Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 to 11:30 a.m. for continental breakfast; 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5:30 p.m.
Atmosphere: Indoor sidewalk cafe.
Price range: Sandwiches from $1.25 to $3.50; ice cream specialties from $1.25 to $1.75.
Credit cards: Cash only.
Special facilities: Take-out; plenty of parking in shopping center lot; accessible to the handicapped. Family Out By CAROLYN MARINO Special to The Washington Post
After a round of back-to-school shopping, our family is usually ready for a place to rest and get refreshments. The Upper Level Cafe at Fair Oaks Mall can provide both.
The cafe is on the mall, tucked into an alcove not far from Hecht's on the upper level. Glass tables and pretty lawn chairs are arranged around an open space that looks down to the mall's lower level.
When our family arrived, it was dinner time on a week night and about half the tables were occupied. According to our waitress, lunch hour, especially on weekends, is much busier.
Dining at the cafe is like having a backyard picnic, but with someone else doing the work. The kitchen is inside one of the mall buildings and food is passed to the waitresses through a serving hatch. Utensils are plastic, plates and cups are paper, but there are fresh flowers in Perrier bottles on the tables and the service is friendly and efficient.
The menu concentrates on sandwiches that range from a plain hot dog, $1.25, to open-faced roast beef with gravy and a baked potato, $2.75. If sandwiches are not your idea of dinner, there are several meal-type salads, $3.95; quiche with salad and bread, $4.25; and chili, $2.75. You also can toss away your diet and indulge in one of a number of sundaes.
The cafe has no children's menu, but a junior sundae is available at 95 cents for kids under 12.
Of the sandwiches our family sampled, hot pastrami, $3.50, was the favorite. The pastrami, although not exactly hot, was piled generously on slices of chewy French bread. Since the concoction also included Swiss cheese, cole slaw, tomato and romaine lettuce, it was hearty fare. On the side came macaroni salad in a sweet dressing that was too dependent on mayonnaise.
Both the tuna sandwich, $1.85, and a wedge of thinly sliced ham and Swiss cheese, $3.50, looked appetizing and were. The tuna, flavored with lemon juice and laced with bits of purple onion, was especially nice. It was served on a hard roll, which can be a challenge to small frys used to flaccid sliced bread. Our youngster just ignored the roll and nibbled at the tuna, really concentrating on the potato chips that came with it.
We also tried a soup and sandwich combination, $3.35. The soup of the day was vegetable, which tasted homemade and was better than the rather skimpy bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.
To fortify ourselves for yet more shopping, we ordered sundaes, $1.50 and $1.75. The small dishes of ice cream, toppings and canned whipped cream were a disappointing end to the meal. Since the ice cream rated a separate menu, we had expected better.
For the four of us, the tab, including tax and tip, came to $27.90.