Duddington's

319 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. 543-9668.

Hours: Mondays through Saturdays, lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., dinners from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m; Sundays, from 5 p.m. to midnight.

Atmosphere: A mix of California and Capitol Hill, where children fit in easily.

Price range: From a round and juicy burger for $2.95 to ribs and steaks at $8.50, with most offerings under $4.

Credit cards: American Express, Master Charge, Visa.

Reservations: Not necessary.

Special facilities: Accessible by wheelchair. Booster chairs available. Street parking if you find the right street.

Whatever warmth the day had brought had bugged out with wintertime brusqueness, leaving the four of us foolishly underdressed for the evening's breeze along Capitol Hill's Pennsylvania Avenue -- and unusually eager to dive into any friendly eatery.

That -- and not any elaborate dinner game-plan -- is how we wound up piling into Duddington's. On Capitol Hill the differences between a bar, a restaurant, a hangout and a dive are often blurred and depend on who last assumed the mortgage.

Duddington's did have a long bar along the left wall, but no one was sitting at it, or even tending it. The place had gone pleasantly Californian, which is to say the hangovers here were all plants -- it's the botanical gardens with booths. The furniture is mostly made of that high-gloss light wood that grows on gymnasium floors.

The glare is offset by low lights, candles on all the green-and-white checkered tablecloths and little Perrier bottles, each sprouting three to five freshly cut mini-mums.

At the tables, one sits in a director's chair. And if you sit facing the back of the room, as two of us did, you get an unobstructed, unnecessary view of the kitchen -- kitchenette, really -- including its counter with those orange-heat lights that keep dinners warmed until the waitress gets around to picking them up.

The menus are challenging -- not so much because of their offerings, but because they're each about a foot tall, slippery and laminated so thickly that the two sides won't fold into the middle the way they're supposed to.

A little stapled-on card announced the availability of "refreshing, frosty-cold imported French hard apple cider" for $1.50 a glass, which my wife reported was a zesty, seasonal treat. I had a beer for $1.10. Our 11-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter joined the round with a pair of colas.

To cut the chill from our walk and, as they say in the newspaper business, resume circulation, three of us ordered the hot soup du jour, a spicy vegetable beef, at $1.25.

There came next some fine warmed poppy-seed rolls. The rest of our selections I shall describe in order of their appearance, which for some reason varied rather noticeably.

First to slide up under the orange lights and eventually to make its way to me, was a hot roast beef sandwich "au jus" for $3.50. The "jus" must have evaporated at the counter, leaving thin slices of meat on a slightly toasted slice of rye; some pudgy-crisp fries saved the whole order.

Next came our daughter's steak sandwich with cheese, at $4.50. It was was good and tender, matching the nerves of two of us still-to-be-served diners. In time, my wife's ratatouille (that's rah-tah-tooey) crepes came -- two big tasty ones, with zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, onions and peppers, seasoned with herbs and covered with melted provolone, for $3.25.

For others who like their meals crepe-shape, there's a seafood-au-gratin model -- scallops, crabmeat and shrimp with sherry, covered with cheddar sauce, for $4.25. There's also a "Good Earth" crepe, with mushrooms, broccoli, tomatoes and onions, topped with bearnaise sauce at $3.25.

Our son was eventually rewarded with a $3.50 bacon-and-cheese burger, which was thick and rare, easily a half-pound of ground. There are some snazzier dinner entrees offered here, too: prime rib, for example, at $6.25 and $8.50; New York strip steak at $8.50, T-bone $6.50, and London broil $5.95.

We skirted the cavities-and-calories section of the menu, though the offerings were unusually tempting: chocolate mint crepe, nutty crepe or praline crepe, each $1.75; or strawberries-and-cream crepe, $1.50 (with ice cream, $1.95); or fresh strawberries in Curacao (which is not a bad place to have them).

So we end this account with the accounting, which came to a palatable total of $24.41 plus tip. Given the many confusing doorways of eateries along this strip, the knowledge that Duddington's abides the family trade could prove useful when those nagging stragglers need nourishment.