Atmosphere: Informal, steak and seafood.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday.
Price Range: From $1.50 for a minced beef barbecue sandwich to $14.95 for a lobster tail dinner; children's menu from $1.50 for a hot dog to $3.25 for fried chicken.
Reservations: Not necessary.
Special Features: high chairs and booster seats; children's menu; limited carryout; parking lot level with entrance; doors wide enough for wheelchairs.
Finding a restaurant whose prices are commensurate with the varied sizes of a family's appetites is not easy. At Shuler's, however, the more you pay, the more you get to eat.
And that keeps everyone happy.
For instance, I watched my 5-year-old leave part of his $1.50 hot dog and french fries, and never once felt compelled to pontificate about where money does or does not grow. Besides, I was busy gorging in an $8.95 "junior seafood platter" (complete with cocktail, tartar and chili sauce in little pleated paper cups) and tripping out on the Muzak Christmas carols.
Shuler's, in other words, caters to people who like to eat -- but understands the little ones who don't.
Shuler's is 30 years old, a survivor and beneficiary of the explosive development of its suburban section of Prince George's County. According to one old-timer, Shuler's reigned for years in solitary splendor in the heart of PG's pre-Beltway farmland. Now buried among shopping centers, Shuler's is one of some 100 fast-food and other restaurants within a six-mile radius of the junction of old and new Branch Avenues, south of Exit 36.
Undaunted by the competition, Shuler's has thrived and expanded over the years. The red vinyl booths and juke box in the original section have been augmented by black vinyl booths, woodgrain formica-topped tables and the Muzak in the new section. The restaurant's capacity is now a whopping 182.
Still, Shuler's clings to some old customs that keep its regulars loyal and win newcomers' hearts. It offers hearty homemade soups like bean and vegetable, and a long list of homey vegetables such as kale, beets, applesauce and cabbage -- choose two with any platter -- along with thick fried eggplant spears and onion rings al la carte.
It also has a separate children's menu. Our children's were endearingly stained and battered, with Bambi's hind leg colored in and the story scribbled on.
Children's seven choices range from the old standby hot dogs (no pretensions to nitrite-free here) and hamburgers to fried perch filet. Also offered are spaghetti with meat sauce, veal cutlet, fried chicken and a hot roast beef sandwich. All are served with mashed potatoes or french fries.
In an unaccustomed spirit of adventure, our 9-year-old tried the roast beef sandwich. It was, by all accepted standards, a disaster: flaky gray-cardboard meat on white bread with flory gravy amdn mounds of dry, mealy mashed potatoes. "Not bad," she said.
From the adult menu, a sirloin steak, tender but not high on flavor, became a cause celebre because the kitchen's charcoal grill is visible from the dining room and when the children strolled over for a closer look, the cook smiled and waved her tongs at them.
Charcoal-broiled beef, from $6.95 for a chopped sirloin platter to $12.95 for a a 14-ounce sirloin or filet mignon, is a specialty. So is seafood, from crab cakes or fried oysters at $8.25 to a lobster tail at $14.95. The fried shrimp, oysters, scallops and perch heaped on the junior seafood platter had a deep crunchy brown coating that never separated from the tender meat.
Hot fudge sundaes in those tall, thick, scalloped glasses pleased the children and held their undivided attention.
Instinct tells me Shuler's homemade rice pudding would be thick and good, but by 7:30 p.m. it was all gone, so we settled for a hunk of walnut cream cake. It was delicious. It was Sara Lee.