Into The Woods in West Virginia

Restaurant review - Walden Restaurant at The Woods

Restaurant review - Walden Restaurant at The Woods

November 08, 2009|By OMNI VORE

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. - The Woods is a conference center, resort and residential community deep in the Sleepy Creek Mountains west of Hedgesville, W.Va. Three restaurants had been listed on their Web site - Walnut Pub, Chestnut Grill and Walden Restaurant. I recently visited The Woods and planned to eat at Walden Restaurant.

To search for connections between the restaurant and its namesake, Henry Thoreau's early American book of essays titled "Walden," I had thumbed through an old copy. Thoreau wrote, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately." I went to The Woods because it was autumn, the time of year when the trees glow with color.

Thoreau also wrote, "Let us rise early and ... break fast, gently." So I broke my fast gently that glorious October morning at Walden Restaurant in The Woods next to its Walden Pond.

My room in Walden Restaurant was pleasant, dominated by a bank of windows which looked out across the mountain top. A large, stone fireplace held golden, glass goblets and vases on the mantle's ledge. Pumpkins and bunches of paper leaves decorated the corners of the room.


Coffee came first, hot and fresh, served immediately by Elaine, my waitress. Looking out the window, a scarlet maple next to a red burning bush captured my attention. I saw a swimming pool (closed for the season) and the pond which surrounded it. It seemed a deliberate pond, dug around the pool. And it was also a very fancy pond, sporting a fountain in its center.

A breakfast buffet was set up at one end of the room. But I was breakfasting at the far end of morning, and the food did not look too fresh. So I asked for the menu. The waitress said the new menu included sausage gravy with buttermilk biscuits ($5.95), Eggs Benedict ($10.95) and corned beef hash and eggs ($10.95), all suggested by customers. When I chose the corned beef, her eyes lit up. "We make that ourselves," she said.

The restaurant sat about 50 people in booths or at tables with captain's chairs. The tablecloths were the color of autumn oaks and were covered with a cream-colored, cotton cloth. Rust-colored napkins folded into pyramids stood at each setting next to weighty flatware. The carpet was forest green, the walls wood paneled with paintings of trees and of poppies. The chandeliers were designed to resemble sheaves of leaves. Light background music mingled with the murmur of nearby conversations.

The service was excellent. The food was not perfect, but it was real. The wheat toast was toasted a tad too long. The jelly was Smuckers grape, apple and mixed fruit in little plastic containers. The Danish pastries were small and dry, quickly forgotten.

But the corned beef was real, recently cooked, and very tasty. It was mixed with cubes of potatoes with skins intact. My over-easy egg was overcooked, but not completely hard, and the yolk broke pleasingly over the hash.

This hash was delicious. There have been foods in my life that I have not liked until I discovered that I had not yet tasted the real thing - for example, whipped topping vs. whipped cream, canned asparagus vs. fresh asparagus, instant coffee vs. fresh-ground coffee.

So it is with corned beef and hash. I grew up with corned beef in a can which opened with a key. The meat which was pried out was covered with gelatin and fat. This was not my idea of good food when I was young, but my parents liked it and we had it often. The real item, real corned beef, like that served with my breakfast at Walden Restaurant, was a revelation to me.

Alas, the presentation of the hash and eggs was awkward. The hash was in a boat-like dish that did not quite fit on its white round dinner plate, so the boat with the hash rocked its way through the meal. Also, the eggs were served separately on a square plate and I had to navigate them to the hash.

My two grapefruit halves, garnished with maraschino cherries, were great. I was once a waitress and whenever a customer ordered grapefruit, I had to cut the segments individually. This hard, messy task (which certainly should be the province of the cook) has always stood, for me, as the test of a waitress's performance. My grapefruit was so skillfully cut that not a bit of grapefruit was wasted. Thankfully so, for this grapefruit was delicious.

Lunch was served at 11 a.m., and the favorite lunch item was the club sandwich, but burgers and pizza, salads and soups were also available. The dinner menu was also new and was printed on golden parchment paper. Dinner features included crab cakes for $19.95, rib eye steak for $22.95, vegetarian ravioli for $15.95.

The mist came down on the mountain as I exited and meandered along a path into the woods. Quiet descended with the mist. I reflected on Thoreau's words which preceded his advice on breakfast. "Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito's wing that falls on the rails."

Fortified by an excellent breakfast and enchanted by the autumn beauty, I enjoyed a peppermint candy and thought to myself, this morning, at The Woods, I had followed Thoreau's suggestion. I had broken my fast gently.

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

Walden Restaurant at The Woods

4 stars

Food: 3 stars (out of 5)
Service: 5 stars
Ambiance: 4 stars
Value: 4 stars

Address: Mountain Lake Road off W.Va. 9, a few miles west of Hedgesville, W.Va.

Phone: 800-248-2222


Style: American food

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