Deale, Md.

Directions: From Beltway, take Rte. 4 to intersection with Rte. 258 near Bristol. Follow 258 east and turn right on Rockhold Creek Road. Proceed until crossing bridge, then turn right at drugstore. Follow that road past fire department and then bear right. Inn is at end of road.

Atmosphere: Very informal.

Hours: Noon to 9 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays; 6 to 11 p.m., Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Price range: Crabs are $8.95 a dozen; dinners from $7 to $10.

Reservations: Not taken.

Credit cards: Visa and MasterCard.

Special facilities: Lots of parking; wheelchairs would have difficulty.

Crabbers tie up their boats on the wooden dock by the back door of the Oysterman's Inn to peddle hard-shell and soft-shell crabs they trawl up out of the nearby mouth of the Chesapeake.

The inn sits right where the Tracy and Rockhold creeks flow together to form a pretty little inlet around which sits the village of Deale.

"Inn" isn't exactly the right word to describe the Oysterman's, which is in a small, rectangular cinder-block building with a tin roof, in which anything more than shorts and flip-flops would seem too dressy.

The place has been around for a few decades, changing owners every so often. It started as an oyster-shucking establishment, with a big trough in the middle so that shells would wash right into the inlet. Now about the only remaining sign of oysters is an occasional stew on the menu.

The place now features crabs. Tables are covered with brown paper and set with sawed-off broom handles for mallets and cups of white vinegar and spicy pepper mixture for dipping.

The crabs we ate recently ($8.95 a dozen) were small but sweet and so fresh out of the steamer that we had to let them cool off before we could handle them. The cook doesn't skimp on the crab boil either.

We tried a soft-shell, which came on a hamburger bun and was pretty good: tender, crisp and fresh. But the price was high at $3.25 and didn't include any side dishes.

Though we got there early, the kitchen had run out of both Maryland crab soup and cream of crab soup (each 95 cents a cup). Instead, we got a generous bucket of steamed clams ($3), which the menu calls "Manos" for reasons we were curious about but couldn't discover.

I'd stay away from the standard menu dishes, which include fried fish and shrimp -- even chicken, pizza and hamburger. Our samples suggested they were made of frozen ingredients that were not particularly well prepared. But the french fries and cole slaw were fine (85 cents each) and fresh corn on the cob goes for 75 cents an ear.

The Oysterman's is a friendly place. Most waitresses wear bathing suits and go barefoot. Not a few customers arrive by boat, tying up on the dock out back.

The bar is about the fanciest part of the place, adorned with blue neon, plastic mirrors and tin lanterns. There are a few video games in the back room, along with a too-loud jukebox playing 1940s swing music.

The ride is about an hour from Washington, and it's pretty and pastoral. You'll pass a lot of tobacco farms and a warehouse or two, and road signs bearing such names as Swamp Circle and Mill Bottom.