Over the CB radio and in person, they call her "Sweet Mama," and they show up at her modest eatery from as far away as California and as near as next door for her food.

From the outside, "Sweet Mama's Home Cooked Food," on Central Avenue, 1 1/2 miles west of this Anne Arundel County crossroads, doesn't look like much. Inside, there's a small counter and fewer than a dozen stools. There isn't much room to stand, either.

But Elizabeth (Sweet Mama) Parker, 54, packs them in for breakfast and lunch six days a week, carry-out and eat-in. It's a local institution with a far-flung reputation for its hamburgers, chili, fried chicken, barbecue and sweet potato pie.

The food is cheap, the patter is free.

"We don't advertise fast food, now," Parker tells an impatient customer, Ulysses James, 43, who said he lives in the District and works for a construction company.

"Where's your help?" James teases, offering to go to work for her.

"You can't work for me," she replies, a bit gruffly. "You're a man. Men don't wash their hands."

Parker takes guff from her customers and dishes it out in equal portions. "I mess with them all the time," she says. "I'm still Sweet Mama, but I speak my piece."

"I come down here and mess with her all the time," James tells a visitor. "Sometimes, she puts me out. But she's got good food in here."

Parker has a tall trophy celebrating her chili, presented to her by country musician Charlie Daniels at the Wild World amusement park in Largo. It says "Charlie's Chili Champ. Wild World. 3d Place. 1982." The trophy sits on the counter but you can't see it -- it's almost hidden behind a sign that says, "Thank you for Not Smoking for Health Reasons. Mrs. Parker."

"I have asthma, baby," she explains. She sells cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco, but her place is peppered with "no smoking" signs.

Before she was Sweet Mama, presiding over the ramshackle roadside food stop, she was employed as a food service worker in state hospitals and correctional facilities. The work had its frustrations, she said.

Parker did everything from preparing food to supervisory chores, but never received adequate recognition or pay, she said. She stopped working for the state about a decade ago.

Among her regular customers is Forrest (Chuck) Nance, a Prince George's County chicken farmer who goes hunting with Parker's husband Thomas, and supplies the restaurant with eggs.

"I make a special trip here because I like the home-cooked food and all the trimmings," said Nance, who had had Parker scramble up a couple of the eggs he had brought that morning.

"They got a lot of rabbits down your way?" Nance asked another customer, a construction worker from Orange County, Va.

"Not too many," the man said. "Got a lot of deer. I done killed enough deer to last me a lifetime."

The man ordered two hamburgers with cheese on top.

"I tell you, I've heard about Sweet Mama's from a lot of people," said William Bischoff, 20, a first-time customer wearing a cap imprinted with "George Wright Backhoe."

"It's a down-home type of place. Can't find nothing like this up Annapolis way."

Parker's customers also include truckers from up and down the East Coast and from the Midwest, drivers from Detroit with racks of new cars destined for showrooms, haulers from North Carolina with truckloads of furniture.

Sometimes, Parker said, the truckers call ahead on their CBs, to find out what's cooking.

"I used to have it on all the time," she said. "They'd tell me what time they'd be by." The radio sits mostly silent now, parked by the Snickers display.

"They say from rags to riches," Parker observes of life. "I'm still working in rags. I ain't got rich yet."

But some of her customers have done well enough, she said. They include a bank president, judges, lawyers and doctors, and Tom Svehla, vice president of Southern Maryland Aluminum Products across the road. He comes in four times a week for the fried chicken and cornbread.

"I feel very proud I can attract these people with my food," Parker said. But occasionally, fancy cars stop, their drivers take one look at the outside, then drive off without knowing what they're missing.

"I've had people drive up in Cadillacs," she said. "They look all around. You can see them from in here. The high-class, sedate people, they'll drive away.

"But, let me put it this way, anytime the man who's chief of the health department of Anne Arundel County calls here and picks up dinner, this place must be all right; it must be all right."

Besides food, Parker sells a few of what her hand-painted outdoor sign describes as "staples," such as detergent and wool caps. She also sells live bait -- night crawlers and clam snouts.

Nance, her husband's hunting companion, stopped by again before the day was over. He had been hunting in Calvert County, "for rabbit or anything," but all he'd bagged was "one boot full of water and a fresh cold."

To fix himself up, he ordered a slice of Sweet Mama's sweet potato pie, which he ate with gusto. "This must have a million calories," he mused. "If you're on a diet, you can't eat here."