Atmosphere: Casual Victorian.

Hours: Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Price range: Breakfast dishes, $2.25 to $5.15; lunch sandwiches, $2.65 to $5.75; dinner entrees, $3.65 to $5.95.

Reservations: Only for large parties.

Credit cards: Visa and Mastercard.

Special facilities: Accessible to wheelchairs; booster seats and high chairs available; free parking in lot; video games. By PENELOPE LEMOV Special to The Washington Post

Here's the good news about Uncle John's, a chain of family restaurants with an outlet in the Ritchie Shopping Center in Rockville. Our family ate a generously portioned dinner for less than $25. That is a very modest tab considering three of us had hot entrees, one of which was steak, and plenty of trimmings.

Uncle John's has a pleasant Victorian decor, having been fitted out with fake gas lights, brass room dividers, butcher block-like tables and waitresses dressed in costumes that would be appropriate for an episode of "Upstairs/Downstairs."

Dinner at Uncle John's, however, was not a complete success, though we think it would have been if we had known in advance how to tip toe through the menu. We came away with the feeling that lunch and breakfast are a better bet than dinner because Uncle John has a deft touch with waffles and sandwiches.

There are several dishes to steer clear of at Uncle John's and one of them, unfortunately, is the salad bar, $1.25 with an entree or $2.55 on its own. While the iceberg lettuce was adequately crisp and fresh, little else tasted fresh.

On the Sunday evening our family ate there, the beets were flat with an unpleasant aftertaste, the carrots were tough, the macaroni salad was bland and the baco-bits were stale. Considering its location in the heart of an area where the restaurants appear to be waging a salad bar war, the woebegone offering at Uncle John's is surprising.

Another item to avoid, based on our recent visit, is Uncle John's house specialty, chicken-in-the-basket, $4.50. The dish is served charmingly--the fried chicken pieces snuggled into a wicker basket that's been lined with a napkin and filled with French fries. Unfortunately, the chicken tasted as though it had been hanging around the kitchen for more than a few hours. The French fries, while fresher to the taste, were bland look-alikes for the fries available in fast-food outlets.

That's the worst of the bad news. An order of fried clams, $3.95, was adequate although the clams were overcooked and overbreaded and came with an order of cole slaw that, like the salad bar, was completely devoid of any fresh, sparkling taste.

On the brighter side, steak teriyaki, $5.95, was pretty good. We weren't expecting the most tender steak in the world, but this one was reasonably juicy and seasoned with a teriyaki sauce that had plenty of oomph. There is, however, no excuse for the deplorable serving of overcooked and watered-down canned corn with pimento that accompanied the steak.

I have been saving the best for last. There were three highlights to our meal. These dishes were good enough to warrant a return trip to Uncle John's for breakfast or lunch or a light, sandwich-type dinner.

One was a Monte Cristo sandwich, $4.35, a concoction that starts with egg-soaked bread that envelops turkey, ham and cheese slices and then is deep fried. The sandwich, served on a plank of wood, was lightly dusted with powdered sugar and came with pitchers of maple and other syrups. The sandwich had been prepared well and the tastes blended together nicely.

Another winner was the corn bread that accompanies dinner entrees (you have your choice of corn bread or a mini-bread) or can be ordered separately for 85 cents. It was superb--light, fluffy, crumbly, slightly sweet and absolutely delicious, especially when slathered with whipped sweet butter.

The waffle we ordered for dessert won the same kudos. We tried the strawberry waffle, $2.95, and shared it four ways. The waffle was perfectly crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth smooth inside--everything a waffle should be. It was topped with a generous serving of frozen whole strawberries that were covered with mounds of whipped cream. We had absolutely no complaints.

Dinner for four, including two milks and an iced tea, came to $24.55. When tax and tip were added on, the tab was $29.78.