Hours: Open daily. Breakfast from 8; lunch from noon until 2 Monday through Friday, until 3 p.m. on Saturdays. Dinner from 5 until 8 Monday through Thursday, until 9:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Dinner on Sundays from noon until 8 p.m.
Price range: Dinners from $5.75. Nightly all-you-can-eat buffets from $6.75.
Atmosphere: Relaxed, comfortable.
Special facilities: Highchairs, booster seats, children's menu. Entrance accessible by wheelchair. Nonsmokers' section. Low-cholesterol selections.
Credit cards: MasterCard and Visa.
Reservations: for parties of eight or more.
(From Maryland, take the Beltway to Interstate 270 to Interstate 70 West to Rte. 522 South into Berkeley Springs.Turn right onto Rte. 9 West. Go past the Castle and take first left, continue for three miles.)
Running away to West Virginia is always a treat for a Washington family. Just a few hours away, the mountains capture the hearts of the city-bound regardless of the season.
Our weekend escape to Cacapon State Park included a Saturday dinner at the nearby Treetop Restaurant on the grounds of Coolfont Re+Creation Center in Berkeley Springs.
Three years ago our same group of eight dined here. Since then, we found, many changes have been made. The atmosphere is more relaxed and comfortable, and service has been improved through the addition of nightly buffet dinners. There are also a menu for children, complete with crayons, and attentive table service.
The Treetop's new room for nonsmokers has a cathedral ceiling and indirect lighting. The beautiful decor gives one a sensational feeling of being up in a tree. The recessed lighting, however, leaves the large tables in the center in near darkness (the magic of crayons at dinner is lost when the kids cannot see the paper), while direct spotlights illuminate the intimate tables for two along the walls. w
A variety of foods is offered for dinner. Buffets are theme-inspired; "western night" and the "shore buffet" are two examples.
The regular menu lists vegetarian and low-cholesterol selections as well as meat and seafood entrees, since the restaurant caters to many fitness buffs who come to the mountains to visit nearby spas. Flounder ($8.25), trout ($8.25), and lobster tail ($16.25) are available plain or, for another $2.50, stuffed with crabmeat.
We were all ready to sample the buffet after an active day of hiking and fishless fishing. Our youngest was attracted by dishes she had never thought of ordering from a printed menu. As we walked by the tempting array of foods, a 6-year-old who usually eats only hamburgers sampled a variety of other dishes and was very proud of himself as he ventured back for a new taste treat.
The international buffet ($9.50 for adults, half price for children) is actually four tables of different foods. There are salad and bread bars, an entree steam table, a roast and a ham, fresh fruits section and a separate dessert table.
One important note for people who shy away from buffets because they deteriorate as the food is depleted: Put your worries aside. Treetop spends a lot of time on detail; these tables are kept neat and are replenished often.
The buffet offers hearty, simple foods but there are few starches, in keeping with the restaurant's culinary philosophy, "eat more with less."
Our favorite of the evening was chicken strips, thin slices of white meat carefully breaded and deep-fried. They disappeared from the steam table too quickly to lose their crispness.
Three vegetables, including individual squash boats, accompanied swedish meatballs, short ribs, swiss steak, Hawaiian chicken, fish filet and stuffed shells entrees. Rather than being smothered in tomato sauce or gravy, the dishes were all fresh, lightly seasoned and individually prepared.
Slices of pineapple and honeydew melon were instant winners with the children, while the adults favored the salad bar. There was a choice of lettuce or spinach salad, and toppings included sprouts, raisins and nuts. The real reward was next to the fresh salad dressings: a variety of warm breads with apple butter, honey or soft butter to entice you.
After our hearty meal the children were dreaming of sweets. The dessert table (a la carte with weekday buffets) offers large bowls of strawberries, whipped cream and chocolate pudding that can be scooped into bowls or over individual slices of shortcake. The dieter's eyes may stray toward the pie slices or the bite-size pieces of a variety of cakes. There was no guilt at our table, however, as each of us enjoyed creating a dessert mountain. g
The new Treetop, about two hours from Washington, is a wonderful place to go for family dining or for a quiet dinner after a day trip. The area offers hiking trails (cross-country ski trails in winter), and lodgings are available in state park cabins or at the Coolfont center.
The tab for two adults and two children was $35.75, including tax and tip.
After a Saturday dinner such as this, a full day of exercise might be the best course. After, all, the Sunday buffet is an all-day affair.