January is the dullest of months, Route 70 the least colorful of motorways, and Italian-American the most predictable of cuisines. And Tuesday is not exactly the most charismatic day of the week, either. So you can imagine how thrilled we were to be making the trip to Mount Airy to visit the Quail Ridge Inn.
And, to be frank, the restaurant isn't a visual treat -- unless you are a quail buff. Quails are painted on the building, quail figurines fill a display case in the front hall, and artistic representations of the plump little birds adorn the brick and barn-wood walls.
Don't expect to find quail on the menu, though. That would be entirely too chi-chi for the Quail Ridge Inn, which specializes in Italian and American classics, with a few Continental items, such as (I'm not making this up) "Veal Fred."
While a long car ride doesn't usually get our gastric juices flowing -- unless, of course, the destination is a known-and-loved quantity such as Tauraso's -- the Quail Ridge Inn rewarded our efforts. Not only did the food compare favorably with most of little Italy's output, but the desserts were extravagant and the service both affable and speedy. We made our way through a four-course meal in just over an hour -- a real boon for people with an hour's homeward journey ahead of them.
Two soups of the day, mushroom and bacon ($1.50 cup) and split pea ($1.75), were robust in both texture and taste, and eminently suited to January weather. The chunky pea soup had a hearty smoked flavor, and lots of what can only be described as ham fibers. Instead of the cubes of preserved ham one finds in similar soups, this version obviously had been well-stocked with slices of ham that had been allowed to cook until they fell apart. The smoother and creamier mushroom soup had a similar flavor, but no shortage of sliced mushrooms to justify its name.
The surprise of the meal was a special appetizer, the so-called "clam bites" ($6.25). These were four fried balls of minced clams and sweet Italian sausage, served with spicy cocktail sauce. They were inelegant, but juicy and delicious.
The cannelloni and manicotti that comprised my companion's Italian sampler ($10.75) were not the standard pasta tubes, but home-made crepes, one filled with a pleasantly spiced (but somewhat dry) mixture of chicken, pork and beef, the other with a seductive blend of cheeses. Equally tasty was the shrimp parmigiana ($15), which featured almost obscenely oversized shrimp served en casserole under a gooey blanket of melted provolone.
The strawberry chiffon pie, ripe with authentic berry flavor, and a killer Kahlua cheesecake were among the desserts the menu touts as "homemade masterpieces." It isn't far wrong.
Quail Ridge Inn
Where: 6212 Ridge Road, Mount Airy
Hours: Open noon to 8 p.m. Sundays, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays, and 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Credit Cards: AE, DC, MC, V.
Features: Italian and American dishes.
Non-smoking section? Yes.
% Call: (301) 829-9040.