6324 Old Keene Mill Rd., Springfield Plaza. 569-1600.
Atmosphere: Laid-back juvenile.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sundays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays.
Price range: $1.19 hot dogs to $11 pizza.
Credit cards: None.
Special facilities: Highchairs, booster seats, wheelchair accessible, kiddie menu, free parking, carryout and doggie bags, video arcade.
There are now six of these restaurants in the Washington area, and if it were up to kids like ours, you'd find one on every street corner.
On a recent Friday evening, we visited the local outlet of this national franchise with our children, ages 8 and 5, their cousins, 12 and 6, and Uncle Charlie and Aunt Josh.
We were looking for some basic pizza and a little fun for the kids. After waiting in line at the door, what we found was a sprawling 550-seat temple devoted to the care and feeding of the junior set.
The barn-like structure is divided into three distinct eating rooms:
* The lounge has a screen the size of a blimp in one corner, tuned into the regular TV channels, with seats arranged so that every eye could catch the action.
* The theater focused on a darkened stage similar to that in an elementary school auditorium. Every so often someone's birthday was announced over the public address system and the lights went up to reveal mechanized over-sized dolls singing congratulations to the lucky kid.
* The third room, the cabaret, was dark and quiet until someone put a coin into the slot to bring to life a giant hippopotamus making like Peggy Lee at the piano.
In addition to these three eating rooms, there is the games room with every imaginable quarter-stealer known to children, miniature rides for the small fry, odd-ball games, and a store where you can buy Chuck E. Cheese paraphernalia.
To operate the machines, you can use real money or the chits handed out when food is purchased. And it was a delight to the little ones and a source of some kind of parental pride when big cousin Jason racked up the "Tempest" machine so that his initials were entered in the machine.
Choosing what to eat was no problem at Chuck's, for the menu is a bare-bones offering of mostly pizza. There are six sandwiches, a diet platter, food for small children, soft drinks and beer, all at conventional prices. But it is here that this restaurant asks the most of you.
There being no waiters or waitresses, you walk up to a central counter to place your order. We got soft drinks, salad and three big pizzas loaded with pepperoni, mushrooms and green peppers. The big people had one beer each and the tab came to a crisp $47.14.
After placing the order one returns to the table and waits for an announcement that the food is ready. While waiting we went to the salad bar and got our first warning about Chuck's. The unlimited salad bar featured broken up lettuce floating in cold water, several of the standard garnishes and the usual dressings.
Then our number was called and the kids raced off to bring back our order. The pizzas came piping hot and smelled and looked great, but the size was much too small for the price.
But perhaps the greatest sorrow came with the eating, for our $47 pizzas were just plain bad. The dough was passable -- light and crispy -- but the tomato sauce was lifeless and too salty. The toppings were fairly standard, but we found that in addition to mozzarella and provolone, there also was cheddar cheese. It caused the entire pizza to be soggy and had an unpleasantly sweet taste.
The kids picked at the pizza and raced off to the video games. We adults finished our beer and quietly concluded that we'd been had.