Atmosphere: Clubby; nice enough to celebrate a family occasion, but not so formal you have to dress up.

Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday; noon to midnight on Sunday.

Price Range: Sandwich platters, $2.95 to $4.95; dinners, $4.95 to $12.50; children's menu, $1.95 to $2.75.

Reservations: Advisable on weekends.

Credit Cards: Visa, Master Charge.

Special Facilities: Easy parking in restaurant lot; accessible to the handicapped; high chairs and boosters available; cocktail menu.

One of the nicest dinners out we ever had occurred on the spur of the moment in the middle of a snowstorm several years ago. Inching our way home at rush hour through icy slush, with our VW heater heating only sporadically, we decided to pack it in. We pulled into the parking lot of a pleasant looking restaurant, took our time over a candlelit dinner and drove home through empty streets sparkling with fallen snow.

You could do the same thing at the Fireside. It's a great place for the family to shed that cooped-up, dead-of-winter feeling.

The Fireside has pleased the Greenbelt community for years with the successful formula now employed by several steak house chains: cozy ambience, good service and a meat and potatoes menu at decent prices. We prefer the Fireside to the chains because the menu is more extensive, and there is less crowding and therefore less hustle-bustle. And the Fireside takes reservations. *tOn a recent Thursday evening, we were seated in the large main dining room, which is decorated in warm reds and wood tones. With small candles flickering on the tables, it was an inviting place on a cold night.

The girls made themselves at home with a basket of crackers waiting on the table, but ignored the garden variety cheese spread meant to accompany it. The cheese was dry from sitting too long on the table, but it didn't really matter, the crackers were enough to stave off hunger while we studied the menu.

Although it focuses on steaks and prime ribs, the Fireside also offers several seafood dinners -- including lobster tails and broiled fresh fish -- and "Italian specialties," mostly chicken and veal dishes. The kids can choose beef, chicken, fish or spaghetti from the children's menu, or a meal-sized platter from 13 offerings on the sandwich menu.

The thing I like best about the Fireside menu, however, is something I wish every restaurant offered: its "petite" dinners. These are smaller portions of the main selections at proportionately smaller prices, but accompanied by the same salad, vegetable and rolls as the heartier serving.

After poring over all this, we decided to stay with the Fireside's specialty: beef. My husband ordered a club sirloin, $8.95; our teen-ager a petite filet mignon, $7.95, and I requested a petite prime rib, $6.95. One of our young daughters settled on a steak and cheese sandwich with french fries, $4.50, and the other, a fried chicken dinner from the children's menu, $2.50.

Dinner at the Fireside begins with a huge bowl heaped with iceberg lettuce, topped with a tomato slice and bermuda onion ring. Although impressive in size, such a large salad needs a few more ingredients to look and taste appetizing.

Not so the basket of rolls that accompanied the salads. Most of them were delicious cinnamon-raisin buns made, our waitress said, in the Fireside kitchen. While we're much more accustomed to eating poppy seed rolls with our steak, it was hard to refuse these sweet ones. The girls made a second course of the rolls -- one top of the crackers.

When dinner arrived, though, the children still consumed steak, fried chicken, steak and cheese and french fries in short order.

Thoroughly pleased, they collectively pronounced the Fireside an A plus. Even before dessert.

We, too, found our beef flavorful, tender and grilled as ordered, although our side dishes were mediocre.

Dessert should have been unthinkable after such a heavy meal, but the Fireside used to have a wonderful sour cream cheesecake. We discovered they still do.

And they still offer a cozy place for a family get-away. The Fireside remains as straightforward as the simple American fare it serves: pleasant, and unsophisticated, the service efficient and genial. Our bill, taxes and tip included, was $46.22.