Open daily for dinner at 7 p.m. Reservations required at least 24 hours ahead. MC, V. Prices: Monday through Thursday $15 plus tax and tip; Friday through Sunday $20 until Jan. 1; $25 thereafter plus tax and tip. Overnight accommodations, including breakfast and dinner, $85 to $115 per couple per night.
The more people dine out, it seems, the more they want home cooking. And so there is a return in restaurants to down-home fare. It is the year of the chicken pot pie and mashed potatoes -- with lumps to show they're real.
Around Washington there is another great yawning need that is just beginning to be answered: country inns. Those chicken pot pies and mashed potatoes seem to taste much better after an hour's drive through the countryside.
So The Inn at Buckeystown is probably a harbinger. Now that this restored Victorian mansion has been open for bed and breakfast for two years, it is receiving -- and apparently is filled with -- city folk on an evening's excursion, who have come to dine family style at its four long tables.
The house is set in the tiniest of towns; its front is lined with a deep porch and the back yard is shaded by weeping willows. Inside are a couple of parlors furnished with Victoriana and lighted by a splendid variety of bronze lamps with colored glass shades and by crystal chandeliers. While waiting for dinner to be announced at 7 sharp, you can pour yourself a nip of sherry or port from cut-glass decanters. And then you join as many as 30 guests at the long tables of polished wood set with quilted mats and napkins tucked into rings. The centerpieces are seasonal -- perhaps fruit and fall leaves -- and flanked by candles. The melba toast is homemade and the butter served by the stick.
Dinner consists of five courses, the first perhaps melon with paper-thin shavings of prosciutto. Then there is soup, again likely to be something seasonal. Ours was cream of shrimp, which was pale ivory and floating with tiny pink shrimp. It was good soup, certainly homemade, and interesting if not extraordinary.
The best part of our meal was the salad, and it does a kitchen proud for such a simple thing to stand out in memory. The tender, delicate bibb lettuce was tossed with just enough dressing, a perfectly balanced vinaigrette whisked to creaminess.
This is home cooking, not trendy cooking. There is often beef or veal, or the main course might be chicken in sherry sauce. On week nights the chef apparently gets more adventurous and might make dishes from his native Basque repertoire. On Saturday night he is more likely to make chateaubriand, and that is what we had.
The beef was good meat, very tender and still juicy if not rare. And it was served generously, though thinl sliced, on big platters with seconds offered afterward. Plain, fresh fare is what a dinner is at the inn. The mashed potatoes were not too lumpy but just enough that you could be sure they were real, though they could have been more buttery and creamy. There was a nice light gravy for the potatoes and meat, and our carrots were sliced and cooked with the faintest sweetening. The french bread was warm, and wine -- a beaujolais of no particular character -- was set on the tables for us to fill our glasses at will.
Dessert might be a home-style cake with apples and black walnuts, frosted with all-American confectioners' sugar icing. Then there is coffee and either an early end to the evening or a chance to linger over more port and sherry in the parlors. Half of the guests are likely to be staying the night in one of the half- dozen rooms -- furnished with antiques -- and sharing the Art Deco tiled baths. The inn is a cozy collection of crocheted coverings and knit throws, books and bric-a-brac. The serving pieces are similarly period pieces: pressed glass, cut glass, silver and pottery. The coffee is in flowered cups with a grandmotherly quality to them. And the service is friendly, particularly since half the guests seem to have made the inn a second home.
This is not the place for a romantic evening or an elegant celebration, although it is becoming known for its weddings. Dinner is probably too expensive for a family gathering (besides, no children under 16 are allowed), and the food is not thrilling enough to warrant a great deal of effort in getting a reservation. But it is a welcome bit of the home-style Americana that seems to be reviving in answer to life in the fast- food lane.