BEDFORD - There are many things to address when talking about Omni Bedford Springs Resort.
Of course, there are the mineral springs, initially used by Native Americans and introduced to Dr. John Anderson in 1796. Anderson bought the land and built the first hotel building there soon after.
There is the connection with the U.S. presidency. According to the resort's website, 10 American presidents have stayed at Bedford Springs, including seven sitting leaders. James K. Polk was the first sitting president to stay there, but no president loved the hotel more than James Buchanan.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Omni Bedford Springs Resort has three dining areas.
The 15th president spent his summers in Bedford for 40 years, and during his time in office made Bedford Springs Resort into his "summer White House." Buchanan's work desk sits today in the Bedford Springs lobby.
There is the innovation of the resort, which housed one of the nation's first golf courses and one of its first indoor pools, which was fed by the mineral springs.
And no discussion of the resort - designated a National Historic Landmark in 1984 - is complete without talking about its eventual fall into disrepair, its closing in 1986 and its $120 million restoration and reopening in 2007.
Omni Bedford Springs Resort
2138 Business 220, Bedford, Pa. 15522
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. daily
Price range: $9 to $45
Specialties: Steaks, fennel-crusted sea bass
Atmosphere: Casual elegance
Seating capacity: 48, plus 20 in adjacent "Defibaugh room"
The Crystal Room
Hours: Breakfast - 7 to 11 a.m. Monday to Saturday; 7 a.m. to noon Sunday. Lunch - 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Dinner - 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Price range: $30 to $50
Specialties: Weekend buffets and The Art of Breakfast program
Atmosphere: Upscale dining
Reservations: Required for dinner; suggested for lunch and breakfast
Seating capacity: 128
The Frontier Room
Hours: Restaurant - 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Bar area - 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Fire pit bar area - 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily (seasonal)
Price range: $6 to $18
Specialties: Tavern salads, lobster mac-and-cheese and burgers and sandwiches
Atmosphere: Casual lunch
Reservations: Accepted, but not required
Seating capacity: 58 (more seating on patio, in season)
But many luxury resorts are defined by their dining, and Bedford Springs is particularly proud of what they have created with their selection of restaurants.
The resort's executive chef, David Noto, oversees three main restaurants - 1796, a steak and chophouse; Frontier Tavern, a more casual spot with lunch and bar fare; and The Crystal Room, the resort's elegant main dining room, and one of the nation's oldest restaurants, according to the resort's website. (The resort also has a Starbucks coffee, a tea bar called Che Sara Sara and a seasonal poolside bar called The Turtle Shell).
"[The restaurants] are pretty much their own entities," said Noto during a recent interview. "There are some crossover dishes, just due to the proximity of the restaurants themselves.
"We have a lobster mac-and-cheese at both the Tavern and 1796 which are similar, but they're tweaked a little differently. We'll have one at Crystal, as well, but with local cheeses, so it'll be different cheeses, a little different flavor but the same concept. That's sort of our signature dish."
Noto has been at Bedford Springs for a little over a year. In a career that has taken him to Virginia, Puerto Rico, Florida and Chicago, his previous stop was in Bedford, Texas, where he had lived for nearly 11 years.
In Texas, Noto helmed a restaurant and one night a week he worked at the Art Institute of Dallas, teaching Southwestern cuisine.
When he got the itch to move, his wife told him he could find a job anywhere he wanted, as long as it was in Bedford.
"So I did," he said, with a sly grin.
Not long before Noto came to Bedford Springs, the resort opened 1796. According to Bedford Springs Director of Operations Adrian Gonzalez, 1796 is housed in the Stone House, the first building constructed on the property.
The Defibaugh Room, a private dining room adjacent to 1796, also has a direct connection to the resort's roots.
"[Defibaugh Room] is the original kitchen of the Stone House," Gonzalez said. "We don't use it for cooking, of course, but it's still there, which is pretty amazing."
