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Island in the sky 

The views and the vittles vie for top billing at Agate Hill Inn

click to enlarge Chef Ken Mueller has all but perfected the three-course - breakfast. - 2006 LAURA MONTGOMERY

As I write this, I am in a "Springs" community bedecked with Victoriana, defined by its stone retaining walls and winding mountain roads. Houses sit perched on perilous slopes, some propped with timbers, their foundations constantly besieged by erosion. The town folk are laid-back health- and peace-seekers.

I'm describing Eureka Springs, Ark., though I could well be talking about our own Manitou Springs, home of healing waters, crystal dealerships and something Eureka Springs sadly lacks: a penny arcade.

Another difference: Every other house in Eureka Springs is a lodge or a bed and breakfast. In Manitou, few B&Bs grace the hills. But one of the few, Ken Mueller and John Shada's Agate Hill Inn, would fit perfectly and perhaps stand out, even here in the queen city of the Victorian B&B.

On a recent Saturday, Ken, a classically trained chef, served a fabulous three-course breakfast to me, a friend and a guest family of four. I'd been curious about breakfast at Agate Hill for some time, and finally, on a beautiful, crisp September morning, found out what it was all about.

We were seated in the immaculate dining room, surrounded by Tina and Ken Riesterer's striking paintings of the inn and its surroundings. A white, crocheted cotton cloth brightened the heavy wooden table.

The first course was a warm, tangy Colorado peach soup, accompanied by a just-baked bear claw. The creamy soup, while maintaining the slight bite of just-picked fruit, could have been the pureed innards of a peach cobbler, redolent with nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon. The bear claw, light and flaky, merged puff pastry, caramel and chocolate drizzles and thin almond slices, all surrounding an almond paste filling.

We brushed off the crumbs and were promptly served a palate cleanser before course two. In delicate liqueur glasses, a pink rose sorbet flecked with bits of pulverized red petals surprised and delighted our noses and taste buds. The garnish, a perfect miniature closed rosebud, came straight from Ken's acre of gardens surrounding the complex of the main house and three cottages.

Course two was a vegetarian eggs Benedict: avocado and tomato slices topped with poached eggs prepared to individual specifications, covered with a tarragon Hollandaise sauce, all perched atop a potato latke foundation. Flavors and textures merged nicely and the dish, while filling, wasn't too heavy.

Hard to imagine a dessert course at breakfast, but here it came. Miniature apple tarts drizzled with caramel and cinnamon crme Anglaise left us running our fingers across the plate for the last drop of autumn essence.

We walked off breakfast with a tour of the grounds and the cottages. Ken grows herbs and vegetables for the kitchen in one garden and a riot of flowers in another. Miraculously, every view over the stone wall surrounding the house is filled with mountains and trees rather than the roof of the house next door. Upon leaving, we agreed that we felt we'd been away on an island in the sky.

A weekend at Agate Hill can include hand-dipped truffles, champagne and a tour of Manitou in John's beautifully kept Model A Ford. Breakfast is normally available only to guests in the B&B, but Ken and John can accommodate groups of up to 15 for special gatherings, particularly in the upcoming low season. Give them a call for details.

Kathryn Eastburn


capsule

Agate Hill Inn Bed and Breakfast

103 Cave Ave., Manitou Springs

685-0685 or 866/685-0685, agatehill.com

  • The views and the vittles vie for top billing at Agate Hill Inn

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