BEREA — It all started with a Christmas gift to my sister. A wiz in the kitchen, she collects cookbooks, and when I came across the coffee table tome Room at the Table: A Collection of Recipes From the Premier Bed and Breakfasts of Kentucky, I knew it was the perfect gift for her.
What I didn't anticipate was that while she was salivating over the recipes, I was ogling photographer Robin Victor Goetz's beautiful photographs of the commonwealth's loveliest B&Bs. Hence I came up with the idea of periodically visiting a few of these inns.
It didn't take long to pick the first one. I've always loved Berea, and its proximity to Lexington (a mere 40-minute drive) made it a logical choice. So earlier this month, my sister and I packed overnight bags and headed for The Doctor's Inn.
I thought I had made the right choice when I saw the imposing exterior of the Greek Revival-style house, just a short distance from Berea College's campus. I knew it when we were warmly welcomed by innkeeper Biji Baker and her official greeter, Whitman (named for the candy, not the poet), an enthusiastic but well-mannered chocolate Labrador retriever.
The inn's furnishings are just what you might expect in such an elegant mansion. The two en suite bedrooms have furniture crafted by Berea College students, stained-glass windows and oriental rugs. The drawing room has a fully stocked library and a baby grand piano.
However impeccable the surroundings, it's the cozy feel of being a guest in someone's well-loved home that is likely to leave the greatest impression. Baker, whose father-in-law, John Baker, built the house, and whose husband, Bill Baker, helped her run it until his death, is as charming as they come.
You're likely to be greeted with your favorite non- alcoholic beverage (Berea is a dry city) and crackers and cream cheese with that Kentucky staple, Henry Bain sauce. But breakfast is where Baker really shines (find her mother's recipe for cheese grits, above right).
The Doctor's Inn is a good base for exploring Berea's many treasures: the college campus, the shopping areas of College Square and Old Town, and the world-class Kentucky Artisan Center, with its 25,000 square feet stocked with superbly crafted glassworks, woodwork, jewelry, woven products and artwork by the state's talented artists and artisans.
Because The Doctor's Inn serves breakfast only — albeit a diet-busting one — you'll need a dinner reservation somewhere else. Let me recommend the "new" Boone Tavern. It's the same building anchoring College Square, with the same fascinating history, but everything else is new and improved.
An $11 million renovation in 2009 included a makeover of the dining room. You can lick your lips over the tavern's famous spoon bread, but you can now enjoy a more sophisticated menu, courtesy of executive chef Jeffrey Newman.
I started with fried green tomatoes with whipped Boursin cheese, bacon jam and brown sugar vinaigrette; continued with pan-roasted salmon with potato dumplings and butternut squash; and finished with chocolate spoon bread for dessert (yes, chocolate).
This isn't your grandparents' Boone Tavern.