Right from the start, the Jungle Grille in College Park--with its bright red awning and the neon-light parrot and palm tree in the window--looks like a fun place to eat. And looks are not deceiving.
Jungle grass and flowers highlight the restaurant's dark green walls. The ceiling is lined with a border of elephants and giraffes. Colorful animal figures hanging from the walls also animate the decor.
John King, the owner, decorated the Jungle Grille to make it different and fun.
"I'm the kind of person who will walk around the restaurant to see if anyone is unhappy and ask what I can do for them," said King. "I want people to have a good time here."
The crowd is pleasantly diverse: college students, families, kids and young couples on date. When you first walk in, don't be alarmed by the long line waiting to order food; it moves fast.
Once you order, you sit down and wait for your name to be called. Then the waiter tracks you down and brings the food to you on plastic foam plates and trays.
The menu consists of a wide array of sandwiches (from $4.50 to $6.50). King is proud of the fact that he cooks his roast beef, turkey and ham in the store, and brings pastrami and corned beef from his native Brooklyn. Breads include homemade French, white, sourdough and seven grain.
Chicken dishes, including rotisserie-cooked chickens, are standouts here. The chicken salad has nice hunks of meat, seasoning and Hellmann's mayonnaise; the dijonnaise chicken salad is fat free. You can order a Caesar salad with chicken, ham, turkey or roast beef; all are topped with King's special dressing.
King likes to give customers options; consider his Tarzan Salad. It's a chef salad with the diner in the driver's seat. Step up to order one and you're given a choice of greens (iceberg, romaine or spinach), a choice of three vegetables from among nine or 10, two cheese choices, egg or croutons. Then you can top the whole concoction with grilled portobello mushrooms or meat.
"Sometimes," says King, "my customers don't know what to do with all that freedom."
There are also bagels (parboiled at H&H Bagels in New York, then baked at the restaurant), frozen yogurt and muffins.
The rice dishes seem to be the most popular. King starts with a sushi rice then lets customers choose as many or as few of the available vegetables as they desire. Grilled chicken is also a favorite topping for the rice (prices range from $1.35 to $7.95).
For dessert, besides the frozen yogurt, there is ice cream and house-made cookies and brownies and fruit salads assembled at the last minute to keep them fresh. Or enjoy the cappuccino and espresso bar, or some fruit smoothies and coladas.
Jungle Grille is a pleasant alternative to the fast-food, pizza and Chinese carryouts that seem to dominate college towns.
The Jungle Grille, Campus Village Center, 8145-F Baltimore Ave., College Park, Md. 20740; call 301-441-3321; fax 301-441-3349 (fax your pick-up order). Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m-11 p.m.; Sunday noon-11 p.m.