Here follows a random, eccentric, no-nonsense and most certainly incomplete menu of off-Beltway delights.
FRESHEST ICE CREAM. Take exit 27S (U.S. 1 to College Park) for the University of Maryland's Dairy Manufacturing Lab, which serves up homemade ice cream churned with milk taken from its very own cows. No scoop more than a few days old. Pass the north entrance of the university and it's the first building on the right. Park in lot C. Summer hours: Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday noon to 6; Sunday noon to 9.
CHEAPEST FRENCH RESTAURANT WEST OF PARIS. Exit 27N (Laurel) for Domino's, 10280 Baltimore Blvd., just beyong the Department of Agriculture's Plant Research Center. Standard American and seafood dishes, but the real bargain is the full-course French dinner for $5.95. Maxim's it's not - when the waitress can't pronounce the dish, she just tells it like it is. (If something sounds like "Coca-Cola," it's likely coq au vin .) Daily, 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
GREENEST SHRUBS. Try exisdt 27N for Behnke's Nursery, 11300 Baltimore Blvd. A mid-price nursery specializing in American shrubs, conifers of all sizes, etc. If its green turns to brown and it curls up and dies they'll replace it. Daily, 8 to 6.
COURTLIEST CATFISH. Exist 1 (U.S. 1 South) for the Hickory Dock of Fairfax City, 7531 Richmond Hwy., where a one-time side to Senator Fulbright fries up catfish that would make his former boss proud to be an American. Robert Lowe is also attempting to substitute corn bread for hush puppies, but if you protest loud enough your vote will certainly be registered. All the catfish filet you can eat, $5.95. "You know the term, 'Piiiiiig Out?" asks Lowe. "Well, we get a lot of people who set out to break the bank. We welcome 'em." Carryout: Monday through Saturday 11:30 to 4, Sundays from noon; dinner until 10 (Friday and Saturday until 11).
BEST BREAKFAST BARBECUE. Off the same exist, at 7711 Richmond Hwy., you'll find the Dixie Pig. Where else can you go for a crips; outside-cut pork sandwich at 6 a.m. after swilling suds all night? Prices range from 85 cents for a minced-beef sandwich to $4 for ribs. Monday through Saturday 6 to 12:30 a.m.; Sunday 8 to midnight.
TASTIEST CHILI, COLDEST BEER. Exit 15 (George Washington Parkway) to 6119 Tulane Ave. (corner of MacArthur and Tulane in Glen Echo). There you'll find Trav's Inn, where, for the last 14 years, owner Travis Butler has been tugging at the tap (55-cent draft) and serving up a spicy homemade chili. "It's hot, but not too hot," says Trav, whose juke box pleases the mixed ear of his clientele - the college crowd to the working man. Trav's once -reknowned pickled pigs-'feet went the way of the Edsel. "They didn't sell too well so I gave 'em up," he says. Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to midnight; Sunday noon to midnight.
FASTEST SAILBOATS. Exist 1S to Belle Haven Marina, just pass Old Town Alexandria. You can rent their Ione Hobe cat, or head onto the Potomac in their Flying Scot ($18 for two hours). Go during the week and you'll save 20 percent. Weekdays 10 to 8, weekends 9:30 to 6:30.
BEST BAGELS. Exit 19N (or coming from Northern Virginia, Exit 18N). Head north to 11305 Rockville Pike and Bloomingdale's Bakery in White Flint Shopping Center. Seventeen cents a bagel to ease your every kvetch. Early birds get the freshest bagels. Monday through Friday 10 to 9:30, Saturday 10 to 6. Closed Sunday.
HOTTEST RADISH. Again, exit as above, to Serio's Produce Market, 11562 Rockville Pike, where you can also pick over nectarines, nuts in baskets, papayas, mangos and rhubarb. Daily, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
CLOSE-IN CAMPING. Exit 28E toward Bladensburg to Greenbelt National Park. Campsites cost a mere $2, with trails and trees just off the Beltway. Park closed through July 25. Noon check-in, first-come first-served. Sites usually taken by 3 p.m. Open daily.
