November-December 2018

Daniel M. Walker, Contributing Columnist

Jarek Mika, innkeeper/chef of Warm Springs Inn.

Jarek Mika, innkeeper/chef of Warm Springs Inn.

Actually, if this were anytime between 1842 and 1908, my overnight rest would, indeed, have been in the Bath County pokey.

Fortunately, things have changed over time. The old jail and accompanying Bath County Court House are today the Warm Springs Inn and Tavern At The Inn, where I recently had a great, restful sleep and fantastic dinner.

This magical transformation came through the vision and hard work of Innkeeper/Chef Jarek Mika. Jarek came to this country at age 19 from the Czech Republic, and after college he began a career in banking. However, Jarek’s creative talents directed him to culinary school and a successful restaurant venture in Washington, D.C.

After a weekend trip to Bath County, he says, “I fell in love with this little piece of heaven.”

The beautiful hillside complex consists of four historic buildings that provide 25 sleeping accommodations consisting of both suites and single rooms. Each of the rooms is tastefully furnished with local antiques and appointments that reflect the casual elegance of the region. Each room also has cable TV and a strong internet connection.

I went to the Warm Springs Inn after an enthusiastic recommendation from Cooperative Living reader Maggie Anderson. Maggie piqued my interest when she described the menu as “tavern food with a European twist.” What does that mean? Jarek went further to describe his cooking style as “making peasant food taste great.”

Old photo of both the courthouse and jail around 1890.

Old photo of both the courthouse and jail around 1890.

Okay, I thought. This I have to try!

When possible, a meal should be shared, so I invited Maggie and Amanda Cunningham of Cooperative Living magazine (who introduced me to Maggie) to join my wife and me for dinner. This means there will be four entrées to try. Those at the table selected bouillabaisse (seafood stew), beef goulash, grilled salmon and chicken schnitzel cordon bleu. To add to this already bountiful collection, Jarek surprised us by bringing additional dishes of wild mushroom fettuccine, and an incredible ribeye steak and fries with mushroom sauce.

The front of Warm Springs Inn as it appears today.

The front of Warm Springs Inn as it appears today.

It’s difficult to find the words to adequately describe how good each dish was. Now I understand Jarek’s description of peasant food made to taste great. All of the ingredients in each dish are basic to Jarek’s Czech Republic and are also found in the average home in the U.S.

So what is the difference? It’s the lengths to which Jarek goes to unlock the flavors, such as marinating the steak for days with spices and cooking the goulash beef for hours in its own juices. These are steps that most restaurants don’t take the time and make the effort to do. However, these are the steps that make Tavern At The Inn a very special treat.

Wait, we are not done. After all, we must now sample the last course of the meal, dessert! Again, we tested faith by each selecting a different dessert of old-fashioned apple streudel, strawberry tiramisu, salted caramel cheesecake and crème brulee. All delicious beyond category.

My thanks to all (especially Jarek for his distinct understanding of food seasonings) for a really great evening. We had fun, the way a great meal should be.

A new year is ahead and I would like to hear from you about your favorite restaurant at dwalker123@comcast.net. Be of good cheer!

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WARM SPRINGS INN

12968 Sam Snead Highway
Warm Springs, VA
24484 540-839-5351
innatwarmsprings.com
theinnatwarmsprings@gmail.com