When Andi Biddle bought antique mailboxes at an auction, she knew exactly where they should go.
The mailboxes came from the old Hublersburg post office, shuttered for years before the sale of its contents. Biddle took them no farther than her business just down the road.
Now, the elegant wooden boxes with numbered glass doors greet patrons coming into the Hublersburg Inn.
“This belongs here,” Biddle said. “If it’s not in the post office, it should be in the hotel.”
Tucked away in the Walker Township village beside state Route 64, her establishment is steeped in history. It first served customers in 1827 as a stagecoach stop and lodge, and has been a local fixture ever since.
These days, Biddle runs a restaurant, pub and upstairs country inn out of the former Hublersburg Hotel. She bought the place six years ago looking for a change in her life. For 18 years prior, she had worked at the Gamble Mill Tavern in Bellefonte, starting as a bartender while at Penn State and working her way up to manager.
A plan to open a local restaurant with a chef fell through. One day, Biddle saw a listing for the inn and, on a whim, hopped in her car.
“I came out here and looked at it and fell in love,” she said.
From Bucks County, she was familiar with restaurants housed in historic inns. It helped that she loves history, her major at Penn State.
Biddle’s respect for the past also guided her once the place was hers.
Though she revamped a menu heavy on fried foods, she kept certain local favorites. One was the traditional Hublersburg Hotel Salad, a beloved creation for more than 50 years that includes fried onions, fries and mozzarella cheese.
Other than substituting mixed greens for iceberg lettuce, Biddle didn’t mess with it.
“I was here a month, and it was obvious I was not allowed to take it off the menu,” she said.
Using local foods whenever possible, she did add, however, more upscale dishes such as bourbon salmon and the popular crab chips: homemade potato chips topped with crab meat, white beans, garlic aioli, salsa, cheddar jack cheese and guacamole.
There’s still plenty of appetizers, sandwiches and other pub fare, including the Hubieburger, which comes with fries and onions on it like its salad cousin. The inn’s wings were the overall 2012 Tussey Mountain WingFest champions, and this year have won a round in the competition series.
“I had a hard time for a good year getting acclimated from fine dining to casual dining,” Biddle said. “Then I was like, ‘I’m going to make the casual dining better.’ ”
Regardless of the recipes, she sought an informal atmosphere, where a shelf of children’s books for young diners doesn’t look out of place.
Many regulars eat at the L-shaped bar, but during busy times, the homey dining room with a stone fireplace fills up. Decorating touches include two antique wooden ladders hanging from the ceiling, a corner cabinet full of vintage toy trucks and tractors and, on a wall, a quilt made by Biddle’s great-grandmother.
In the back, a wide patio offers tranquil outdoor dining near a split-rail fence made as a gift by an Amish neighbor.
It’s one sign of acceptance. Clusters of village residents stopping in for a drink and a bite are another. Biddle loves that some have identified mailboxes that belonged to relatives.
She also enjoys fresher history from the local grapevine. Teachers from the Bellefonte Area School District are among her frequent customers — a boon to a mother with two children in the district.
“There are times,” she said, “when I come home and I know what happened before they do.”
— By Chris Rosenblum