Hours: Monday through Saturday, noon to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 7 p.m.
Atmosphere: Gracious and leisurely, but not too formal for children.
Price Range: Four-course dinners from $7 to $13. Children's portions are half price.
Credit Cards: Not Accepted. Reservations: Recommended. Special Facilities: Highchairs; entertainment Fridays and Saturdays from 6 p.m.; entrance three steps up.
One sunny Saturday afternoon recently we fell back into an old habit -- a drive in the country. We wound up in Leesburg, Va., at dinnertime. My husband wasn't wearing a coat or tie and so was a little wary of The Laurel Brigade Inn, housed in an imposing 19th-century stone building. Nor did we have reservations, but it was early.
The Laurel Brigade, which really is an inn that takes in a few overnight guests, is not as formal as it might seem. It's more like Sunday lunch at grandma's.
If you're looking for a quiet place where you can gaze out wide windows at a nice garden, you should go on a week night. On Friday and Saturday evenings, the garden is still there but you're going to be entertained by a nonstop folksinger who accompanies himself on the guitar and occasionally on the banjo.
Dining to the strains of an Appalachian mountain song or a witty Irish ballad is a pleasant way to spend the evening. And, since there are sometimes lengthy pauses between courses, the music helps keep the children amused.
The Laurel Brigade is not the place for a quick meal, but the food, which includes some real Southern cooking, is worth the wait.
Dinner includes an appetizer, relish tray, salad, a main course with several vegetables and dessert, Cocktails, beer and wine also are available.
The children predictably ordered fruit punch with sherbert to start their dinners. They were delighted with sherbert to start their dinners. They were delighted with the taste of the drink and the pretty picture is made in crystal-clear cups.
My husband started with chicken liver pate. Served with miniature slices of rye and pumper-nickel bread, the pate was moist, grainy and nicely salty.
My bean soup -- tomato-based and full of chunks of ham -- was delicious and hearty. Fortunately it was served in a small cup or it would have wiped out my appetite for the rest of the meal.
Next came salads of iceberg lettuce, and a relish tray containing cottage cheese, corn relish, apple butter and honest-to-goodness watermelon rind pickles. I have never seen pickles like that north of Caswell County, N.C.
A true daughter of the South, our 6-year-old ordered baked sugar-cured country ham ($4.50 for a half-portion). Depite all the preliminaries she had sampled, she did it justice. The ham was sliced paper-thin and wasn't as salty as country ham can be.
Our 10-year-old had fried chicken ($3.50 for a half-portion). It was crusty brown outside and beautifully tender inside.
The special of the evening was fresh shad roe, $13. This seasonal treat, which doesn't come our way very often, was well-prepared and topped with bacon to enhance its delicate flavor and texture.
I ordered crab imperial, $10.25, served in a shell and breaded on top. Its rich sauce was studded with capers but depended rather too noticeably on mayonnaise.
Other entrees available were baked scallops, $10; broiled flounder stuffed with crab meat, $10.25; prime ribs of beef, $11, and steaks for $12 and $13.
Vegetables were served family style. We were presented with bowls of steamed kale, creamy mashed potatoes, sugar-sweet corn pudding that made a big hit with the girls and hot, yeasty rolls.
Near the end of the meal the waitress appeared with a doggie bag, which must be a standard offer at the Laurel Brigade since the restaurant serves such large portions.
The desserts were generally good, especially the strawberry shortcake, two layers high and slathered with whipped cream. The apple pie, however, had a filling that was too heavily spiced and a tasteless crust.
The four of us dined for $32.50, including tax but minus tip. Now we're trying to find an excuse to go back.