BIGGEST BIRDS. Exit 35 for Andrew Air Force Base and you might fear Godzilla is screeching overhead. Don't worry, though, it's only Lockheed's finest - the giant C-5A, or the smaller C-141 jet transport. One-hour tours begin at 10 a.m., Tuesday through Friday.
LOUD MUSIC, LONELY FOLKS. Exit 30W for Caesars II disco, 7519 Annapolis Road, a rocking live band, waitress in slinky chiffon, standard American food and Beltset Swingles. Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. Closed Sunday.
ALL-NIGHT DRUGS. Exit 25s (Takoma Park) for People's Drugstore, 7939 New Hampshire Ave., open 24 hours a day to fill your every prescription.
JUICIEST REUBEN. Exit 21, Georgia Avenue South, for Gus Haris's Woodside Deli where the Reubenopolis (hot corned beef with melted Swiss, served with homemade slaw and dill pickle) costs $2.45 and the atmosphere is free. For 35 cents extra, Gus, an ex-submarine sailor, will spin a sea story, says the menu. For 75 cents, the story will be true.
TOUGHEST TROOPERS. Exit 34, Maryland State Police Barracks L., and ask for Tom Bowers or Larry ("defective detective") Grasso. None of the other cops can smile; it might break their jaw.
PRETENTIOUS BOOGIE. Exit 35 and look for the egg-shaped roof atop Classics III, 4591 Allentown Rd. Jeans won't get you into this supper club, where a leisure suit (or the old standby of a coat and tie) is a man's best friend. Hours 6 to 2 a.m. (Friday and Saturday until 3).
POST-GAME HUDDLE. Exit 33E for Kettering Plaza Shopping Center and Faunsworth's Saloon, 10644 Campus Way South, Upper Marlboro, where an informal college-jock crowd gathers to guzzle beer and jabber with hockey and basketball players fresh from Capital Centre. Faunsworth's is said to be the Elaine's of Prince George's County, le salon sportif for Peter O'Malley and his crowd of Plimpton politicos. Daily, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
BEST GO-GO BOYS. Exit 36S, for the Hanger Club, 6410 Old Branch Rd. The ladies go-go wild when Go-Go Guys in slingshots do their thing, Tuesday through Friday 9 to 11. "Lots of clean fun," assures manager Wes Fritz, whose go-go girls grind out the day shift. The show will run you $2, same as the price of a mixed drink. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday until 3, Sunday 1 to 1.
THICKEST STEAK EAST OF KANSAS CITY. Exit 25S for the Golden Bull, 9107 Riggs Rd. For $8.95, meat-and-potatoes-lovers favor the prime ribs and baked potato, whose way is paved by cheese and crackers, salad, and hot French bread. Lunch, Monday through Saturday 11 to 3 (SUndays open at noon); dinner, Sunday through Thursday 5 to 11 (Friday and Saturday until 11:30).
LARRY GRASSO'S FAVORITE MEXICAN RESTAURANT. Exit 27 and take U.S. 1 north toward Laurel. At Muirkirk Road, you'll see a sign that says what it is: "Mexican Restaurant." Which is actually the Mexican Steak-Out, 12300 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville. A mite ratty-looking, says the Prince George's County detective, but there's nothing second-rate about the echiladas.Hours: Mon. through Sat., lunch, 11 to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, 5 to 9 p.m. (Fri. and Sat. until 10 p.m.) Closed Sunday.
TOUGHEST CROWD. Take exit 36S to Route 301 in Waldorf. You'll run head-on into the Stardust Inn and burly good buddies with brass knuckles and billy clubs, and women who use nails for toothpicks. It's a boxing ring or a country-music club, depending on how you look at it, and in between fisticuffs and Jaycee Bingo (Thursday nights), you may find (Wednesday and Friday through Sunday) the likes of Tammy Wynette, Crystal Gayle and Emmylou Harris moaning about love in the ruins.Hours: 7 to 2.