Four Seasons

4506 Baltimore National Pike

(Route 144), Mount Airy

(301) 829-2320

Hours: 4 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Most dinner entrees $9 to $11.

Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.

Four Seasons is a down-home country roadhouse whose claim to fame (and a review) is a very large -- and largely very good -- buffet, at a pleasingly low price.

Come here in jeans and a T-shirt and expect to spend a couple of hours eating more than you should. But don't expect fanciness -- the dining room has the look of a well-worn 1950s rec room. Still, the feeling here is warm and the servers are friendly and eager to please.

The all-you-can-eat buffet, available during dinner hours, costs $10.95 -- a clear bargain, considering the number of very good items it contains. For $4 more, the buffet can be extended to include all you can eat of spiced shrimp and Alaskan crab legs, served at your table -- they're certainly not needed, but it's hard to resist a platter of shrimp and crab at that price.

The shrimp is particularly good: succulent, fresh-tasting, peppery but not overwhelmingly so. The crab legs are decent enough but saltier than most.

Among the buffet sleepers are the excellent homemade bread and the various salads, the champ of which is the seafood salad -- big morsels of Alaskan crab in a crunchy, slaw-like cabbage mix. Go for the other salads too: an oustanding, chunky chicken salad with crisp celery; a creamy, not-too-sweet coleslaw; and a good, firm potato salad.

Another buffet winner is the superb homemade Italian sausage, lighter in texture than most, wonderfully flavored, served in a very good, fruity tomato sauce. Wrap some of that good bread around the sausage and you've already justified a trip to Mount Airy.

Also impressive is the carve-it-yourself steamship round of beef, tender and reasonably flavorful. And don't overlook the exemplary fried chicken, crisp, free of excess oil and remarkably juicy.

A buffet gem is the seafood Creole, a gently flavored rice mixture with big chunks of Alaskan crab legs. The cooked fresh vegetables are above average too.

A couple of qualified recomendations: The turkey with stuffing is somewhat bland and heavy, but it's nicely reminiscent of old-time diner food. And the beef "teriyaki" is in a plain brown gravy, but it's pleasant, nonetheless.

Don't expect much from the lasagna or stuffed pastas, which suffer from sitting -- the plain pasta shells with meat sauce are a better bet. The fried onions, fried zucchini and hush puppies are oily sinkers.

When it comes to dessert on the buffet, loosen your belt and go for the excellent apple cobbler, firm and crisp-crusted. But the bread pudding needs vanilla, cinnamon and raisins, and the various cakes are gummy and unremarkable.

There's a regular menu beyond the buffet, but we've found little point in using it -- many of the menu items appear on the buffet, and at a lower price.

And some of the menu-only items aren't worth ordering. The seafood combination at $12.95, for example, is similar to what you would get in a chain seafood house.