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Meander Plantation a culinary journey
The Inn at Meander Plantation offers a four-star, five-course culinary ride that moves at a measured pace

Date published: 1/4/2007

By NANCY DEARING ROSSBACHER and STEPHEN W. SYLVIA

For THE FREE LANCE-STAR

She: Meander Plantation's white-columned, Tara-esque manse has stood stock still since the 1700s, and guests are invited to move at a pace that is only slightly less leisurely.

A predinner stroll along the plantation's garden pathways treats visitors to a view of hills that undulate lazily to the horizon. Guests can then wander into the antiques-filled inn, where cocktails are delivered and dawdled over.

He: But behind the unrushed atmosphere are owners and staff who work with careful, clockwork-like precision.

The owners arrived in 1991 with skills that dovetailed handsomely with the needs of the upscale bed-and-breakfast they envisioned. Texas-born Suzanne Thomas had a love of history, along with business skills, having been a publisher of newspapers in Chicago; Georgia native Suzie Blanchard had been involved in historic preservation and was a chef and a food writer.

In 2002, chef Paul Deigl arrived and brought creative dishes to the kitchen, featuring local produce in a prix fixe format.

She: The tariff is not cheap: $58 per person, not including tax, tip and alcoholic beverages. What is included is a culinary ride that moves at a measured pace. On a recent weekend evening, the journey began with hors d'oeuvres in a large, well-appointed reception room . There, we nibbled on smoked salmon with dilled cream cheese, and ginger-soy beef on skewers.

We ambled to the crimson-walled, candlelit, white-linen-laid dining room, where our five-course saunter began.

He: The first course was two large, melt-in-your-mouth poached shrimp on a bed of lemony grits with bright green arugula pesto meandering atop. It was a delicate and picturesque starter.

The second course was a bold choice. Frisee lettuce, or curly endive, has such a peppery, even bitter, flavor that it is commonly used in mixed greens. Chef Deigl used it as a stand-alone and then ratcheted it up by using a pickled-onion vinaigrette. Small cubes of fontina cheese countered the tartness, and fried onion rings atop added crunch and flavor.

She: The third course was the intermezzo, a palate-cleansing dollop of red grape-wine sorbet served in an elegant, fluted glass.


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THE INN AT MEANDER PLANTATION

Address: 2333 N. James Madison Highway, Locust Dale (eight miles north of Orange and 10 miles south of Culpeper on U.S. 15 at the Robinson River crossing)

Phone: 800/385-4936 (reservations required)

Hours: Open to the public for evening dining Thursday through Saturday, with hors d'oeuvres and cocktails at 6 p.m., and dinner seating at 7 p.m. Breakfast and in-room dinner baskets (Sunday through Wednesday) are available for overnight lodgers.

Prices: Dinner costs $58 per person, not including alcohol, taxes, tip. Wine costs $8 by the glass or $25 for a selection of four pairings. Wide range of wine by the bottle and full bar available.

In-room dinner baskets cost $60 for two people. Three-course breakfast included in room rate.

See meander.net for lodging information and rates of other offerings, including a cooking school, seasonal lodging specials, and a three-night Wine Country package.

Atmosphere: Graceful service in a charming Southern setting. Numerous steps can make for difficult wheelchair access, but the staff is nothing if not accommodating. Nonsmoking.

Payment: Major credit cards accepted.