Looking for a "seaside" restaurant--but something a bit closer, say, in Laurel? Just head for the lighthouse at the Bay-n-Surf on Route 1. Just inside the door, the walls are filled with numerous awards given for Bay-n-Surf's cooking--and the place deserves them. We visited on a Tuesday night and the three dining rooms (with sailing pictures on the walls and fish-shaped place mats) were filled with patrons of all ages, from infants to seniors.

Bay-n-Surf's menu selection is extensive: fish, shellfish, combination platters, beef and chicken choices, along with a variety of daily specials. The menu describes each dish in detail and also helpfully explains cooking terms. Do we all mean the same thing, for instance, when we ask for a "medium rare" steak? This menu pictures the results so that you can easily tell your server exactly how you would like your 12-ounce New York Strip Steak ($21.95) or Petite Filet Mignon ($18.95).

Food is definitely plentiful at Bay-n-Surf. Most main dishes are served with two sides (applesauce, cole slaw, vegetable, baked potato, french fries, rice pilaf or garden salad). But I started with the soup, since since the sign outside the restaurant and the menu both boast that Bay-n-Surf is home to Maryland's finest cream of crab soup. After all, it was my duty. Let me tell you that the sign is absolutely right! The creamy, slightly spicy, absolutely delicious soup is presented either in a crockpot bowl ($5.95) or in a French boule (hollowed-out round loaf of bread for $6.95). Served very hot, with hunks of crab and flakes of cracked pepper, it is wonderfully filling. (I was also glad to see that it's on their extensive carryout menu; I look forward to being able to pick some up on the way home during the winter.)

For my main course, I chose fresh Icelandic salmon (regular portion, $19.95; "lite" dinner, $15.95), which was topped with a white dill sauce. The fish was flaky and moist and served with rice pilaf, crinkle-cut squash, carrots, broccoli and red pepper. The smaller portion was more than enough after the cream of crab soup; in fact, with the two side dishes and bread, I managed to take half the salmon home for a tasty lunch the next day!

Though there is a nice selection (shrimp, chicken, crab or fish) of children's dinners ($8.95 each, including a beverage and two side dishes), my 12-year-old daughter chose the fresh chicken breast Parmesan ($16.95), which she loved. The chicken was perfectly cooked and incredibly moist, topped with provolone cheese (and to quote her it was "melted not chunky") and served on linguine with red sauce.

The dessert choices are plentiful and include homemade bread pudding, but with the generous servings of food, both of us decided we would have to wait for another night.

Since 1965, the Edelmann family has been serving seafood and beef, with an emphasis on freshness and quality. I was pleased to discover that much of their extensive menu is available for carryout as well, including a special weekday lunch menu. Call ahead for best carryout service.

Bay-n-Surf, 4411 Baltimore Ave., Laurel, Md. 20707; call 301-776-7021. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.-9 p.m. Lunch from $6.95 to $14.95; dinner from $13.95 to $31.95. Full bar.

CAPTION: Cream of crab soup, a specialty of the Bay-n-Surf restaurant in Laurel, is topped with hunks of crab.