Tuesday, June 26, 2012

“The Story Goes…

that when Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to come to Luray, VA, to dedicate Shenandoah National Park on July 3, 1936, he planned to camp in the park. Eleanor supposedly told him, ‘Franklin, you can rough it if you want, but I'm staying at the Mimslyn.’

“At that point, the Mimslyn Inn had been open for five years, a luxurious destination hotel built, in an amazing act of optimism by Henry and Elizabeth Mims, during the depths of the Great Depression. It became the go-to place for generations of a certain class of Washingtonians who would ride the train to Luray, some just for the day, lining up for hours to dine in an elegant setting” (Cindy Loose, Washington Post).

The Inn sits on a rise along Main Street in Luray. One approaches via a circular driveway and passengers can be discharged at the imposing white columned front porch.

To the right of the entrance doors sit rustic and comfortable weathered wood chairs and “gliders for two.” Bursts of color are provided by hanging baskets and low planters. To the left of the entrance are wrought iron dining tables and chairs. Both areas offer a few of the Shenandoah Valley.

The Mimslyn Inn is one of the Historic Hotels of America. “…(T)he land was purchased by Henry and Elizabeth Mims, whose family had a wealth of experience in the hotel industry. Materials were brought in from around the state and J.R. Mims, Sr. designed the inn’s hallmark feature, the wide, curving staircase that graced the lobby. The inn was christened ‘Mimslyn’ in honor of the Mims family and opened for business in May, 1931. The local paper dubbed the event a ‘house-warming’, which was indicative of the warm, familial welcome guests received…” (historichotels.org).

Just opposite the entrance doors is a large fireplace flanked by comfortable sofas and chairs.

To one side of the lobby stands a small but handsome bar that services the adjoining elegant dining room of Circa ’31, the Inn’s upscale restaurant.

We were there for the Inn’s special Father’s Day BBQ Brunch. Will the food match the elegance of the setting?

Seating that day was in the Circa ’31 room, on the front porch, on a back patio, and in a room that I suspect was normally used for banquets and other special events. It was in this latter area that we were seated.

The food stations had been spaced to allow for an easy flow of diners. On the patio were the “grilled” items and our dining area contained the omelet station, salad area, breakfast area, and two dessert stations.

I began my buffet foray with the patio “grilled” station. My choices were the steak kabob (right), pulled pork (bottom center), and grilled tilapia (left). All three left much to be desired. The meat on the kabob was overcooked, tough, and lacking in any grilled flavor. The pulled pork had been doused with the hot pepper and vinegar sauce that is immensely popular in certain areas of the Carolinas, but is not popular with me. And the tilapia was mealy rather than flakey, which makes me suspect that it had been frozen. I spooned a small amount of the soy and sesame sauce available on the grill station on the fish, but barely detected the taste of soy or sesame. Also at this station, but not sampled, were chicken kabobs, baked beans, and corn on the cob. Is it just me? I couldn’t picture myself in such an elegant setting gnawing on an ear of corn.

Rounding out my plate were the sweet potato salad, cole slaw, and—barely visible—macaroni salad. As disappointing as were the meat items, the salad were as pleasing. The sweet potatoes were mixed with celery and red onion in a mayo based dressing and the potatoes were cooked past raw but were not mushy. The cole slaw was made with large shreds of cabbage and smaller shreds of carrot – both of which were nicely crisp – and was tossed in a light and slightly sweet slaw dressing. And the macaroni salad was made with ridged cavatappi pasta with celery, green pepper, and tomato. Also at this station but not sampled were the tossed mixed green salad and the three-bean salad.

Unlike me, Chuck went the breakfast item route and started with a serving of waffles and one of biscuits and gravy. These waffles were delicious and were nice and crisp on the outside, while still being soft and fluffy on the inside. And I suspect that something had been added to the basic waffle mix to provide additional flavor. My best guess is malted milk powder, but I could be wrong. While the syrup was warm, the waffles themselves had cooled while on the buffet table.

Now why can’t we find great biscuits and gravy? Here the biscuit detracted from the dish and was heavy and, I thought, somewhat doughy. The gravy, on the other hand, was delicious with sausage flavor permeating through the white sauce.

His second expedition brought forth a ham, cheese, and onion omelet, and since he so enjoyed the first, another serving of waffles. The omelet was quite good, was neither overly fluffy and airy nor too flat and filled with high quality ingredients.

We both decided on desserts from the warm dessert bar. Chuck took the peach cobbler and thought that the cobbler was undercooked.

I took the chocolate pudding cake which was a childhood favorite. My mother would make this often—I think it came from a mix—and it was perfect when topped with some vanilla ice cream.

So did the Mimslyn Inn’s food match the hotel’s surroundings? I am afraid not. While there were some very good items, the food generally fell flat, and I can only award 3.0 Addies.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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