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Checking In

Vt. inn emphasizes comfort and food

Email|Print| Text size + By Beth Daley
Globe Staff / April 16, 2006

BRISTOL, Vt. -- There was an early sign our experience at the Inn at Baldwin Creek was going to be an excellent one.

My best friend and I had left for a girls' weekend at 4 p.m. on a sunny Friday for what we thought would be a straight shot to the converted historic farmhouse. Yet by 8:30, we were driving 5 miles an hour through a blinding snowstorm down winding country roads.

Desperate to make it to the inn alive -- and hopefully before the kitchen at Mary's Restaurant closed -- we succeeded in making a patchy cellphone connection and relaxed a bit when we heard a reassuring voice on the other end. Don't worry, drive slow, the voice said, dinner and a room would be waiting.

Both were, and of the delightful kind. Brushing off snow, we rushed upstairs to unload our bags in the inn's newest room and sighed. The ''Treehouse" is a two-room suite -- perfect for us, but also for families. It has a sitting area with two daybeds and a large sunken second room with a queen bed, a remote-control gas fireplace, skylight, whirlpool tub, and a country bench on which to sit and watch the snow fall.

The room is simply done -- pale mustard walls, comfortable chairs, and thick blankets. It also has a charming group of resident creatures: ladybugs! The insects seemed to be seeking warmth, and given the blustery conditions outside, who could blame them?

We rushed back downstairs -- it was just after 9, closing time for Mary's Restaurant -- but the place was still buzzing. Owners Linda Harmon and her husband, chef Doug Mack, sat us in front of a roaring fire, and our waitress got us drinks as we looked over the menu. Doug is a founding member of the Vermont Fresh Network, a group of farmers and chefs that ensures fresh local foods are served at restaurants. The couple were recently honored by the Vermont Lodging and Restaurant Association as Vermont restaurateurs of the year.

We tried the elk pate with maple mustard and homemade pickles, steamed mussels in a spinach pesto cream, and smoked scallop pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and celery. The pate was lovely -- although strong in taste and too hearty for us to finish. The mussels were tender, the sauce light and tasty, and we fought over the smoked scallop pasta even though Mack was kind enough to split it into two portions.

We wanted dessert, but our eyes were heavy and we headed upstairs to bed and slept soundly. The next morning, we had to leave early for a women's outdoor program offered nearby. We missed the traditional 8:30-9:30 breakfast at the inn, but Mack still served us rich scones, steaming hot coffee, fresh melon, and a dish of thick homemade oatmeal before sending us on our way.

The inn, built around 1797, stands on 25 acres where Mack and Harmon tend extensive gardens in season. There is an outdoor heated swimming pool for warmer months. Once a working farm and mill, the buildings were part of a private home until 1994, when Harmon and Mack bought it and relocated their already established restaurant from downtown Bristol. The couple has plans to build a greenhouse and recently completed a birch arbor that serves as a backdrop to wedding and civil union ceremonies held on the picturesque property.

The inn has five rooms with private baths (although the bathroom for Laura's Room is across the hall). The rooms are upstairs from the often-bustling restaurant, but are quiet and secluded.

Burlington is about a 30-minute drive for those who want to shop, and there is cross-country skiing, boating on Lake Champlain, and ample hiking trails nearby.

My friend and I returned to the inn Saturday evening deeply chilled. We warmed up with a glass of wine at the intimate Creek Bar next to Mary's Restaurant. Fresh cheddar cheese infused with dill and crunchy crackers were waiting, and we chatted with guests and played a game of chess.

We wandered upstairs, grabbed a movie from a hallway chest -- TV reception is nonexistent -- and watched a sappy romantic comedy that had us both teary eyed. Around 8:30 p.m., we went downstairs again, but opted to sit at the bar instead of the more formal farmhouse dining room. We talked to locals, most of whom raved about Mary's, and some told us we had to come back for cooking classes that Mack offers throughout the year.

We tried his creamy garlic soup -- a recipe he guards -- and ordered burgers for dinner. It was the perfect end to a tiring day. It was only 10, but we hauled ourselves upstairs again and promptly fell into a deep slumber. Winter was a lovely time to stay at the Inn at Baldwin Creek, but we want to return in the warmer months to truly enjoy the great outdoors.

Contact Beth Daley at bdaley@globe.com.

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