Capital Centre, 1 Harry S. Truman Dr., Landover, Md; 350-3111.
Atmosphere: Fast-food modern.
Hours: Open when basketball, hockey and other sporting events are scheduled. Hours depend on when the event takes place.
Price range: $1.65 to $2.75 at the Showcase; 60 cents to $2.50 at the stands.
Credit cards: No.
Special facilities: Accessible to the handicapped.
"Do you think it's fair," my husband asked as he watched me push a piece of gray-brown roast beef around my plate, "to evaluate the food at the Capital Centre? After all, it's a sports center, not a restaurant."
I looked at the gray-brown gravy that covered the stringy clump of meat. "They sell food here, don't they? People come here, buy it and eat it."
Some sports fans come, as we did that night, half an hour to an hour before a game or show and make an evening of it: dinner plus a basketball game, hockey game, ice show or the like. Or they do what our family usually does: catch a quick bite at home, then fill up on the hot dogs, pizza and other assorted eats at the stands along the concourse.
The "dining room" for family-priced fare is the Showcase Pub & Eatery, located near portals 8 and 9. Showcase is part bar and part cafeteria.
It was at one of the Showcase's spare but clean tables that I sat, toying with the unappetizing piece of roast beef. I had chosen it as a test case. The food at the Showcase is served cafeteria-style and when I saw the large steaming tray half-filled with mounds of overdone roast beef ($2.75 a serving), I had to try it: Could anything that looked so bad taste good?
Let me just say that those in my family who chose other dishes fared much better. The hot meatball sandwich ($2) was quite respectable. The sauce was chunky and delightfully rich with tomato flavor; the meatballs were well-seasoned.
A bowl of chili ($1.65) also came off well. The beans and chunks of beef were overcooked, but that didn't do the mildly spicy chili any harm.
The chicken soup, warmed in a serve-yourself crock at the head of the cafeteria line, was on the salty side, but otherwise not bad at 90 cents a serving.
My son, a vegetarian, was disappointed that the cafeteria was out of macaroni and cheese ($1.65). He settled for a serving of mashed potatoes and a prepackaged cold American cheese sandwich on white bread ($1.35). Our son's friend ordered the super dog ($1.95), a quarter-pound, all-beef hot dog on a cold roll.
Among the dishes we didn't get to try were beef stew, beef barbecue, cold-cut submarine sandwich and ham and cheese sandwich, all priced between $2 and $2.55.
Desserts were prepackaged puddings and cakes set out on a refrigerated shelf. Nothing looked too exciting, although those who tried the butterscotch pudding (80 cents) said it wasn't bad.
Showcase isn't the only eatery at the Capital Centre. There is also the Capital Club, limited on basketball and hockey nights to club members. Here the entrees average around $12.
Then there are the stands on the concourse. Here, pizza, hot dogs and fried chicken are the more substantial offerings. There are also french fries, soft ice cream, hot pretzels, popcorn and potato chips. How do these rate?
The pizza (90 cents a slice) is deplorable. It tastes like the least expensive brand from the supermarket freezer. The hot dogs (90 cents for a regular, $1.65 for a super) are the usual ballpark hot dogs -- not bad, but what a difference a toasted roll would make.
The fried chicken ($2.50 for a box of three pieces plus french fries) came off well. The chicken had been freshly plunged into its bath of hot oil, and the batter had a pleasant taste. The french fries that came with the chicken are the bland, thinly sliced type. They would be better if fried crisper.
The soft ice cream (70 cents and up depending on the size of the cone or sundae) comes in vanilla and chocolate and is about as sweet as soft ice cream can get.
The hot pretzels, sold at the soft ice cream stand, are delightfully thick and covered with salt. All they need is a dab of good, hot mustard. For that you have to track down a hot dog stand and go with the bland mustard that comes in little packets.
Another winner is the popcorn. It's popped fresh before your eyes at wagons stationed at various points around the concourse.
Our dinner for four at the Showcase came to $18.40, including tax and beverages. On the night we had dinner from the offerings at the concourse stalls, the total cost was just under $10. The price, at least, was right.