Hours: Open April through November: Breakfast, 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.; lunch, 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., dinner, 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Sunday lunch, 1 to 2:30 p.m.; Sunday dinner, 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Atmosphere: Farmhouse fresh.
Price Range: Monday through Saturday -- breakfast, $4.30; lunch, $4.40; dinners vary from $6.30 to $9.75 depending on the night; Sunday lunch, $6.30, and Sunday dinner, $7.95. Children under 10 years, half price.
Credit Cards: Mastercard, Visa.
Special facilities: Booster seats. Not accessible to physically handicapped; dining room is on second floor, served only by a steep staircase.
We took a Sunday off from football games and our usual pursuits to do all the fall things we've always wanted to do: See the changing leaves, buy apples from an orchard, hike in the mountains and top off the day with a homey, farmstyle dinner.
For the leaf turning, we avoided the crowds of the Skyline Drive and rubbernecked along the eastern edge of the Shenandoah National Park. We headed for Warrenton and then west on Rte. 211 to Sperryville. What a glorious drive it was -- rolling hills covered by stands of maple, oak, elm and beech trees turning various shades of gold, orange and red.
At Sperryville we turned south onto Rte. 231 where we drove to the edge of the park for our hike, a five mile round-trip walk along the White Oak Canyon trail. After that, we deserved our stop at the Graves' Mountain apple orchard, also in Syria. We tasted cold, fresh cider and bought a variety of apples but tried to eat only a few because 200 yards down the road was the Graves' Mountain Lodge. We had reservations for dinner at 6 p.m.
Reservations for weekend meals at Graves' Mountain are necessary -- you won't be able to eat there without them. The wholesome food, the reasonable prices (meals for children under 10 are half-price) draws hundreds of people. We arrived early and managed to be among the first 50 persons seated. p
Graves' Mountain dining rooms are family style: Long tables, straight-backed chairs, different groups of people seated together. I, my husband and our two children were seated with a mother with one toddler and two 8-year-olds. We all shared a basket of hot, fresh-from-the-oven rolls (replenished several times), a stick of butter, a jar of superb apple butter and container of honey.
Our waitress came by to take our drink orders -- iced tea, coffee, milk or apple cider come with dinner -- and to explain Graves' system. The food is served buffet style; you help yourself to all you can eat.Our placemats philosophized on the point: "Take what you want but eat what you take."
We did. The buffet led off with huge bowls of cole slaw and fruit cup, moved on to baked apples and then the hot stuff: corn pudding, creamed beets, baked beans, scalloped potatoes, tomato pudding, peas, and, on a separate table, platters of fried chicken and thinly sliced country ham.
We tried everything. The cole slaw was ordinary, the fruit cocktail was the canned variety, but the warm, baked apples were something else. Having eaten at Grave's Mountain before, we knew enough to try anything and everything made with apples. These had been chosen for tartness, lightly sweetened and baked to a rich, thick consistency.
Graves' Mountains theory of vegetable cookery seems to be that a teaspoon of sugar makes the vegetables go down. Certainly, it was true for our children. The corn pudding was a lightly sweetened melange of corn, milk and eggs that had our son going back for seconds and thirds. The tomato dish was a sweetened blend of tomato and bread baked to a soft, pudding consistency. The baked beans had a rich, brown sugar taste.
In the unsweetened department, the potatoes were thinly sliced and mellowed in a cream sauce, and the beets, rich, red and strong in flavor, were coated with a light, mild glaze. Our only disappointment was the peas: overcooked and bland.
The country ham was its usual salty self; our children, used to citified varieties, didn't like it very much, but they loved -- and so did we -- the fried chicken.Breast and leg quarters were coated in a seasoned batter, fried to a crisp outside, moist inside and totally greaseless state.
Dessert was a disappointment. Our waitress served strawberry sundaes that were, mercifully, small but laden with a strawberry sauce that lacked tang.
Dinner is $7.95 per person; half price for children under 10. Unfortunately, ours didn't qualify. Our tab, including tax, was $33.07.