Knotty pine walls and mismatched flatware make you feel comfortable at Tony's RiverHouse. There may be little that's fancy about Tony's, but don't mistake the relaxed atmosphere for anything but a superb dining opportunity.

Located on a pier in Benedict, a small fishing village just above the intersection of the Charles, St. Mary's and Calvert boundaries in the Patuxent River, Tony's offers fine dining, a charming staff and wonderful views. Whether you come by boat or car, there's plenty of room to park.

Reservations are accepted and we made ours for 7:30 on a Saturday evening. The crowd was fuller and livelier than it had been when we visited during the week or at lunchtime. This is a good place for small celebrations, family occasions, as well as more intimate chats over a glass of wine. While waiting for dinner, it's easy to be mesmerized by bobbing boats or ducks waddling by outside your window. The dining room seats about 80 people but seems more spacious because of its wrap-around windows. There's also a full bar and an outdoor cocktail deck.

There are a few house wines on the menu, but if you ask for the wine list, you'll find a varied assortment in all price ranges. Owner Tony Arnold will gladly come to your table and help with a selection as he moves around the room trying to make sure diners' needs are met.

We ordered steamed mussels ($8) and Cajun calamari fritti ($8.50) for appetizers. Two dozen perfectly steamed and flavorful mussels arrived on a plate fit for a king. The calamari was lightly battered and fried until it was firm, but not overcooked. The accompanying Cajun sauce is one of several made daily in Tony's kitchen. Either appetizer alone could have made a nice light meal.

Chef Brett Barber prepares three fresh fish specials every evening. We chose broiled crab cakes ($20), among the best and biggest in Southern Maryland. They come with a cocktail sauce with a nice bite and are served with fresh and firm vegetables. We also ordered stuffed steak ($25), a filet mignon topped with Crab Imperial, partly to see what had changed since the Calvert Meats shop closed earlier this summer.

The menu still boasts "all meats and poultry are supplied locally by Calvert Meats, Mt. Harmony Road, Owings, Maryland." But Arnold explained that Calvert Meats proprietor Jerry Driver had arranged the transition to a new supplier and that new menus are being printed to reflect the change. The filet mignon was magnificent.

Arnold gives Driver part of the credit for the success of his restaurant. "I don't think the restaurant would have made it if it hadn't been for Jerry," he said of his friend and colleague who had helped him in many ways after he decided to leave his job as chef at Stoney's in Broomes Island a couple of years ago to open Tony's RiverHouse. Arnold said he wanted to run his own business and build a fine eatery. We think he has.

As we finished our meal, we learned that the desserts are homemade daily by the father of one of waitresses. We had to see what the pie man offered. Chocolate Sin, a delicate and not overdone concoction of chocolate mousse pie topped with whipped cream ($5) was scrumptious.

Tony's RiverHouse

ADDRESS: 7320 Benedict Ave., Benedict (turn into town off Route 231 just west of the Patuxent River Bridge); 301-274-4440

HOURS: Seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

CREDIT CARDS: All major credit cards except American Express

PRICES: Lunch, $5.50 to $12

Dinner entrees, $14 to $30

KIDS MENU: No separate menu, but children's portions of burgers or crab cakes available upon request.

BEST KEPT SECRET:

Share the appetizer for two (pictured) with a friend on a Sunday afternoon on the deck, and watch the boats go by. Can't be beat.

Want to spread the word about another Southern Maryland restaurant? Send e-mail to yoodm@washpost.com or mail to: The Washington Post, Restaurant Reviews, 100 N. Oak Ave., La Plata, Md. 20646.