Deborah Witmer was working as a chef at the Dry Dock in Solomons when she decided to pick up the phone and call chef Paul Prudhomme in New Orleans. She asked if she could spend two weeks learning from him and if the Dry Dock's pastry chef, Catherine File, could come along too.

They didn't have enough money to fly, so they hopped in File's Ford and drove 17 hours to New Orleans. They passed the time getting to know each other better and learning that they shared the dream of one day running their own restaurant.

About a year later, when the Main Street Grill in the Avondale Center closed, Fine was asked if she'd like to open a bakery in that space. Instead, she thought about the restaurant she and Witmer had talked about on that long ride. And, thus, the CD Cafe was born.

This tiny little place has 11 tables with room to serve 33 people at a time. The decor at CD Cafe has a California feel; high ceilings and plenty of light accentuate the textured walls richly painted in eggplant and celery colors.

The compact space and the no-reservations policy can mean that you should be prepared to wait awhile. There's a nice atrium-like space outside the restaurant with a few wooden benches and a newspaper rack. We saw a several groups chatting and sipping wine as they waited. Now might be the best time of year to go since it is the off season in Solomons.

The staff at CD's is special. Sarah Lumpkin, the hostess, has a talent for nailing how long the wait for a table will be. And Laura Salzman seemed to enjoy being our waitress and talking about the menu and the kitchen.

CD's has a creative kitchen, and the chefs clearly enjoy their work. "They've already mastered the crab cake here [at Solomons]," Witmer said, "so we wanted to do something different." The menu is eclectic and includes vegetarian choices, Cajun shepherd's pie (spicy ground beef with vegetables and a whipped potato crust enhanced with a rich brown sauce), red beans and rice with andouille sausage, steak au poivre, bistro burgers and smoked salmon cakes.

We had a Caesar salad with large homemade croutons and fresh shaved parmesan cheese, as well as barbecued shrimp to start. Both were great. The shrimp was served with an excellent lightly sweetened corn muffin.

"Deb's Favorite Chicken" is another wonderful treat. It's a pan-seared chicken breast prepared with pecans, apples and onions, deglazed with apple schnapps, topped with feta and served over wild rice. It was so tender that it cut with a fork. The unusual combination of ingredients made the dish that much more intriguing.

The Mediterranean Pasta was a pasta lover's delight, with a slightly different angle to it--penne with sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes and capers in a garlic cream, with feta cheese crumbled on top.

For dessert we sampled key lime pie, a delightful sweet/tart treat garnished with fresh kiwi and whipped cream.

Portions are healthy at CD's. Most people left with doggie bags full of leftovers.

Local lore has it that Solomons is home to lost treasures. Maybe they're talking about CD's. It's a gem.

CD Cafe

* Address: 14355 Solomons Island Road, Avondale Center, Solomons. 410-326-3877. There is ample parking in a lot behind the building.

* Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. every day. Dinner, 5:30-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 5:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday. Reservations are not accepted.

* Prices: Lunch, $5.95 to $10.95. Dinner, $13.95 to $19.95. Lighter fare is available as there are always a couple of lunch items on the dinner menu. Children's menu not available, but CD offers chicken fingers or will grill a cheese sandwich.

* Credit cards: Visa and MasterCard are accepted.

* Best-kept secret: Pastries and desserts are homemade, and the creme brulee is very popular. The name of the restaurant comes from the first initial of the owners' first names.

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.

CAPTION: Deborah Witmer, right, and Catherine File, co-owners and chefs at the tiny but tantalizing CD Cafe, prepare lunch at the restaurant.

CAPTION: CD Cafe waiter Kevin Jeffrey, far left, takes orders during the lunchtime rush.

CAPTION: Diners may enjoy scallops with potatoes au gratin, top, or rockfish with portabello penne salad.