Atmosphere: Homestyle food with a view.
Hours: Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 to 11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Price range: Full dinners from $7.95 for sauteed chicken livers to $13.95 for Norfolk-style seafood; children's full dinners $4.95; a la carte appetizers $3.50 to $4.50; a la carte desserts $.75 to $1.50.
Credit cards: All the major ones.
Special facilities: High chairs and booster seats; children's diners; banquet facilities; live music Friday and Saturday nights; accessible to the handicapped.
Walking into the Cedar Knoll Inn is a bit like going to great-aunt Emily's for Thanksgiving: It isn't exactly home, the food is not quite as good as Mom's and you are not sure you know everyone, but it feels cozy, there is hearty repast and the faces have a friendly, familiar look.
On a winter evening, there was a roaring fire in the fireplace in Cedar Knoll's main dining room. With our backs to it, we sipped brandy and let our eyes feast upon the frozen Potomac River stretching the length of a picture window that now seals the former front porch of the 150-year-old inn.
Perched above the George Washington Parkway a mile and a half north of Mount Vernon, the building originally was a tenant farmer's house for the mansion -- now a religious retreat house -- on George Washington's vast Riverbend Farm, and first opened as a restaurant in 1940.
The white, wood-frame exterior and smoking brick chimneys have a gracious air about them as you approach the restaurant up its long drive, and the dark, wood-panelled interior, crimson ceiling, beams, detailed moldings and wall decorations such as pendulum clocks further the old -- homestead atmosphere.
The food is plain, but there is lots and lots of it. As we drank, the children busied themselves with a mammoth goblet of crudites (isn't it just like Aunt Emily to give them nutritious veggies to nibble) and a basket of crackers.
The dinner prices, while high at first glance, seem more reasonalbe as course after price-included course appears. Full dinners for both children and adults come with soup, salad, baked or scalloped potatoes, rolls and a green vegetable. Children's choices, all $4.95 are steamship round of beef sliced thin and served au jus, fried chicken, chopped sirloin and ham with pineapple slices and tart cherry sauce.
The ham was noteworthy because it was sliced very thin, making it all the more palatable to a 5-year-old, and came with candied sweet potatoes as thickly sticky and sweet as the best of our childhood memories.
We passed up the a la carte seafood appetizers, but the clear, beefy onion soup, while lost on the children, was a warming start. It was followed by a mixed salad, very crisp, offered with a standard choice of dressings, the house version being a not-too-tangy Italian made with fresh chopped onions and parsley. Had there not been lots to explore -- two other dining rooms not in use that night and the fireplace to visit once or twice -- the children might have had a problem waiting for the main course.
A sirloin strip steak ($10.95 for small, $11.95 for large) was medium-rare rather than rare as ordered, but it was tender, juicy and hot, topped with three huge fried onion rings.
Wienerschnitzel was a moist, fork-tender slice of veal inside a dark, crunchy batter-fried coating.
Chicken livers -- at least a pound of them -- had been lightly breaded and sauteed with mushrooms in butter until crisp on the outside and tender, if a little mushy, inside. The accompanying green beans with almonds were overcooked, and a baked potato, although wrapped in foil, was better than the scalloped ones.
But things picked up again with dessert (a la carte). Raspberry sherbert was ringingly fresh and full of seeds, a vanilla buttercream cake was filled with jam and studded with toasted slivered almonds, and French vanilla ice cream came topped with pureed frozen raspberries. Coffee was hot, plentiful and kept reappearing -- as we will at Cedar Knoll Inn.