The Franklin Stove in Fairfax City is fond of touting its "prices from the age of reason" starting at $3.95. The food there is a good value and good quality.

The four of us recently ate there and I found it a pleasant place to take children, although I must say that the lighting is far too dim for the "family restaurant" the Franklin Stove claims to be. Not only did one of our children stumble down the stairs near the salad bar, but it was so dark our 2-year-old was very anxious lest a monster appear in the dark fire place near where we sat.

A children's menu "For the Young Sophisticates" under age 12, is available. So are high chairs, booster seats, and the usual contingent of children's cocktails.

For the first course, we visited the salad bar. At one end are small plates with pickles and relishes. We had those first - very good corn relish, marinated carrots, and so forth. Then we went back with large plates and stoked up on fresh break, whipped butter, lettuce and the usual tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, onions, etc. Or you can choose the Ceasar salad, which while it didn't taste quite authentic, was still very good.

For the main course, the Franklin Stove offers traditional prime ribs, priced according to weight from $6.45 to $8.45, chopped beefsteak at $3.95, lamb chops at $8.45, surf and turf for $8.75, flounder stuffed with crab meat for $4.95. Items on the children's menu include chopped beefsteak, steak, roast beef and lobster tails, priced from $2.95. A kiddie punch comes with any item on the children's menu.

Our 5-year-old ordered the $3.50 lobster tails, of which there were two, served with lemon butter. My husband had the $7.45 prime rib, which was tender and juicy. The $6.45 Alaskan King Crab legs I ordered were excellent. I also ordered a small but very tasty spinach casserole for 85 cents. Baked potatoes are available for 50 cents, or a serving of mushrooms for $1.

Our only complaint was the slow service, which our waiter blamed on a brand new meat carver in the kitchen. Certainly by the time we'd finished the main course, our 2-year-old had run out of restaurant manners.

So instead of trying the sweets - old English trifle, chocolate cheese cake, and brandy fingers - we paid our bill (which included the cost of a glass of beer for my husband and wine for me) of $22.10, without tip, and left.

Open 5 to 10:30 p.m., Monday - Thursday, 5 to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon to 9:30 p.m. Sunday. Diners Club, American Express, Master Charge, and BankAmericard accepted. No reservations. Call 273-1377.