THE INN FOOD Maryland B&B; cuisine earns A's

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Imagine having strangers constantly wandering through your home and then having to greet them cheerfully every morning with a hearty breakfast.

For most of us caught up in the daily work grind, it's often a Herculean effort to growl hello to our spouse and throw a box of cereal on the table. But for the owners of bed and breakfast inns, having never-ending company is a preferred way of life. Often, it was life in the fast lane that led to life on the country lane.

John Gonzalez, owner of the Deer Park Inn in Western Maryland, was only too glad to leave behind the life of a corporate cook in Washington. "The round-the-clock responsibility of running a kitchen leads to a tremendous burnout rate," says the former executive chef of the Ritz-Carlton/Jockey Club and Watergate Hotel.

Jim and Tracy Stone also decided to say good-bye to hectic D.C. The couple, who have two children, bought the Inn at Mitchell House in Chestertown on the Eastern Shore and have found "it's a wonderful lifestyle for kids."

Whether the innkeepers are trained chefs like Mr. Gonzalez or "just love to cook" like Ms. Stone, they enjoy working with food. After 20 years in the B&B; business, Jane Rossig of the Strawberry Inn in New Market has found that her guests like simple things such as ham and eggs, pancakes and "always muffins."

Richard Mollett at Antrim 1844 in Taneytown prefers to be a little more adventuresome. "He's known for his Belgian waffles," says his wife, Dorothy.

It's difficult to find out how many bed and breakfasts there are in Maryland since there is no central organization to keep track of the inns, although B&Bs; in some regions have joined together in informal groups. But whether they're officially counted or not, there are plenty of these inns, and they offer a wide range of prices and menus.

Here are five inns, which are close to scenic, historic and recreational sites, and, of course, offer terrific food.

The Inn at Mitchell House

Box 329, R.D. 2

Tolchester Estates

Chestertown, Md. 21620

(410) 778-6500

A long gravel driveway leads to the 18th-century Georgian manor house owned by Jim and Tracy Stone. After leaving their jobs -- Ms. Stone worked in the White House during the Reagan years, and Mr. Stone taught middle school at Sidwell Friends School in Washington -- they moved into the already established bed and breakfast to fulfill a dream.

In the seven years they've been living there, they've had two children, Zach, 5, and Lori, 4, and have expanded from serving breakfast to offering dinner in the quaint dining room off the grand entrance foyer.

"I call it elegant home cooking," says Ms. Stone, 33, who relies on local game and produce for her menus. After growing up in St. Louis, she says, she loves having access to fresh fish and Eastern Shore fruits and vegetables.

In the morning, though, she keeps the menu basic.

"People like the usual things, like French toast," she says, although she does surprise them with scrapple sometimes.

Fabulous French toast

Makes 4 servings

6 eggs

2/3 cup orange juice

1/3 cup orange liqueur

1/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

rind of one orange, finely grated

12 slices of French bread, about an inch thick

butter or margarine for frying

powdered sugar and orange slices for garnish

maple syrup

Beat eggs in large bowl. Add orange juice, orange liqueur, milk, vanilla, orange rind and mix well. Dip bread in mixture and place in large baking dish. Pour remaining mixture over bread. Refrigerate overnight.

Melt butter or margarine and brown the bread on both sides. Garnish with orange slices and powdered sugar. Serve with warm maple syrup.

Antrim 1844

30 Trevanion Road

Taneytown, Md. 21787

(410) 756-6812

Antrim is drenched in elegance, from the fresh flowers to the decanter of port in each room. Dorothy and Richard Mollett fell in love with the former plantation manor from the day they discovered it in 1988, even though it had been abandoned for 60 years. "It had such great character," Ms. Mollett says of the Greek Revival mansion.

The Molletts, who are in their 40s and have two teen-age boys, were no strangers to renovations. This is the sixth house they have restored. But it's their first bed and breakfast.

Like the Stones of Mitchell House, they, too, have added dinners for their guests. While Mr. Mollett is king of the kitchen in the morning, several chefs staff the kitchen for the nightly fare, which might include salmon or duckling.

While dinner is served in a former smokehouse charmingly accented with red plaid furnishings and a huge fireplace, breakfast is offered "where ever we think people will feel comfortable," Ms. Mollett says, referring to the indoor formal dining room or outdoor veranda overlooking the gardens.

But before guests sample Mr. Mollett's breakfast offerings, they're treated to a visit from James the butler. The wooden figure stands outside each door with a silver tray laden with coffee, muffins and a newspaper. It's a grand life.

Baked Bosc pears

Makes 6 servings

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/3 cup orange-flavored liqueur (Triple Sec, Cointreau or Grand Marnier)

1 tablespoon grated orange rind

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

6 Bosc (or Bartlett or Anjou pears), preferably with stems

Heat oven to 325 degrees. In 2-quart saucepan, heat wine, sugar, liqueur, rind, cinnamon and 2 cups water to boiling; simmer 5 minutes.

Peel pears, keeping stems attached. Place pears in 2 1/2 - to 3-quart casserole; pour hot sugar mixture over them. Cover and bake 1 hour or until tender. Serve warm with syrup.

Strawberry Inn

17 Main St.

New Market, Md. 21774

(301) 865-3318

When Ed and Jane Rossig opened their home to visitors in 1972, it was only the second bed and breakfast in operation on the East Coast. (The first was the Mainstay in Cape May, N.J.) Today, they admit they fell into it by accident.

