The first clue that visitors are stepping into a different world could be the cheerful greeting of "G'day, m'lady," flavored with an old-English accent.

Or perhaps it's the costumes: the suits of armor, complete with swords and other weapons, the colorful dresses on the women, the odd boots and hats on the men.

By the time guests reach the Hall of Arms, with its grand entrance, giant fireplaces, wooden tables and signs to the torture chamber and jousting arena, any doubts that they have arrived at another place and time should be gone.

That is, of course, exactly what Anne Arundel County's latest food-and-entertainment venue is going for.

Medieval Times is dinner and live theater of a kind never before offered in Maryland. Situated at the most anachronistic of locations -- Arundel Mills Mall -- Medieval Times is about as much a contrast to modern-day life as one could imagine.

In a 60,000-square-foot arena (super-sized, even by modern-day standards, and capable of holding 1,000 people), the place overlooks no details in creating the feel of a Middle Ages castle with a king-sized court of entertainers.

Entering guests are offered crowns, color-coded to correspond to their seating areas and to give them an immediate alliance with the knight wearing their color in the jousting tournaments.

Beer and wine flow freely from bottles and taps at a giant bar, and food is served serf-style, with wenches and waiters carrying trays of chicken, soup and other foods to diners.

In keeping with the rough and utilitarian customs of the time, soup is slurped straight from the bowl, spareribs and roasted chicken are ripped apart and eaten by hand; any savory juices are sopped up with hearty garlic bread.

The only etiquette required here is to express oneself loudly and with gusto.

Dinner makes way for the entertainment, signaled by the arrival of 20 purebred Andalusian stallions that prance into the arena through a curtain of smoke created with dry ice.

"Our show is nothing without the horses," said Jon Speier, vice president and general manager of Medieval Times, which keeps a stable of horses at the mall and another half dozen or so at a Crownsville location.

The Anne Arundel restaurant is the seventh Medieval Times in the United States, he said. Founded in 1973 by Pedro de Montaner, who bears the title Count Perelada, Viscount of Rocaberti, and traces his heritage back to 11th century Spain, Medieval Times' first location was on the Spanish isle of Majorca, Speier said.

The staying power of the count's idea would seem to indicate that he was onto something when he first revived King Arthur-style entertaining. Clearly, there is a timeless appeal to the occasional reprieve from the worries of war and the tedium of everyday toils.

The cheers and roars of a boisterous audience at a performance last month were proof enough that spectators were entertained.

"The lighting was tremendous, the costumes and smoke effects were first-rate," said David Hodge, an electrician who came to the show with his wife and daughter and her boyfriend. "My wife can't wait to go back."

Perhaps life hasn't really changed all that much since the Middle Ages.

The cost of a meal and two-hour show is $45.95 for adults and $34.95 for children 12 and under. Reservations are recommended. For more information call 443-755-0011 or 888-WE-JOUST.

Above, knights Marc Massey, left, and Kellstein Gratereaux battle in the center of the 60,000-square-foot arena. Top center, master horseman Jose Victor Lara presents prancing Andalusian horses. "Cedric," the wizard of Medieval Times, attempts to foretell the future. Below, Red knight Gary Herrero jousts against green knight Phillip Newcomb. Guests Jeff Holland, left, Amy Doggendorf, Laura Holland and Chris Shepherd revel in the great hall while awaiting the king and princess characters of the restaurant's show.