You've just seen a television commercial for a heaping platter of shrimp, clam strips, scallops, oysters, hush puppies and fries, and your mouth is watering. But you don't have $15 to spare.
No problem. You can make Dent's in your budget--as in Dent's Seafood Grill in Triangle. Order the $8.45 fisherman's platter, as two beefy patrons with Marine-issue haircuts did one weekend night (Quantico Marine Corps Base is nearby), and chow down.
We were lured off Route 1 by the smell of fish frying and the inviting 28-seat sun room tacked on the side of the restaurant. Truthfully, Dent's isn't much to look at inside--white plastic chairs, a gray-paneled wall with a nautical theme, a television rigged high in a corner. But it's clean, and it sparkles.
What you see first is the deli counter: five-inch jumbo shrimp ($12.99/pound), lobster tails ($21.99/pound), orange roughy, catfish, flounder--whatever has just been caught. Dent's invites you to eat in, or just buy fish and cook it at home. If that lobster tail looks like the perfect thing to serve at home for your special occasion, owner Clifton Dent Jr. will provide instructions.
In 1984, he took over the business from his father; it's been operating 30 years, but just a few at its current location (and a second Dent's opened in 1992 on Smoketown Road in Woodbridge).
The smell of frying compelled us to order a fried shrimp platter: 20 lightly battered medium shrimp that obviously had not been frozen--at $5.49 with fries, hush puppies and cole slaw, a darned good deal.
Dent's does crab well, and we noticed many diners getting crab cakes. Cornmeal-breaded lump-meat is patted into cakes 3 inches in diameter--chewy and dense, fried a bit too hard but so good that we've decided to have more sometime. Fried soft-shell crabs are available in a $4.49 sandwich, too.
Filets--whiting, ocean perch, catfish, flounder, sea trout--can be ordered grilled or fried. If you're not sure what to try, ask Dent; if fresh flounder has just arrived, he'll tell you. Not many people order grilled, Dent says. When you come to a fish house, most people want things fried.
Chicken filet is the only item on the menu for those who don't like seafood.
This is strictly an order-at-the-front-counter place. Pay when you order; food is delivered to the table. We anticipated a long wait because there was a steady stream of carryout customers, but our meal arrived within five minutes courtesy of the cook with a friendly smile.
The lunch buffet for $5.99 weekdays has everything but crab and lobster on it. The $9.99 dinner buffet from 5 to 7:30 p.m. has more selections.
British diners seated near us enjoyed their fish and chips with bottled beer ($1.75). We didn't know beer was available; we were told, apologetically, that Dent's doesn't advertise or push it.
Dent's Seafood Grill
* Address: 18526 Jefferson Davis Hwy., Triangle, 703-441-6300 or 703-221-4051.
* Hours: Open daily 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
* Credit cards: Accepts Mastercard, Visa, Discover and personal checks.
* Prices: $3.49 to $8.45 for sandwiches and dinners.
* Miscellaneous: Full carryout menu. Our bill at dinner for three platters and sodas came to $26.08.
* Kids menu: Yes ($3.50/meal).
* Low-fat selections: If you order grilled filet of fish.
* Health-conscious: In a fish-and-chips joint?
* Atmosphere: Very casual.
* Downside: No salad, no desserts.
Got a Prince William restaurant you'd like to spread the word about? Send e-mail to email@example.com or mail to: The Washington Post, Restaurant Reviews. 9254 Center St., Manassas, Va. 20110
CAPTION: Most of Dent's dishes are served fried, per diners' request, but grilled and low-fat options are available. Crab cakes, soft-shell crabs and shrimp join a vast selection of fish. The restaurant's only non-seafood entree is chicken filet.
CAPTION: Zola Ferrell, manager of Dent's Seafood Grill, helps bring fresh fish and shrimp to customers at a low price.