TRAMPING AROUND Valley Forge Park and thinking about all those poor patriots freezing and starving can make you hungry enough to eat your shoes. Don't do it, lest you spoil your appetite for the offerings of the area's many excellent restaurants. In gastronomy as in geography, Valley Forge lies somewhere between Philadelphia's surf, turf and turtle tradition and the exquisite excesses of the Pennsylvania Dutch.
The range is broad. At the Blue Bell Inn, they've added stone crab claws to such offerings as the softshell crabs and shad roe, which Gen'l. Washington may have ordered when he supped there. At Lily Langtry's nightclub, in the Sheraton- Valley Forge, a surprisingly good Las Vegas-style stage show follows the surprisingly good food.
The following restaurants, grouped by the style of food offered, were recommended by Weekend staffers, local residents, and/or a travel consultant with long local experience. All are within a short drive of Valley Forge Park; most suggest or require reservations.
(This list is by no means definitive; the fact is that it's pretty hard for an alert diner to get a bad or even mediocre meal in this part of Pennsylvania. And if they offer snapping turtle soup, take it, and don't stint the sherry.) AMERICAN
BLUE BELL INN -- 601 Skippack Pike, Blue Bell. Closed Sundays and Mondays. A Revolution-era establishment serving well-prepared and straightforward meats and seafood, plus seasonal specialties. Entrees average under $10. 215/646-2010.
COUNTRY INN OF KIMBERTON -- Kimberton Road, Kimberton. Closed Mondays. A couple of centuries ago it was a boarding school; now the inn serves homemade soups and roast meats plus rather elaborate seafood entrees. Sunday brunch, 11 to 2, lunch Tuesday through Friday, dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Entrees average under $15. 215/933-8148. AMERICAN/CONTINENTAL BARON'S INNE -- 499 North Gulph Road, King of Prussia. Expensive but worth it, with a beautiful setting and swell service. Swiss-style veal, filet mignon, chops and seafood, accompanied by classical piano. Sunday brunch 11 to 2:30. Entrees average over $15. Easy access for handicapped. 215/265-2550.
COCO'S CAROUSEL -- King of Prussia Plaza. Located in what asserts itself to be the world's largest shopping mall, Coco's offers what may be the world's largest salad bar, plus a semi-zany atmosphere. Video lounge and what-all. Dinner served until 1 a.m. Entrees under $10. Easy access for handicapped. 215/337-4516.
THE COPPERMILL -- In Stouffer's Valley Forge Hotel, 480 North Gulph Road, King of Prussia. Specialties of the (country-style) house include prawns Pernod and tournedos Choron, but the outstanding offering is the Sunday brunch (10 to 2), which is not only lavisonsistently fresh and eye-appealing. Entrees average under $15. Easy access for handicapped. 215/337-1800.
LILY LANGTRY'S -- In the Sheraton-Valley Forge Hotel on North Gulph Road at First Avenue in King of Prussia. Dark Mondays, but otherwise the stage show goes on 12 times a week, for a cover charge averaging $8 (from $6 matinees to $12 on Saturday nights). The current offering is an ice revue. Entrees range from $13 to $17, and include such items as veal Jean-Marie (medallions on a bed of spinach), Coquilles St. Jacques and filet mignon in two sauces (red wine with shallots and sauce Bearnaise). 215/337-LILY.
WILLIAM PENN INN -- Route 202 at Sumneytown Pike, Gwynedd. Revolution-era country inn serving outstanding dishes that range from rack of lamb through crab imperial to roast duckling. Dressy but also welcomes children. Dancing. Easy access for handicapped. Entrees average under $15. 215/699-9272. CONTINENTAL
CHUMLEY'S -- In the Sheraton-Valley Forge Hotel, North Gulph Road at First Avenue, King of Prussia. A burled walnut, pewter and hand-cut windowpane sort of place, styled after the Queen's Pub in Copenhagen and serving such as veal Oscar and Chateaubriand. Entrees average over $15. Dressy. Dancing. Easy access for handicapped. 215/337-2000.
JEFFERSON HOUSE -- 2519 DeKalb Pike, Norristown. A Georgian mansion on 10 acres with a pond where they serve small-appetite portions if you like but you'll be sorry you asked because the cuisine is deservedly award-winning. Entrees average under $15. 215/275-3407.
LE TRAIN BLEU -- In Bloomingdale's at the Court and Plaza Mall, King of Prussia. This is the top rung among the dozen restaurants in Bloomie's, and attempts to recreate the famous luxury train that ran from Calais to the south of France in the days when trains were trains. By concentrating on a few entrees such as, on a recent evening, baked coho salmon with shrimp and dill, pork tenderloin with rosemary sauce, or steak Diane, the kitchen does consistently well, for an average price of under $15. JAPANESE
KOBE JAPANESE RESTAURANT -- In the Hilton Valley Forge Hotel, 251 West DeKalb Pike, King of Prussia. Steak and seafood cooked with flash and dash before your eyes, plus Occidental stuff for the stodgy. Entrees average over $15. Easy access for handicapped. 215/337-1200. A SPECIAL CASE
AMBASSADOR GRILLE -- In the Embassy Suites Hotel, 888 Chesterbrook Pike, Wayne. Although understaffed and overpriced, this restaurant is commendably bold in its presentation of imaginative appetizers, plus game dishes and exotics such as buffalo. The hardworking serving force maintains a warm and cheery attitude under trying conditions, and will frankly steer a diner away from some of the less-successful dishes. But if you're not on the expense account, you may come away feeling you've been shortchanged. Entrees average around $20. Easy access for handicapped. 800/EMBASSY.