Atmosphere: Rustic gourmet, friendly and relaxed.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday; 11:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Reservations: A must on weekends. Don't go without them.

Price range: From $4.75 for spaghetti and meatballs to $11 for New York strip streak with most entrees priced around $7.25. Children's menu $2.45 to $3.50 for children under 12.

Credit Cards: American Express, Master Charge, Visa.

Special Facilities: High chairs and booster seats. Parking in restaurant lot. Only one low step up to entrance.

Directions: Rte. I-270 to Germantown-Damascus exit (Rte. 118). Go one mile north to Rte. 27, then north to Rte. 27 to Damascus. From Damascus go 12 miles to the Quail Ridge Inn on the left.

Proposition one: All country restaurants serve fried chicken, baked ham and mashed potatoes with gravy.

Proposition Two: Disregard proposition one when you visit the Quail Ridge Inn.

This is a country restaurant with a different flavor -- mostly Ilalian. Diners vary from white cream-sauced northern dishes, indigenous to Italy's Alps border towns, to those prepared in the traditional southern italian red-sauced manner. And part of the menu is "americano," if you feel you must have crab cakes ala Maryland or ribs of beef au jus.

Owner Fred Eisman is an ambitious chef and the first to tell you his real love is Italian cooking. It shows. All the Italian entrees we had were worth the 38 mile drive to the town of Mount Airy.

Three generations of us went to the Quail Ridge Inn, including one set of grandparents and a newly returned college freshman. It was a special occasion since my husband and I were marking a 22nd wedding anniversary.

We knew a special night was about to unfold when we spied the big picture window opening onto the Quail Ridge Inn's kitchen from outside. Adorned in white chef's hat, owner Eisman greets guests at the door and leads them to one of the many family sized tables in both dining rooms. This was once an old schoolhouse, but what you find now are barn siding walls warmed with smoked glass mirrors and carriage lamps.

Our celebration began with a house wine for the adults, a litre of dry Italian Soave for $4.50. The appetizers were more impressive. Fettucine Alfredo, $3.50 for two people but ample for more, quickly vanished between two teen-agers and a 10-year-old. No wonder. A light butter and cream sauce enveloped a delicious pasta dusted with a hint of nutmeg.

All of the appetizers appeared to be house specialties.

Imagine: Mushrooms parmesan seven splendid mushrooms dipped in egg wash, rolled in Italian seasoning, deep fried and sprinkled with parmesan cheese, $1.75; fresh oysters, gloriously in season, minced into a biscuit batter and deep fried into puffs, $1.75 for six: large pieces of shrimp and asparagus luxuriously floating in the del'uxe soup du jour, an unusual and delicious shrimp bisque at $1.25. All disappeared in a flash around the table.

Depending on the season, many of the ingredients that comprise Quail Ridge Inn dishes came from local farms and orchards. Salscitta e pollo, at $7.50, features a mild Italian type sausage made in Mount Airy combined with white meat of chicken sauteed in olive oil with green pepper and onion.

There is no time to get antsy at the Quail Ridge Inn. Although dishes are cooked to order, there is a staunch salad bar and homemade bread served with butter and homemade garlic butter. As you might guess, this is no place for small appetites.

Entrees also come with spaghetti or vegetable. An order of breast of chicken de Cortina, $7.25, a delicious, gently cooked boned chicken breast covered with wine and cream sauce (one of the chef's specialties) was our 17-year-old daughter's choice. She chose the spaghetti, which was dressed with a mild tomato sauce and scented with herbs. Even so, the vegetable of the day -- new potatoes in jackets bathed in butter -- was, too, a special accompaniment.

Veal parmigiana, at $7.95, turned out to be a whole veal cutlet classically garnished with a light tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese. My father pronounced it the best version of that dish he'd ever tasted. An order of shrimp parmigiana alla marinara, $8.75, had large coral shrimp dressed with Italian plum tomatoes as well as the cheese and marinara topping. The only disappointment was the flounder $7.25, which had to much butter sauce.

But the baked lasagna, at $5.25, was perfection. Pungent with basil and oregano, layers of cheese, ground pork, noodles and tomato sauce were light, done with a deft touch. And our youngest, who had a menu choice of pizza, lasagna, fried shrimp or spaghetti and meatballs, chose the last. A good choice, since the two large meatballs were tender and spicy.

Then dessert. The pastry chef is Susie Eisman, the chef's wife. Fred Eisman is justifiably proud. A froth of real whipped cream capped fresh strawberries on a cheesecake filling for the strawberry pie at $2.25. More whipped cream crowned a chocolate torte, made with Viennese chocolate and a crushed cookie base, $2.25. And eggnog chiffon pie, $1.75, light and airy, was a new and pleasing taste experience.

There are those who say the two best things about Mount Airy are the Quail Ridge Inn and the sunsets. We can't say, but we plan to return for sure in summer when pies brim with peaches picked in the morning fields.