Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Food Field Trip: Oasis in a Culinary Wasteland


This past weekend, B and I retreated to the woods of the most Northwestern corner of Maryland for some much-needed downtime from the city.  Make no mistake, past credentials aside, I am not mother nature's biggest fan and and no one would confuse me for the outdoorsy type.  So you can imagine my initial reaction when B suggested renting a cabin in the woods for the weekend. 

Friday afternoon we embarked on a two and a half hour car journey, leaving the city and its culinary comforts behind.  B patiently coaxed that it will be fun to stop somewhere "quaint" for dinner.  But as we made our way towards our camping-for-yuppies hideout, the Savage River Lodge, we were aware that the pickings were likely to be slim.

Our first food pit stop was Cumberland, where the architecture was charming and the mounds of mounds custard at the Queen City Creamery was indulgent, but the dinner options sparse. So we made our way west to Frostburg's town center, assuming that in a college town, we would surely find something.  We found nothing!  The main street yielded disappointment after disappointment.  On a Friday evening, virtually empty pizza joints, seedy bars (and even seedier clientele) were as good as it got.
Queen City Creamery & Deli on Urbanspoon

As we neared Savage River, we felt like pilgrims in a parched culinary wasteland.  So on the last exit before the lodge, we acquiesced to trying the Hen House, a barn-sized restaurant filled with huge taxidermed deer heads, massive fireplaces, and even canoes suspended from the ceiling.  We learned that the family-run operation has been churning out chicken dishes since 1961; its latest building a newish replacement to a smaller one that recently burnt to the ground.

While all the food was solid, it was the chicken soup recipe that won us over.  This was truly chicken soup for the soul and stomach.  The combination of homemade noodles, roasted chicken, and a slight heat to the broth made this almost worth the trip alone.  Two half-chicken dinners (each of which comes with soup, salad, and a side dish) with two beers each, tax, and tip came to $60. 

Hen House West on Urbanspoon

Dining faith restored, we continued on our journey a few minutes up the road to the Savage River Lodge. In addition to a Wine Spectator Award winning restaurant, Savage Liver Lodge prioritizes local ingredients.  The dining room showcases property-produced maple syrup, local game, and produce from a nearby Amish market (which it stores year round thanks to cold storage).  The talented chef and energetic, enthusiastic, and professional wait and bar staff are as authentically excellent as the food. 

An appetizer plate showcased three different homemade sausages, of which the meaty wild boar option popped when dipped in the accompanying raspberry Dijon sauce.  The soup du jour was "lima bean," and had Mike, the eccentric and gregarious owner of the lodge not passionately described the evening's preparation during happy hour (nor ordered it himself right after), I am not sure I would have taken the plunge.  But I am so glad I did.  This creamy soup brought the oft-overlooked lima bean to new heights thanks to the pureed preparation and the addition of smoked house maple-cured  bacon.

Entrees are eclectic and include extensive vegetarian selections.  We selected the eggplant parmigiana and the wild game meatloaf.  While vastly different cuisines, the hearty portions were perfect after an afternoon spent hiking amid the pines.  And for dessert, Chef Eric dreamed up a peanut butter mousse pie in a chocolate cookie crust topped with a chocolate ganache.  This towering slice, even when shared, was over indulgent, but so good!

And while we were dining in the middle of the woods, we did not want for liquid refreshment.  The local Heaven's Gate Amber was available on tap at both the Hen House and Savage River.  And on the award winning California-heavy wine list, we found one of our favorite Sonoma cult wines, Gundalach Bundschu.

And this city girl is actually looking forward to going back.  In fact, upon checkout, we did something we've never done at any hotel, anywhere: scheduled a return trip.  When we come back in August, we plan on trying the lodge's Wine Geocache--a high tech, self-directed scavenger hunt that pairs personal GPS devices with a code that will lead to four hidden chests located somewhere amid the property's hiking tails.  After we find all of the hidden treasure and collect a cork from each, we will (I hope) triumphantly return to the lodge bar for a glass of wine to savor and reflect on our success.  Now that is an outdoor activity that I am happy to sign up for!

Lodging was $220 a night and dinner with wine, tax, and tip came to $180.

Savage River Lodge on Urbanspoon

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