmed and served in a wide boat of a bowl in earth colors.

"This is the last piece," he said, "until my mother makes more. She used blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Enjoy."

I did.

The cobbler was delicious, tangy, tart and sweet with a homemade crust that was covered with caked berry juice. I scraped the bowl with a long, slim spoon and licked the spoon clean. The cobbler alone was worth the trip.

I stopped in the kitchen and spoke to the cook, complimenting her on the onion soup. "It's new," she said. "And so much better than anything we could buy ready made."

I agreed.

When we come here and are hungry, we will climb to High Street again for a lunch or dinner at The Town's Pub and Eatery.

Omni Vore is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail freelance writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.

The Town's Pub and Eatery

3 1/2 stars

Food: 3 1/2 stars (out of 5)

Service: 5 stars

Ambiance: 3 stars

Value: 3 stars

Address: 179 High St., Harpers Ferry,W.Va

Phone: 304-535-2553

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, but they open early for hungry guests and close early if the town is quiet

Style: American standard food

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