Monday, November 30, 2009

LWF&D on the PA wine trails, part I: The Glasbern Inn

I've been wine tasting before-- in New Zealand, South Carolina, and Connecticut-- and while I do like wine, I really like visiting wineries more for the awesome sense of place you get from seeing the vines and barrels and talking to the winemakers. So when I got an email inviting LWF&D to tour and review the Pennsylvania wine trails, I jumped at the chance. I'd never had Pennsylvania wine before, and getting out of NYC for a quick weekend in November had its appeal as well. So on the afternoon of Friday the 20th, AV and I set out on traffic-filled roads towards Fogelsville, a tiny town in the Lehigh Valley.

Our destination was the Glasbern Inn, where the Pennsylvania Wine Association was graciously hosting the two of us for the weekend. I will admit I spent quite a bit of time ogling their sumptuous website in the weeks leading up to our jaunt, so I was ready for a quaint country retreat, complete with fireplaces, hot tubs, and good food. And yet even with such high hopes, the Glasbern managed to exceed my expectations for an incredible weekend.

We arrived late Friday evening and pulled up to the main building to check in. As we were greeted warmly, we noted a few couples finishing dinner in the firelight-filled dining room, our destination for Saturday night's meal. Since the Glasbern is made up of a number of different buildings, the smiling hostess showed us where was the most convenient place to park and told us she'd meet us outside our room to make sure we could get in. Everything worked out perfectly, and we clicked open the door to our retreat.

We were housed in room 22, part of the "Farm House." The front door opened into a small living room with a comfortable couch, fireplace, and enormous hot tub occupying the corner. Past the living room was another sitting room with a flat-screen TV and wet bar. And leading up from there was a staircase to the loft bedroom, dominated by a palatial king-size bed and the bathroom in two parts.

Entry room and fireplace

...with hot tub!

The wet bar area in the living room

Stairs up to the bedroom loft

As any seasoned and sophisticated traveler does when entering a new accommodation, we started by playing with everything the room had to offer. AV built a fire, while I investigated the large gift box that bore my name... which turned out to be a case of wine courtesy of the PA Wine Association, along with a Lehigh Valley Wine Trail Cookbook. With a delight like that on our hands, how could we resist diving in immediately? We popped open a bottle of Chambourcin, the signature grape of the Lehigh Valley, from Franklin Hill Vineyards, as I bounded up the stairs to make sure the bedroom and bathroom were in working order. The toilet in separate closet? Check. The enormous sink room occupied by a steam shower larger than my bedroom at home? Check. Note: extensive investigation of the multi-showerhead steam shower concluded that the best way to make use of it was by turning on the overhead rainfall showerhead, turning on the three side jets on either side, and turning in circles with one's arms up in the air to get a 360-degree carwash effect. Just, you know, FYI.

Our greeting gift... 7 bottles of Chambourcin wine

As such

Our first night sample

...and a Lehigh Valley cookbook

View of the bedroom from the stairs

Insane steam shower!!!

And potty closet

Somewhat overwhelmed by our good fortune and insane complimentary accomodations, we fell exhausted into the king sized bed and slept like babies. (N.B.: The only negative we found to the entire Inn was the pillows, which were somewhat less than ideal. If you find your way to Glasbern and have neck problems, definitely BYO pillow.) The next morning, we woke to the sound of cows mooing mournfully-- it was weaning season, the hostess had explained apologetically the evening prior, as the moos rang out through the night air. Did I mention Glasbern is a working farm? Ahh yes, it is indeed, a fact that boded quite well for our full breakfast (included for all guests) awaiting in the main dining room.

Outside view of the Farm House

Our porch

View out our back door

Another house with guest rooms

The weather was bright, crisp, and clear, about as good as it gets for late November, which made the dining room light and cheery. We chose a seat in the sun room, which lived up to its name, and hit up the waiting buffet. I dove right into the cereal (raisin bran for me, thank you!) and the gigantic bowl of impeccably fresh fruit that was calling my name. Also on offer were breakfast breads and muffins, yogurts, and coffee and tea (great selection from Mighty Leaf, for those who are tea people). Oh, and if that spread weren't decadent enough, breakfast includes the choice of a hot entree from a list of straight-from-the-farm breakfast classics, ranging from Eggs Benedict to Creme Brulee French Toast to frittatas and eggs any style. Content with my (three large bowls of) fruit and cereal, I skipped the hot entree, but AV went for the eggs benedict, complete with potatoes on the side, which he pronounced incredible. Sunday morning featured the same incredible spread; this time AV went for a Western omelette with rye toast and uncommonly good sausage.

