Silver Diner

4550 Baltimore Ave., Laurel

470-6080

Hours: 7 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 7 a.m. to midnight Sunday.

Prices: Most dinner entrees $7 to $10.

Credit Cards: MasterCard, Visa.

Like its clone in Rockville, the new Silver Diner in Laurel is many things to many people.

For nostalgia buffs, it's a gold mine, an authentically detailed throwback to the diners of the 1950s, complete with curves, chrome, Formica and a mini-jukebox in each booth for reliving your favorite golden oldies.

For bargain hunters, it's a place for big portions of plain but good American grub at budget prices.

And for nightowls and early risers, it's one of the few places where you can get breakfast at daybreak or dinner in the wee hours.

Not everything here is top-notch, but some of the dishes are excellent -- they certainly outclass the fare in most of the original World War II-vintage diners.

For starters, we've found the soups decent but unexceptional. Lately, we've had a nicely flavored but mushy chicken tortellini soup and a pleasantly briney clam chowder that's generous with the clams.

The onion rings are very good, with a crisp, non-greasy batter and firm, sweet onions. The fried vegetables (onions, broccoli, zucchini) are fine too, with a nicely herbed batter. The chili, mushy and acidic, is nothing much.

When it comes to main courses, the broiled or country-fried chicken specials are standouts -- immense portions of beautifully cooked, remarkably moist bird. (There's also a country-fried steak, coated with the same good, crisp bread crumb batter.)

The hot turkey platter is another winner, an exemplary version of an old standard. The turkey is tender, the gravy nicely meaty and the bread and celery stuffing properly coarse and flavorful. The turkey sits on a slice of good sourdough bread that's actually crisp around the edges, and it's accompanied by a lovely gob of genuine mashed potatoes with just the right, old-fashioned texture.

Another exceptional open-faced sandwich is the sirloin, nicely grilled to order and with fine grilled onions and fries.

What would a diner be without meatloaf? The version here is certainly passable -- at least it doesn't have the liverwurst texture of so many restaurant meatloaves -- but it isn't a high point on the Silver Diner menu.

Omelets are another old diner standard, and they're fluffy, buttery beauties here. The Western version is particularly good, with bits of ham and lively onion and green pepper.

Don't overlook the salads. Even the small tossed salad, made with fresh romaine, is very good, and there's an excellent buttermilk-herb dressing.

Side orders include fine slaw and terrific, brown-bottomed biscuits. (Have an order of biscuits and gravy for a real Depression-era budget meal.) But sidestep the limp, waterlogged home fries.

The best dessert in the house -- a real standout -- is the walnut brownie fudge pie, with a deep, dark, intense chocolate filling and plenty of nuts. The banana cream pie is very good too, with a silky custard and slices of ripe banana. So is the apple pie, except for a little mushiness. The carrot cake is impressive but blandly flavored, and the poundcake is odd but good -- be sure to have it warmed and served with butter.