Atmosphere: Casually run elegant club.
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, noon to midnight.
Price range: $6.50 to $14.50; children's menu, $3.95.
Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.
Special facilities: Accessible to wheelchairs; booster seats and highchairs available; free parking lot.
Anchor Inn has been preparing and serving seafood at the same Wheaton corner location for more than 20 years. The rambling stone building with its dark, Tudor-like interiors is, to judge by the crowd on a Sunday evening, a very popular place for family dining.
And with good reason.
Though the prices for entrees are a bit more than modest (most main courses which include trimmings are $10 and $11), there is a children's menu offering a choice of seven entrees for $3.95 each and sandwiches with prices from $1.85 (grilled ham) to $5.95 (back-fin crabcake).
What makes Anchor Inn so attractive, though, is that the kitchen gives good value for the money, the service is efficient and friendly, and the atmosphere is relaxed enough to accommodate squalling 2-year-olds and rambunctious teen-agers.
The building and dining areas have the patina of an old-fashioned men's club, but Anchor Inn's style is much more casual. With seafood the heart of its menu, the inn has a few nautical touches: burlap-textured walls hung with tasteful oil and watercolor seascapes and waitresses dressed in quasi-sailor dresses. The dining rooms are big and far from intimate, but the noise level, even on a crowded evening, is not unpleasant.
Waitresses are on the pleasant side of brassy: they're friendly but efficient; they aim to please but they're in a hurry. Requests for extra rolls, an extra plate, or more water are filled quickly and with a smile.
What singles out Anchor Inn, though, is the quality of the food. We ate there on a Sunday evening with another family and every dish we were served was fresh, appropriately tender, well-prepared and generous in size. It made the high prices a little less painful to pay.
One of our teen-agers started dinner with New England clam chowder ($1.50), a thick, creamy, well-seasoned soup chock full of clams and potatoes. Those of us who chose to have salads rather than cole slaw with our meals were served our salads as appetizers. The unremarkable iceberg lettuce was served with a most remarkable creamy garlic house dressing that had lots of bite. The cole slaw that accompanied some of the main courses was delightful: crisp, vaguely sweet and not swimming in dressing.
As to main courses, an order of deep-fried scallops ($9.95) had just the right amount of breading and was fried quickly enough to render the scallops tender but long enough to give the coating a deep brown crispness.
Imperial crab ($10.95) was swimming in a rich butter sauce and was free of those bits of gristle and shell that can make back-fin crabmeat unpleasant to eat. A combination of shrimp and lump crabmeat Norfolk ($11.50) had a touch of garlic in the buttery sauce, but it was the quality of the crab and the succulence of the shrimp that made the dish special.
Two of us shared the Anchor Inn mariner's platter ($12.50 plus $1.50 service charge for sharing an entree). The platter offered small portions of fried oysters, scallops, fillet of haddock, deviled crab, fried clams and shrimp salad.
We found there was more than enough food for two light eaters and that almost everything on the platter was delicious. The only exception was the haddock, a dish I don't like much anyway.
The biggest surprise was the shrimp salad, made from tiny shrimp which usually are tough and tasteless but which, under Anchor Inn's supervision, came out well. So did a cold crabmeat salad plate ($8.50), which consisted of a generous scoop of crabmeat salad plus scoops of potato salad and cole slaw.
A top cut sirloin steak ($8.50) with a heap of thinly sliced and lightly breaded onion rings was surprisingly well-prepared, considering that Anchor Inn is basically a seafood restaurant.
The children in our group were not to be denied dessert. They tried a coconut cream pie ($1.35), a chocolate sundae ($2.50), and apple pie ($1.35; $2 with ice cream). Though the desserts were adequate, they were not on a par with the superb seafood.
Our group of four adults and three teen-aged children ran up a tab of $78.71, including tax. Our family of four's portion came to nearly $50.
Had our children been under 10 years of age, they could have ordered from the "Buccaneer's Menu," where shrimp, scallops, crabcake and the like are $3.95, including vegetable, potato, applesauce and milk or a soft drink. In our family's case, this would have meant a $15 difference.
C'est la vie.