The Rossigs had bought the "totally neglected" house after becoming captivated with its 1837 farmhouse styling. During its restoration by Mr. Rossig, a retired electrical engineer, visitors to the antiques town would knock on their door, asking if the couple knew of any lodging in the area. An idea was born, and soon they were in the B&B; business.

Mr. and Mrs. Rossig have created a homey atmosphere with antiques and Victorian furniture. Ms. Rossig serves a full breakfast in the formal dining room or, during the warmer months, on the back porch, where flowers and herbs grow effusively in containers.

After 20 years in the kitchen, Ms. Rossig, 65, would like to write a book. It's no surprise that the topic would be bed and breakfasts.

"I want to tell people about my experiences and how to get started," she says.

Cheese strata

Makes 6 to 8 servings

8 slices white bread, cubed

2 cups sharp Cheddar cheese

8 large eggs

1/2 stick butter, melted

2 cups milk

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

Grease souffle dish. Layer bread and cheese in dish, ending with cheese. Combine other ingredients in a blender. Pour the mixture over the bread and cheese. Cover the dish and store in refrigerator overnight.

Bake at 350 degrees for an hour. For variety, add cooked shrimp, ham, bacon or fresh vegetable, such as asparagus.

Deer Park Inn

Deer Park Hotel Road

Route 3, Box 3270

Deer Park, Md. 21550

(301) 334-2308

For John and Debbie Gonzalez, moving to Western Maryland was like going back home. Mr. Gonzalez had summered in Northern Michigan by a lake, and Ms. Gonzalez had grown up near water in upstate New York. The lure of Deep Creek Lake -- the pine trees and cooler temperatures -- drew them to a former summer cottage built in 1889.

The couple, who have a 4 1/2 -year-old son, Will, opened their restaurant in 1988 and then proceeded to refurbish the three guest rooms.

Ms. Gonzalez, who has a broad-based background as a former costume designer for the Folger Theater in Washington and as a hotel room-service and banquet manager, is a "great front-of-the house person," says Mr. Gonzalez. "I'm the one in the back," says the 40-year-old chef.

Mr. Gonzalez, who is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., treats dinner guests to such gourmet pleasures as antelope in port wine and lingonberry sauce and swordfish with a coulis of sun-dried tomatoes and olives.

He likes to give people a variety for breakfast, too, often relying on fresh produce. "We have our French toast, which we're famous for, and a choice of eggs, including omelets, like the one with shiitake mushrooms, which are locally grown, and Swiss cheese.

There's also sausage from down the road when I can get it," says Mr. Gonzalez, with the matter-of-factness of someone who doesn't have to rely on plastic-wrapped store products.

German-style

breakfast pancakes

Makes 4 servings

6 whole eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon sugar

3 tablespoons melted butter or margarine

1 cup mixed fresh fruit

powdered sugar (optional)

maple syrup

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Beat together eggs and flour, gradually stir in milk and add all other ingredients, except fruit, powdered sugar and syrup. Pour into 4 buttered, 6-inch cake or souffle bowls. (The key, Mr. Gonzalez says, is that the molds have straight sides.)

Place in oven and bake 20-25 minutes. When the pancake is golden brown, remove from oven. Unmold on serving plates. Top with mixed fruit, dust with powdered sugar and serve with warmed maple syrup.

Vandiver Inn

301 S. Union Ave.

Havre de Grace, Md. 21078

(410) 939-5200 or (800) 245-1655

Mary McKee is a corporate renegade, too. The formally trained chef had worked in hotels and resorts from New York to the

Virgin Islands. Her last stint at a huge country club was the last straw.

"It was constant meetings, and people always complaining," says the affable Ms. McKee, who is single and who settled into the sleepy town of Havre de Grace as innkeeper of the Vandiver Inn two years ago.

The inn is named for its first owner, Murray Vandiver, a Maryland politician, who had built the home in 1886 for his new bride. The three-story mansion, with its gingerbread trim and wide front porch (yes, there's a rocking chair), evokes the charm of a bygone era.

Fresh flowers grace the dining room, where dinner as well as breakfast is served. Menus are scripted in calligraphy and promise such temptations as chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and poached salmon with a mustard dill sauce.

Ms. McKee, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., agrees that guests prefer the usual breakfast offerings. The 30-year-old chef particularly likes the following recipe because its ingredients are approximate, allowing cooks to suit it to their own taste. "I'm used to dealing in pounds [for the ingredients] to serve about 30 people," she says, while explaining how we average folk can make this omelet.

Open-faced

farmer's omelet

Makes 1 serving

3 eggs

1 small red potato, cooked and diced

about 1 tablespoon of next 5 ingredients:

red pepper, diced

zucchini, diced

mushrooms, diced

ham, diced

fresh chives, diced

1 tomato, diced

Cheddar cheese (to taste), shredded

butter or vegetable oil for frying

Heat omelet or frying pan with butter or vegetable oil until hot. Add all ingredients, except tomato and cheese, saute for a few minutes; add 3 beaten eggs (egg beaters can be used) and cook until almost done. Remove from stove and sprinkle with tomato and cheese. Finish cooking in oven or broiler until cheese is melted. Serve open-faced.

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