Dining out with children is often a trade-off.
You're not cooking, it's true, but you are presiding over a meal i a public place.
You're not doing dishes, but you often have to clean up befor you leave.
You're doing something as a family, but you are not enjoyin your food, or your mate, as much as if you had gotten a baby sitter and made this a twosome.
You're going where the kids will be happy, even though yo might have picked another place.
At The Towson Inn, there are trade-offs, but fewer, perhaps, tha at other spots where you feel comfortable with a couple of little ones.
The Towson Inn is a comfortable restaurant without tableclothe or pretensions. The booths are a little small, especially with youngsters jockeying about. And our table was soon overrun with dishes, glasses and baskets of rolls.
The food is plainly OK, but not exceptional. The prices ar reasonable, but not cheap enough for dinner to be a spur-of-the-moment treat.
The staff is friendly and extremely tolerant of children, despite sign over the cash register that reads: ''All Children Left Unattended Will Be Sold.''
The Towson Inn has a large, varied menu and a daily special list. But for a place that bills itself -- out front -- as a family restaurant, the children's menu is lacking. It has only three offerings: Minnie-Ha-Ha Roast Turkey and Dressing; Buffalo Bill Chopped Sirloin Patty and Hiawatha Roast Choice Beef. This selection doesn't seem to hold much appeal to a generation reared on Happy Meals.
For our two, we went to the main menu.
Our toddler wanted spaghetti. We got a child's portion o spaghetti with one meatball for $1 less than the regular serving at $6.95. Her dinner included garlic bread, but no salad. I thought the spaghetti had a nice flavor, though our young diner didn't like it much. She preferred to graze from others' plates.
Our older daughter wanted the Broasted Chicken Breast ($7.95). There was no price reduction for her chicken, even though we declined the salad that was included. She loved the chicken, which was deliciously tender under its crunchy crust. It was not the least bit greasy and our young eater, who usually does not eat chicken skin, liked this.
The chicken was served with rice and two vegetables. Th mashed potatoes were ''plain,'' she said, and the applesauce was the usual canned variety, a staple at our house.
My husband and I chose Maryland Backfin Crab Cakes ($11.50 and Sour Beef and Dumplings ($8.95). Both were served with two vegetables and a colorful tossed salad. My husband's bleu cheese dressing had no tang, he said; the house ranch dressing tasted fine and was so thick I was glad I had asked for it on the side.
The Crab Cakes didn't taste as good as they looked, thoug they were obviously hand-tossed and had little filler. The sour beef gravy was rich and plentiful with a nice ginger edge; the meat, however, was fatty and the pieces small. The dumplings were good.
We were told the vegetable of the day was green beans Actually, it turned out to be peas, which tasted canned and/or overcooked. The macaroni and cheese pleased our littlest eater. The cauliflower was plain and overcooked.
We moved on to the ''homemade desserts.'' From the glas case behind the lunch counter, we chose two pieces of Chocolate Cream Pie and one piece of Banana Cream Pie ($1.95 each). Piled high with whipped topping, the pies looked wonderful, but did not live up to their promise for my husband and me.
Our 7-year-old liked the chocolate pie; my husband thought i lacked flavor. The banana pie had a firmer, tastier crust than the chocolate pie. It was, though, almost too yellow, had no bananas and reminded my husband of those squares of imitation banana candy from his childhood.
Our bill for a lot of food, and several leftovers, was $48.25; thi included two cocktails, two coffees (65 cents) and two milks (95 cents).
Time -- so precious when dining with youngsters -- was runnin out. Our 2-year-old had just introduced herself to the friendly women in the next booth by saying ''Hi, guys,'' so we did not linger over the good coffee. Another trade-off.
York Road, Towson
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 6 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
Reservations: Not necessary.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.
Smoking: Separate areas designated.