By 7:30 on a weeknight, any reservations that the kids may have about unfamiliar restaurants have usually paled and the parents (who haven't made any reservations) are afreer to orchestrate the family choice.
That's how things stood as the four of us wandered along an upper length of Wisconsin Avenue one evening. Eventually, hunger and a huge "Discount Dinner, $3.25" sign lured us into the Wisconsin Restaurant.
In the soft candlelight of hurricane lamps, the booths and tables with their red-and-white-checkered cloths were attractively set amid brick walls and walnut-colored paneling. Now if that's starting to sound too classy for the juveniles-in-jeans set, fear not - the greeting our children got from the waitress was far more genuine than the copper and brass antiques.
Besides, there's a children's menu, so they must mean it. From this list, our 8-year-old daughter went for Italian spaghetti with meat sauce, at $1.95, and didn't regret it for a minute. The other offerings for children are broiled chopped steak, $1.95, and jumbo shrimp, $3.75.
Our son, 10, has acquired a fondness for veal, which, in breaded cutlet form, happened to be the $3.25 special that evening. With it he chose French fries and a salad, which came with separate bottles of oil and vinegar. Sensing his bafflement at how to concoct the dressing, the waitress was quick to volunteer.
From an impressive selection of dishes "from the water," my wife chose deep-fried clams in a basket, at $3.50, along with what she noted was an excellent salad, at 75 cents, complete with homemade, bigchunk Roquefort dressing. My selection was another special, veal appropriately listed among the house specialties for $4.50. Other specialties are stuffed lasagna, $4.25; chicken cacciatore and spaghetti, $4.75; boneless chicken parmigiana with provolone, $4.50, and meat balls en casserole, smothered in mushrooms with a vegetable or spaghetti, $3.95.
Except for the fanciest items such as broiled African lobster tail, $8.95, or broiled sirloin steak on a sizzling platter at $8.95, most of the dishes on the long printed-daily menu were less than $5. There were all sorts of sandwiches, from $1.85 to $3.50, hamburgers at $1.65 and eggs and omelettes for under $3.
There are a few other points for parents, such as the fact that service was swift: presto, nd the fresh pumpernickel and French bread with butter was there, zip, and two Shirley Temples and two margaritas arrived. Not long after, in a firm and friendly drawl, the waitress announced to the children, "Ah got the goodies!" and we were on to the entrees.
The kids' pre-dessert tour of the room turned up an extensive and interesting collection of keys mounted on a back wall - one for everything including an Algerian hotel, a cellblock and a radiator. One of them had to be quite old, for it said, "If returned from sender, 2c postage is guaranteed." Among many photographs up front was a bit of local nostalgia; too: Frank Howard in his Washington Senators uniform.
It was back to the booth and neapolitan ice cream for the children and coffees for the parents. Our total bill was $21.92 plus tip.
Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. except Sundays Street parking. Accessible by wheelchair. BankAmericard. Reservations not necessary. Private party facilities available for 15 to 50 people.