Atmosphere: Several cuts above any pantry you've ever seen. Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday; 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Price Range: $2.50 to $6.95. Reservations: Not necessary. Credit Cards: Visa, Master Charge, American Express, Diners Club. Special Facilities: Parking available in hotel lot; high chairs and booster seats provided; wine availabe by the glass or carafe.
Good news: Allie's Pantry, in the new Bethesda Marriott, is a charming, comfortable, affordable family restaurant that local residents as we as travelers are going to like.
A visit to this 6-month-old dining room is a return to yesteryear, when eating home-style American cooking in an unplastic environment didn't cost you an arm and a leg. Charmingly appointed with old-fashioned flowered wallpaper, natural woods and attractive antique hutches, Allie's is a place where parents can plunk the baby down in a high chair and pull up a comfortable wing chair for themselves. Bigger children are given slates to draw on and will like the waitresses' costumes.
And everybody will like the food. As a general rule, our family avoids hotel and motel dining rooms, on the prejudicial assumption that (a) they tend to lack character, and (b) they don't have to be more than mediocre -- business will come their way even if their culinary feats are lackluster. Allie's has shaken our prejudices; the food is good and it is attractively served at equally attractive prices.
In addition to its delightful ambiance, Allie's formula for success includes a menu that reads like a computer printout of all-time American favorites: Maryland crab soup exists side by side with chili con queso and chopped chicken livers.
There is the usual selection of burgers and omelettes, a choice of salads and sandwiches, including a reuben and a steak and cheese, as well as several entrees that feature chicken, fish and chopped beef. And desserts: Allie's dessert menu is an orgy of confections, so save room.
You can order as much or as little of a meal as you like here. Most entrees come with only one vegetable. No dinner rolls are served, and the sandwiches come garnished with vegetable relishes rather than a mound of french fries. Allie's is apparently aware that the dishes often returned to the kitchen are the "extras" -- the cole slaw the kids wouldn't eat, the green beans or the salad somebody didn't want -- and so makes them optional for its customer. If you like, you may order a baked potato, a salad or onion rings, but if you don't, the savings are yours: most items on the menu run only $3 or $4.
Our younger daughters each ordered sesame chicken, $2.50, from a children's menu printed on their old-fashioned school slates. It was seasoned with a honey-mustard sauce, deep-fried and was deliciously crunchy. Whipped potatoes came with it, which pleased both of them. Our older daughter chose a steak and cheese sandwich on a grilled roll which looked delicious and filling. She said it was.
I asked for chicken and vegetable pie, an open-face pot pie fetchingly served in a long-handled skillet, $3.25, The crust was flaky and tender, as promised, the vegetables crisp-tender, and served on top of chunks of white meat chicken.
The only unusual thing here, perhaps not to everyone's liking, was a scoop of whipped potatoes in the pie rather than the usual diced ones.
My husband ordered broiled fresh fish at $5.50, which turned out to be haddock, properly cooked in a lemon butter sauce and served with fried zuchini. He enjoyed it.
At dessert time, we didn't deliberate long, having watched enormous sundaes and frozen ice cream drinks being delivered to other happy diners. Once again, each of the younger girls could order from the children's menu, and unhesitatingly chose brownie a la mode for