If Santa has an outpost in Ohio, surely it's in the Pine Tree Barn and Farms (4374 Shreve Road) in Wooster. Yes, it's a bit of a ride -- about 70 miles south of Cleveland, in the heart of Wayne County, to be exact. But the trip is lovely, with lots of rolling countryside, Victorian farmhouses, and grazing cattle to contemplate along the way. And better yet, once you arrive, the scents, sights, and sounds of an old-fashioned country Christmas wrap themselves around you like Grandma's woolly afghan. Fireplaces crackle, Christmas music plays, and the air is laden with the aroma of cinnamon and spice. The farm's centerpiece, a 132-year-old Dutch bank barn, is massive, with about 25,000 square feet for shopping and dining. Dozens of beautifully decorated Christmas trees compete for floor space with everything from Beanie Babies to Williamsburg brass candlesticks, blown-glass Christmas ornaments, and ornamental birdhouses. Nearly every surface throughout the multilevel barn is decked with boughs of greenery or tasteful festoons: Even if you don't buy a thing, you're bound to take home a carload of decorating inspiration.
Fortunately for hungry travelers . . . Not all the good smells at Pine Tree Barn are coming from the shelves of exotic perfumes, soaps, and lotions. It is also home to The Granary, a collection of three charming dining rooms serving homey luncheons from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily. Like the rest of the barn, the dining areas have swags, candles, and garlands galore. Many of the tables also offer a tranquil view of Killbuck Valley and 150 acres of pine trees that the farm sells during the season. The luncheon menu is full of pleasant surprises, starting with the house specialty: a large crock of French Onion Soup ($3.95), full of tender strands of caramelized onion hiding beneath a thick layer of melted cheese. Combine the soup with a slice of dainty homemade quiche, perhaps topped with toasted almonds ($6.95), or with a crisp Winter Spinach Salad, studded with dried cranberries, pine nuts, bits of beets and red onion, and sharp radicchio ($6.95). Both combos come with excellent housemade breads, including soft whole-wheat breadsticks, herbaceous Dilly Bread, and sweet-tart Lemon Crumb Muffins. Among the other options are Marie's Pesto Chicken and Pasta -- a tumble of grilled chicken breast and angel-hair pasta flavored with lemon oil and garlic -- crêpes, and several hearty sandwiches. Finish up with a slice of crumb-topped peach, raspberry, or apple pie ($3.25), or a piece of housemade cheesecake ($3.95) and a cup of freshly ground coffee or flavored cappuccino ($2.95). The dining rooms draw hundreds of guests during the holidays, so luncheon reservations are suggested for weekday visits, but on Saturdays and Sundays (except for a lavish December 17 Holiday Brunch), it's first come, first served. Call 330-264-1014 for more information or reservations, or check out the Pine Tree Barn's website at www.pinetreebarn.com.
Beeg-a deal . . . Look for a new Buca di Beppo to open January 10 at Golden Gate Plaza in Mayfield Heights. The unabashedly garish Italian chain restaurant, specializing in mammoth "family-style" portions of pasta, pizza, and salads, will be the fourth in Ohio (the other Greater Cleveland location is in Westlake) and one of more than 40 across the country. The name means Joe's Basement and reflects company prez Joe Micatrotto's early memories of his grandpa's basement restaurant in our own Little Italy.