I think the cyclocross bikes are a great middle ground, do-anything, go-anywhere bike. I just picked up a Tricross Comp Triple last weekend and really like it - I'm coming from a full suspender MTB and it is just so much faster and more efficient on the road. Sure, I know it probably won't keep up with a true road bike on the road, but I don't intend to race and I know I'll lose less ground on the road, than I can gain on the off-road.
The cyclocross bikes are more stable and relaxed than a pure road bike (great for beginners and more recreational riders) and I love the fact that I don't have to turn around and go back when I'm exploring and the road turns to dirt. I took mine on some easier single track and was extremely impressed with how the bike handled. The ability to add touring racks helped tip me to Tricross as well.
The only thing I'd have some reservation with, if you haven't been in the game for 25 yrs, is the mechanical tuning/tinkering/service side of things. I've always felt comfortable being able to do all my servicing and fine tuning on my bikes and I think you just need to do more of that on a reasonably high spec bike than you do on say, a low spec bike. If you are willing to learn yourself, or willing pay get it done, then go I'd vote to go for the Tricross.... if not, then maybe a basic, lower spec hybrid might be a better choice to start out with.