Open Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. MC, V. Prices: $3.95 to $5.95.

Middle of the night picnics have the advantage of few joggers threatening to run through your potato salad. They have the disadvantage of few restaurants being open to sell them. One, maybe. The American Cafe packs its picnics in sturdy white cardboard boxes. Inside is sunshine, a yellow cellophane lining. And inside that a choice of multi-course meals centering on sandwiches - turkey at $3.95, roast beef at $4.95 - or a spinach-bacon-mushroom salad at $5.95. The rare roast beef is stuffed into a large flaky croissant and coyly garnished with halved cherry tomatoes and parsley. The pickle arrives on a plastic plate so it doesn't drip into the brownie. Speaking of brownies, I haven't encountered better in Washington's public eating places. The rest is a salad - iceberg lettuce with fat onion slices and cherry tomatoes, sprinkled with shredded carrots and accompanied by an aggresively garlicked creamy dressing. Yes, American hospitality is in that box: all the right plastic utensils, salt, pepper, and moist towels. The salad picnic is actually two salads, too large to fit in one bowl, heavily endowed with crisp bacon. The meal is fleshed out with a croissant and butter and pecan pie solidly packed with pecans in a crust of distinction.

They are picnics worthy of Washington Cathedral gardens.