Atmosphere: Motel banquet room.

Hours: Buffet: Seating 5 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Price range: Dinner buffet, $9.95 for adults, half price for children under 10.

Credit cards: American Express, Visa, Mastercard, Carte Blanche and Diners Club.

Reservations: Accepted but probably not necessary.

Special facilities: Parking in Washingtonian's lot; booster seats and highchairs available; accessibility to wheelchairs depends on which room is used for the buffet -- call ahead and check before you go.

Old-timers in the area will remember that years ago the Washingtonian Motel and Country Club offered a highly regarded buffet. In the bad old days before air conditioning and before the road to Frederick was a superhighway, suburban Washingtonians could make a not-too-lengthy drive into the cool countryside to enjoy home-style American cooking.

Times change and the place today seems less remote. Although Rte. 270 and Shady Grove Road hardly qualify as country lanes, you will still pass a cornfield or two on your way to the Washingtonian, and the informal buffet still attracts the family trade. It is, after all, a very comfortable way for cousins, aunts, grandparents and small children to get together for a family dinner without a lot of fuss.

The smorgasbord may be a Scandinavian invention, but Americans have gladly adopted it -- with good reason. It is comfortable and casual, offers many choices and allows you to pace your own meal -- a real advantage when you have children in tow. Our three girls loved the Washingtonian's buffet, all the way from salads to chocolate desserts.

They liked being able to pick what they wanted, to serve themselves, to have second helpings and, above all, not to have to wait. Our waitress was responsible only for drinks and clearing dirty plates after our trips to the buffet table, a routine that eliminates much of the formality and hassle of dining out.

For a flat $9.95 (half-price for children 10 and under), you may fill your plate as often as you like from a banquet table filled with appetizers, breads, entrees and desserts.

Obviously some thought goes into the preparation of food here, and the Washingtonian does a better-than-average job of presenting and holding its offerings with flavor and at an appetizing temperature.

The trouble with a smorgasbord is that you are tempted to eat everything you see. Better to do as your children will do: pick and choose. Some dishes are more successful than others, anyway.

Start first with a plate of appetizers and/or salad. The Washingtonian's chopped liver was a bit grainy but had good flavor, as did the gefilte fish. There were unexciting cheeses, decent cold ham and roast beef slices and a variety of relishes.

An especially nice touch was a whole salmon, a really elegant offering that unfortunately was overcooked and dry, but still good with a bit of mayonnaise.

Salads made good use of seasonal vegetables, and the cole slaw was especially good. Fruit salad and melon were offered, and a molded marshmallow salad with ambrosia-like fruits, nuts and coconut was creamy and different, although sweet enough to be dessert. The kids loved it.

Among the best entrees were a good steamship round of beef, carved to order at the table, and delicious roast turkey and gravy served side by side with sage dressing. Spareribs barbecued with a rather sweet sauce were popular.

There was also seafood curry of rice (too sweet), baked fish (dry), fried chicken (peppery) and baked ham. Blueberry muffins, cinnamon swirl and plain dinner rolls were offered. If you do what mother always told you and don't take more than you can eat, you'll have room for dessert.

The dessert table featured an array of pies: pumpkin, apple, French apple, coconut custard and chocolate, as well as homemade lemon and chocolate cakes. Inveterate chocoholics that we are, we liked best the moist chocolate cake with its creamy icing.

The Washingtonian continues to do what it has always done -- offer families informal dining, solid American fare and reasonable prices.

Directions: From I-270, take the Shady Grove exit and go left. At the first traffic light go left again; at the next light (there are no street signs) turn right and proceed to the Washingtonian on the right-hand side.