Delicious, meaty, hot, all-you-can eat crabs are an excellent reason to try Captain Jerry's Restaurant in Laurel, but they are just the first of many mouth-watering reasons you will return. Located on Bowie Road, just off Route 1, Captain Jerry's serves up fresh, well cooked seafood in a fun and friendly atmosphere.

The main dining room is filled with long tables, surrounded by booths. While you are looking at the menu, your server covers your table in plain brown paper and explains the evening's specials. When you order the all-you can-eat crabs ($13.95), they arrive piled high on a tray along with a plastic basket full of napkins, wooden mallets and a crab knife. The crabs we ordered were heavy (connoisseurs know that translates into lots of meat) and perfectly steamed and seasoned. Equally important, the waiter stopped by often to ask if we needed more--such a pleasant touch, since at some all-you-can-eat dinners you spend half your time flagging down someone to bring you more.

(Snow crab legs are sometimes on the menu as well, at $28.95 for a bottomless serving, but be sure to call first to find out if they are available.)

We tried both of Captain Jerry's soups--the Maryland Crab Soup and the New England Clam Chowder ($3.95 each). The crab soup was slightly spicy, tomato-based, with lots of vegetables (green beans, corn, onions) and shredded crab. The clam chowder was creamy, thick, smooth, full of clams and potatoes.

So many of the appetizers sounded appealing that our table of five decided to share a few. A half-dozen fresh raw oysters were huge, juicy specimens. The half-dozen steamed clams were just right and served with melted butter for dunking. The thick onion rings were coated in a cracker-meal crust, lightly fried and not a bit greasy. All three of our choices were a bargain at $4.95 each.

Even the kid's meal was a large serving. My friends' 10-year-old managed to finish half of her cheeseburger, which was probably big enough to satisfy an adult and, at $3.95, quite a bargain. My daughter enjoyed the steamed shrimp dinner ($16.95), a huge serving of lightly spicy shrimp.

All entrees are served with a choice of two side dishes. My recommendations? The cole slaw-- shredded fresh cabbage with a light creamy dressing--and the hush puppies.

One of the adults at the table was tempted by the fried seafood platter ($19.95): an excellent meaty crab cake; firm, plump and juicy scallops; a pile of excellent fried clams; large shrimp, butterflied and perfectly cooked; tender oysters; a delicate and moist fried flounder fillet. While it's not all-you-can-eat like the crabs, this combination platter was large enough that it would be difficult to go away hungry.

The excellent soft-shell crab sandwich ($8.95) was served on a soft warm bun but was also accompanied by a slice of onion. The flavor of the crab was great but the onion detracted--you could ask for yours without the onion.

We visited at the end of a very busy weekend only to discover that the restaurant had run out of desserts. But the adults were so full that this scarcely mattered. Captain Jerry's is a wonderful place for meaty crabs, creamy thick bowls of soup or just about any kind of seafood you can imagine. The service is great and, as my daughter put it, at this restaurant it's okay to be messy.

Captain Jerry's Restaurant, 143 Bowie Rd., Laurel, Md. 20707. Call 301-604-CRAB (2722). Winter hours: Monday-Thursday, 2:30 p.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

CAPTION: Larry Peels, manager/chef at Captain Jerry's, left, and head steamer Paul Treffinger attack a pile of crabs.