It's lunchtime in Alexandria and Charlie Euripides is fretting about his stew.
"People expect tender beef," he said, looking hard at a man named Cecil who tasted some and grunted his approval. "It's odd, but old-fashioned American beef stew is our biggest seller by far."
In Old Town, where people are drawn to Sunday brunches as if by a force of nature, and where shoppers in jogging shoes compete to buy sophisticated vinegars, Euripides' place, the Royal Restaurant, seems to have slipped out of another time, or at least another city.
The Royal just doesn't seem like other Old Town restaurants. For one thing, it's closed on Sunday, the Day of Brunch. And no matter how hard you search the massive menu, you won't find the word "quiche."
"We're plain and we're cheap," said Euripides' wife Barbara as she surveyed the tidy red leather banquettes and Formica tables. "People come here because we treat them nice and feed them simple, home-cooked food."
By Alexandria's meticulous standards, the Royal looks a bit like a greasy spoon. It has two pieces of neon lettering in the windows -- one says 'Spaghetti' and the other 'Seafood' -- and a lopsided, wooden entrance.
The walls are a shade of brown usually reserved for Army pants, and the bright basket of fruit behind the counter is made of 100 percent plastic.
Whether it is the simplicity of the food or the friendliness of its owners, the Royal draws a dedicated and diverse following of regular customers, many of whom eat there six days a week.
The Royal's patrons range from political folks who wander up St. Asaph Street from City Hall for lunch to truck drivers attracted to portions that must rank among the largest served in Northern Virginia. And in the gravel parking lot of the restaurant, it is not unusual to see a shiny Mercedes parked next to a tractor-trailer.
Although it is tough to call yourself old in a city that regards itself as the home of George Washington, Charles Euripides says that the Royal is the oldest privately owned restaurant in Alexandria.
"My dad managed the Singer Sewing Center here when we were little," said Cindi Thompson, an administrative assistant for the city who grew up in town and has been a Royal customer since childhood. "And for a real treat he would take me to the Royal for dinner. I would "We're plain and we're cheap." -- Barbara Euripides always have the meat loaf. I still love it."
The Royal moved to its current location on North St. Asaph Street in 1964, after the city condemned its previous structure on Royal Street so that Alexandria could take the land and build a new City Hall.
"What they did to Charlie and his family is just a disgrace," said Mayor James P. Moran Jr., who, like most politicians in town, is a steady customer. "They just threw him out of a prime location and gave him almost nothing in return."
Euripides, who came to the United States in 1951 from Cyprus, said he has no time to be bitter. "It was un-American, taking our property like that," he said. "But I'm too busy to worry about it now."
The Royal serves more than 600 meals on an average day, and Euripides is up before dawn six mornings a week to make sure they are as good as possible. On the seventh day, he does the books.
Although he likes to serve a different ethnic dish each day ("What could be more American than that?"), it is literally the meat and potatoes that most people like.
"If you read Greek history, you see it is a mark of honor to serve your guests, to want them to come to your home and eat," said Euripides.
"I guess I just have that in my system. It makes me happy to see people sitting here asking for more."