EDGARTOWN -- My breakfast said plenty about the charms of the Hob Knob Inn, but it was an egg -- and a waiter's graciousness -- that said it all. Sitting atop a double egg cup, it was perfectly soft-boiled, as I discovered when I cracked, cut, and scooped out the runny yolk and the firmer white onto a toasted English muffin.
After I scarfed it down -- along with some locally made jam, flaky scones, and strong coffee -- the polite waiter whisked the plates away, only to return with a smile on his face. ``You might not have realized that there's another one," he said, and lifted the cup to show a second egg underneath. ``This helps keep it warm."
It wasn't a serious faux pas, but he saw the potential for embarassment and quickly said, ``I didn't know about that, either. Pretty cool, isn't it?"
The Hob Knob prides itself on cultivating a particular style of casual elegance, and that exchange was just one piece of evidence that it has succeeded. From the moment I stepped into the place, I felt a calm wash over me as surely as the waves knock against nearby South Beach. The Hob Knob, a few blocks from downtown Edgartown, marries the comforts of a luxury inn with the laid-back attitude of the islands.
That means, for instance, that you can get as much advice on activities as you want: no more, no less. And in my case, the staff was adept at assessing the types of things I might like and tailoring suggestions in ways that worked out like a charm. When I arrived on a Saturday afternoon, the first thing on my agenda was lunch, and the clerk had an immediate thought: How about sushi? That evening, when I asked for a place with good food and a bar where I, as a single diner, could feel comfortable eating. She pointed me to Alchemy, where I chatted with the guy next to me, tried to follow the Sox game on the TV, and indulged in a crispy-creamy halibut with fresh peas, morels, leeks, and fingerling potatoes. Score.
The decor of the 19th-century Gothic Revival house, bought by Margaret White and refurbished in the late 1990s, matches the vibe. I usually run at the sight of chintz, but the Hob Knob manages to use it tastefully. In my room, blue-and-white patterns on walls, headboards, pillows, and chairs manage to evoke something you might imagine in a guest room at the Kennedy compound.
My first night, I fell asleep in the most comfortable twin-size bed I've ever experienced. Sure, I would've liked something a little longer and wider, but this was the only room they had available on two weeks ' notice, and a feather-top mattress is a dream even when you don't have much room to sprawl. Besides, I had a terrycloth robe and Bose radio to keep me company. The bathroom was more functional than luxurious .
Some of the best things at the Hob Knob come for free: that breakfast, for instance, and afternoon tea complete with brownies and amazingly good coconut chocolate chip cookies beautiful silver serving utensils. For $10 you can get that breakfast delivered in bed, and for $20 you can have the cook pack you a picnic lunch to go.
For more than 10 times that much, you can go out on the inn's 27-foot whaler for fishing, sunset cruising, or other expeditions. I had a more downmarket weekend in mind, so I spent $15 to rent a classic beach-cruiser bicycle and bumped around the eastern part of the island , following the route laid out by one of the desk clerks.
I also walked through the nearby Sheriff's Meadow Sanctuary, which circles a freshwater pond, received a vigorous massage at the inn , and raced out to Aquinnah Cliffs on the other side of the Vineyard just in time for the last few seconds of a spectacular sunset. Afterward, it was dinner at Atria just across the street, where I had the downstairs bar to myself and enjoyed a lip-smacking appetizer of veal-cheek ravioli.
No matter where I went, when I returned through the doors of the Hob Knob, whatever staff member was on duty would greet me with a smile and a ``Hi!" If I paused, they might follow up with an inquiry: ``Did you have a nice dinner?" Not intrusive, just nice.
The most telling display came on the first morning, after I noticed with a gasp that I had dropped my pen on the cream-colored duvet cover while scribbling the night before, leaving a big black splotch of ink right in the center. When I confessed to the clerk, she just smiled and said, ``Thanks for mentioning that. I'm sure we'll be able to take care of it."
I'm sure they will. That and everything else.