Atmosphere: Nouveau plantation.
Hours: 4:00 to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, 12 noon to 9:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Price range: Adults: $5.25 to $11.95; children: $3.25 to $6.95.
Reservations: Not taken. Expect an hour's wait on weekends.
Credit Cards: American Express, Visa, Mastercharge.
Special Facilities: Accessible to wheelchairs; high chairs and boosters available, parking in adjacent lot; cocktail menu.
Lots of people hereabouts love the Peter Pan Inn. Established in 1926, it is the granddaddy of local country restaurants, offering family-style dining to people who drive miles to sample the fried chicken. Any weekend the parking lot sports license plates from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. People have always liked the food and friendly service. And the crowds are legendary.
The Peter Pan experience runs something like this: You gather the family (the more the better), drive the distance, wait an hour for a table, drink the Inn's punch (you get to keep the glass and the plastic flower), and then sit down to chicken and T-bone steaks with corn fritters. Before it is all over, one of your group should take your picture with an Instamatic.
For old times' sake, I'd like to say we did it again and enjoyed it, but unfortunately, our recent Sunday dinner at Peter Pan left us dissatisfied.
The October day was lovely and the 45-minute ride to Urbana fun. We arrived at 3 p.m., the 203rd party to make it to Peter Pan that day.We found our way up the three-shaded flagstone path to the cashier's window where the menu is displayed and you place your order. The menu favors fried items -- chicken, shrimp, fish, crab cakes, with ham and beef available as well. A set price brings you juice, salad bar, muffins, entree, bowls of vegetables and corn fritters and beverage.
As children's menus go, Peter Pan's is priced on the high side, ranging from $3.95 to $6.95, and it is not available to children over 10. We ordered, paid our bill and wandered with the rest of the crowd into the cocktail lounge to wait in line for drinks to while away our hour's wait for a table.
Peter Pan is large, with several barn-sized dining rooms done in chandeliers, mirrors, neo-European statuary and lots of plastic ferns and white curlicued wrought iron. Waiting in the lounge is a little like being in a bingo parlor: You nurse your drink and wait for the lady on the loudspeaker to announce your number. This is a good time to discuss with the children why they haven't done their chores for the last week, since they're a captive audience.
Number 203 came up one hour on the nose after we arrived, at which point we thought the fun would begin. We were wrong. It took another full two hours for five of us to be served by an obviously overstressed waitress who had more tables than she could handle. She later apologized for the slow service, saying the kitchen was wrestling with "a water problem."
Our children are old enough to sit still for a while, and there were all those chores to be discussed, so we might still have gone away reasonably happy if the food had been satisfying. Some of it was. The corn fritters, warm and generously sprinkled with powdered sugar, were delicious, and our daughters who order fried shrimp pronounced it very good.
Everything else seemed a little sad and tired. Our daughter's fried chicken, $3.95, was too dry, she said. My husband's ham steak, $6.25, a generous slice of lean meat, had not been properly grilled to bring out its flavor, and the raisin condiment accompanying it was too heavily seasoned with cloves.
My t-bone steak, $9.95, arrived tepid, as did sauteed potatoes and green peas. The steak appeared to have a passing acquaintance with the grill, but had not been seared enough to release its juices. We put most of the ham and steak in a bag for the spaniel.
The girls wanted chocolate sundaes, 95 cents, for dessert, they seemed fine, but coffee was so weak we didn't drink it.
Peter Pan has previously satisfied because patrons felt it offered good value. Tallying up our afternoon, we found we spent $34.81 for dinners at the cashier's window; $3 for cocktail lounge cokes, $3 for sundaes and $6 for a tip, or $46.81 for dinner for five. Considering the cost of gas and the extra time we had not planned to spend, dinner seemed too expensive for what we were served. Maybe we happened by on a bad day, but I wonder if Peter Pan might be resting on its plastic laurels. Directions: Rt. 270 to Urbana exit; left at stop sign; right on rt. 355 to Peter Pan.