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The Henry Clay Inn satisfies weary travelers with simple, down-to-earth food.

All Aboard!

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Henry Clay Inn
114 North Railroad Ave., Ashland
Dinner Friday-Saturday 5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
Brunch Saturday-Sunday 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
798-3100

Once upon a time, every little burg of any importance, and certainly every city, had a railroad station and usually, not far from it, a hotel, which accommodated both passengers and railroad personnel. Many will remember when the William Byrd on Broad Street was such a haven.

The train still stops in Ashland, which was once a quintessential train town, and the Henry Clay Inn still offers lodging for the night. But the modern incarnation of the Henry Clay probably owes more to the bed-and-breakfast network of the last two decades than to railroad traffic. The Henry Clay, built for transient guests, is much less eccentric than a lot of the B&Bs, which were often in their first incarnation family homes and are now retrofitted as lodging for those who seek alternatives to the omnipresent standardized of franchised hotels and motels. And with a college a stone's throw away, the renovated and handsomely refurbished Henry Clay must be a find for parents in town for a visit.

Those seeking food will find it only on weekends these days at the Inn. What is offered is basic and, from what we sampled, good. The setting leads one to expect more than the no-frills menu, composed mostly of dishes which can be quickly prepared.

The dining room is comfortable and pleasant, with old wood furniture adding an authentic touch. But on a glorious June evening, one of the four or five tables on the handsome columned porch was perfect for watching the dying of the light — with an added treat of an Amtrak train stopping at the station across the street.

For starters, the restaurant offers only the salad which comes with all the entrees. It was a good fresh mixed salad with a choice of standard dressings on a plate too small. A basket of assorted rolls also came to rest on the table.

The entrees ($12-$16, plus crab cakes which vary) establish safe territory — a New York strip steak, grilled pork chop or chicken breast, blackened yellowfin tuna, the aforementioned crab cakes. A grilled salmon filet was moist and hot and topped with a dill-cream sauce. Accompanying the fish were a rice pilaf and a tarragon-scented vegetable medley — squash season is here! Sautéed chicken in a tomato-basil sauce over bow-tie pasta is satisfactory but obviously not inspired.

Desserts were peanut pie, chocolate mousse, and apple or blueberry cobbler. The warm blueberry cobbler with just a touch of cinnamon and a scoop of vanilla on top was a good harbinger of summer's bounty.

Service was amiable and adequate without being smooth or informed, the same condition I have frequently observed in area restaurants. It is unfortunate that experience seems to be the most prevalent teacher of dining room protocol for servers and other dining room personnel. Too often an affable server approaches a mixed-gender group and asks, "What can I get you guys?" In the right context that may be cool; in a dining room, it's usually out of place. Any server should know that he should not bring an already-opened bottle of wine to the table that's ordered it, or that, if a table is set for four and there are only two diners the redundant service should be removed. "Professional" is the operative word.

The Henry Clay Inn has a long history. Let's hope it stays on the scene for many more

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