Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., 7 days a week.

Atmosphere: Relaxed, comfortable neighborly spot.

Price Range: From 90 cents for a hot dog to $2.50 for an all-inclusive deli sandwhich called "The Works." Daily specials.

Credit Cards: None.

Special Facilities: Tables or carryout service. Two dining rooms. No high chairs or booster chairs. Jukebox.

A perfect retreat during that wonderful time of year when a weekend escape into the countryside cures the ills of the week is Ellicott City in Howard County. It's an easy 35-minute drive beyond the Beltway but it's light years away from our daily orientation.

Founded in the late 1700s as a grain mill town, it received a historical boost in the mid 1800s when it became the first terminus of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Now, it is a town for history buffs or antique seekers. There are a few parking lots at the edge of the partially restored town, but on weekends of special shows or exhibits, the traffic and parking and situation can resemble Georgetown or Alexandria. If you're lucky, you'll find a quieter day where you can shop and wander with old-time tranquility.

Ellicott City is a good family daytime city. You can enjoy Main Street, walk in and out of the numerous stores, stop for lunch, visit the railroad museum, have a walking dessert and still have time to relax at nearby Patapsco State Park before an early evening return to the metropolitan area. It will have been an easy excursion that did not cost a great deal of money.

There are a number of continental -- type restaruants that line Main Street where music is available in the evenings and weekend reservations are required.

We were in search of something lighter where a day-tripper in any attire with children in any state of hot disrepair would be comfortable and able to relax. Baxter's, a family-run operation, is a perfect luncheon stop for a foot-worn family. The walls are lined with prints and photographs that are for sale by local artists. Everyone seems at ease wandering between the two rooms and looking at the art while waiting for food.

Baxter's provides fresh soups and salads and a variety of sandwiches, all at reasonable prices. The kitchen is small with its fanciest appliance being a microwave oven, but its food is a fine combination of high quality ingredients and simplified creations.

In addition to the large blackboard list of foods, there is a smaller board with the day's specials. A soup, salad sandwich and dessert are added daily. French onion soup was available, but our travel-weary family leaned toward cooler-sounding foods, concentrating on sandwhiches and salads. Baxter's desserts -- a continuing variety of popular sweets -- are all reasonably priced, but we decided to have dessert at the bakery down the street.

Our family of four had an $8 lunch, which included large drinks for everyone. The children were less interested in having a large sandwich than in their drink. They were pleased with the juicy hotdogs wrapped inside a thick, fresh bun. All the breads and rolls came from the town bakery, which further convinces you of your later dessert stop.

The hot corned beef special $2.10, consists of a large roll filled with corned beef, cole slaw, swiss cheese and Russian dressing. Two children or one happy husband will enjoy the thickly piled sandwich.

Each of the salads sound suitable for the weather. I chose the turkey salad amandine ($2), which is available in a bowl or as a sandwich. It comes on a bed of lettuce and is a large combination of carefully shredded turkey with a light mayonnaise dressing and slivered almonds. Tomatoes and crackers complete the order. Also available are a tossed romaine salad, a salad with meat slices and a shrimp salad.

In addition to carbonated beverages, lemonade and ice tea, wine and beer are available.

From Baxter's you can literally follow your nose up the block to Leidig's, an old fashioned bakery. Mr. Leidig himself supervises the weekend special occasion creations. We saw him carry out a 30-pound wedding cake, which drew dreamy stares from the children.

Cookies and brownies ($2.69 a pound are almost worth the trip in themselves. And fudge-swirled butter cookies seem irresistible. They are a chocolate lover's cookie, for a heaping mound adorns the butter base.

Cinnamon breads, nut breads, rum rolls, cakes pies and donuts also are available. You need complete restraint not to sample one of everything for it all looks and smells delectable.

As you wear thin from an afternoon of walking, shopping and admiring, there is a final taste treat that returns you to childhood dreams. Our children thought they had sampled snow cones before, but Ellicott City convinced them they merely had tasted speckled ice.

The snow cones are available in a large variety of flavors and are twice-doused with syrup. The vendor fulfills your nostalgic yearnings with small or large cups of completely flavored ice (30 or 40 cents).

After an eating-shopping day as this, you might want to savor the serenity of the 8,000-acre Patapso State Park. A complete day-trip as this is easy on gas and is a fun way for everyone to have a mid-day dining experience. Most of Ellicott City's shops close by 6 p.m., which is your perfect excuse to head back home.