Brion's Grille

University Mall

10621 Braddock Rd.

Fairfax

352-7272

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Sunday brunch menu, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; regular menu, 2 p.m. to midnight.

Prices: Appetizers and soups $1.75 to $6.25. Sandwiches, salads and entrees $4.75 to $11.50.

Credit Cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express.

Separate nonsmoking area available.

When payday comes every other Friday at George Mason University, Brion's may be the most popular after-work place to celebrate. Since opening a year ago, it's become known as a place where a cross section of the campus -- top administrators, secretaries, students and faculty -- mingles, says Don Boileau, chairman of the GMU communications department and a patron of Brion's.

It's not only the bright, congenial ambiance and the convenient location across from campus that has kept customers coming back. It's also the friendly service, modest prices, and servings big enough to satisfy your average ravenous sophomore wrestler.

The menu emphasizes sandwiches, salads and appetizers, and the ample appetizer portions can double as light meals, such as the hefty quartet of Monterey Jack slices ($3.95) rolled in Italian seasoning, lightly fried and accompanied by a gentle marinara dip.

The cleanly fried chicken fingers were a bit bland, but they benefited from the house barbecue sauce, a sweet, smooth and smoky concoction. The chicken fingers were fine paired with some of the best french fries I've had recently.

Buffalo wings are so often a disappointment, but here they succeeded in combining the salty, spicy, vinegary fried chicken drumettes with a contrasting cool, rich blue cheese dip.

If you're looking for a low-key, low-calorie opener, the colorful assortment of raw vegetables makes sense, but all your healthful intentions may be undone by the accompanying spinach dip with its thick sour cream base.

The burgers were terrific, named after such local high-profile personalities as GMU President George Johnson and Pete Murphy, head of the Fairfax County Planning Commission.

Some of the lighter entrees such as the fajita salad were nicely done and attractively presented in a fried tortilla shell. The strips of teriyaki-marinated chicken had a good grilled flavor, with shredded cheese and avocado slices on a bed of fresh greens and a side of spicy pico de gallo sauce.

Winners among the entrees included the barbecued shrimp -- big, juicy grilled shrimp wrapped in bacon and splashed with a sweet and tangy house barbecue sauce -- and the baby-back ribs, with tender meat that clung to the bone.

Also good was the flavorful, teriyaki-marinated rib eye steak.

A couple of the new additions to the menu require some fine-tuning. The spinach salad with grilled chicken needed younger, perkier spinach leaves and more seasoning on the chicken, and the chicken potpie was boring and spread too thin in the nine-inch pie crust.

But the All-American desserts are worth saving room for: a mocha and chocolate ice cream mud pie, a freshly made waffle topped with ice cream and raspberry sauce, and a thick milkshake poured from an old-fashioned stainless steel container.