Plato's Diner in College Park operates with far less ruckus than some of the more popular chain diners.
Absent are the clatter of dishes, the belly laughs in the kitchen, and the feeling that your job is to get in and get out at lightning speed to make way for the next customer.
We had dinner at Plato's on a recent weeknight. Around us was a mix of people -- senior citizens, college students and parents pushing children in strollers.
As recorded music from the big band era played, we noticed several patrons table-hopping and visiting friends, showing that they planned to stay awhile. We sat at one of the comfortable turquoise booths.
The south wall offers a wide view of Route 1, with its gas stations, laundromats and auto parts shops. The cover of the seven-page menu features a watercolor of the Parthenon. The owner, Tony Akaras, a Greek American from Fredericksburg, gives Greek fare prominence.
He has also added popular breakfast items, served anytime, such as huevos Mexicana. In this dish, three eggs, ham, green pepper, onion, tomato, guacamole and Monterey Jack are packed in a jumbo flour tortilla. It's a good deal at $6.29.
In honor of the University of Maryland's mascot, there's the French Terp, at $8.75. It includes French toast triangles made with fresh-baked challah, along with eggs, bacon, sausage links and home fries.
And a page of the menu is devoted to Italian goodies.
In Greek and Middle Eastern cooking, meze is a standard starter, the equivalent of antipasto in Italy. Our appetizers, dolmades, were plump grape leaves overflowing with seasoned ground beef and rice. The dish was served with a grilled pita and tzatziki, a plain yogurt laced with fresh garlic, as a dip.
We were curious about the soups. Too often, restaurant soups taste as if they were poured from a can and embellished with seasoning and olive oil to make them appear homemade.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that was not the case here. The lentil soup tasted fresh and non-metallic, and the chicken noodle was full of fresh-cut carrots and celery and chunks of chicken.
The Greek salad that arrived with our soup was also a winner, with crisp red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and black kalamata olives. The crown of crumbled imported feta cheese was not overdone.
Our smiling, patient and efficient waitress brought us a basket of rolls, which were a knockout. They tasted like the bread at Amish tables in Lancaster County, Pa. Once again, the fresh ingredients were evident. All of Plato's baked goods, from pies to cakes to pastries, are made in-house by Akaras and his wife, Michelle.
I have always had a weakness for Greek lemon chicken. Growing up, I thought no one could rival my mother's. Then I tasted my mother-in-law's, and they were pretty evenly matched.
I decided to put Plato's to the test.
In less than five minutes, my baked chicken ($10.95) arrived. The half-chicken looked and tasted like Mom's. It had a hint of lemon, garlic and herb marinade. The baked potatoes, sliced thick, had the right firmness. But they could have used a couple more minutes in the oven, along with a bit more olive oil.
Still, the spud's pungent background flavor of lemon more than made up for a minor shortcoming. Plato's had passed the test.
My wife's blackened salmon souvlaki salad ($10.29) was also a delight. It came with a large Greek salad topped with fresh salmon filet darkened in a cast-iron skillet and sprinkled with spicy Cajun seasoning. The fish was grilled to perfection.
Our son chose chicken parmesan. The chicken breast, lightly fried, was married well with the fresh marinara sauce, mozzarella and parmesan over al dente pasta. And the garlic bread was some of the best we've tasted.
Finally, the moment we were waiting for: dessert. We surveyed the array of sweets -- Oreo cheesecake, cannoli, tiramisu, fudge brownies, baklava and more -- and wondered how one woman and her husband could bake them all.
"Everything you see here I put together," said Michelle Akaras, who opened Plato's with her husband in 1994. "We bake every day, except Sunday."
She claimed that she hadn't quite mastered the tiramisu, but we found it excellent. Again, everything was fresh; the baklava, a concoction of honey and nuts wrapped in paper-thin dough, was exceptional. And the coffee was better than anything we had sampled in a diner before.
Plato's Diner is at 7150 Baltimore Ave. in College Park. 301-779-7070. Open 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday-Thursday and all day on Fridays and Saturdays.