Atmosphere: Crowded family reunion.
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Price range: $6.50 to $8.50, complete adult dinner; $4.10 to $5, complete dinner for children 10 and younger.
Credit cards: None.
Special facilities: Accessible to patrons in wheelchairs; booster seats and highchairs; children's menu.
Directions: Beltway to 270 north to Frederick to U.S. Rte. 40 west. Dan-dee is five miles west of Frederick, at the entrance to Gambrill State Park.
Frederick used to be pure country: a place in the foothills where you could escape the hustle, bustle and blight of a sprawling metropolis.
It's still country. The tree-covered hills are crisscrossed with hiking trails and quaint country roads dotted with antique and craft stores. But downtown Frederick now boasts a three- or four-block-long modern mall, and edging the mall are row upon row of subdivisions.
The Dan-Dee, a country inn five miles beyond downtown Frederick, has weathered the changes and remained simple and rural. It isn't everything you ever wanted in a country inn: the tables are Formica, the chairs have plastic seats, the lighting fixtures are one step nicer than bare bulbs and the dining room is a huge rectangle without any grace or charm. But if you've been hiking, you can come as you are, and whether your group includes infants or great-grandparents or both, you'll feel just like one of the crowd. Tables for 20 are common at the Dan-Dee.
The Dan-Dee's major asset, though, is that it offers simple, hearty country food at simple, honest, country prices. The menu entreats, "Please don't go away hungry," and I doubt anyone does.
Dinner at the Dan-Dee is served country-style. You order your main course and dessert, but everything else is served family style: huge bowls of succotash, cole slaw and apple fritters, plates of home-baked rolls, relish trays of cottage cheese, apple butter and something the Dan-Dee calls chow-chow. (Chow-chow turned out to be a pickled three bean salad that, to judge by our party of five, is an acquired taste.)
If it looks as if your family may finish any of these huge servings, fresh supplies are brought in. There was no danger of our depleting the cole slaw (it was cloyingly sweet) or the succotash (overcooked, but tasty nonetheless), but the apple fritters and rolls were something else.
The fritters were no bigger than half your thumb, deep-fried to a crunchy crispness, powdered with sugar, greaseless and absolutely delicious. They were the perfect accompaniment to a hot fried ham dinner ($6.35), superb with the fried chicken ($6.50), nice with the fried shrimp ($8.50), and surprisingly interesting with the T-bone steak ($7.95).
The rolls appeared at the table with the main course and looked like puffy balls of bread. Like the Dan-Dee itself, however, looks were deceiving. These rolls had a firm, homemade taste and a rich texture. What we didn't finish, we took home in the plastic "doggy bag" that was placed at our table before dessert was served. The Dan-Dee evidently doesn't want you to be hungry when you go home, either.
The fried chicken was melt-in-your-mouth tender with a delightful, crisp crust. My husband pronounced it among the best chicken he'd ever had. It was also one of the most ample portions: a breast, thigh, leg and wing.
The fried shrimp were also tender with a breadier batter. The ham (country and regular ham are available; we tried the regular) was served in two thick slices and was just the right side of sweet. The T-bone steak, ordered rare, came to order and was quite good for a restaurant that doesn't feature steaks.
The juices--apricot, tomato or apple--that accompanied our meals all were unchilled and served with ice cubes, which never quite got the juice cold enough before diluting it. Milk, which our children ordered, was also warm; at our waiter's suggestion, it too came with ice cubes.
Dessert choices included pies, ice cream, sherbet and chocolate sundaes. Because some of us had overindulged with the fritters, we only ordered three desserts: a pecan pie that was as richly sweet as it's supposed to be, a coconut cream pie that was gobbled up before anyone else could taste it and a lemon meringue pie that had a ghastly green cast and was annoyingly sweet.
The tab for our family of four was $31.09, including tax. Had our children been 10 years old or younger, we could have saved $6.75 by ordering the ham and shrimp from the children's menu.