The breakfast room

Part of the breakfast buffet

My fruit salad, bowl 1

AV's breakfast tableau

And his eggs benedict (day 1)

Western omelette (day 2)

After breakfast, we had a bit of time before we had to set off on our first wine-touring excursion, so we decided to explore the grounds. We saw the cows roaming the pastures and happened upon the chicken coop, presided over by a blissful-looking retriever. Up near the building housing the spa and exercise room (which we used! Because we're good people!), we came upon two billy goats happily munching away at the foliage. We watched them, entranced, for a good five minutes or so, and then felt bad for being such blatant city people. We felt like inverse versions of the tourists standing in Times Square, heads tilted back, gaping and pointing at the billboards. Glasbern offers more comprehensive guided tours of the farm at 9:30 each day, but unfortunately we had places to be, so we skipped back to our room and jetted off in AV's car for a full day of wine tasting-- stay tuned for my next post for a full report of where we visited.

View off the back porch area of the main house

Large cages?

And a blue tree

The Carriage House, another accommodation building

View down the driveway towards the road

Some of the cows, from afar

Little hut to dry the firewood


Beautiful puppy


That evening, exhausted and sleepy, we arrived back at our room and crashed for a nap. But we revived in time to get ready for our 7:30 reservation at the celebrated Glasbern dining room. In the chilled night air, we hiked up the hill to the dining room. While the room was light and airy in the morning, in the evening it was magical-- filled with firelight and lit with sparkling spun-yarn light fixtures hanging from the barn rafters. We were seated at a generously sized table and settled in for the four-course meal.

Our server, Chris, was a delight, returning our every quip with an even wittier quip of his own. He gave us ample time to choose drinks-- a Yuengling for AV, a glass of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc for me. We savored our drinks and the warm bread with herbed butter and waited for our first course.

Bread with butter in the background

We had both chosen the Glasbern Salad, anchored by incredibly tender, flavorful greens from the Glasbern garden. The greens were tossed in a cider vinaigrette and complemented by dried cherried, addictive candied walnuts, a fan of sliced apple, and (in AV's case) Maytag blue cheese. The salad was simple but incredibly well-executed with memorably standout ingredients.

Truly special lettuces

Second course for AV was the celery root soup with walnut pesto and cider reduction. I skipped my second course (limited stomach space and all) but snagged a sip of the soup. Creamy and filling, it tasted like a pure refinement of the bulbous and homely celery root. AV was new to the world of celeriac, but he thoroughly enjoyed his initiation.

A creative soup course

On to the entrees. AV chose the braised beef shoulder with cabbage, fingerling potato, carrots, turnips, and celery root, with almost all ingredients-- including the beef-- coming from the Glasbern farm. AV had been debating between the braised beef and the sirloin of grass-fed beef, another attractive option, but went with the braise because of the abundance of local farm ingredients. And it was a smart choice-- one bite told him that he had made the right decision.

Fresh, healthy, and comforting

My selection was the roasted red ace beets with white beans, heirloom lettuce, and toasted hazelnuts. This was one of the most incredibly flavorful vegetable dishes I've had in a very, very long while. The beets were lively and sweet, and the vegetable-and-been mixture under the beets burst with a savory, creamy flavor I can barely describe. The lettuces laid atop the beets were wilting slightly from the heat of the dish; I gobbled them down with abandon. I can't tell you how thrilled I was with this selection-- I had to physically restrain myself from finishing the whole meal, because there was dessert coming soon...

One of the best dishes I've had in a long, long time

...And once dessert arrived, I was glad I waited. My choice was a classic Local Apple Cobbler, complete with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream melting into the mixture. The large chunks of apples were stewed to a yielding tenderness and were enhanced with the goodness of butter and brown sugar, and the ice cream surrounded the fruit pieces with a swirly of heavenly creaminess. Otherworldly. I was so full I left the last few bites on the plate, but had I even the tiniest bit of room left, they would have been packed away as well.

Apple + brown sugar = what could go wrong?

AV's selection was the Glasbern chocolate cake with peanut butter ice cream. A warm, semisweet, rich chocolate cake was seamlessly offset by the sweet peanut butter; the swirl of berry sauce only added to the insanity. Let's just say by the time we stumbled down the hill back to our warm, firelit happy home, we were incredibly happy campers.

Appealing to the eye and the mouth

By the time we checked out of the Glasbern on Sunday, we were sad to leave. Yes, any traveler staying gratis would be predisposed to like the Inn, but the special aura surrounding the Glasbern cannot be bought (or faked). From the smiling, personable employees to the relaxing, bucolic surroundings to the uncommon amenities (fireplace! hot tub! steam shower!), Glasbern is the kind of country inn every seeker of R&R dreams of. If you are lucky enough to have the means, I strongly encourage you to experience it for yourself. I can only hope that AV and I make our way back there again some day.

Next up: Our adventures on the wine trails (and more!), day 1...

Glasbern Inn
2141 Pack House Road, Fogelsville, PA

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