Before 1796, the room was used for more upscale dining, but the concept was deemed too slow, only serving 20 to 30 tables a night. Since the switch, 1796 has become the most popular restaurant at the resort. It's reserved for two weeks in advance on the weekends.
"Here, we only serve prime," Gonzalez said. "Prime beef is the best beef available in America; only 4 percent of the cattle qualifies as that level of beef. Of course, we have other items available, like duck and fish.
"As a matter of fact, it's funny; this is a steakhouse concept, but our best seller is the sea bass."
Right next to 1796 is the Frontier Tavern.
"The Tavern is very casual, the food is very simple," Gonzalez said. "We decided to come up with menu ideas that represented this area of Pennsylvania. So we used local ingredients, local brews to come up with this menu."
The Tavern menu includes such familiar items as hot wings, chili, soups, steak and chicken salads and fuller lunch options like burgers, a meatloaf sandwich and fish and chips. All area favorites, but all done with premium ingredients.
"It's a bar menu because it's a casual place, but we wanted to give it that flair," Gonzalez said. "It's very popular with locals, as well. We get a lot of locals on the weekends."
The resort has a chef's garden not far from the doors of the Tavern, near the restaurant's seasonal outdoor patio.
"We produce enough herbs and some vegetables to complement our dishes," Gonzalez said.
It's just a taste of one of Noto's key concepts for Bedford Springs dining: farm-to-table. Nowhere is the farm-to-table idea more noticeable than at The Crystal Room, which has a separate farm-to-table menu.
"The Crystal Room, we're in the process of changing [the menu] again," Noto said. "We keep changing the concept to really see what fits well for the resort. The farm-to-table concept is a big push toward what I want to do.
"Right now in the Crystal Room, it's probably 50 to 60 percent [farm-to-table], but I want to get it closer to 80-90 percent."
The Crystal Room, decorated in shining chandeliers and wall-to-wall antique portraits of past resort guests, features fine dining staples such as filet mignon, as well as Noto creations like spinach and ricotta gnocchi.
The Crystal Room also hosts an Omni Hotels & Resorts staple: The Art of Breakfast.
"We believe breakfast is the main meal for many of our guests," Gonzalez said. "So we've developed this program that is called The Art of Breakfast. It's a corporate program, but they give us the opportunity to twist it to our area.
"It's a full buffet, and within we have a gluten-free station, we have an omelette station, we have yogurt, cereal, fruit - all kinds of cold items - and then we have all kinds of hot items, as well."
The breakfast buffets have proven very popular, he said, with both guests and locals.
One devoted local visitor to Bedford Springs and its restaurants is Bedford businessman Dean Lemley. Lemley, a Bedford Borough Councilman and a member of the Downtown Bedford Incorporated board, said he dines at Bedford Springs at least once a week.
"I set up a lot of my meetings up there at Bedford Springs," he said, adding that he has affectionately nicknamed the sizable hotel.
"I call her 'The Titanic Out of Water.' When you turn that corner at night, it's amazing," Lemley said.
While Lemley admits that he was skeptical about the resurrection of Bedford Springs when the reopening was first announced, he says he's thrilled with what it has become in so short a time.
"It really took off," he said. "Omni has done a fantastic job."
Though Lemley has eaten at all the restaurants, he has a preference for 1796. But he's complimentary about the entire dining experience at Bedford Springs.
"The food is excellent, they have a nice inventory of wine," he said.
In fact, Lemley is so enamored with the wine selection that he has become devoted to the hotel's wine events.
"They do a wine tasting dinner the last Friday of the month, and I haven't missed a single one of them," he said. "And it's growing; every month it's a bigger crowd."
Bedford Springs has become a cornerstone of Bedford, said Lemley.
"Seeing what the Springs has done for Bedford ... when you talk to the merchants, their revenue is up 30 percent [since it opened]," he said. "And every day you see people walking the streets of Bedford.
"I think it's been a tremendous boost to our economy. It's been a great, great thing for our community. ... It's just nice to see something come into our area, into a recession area, and survive."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.