When the kids can eat free at a restaurant, I'm always suspicious about where corners will be cut.
Will portions be smaller? Will prices be higher on other items? Will we be ignored once the food is served?
My suspicions were for naught at the Bonfire, where one kid eats free with each paying adult from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. And it isn't just hamburgers and hot dogs being offered to kids here. Their choices included Chinese dishes and prime rib.
By arriving early, adults may take advantage of several "early bird specials," featuring everything from prime rib to chicken cordon bleu at reduced prices.
You'll also avoid the crowds, who come to the Bonfire because the restaurant serves excellent meals and offers one of the most extensive dinner menus in Ocean City.
Diners may choose from beef, chicken, seafood and Chinese entrees. And the selection under each is varied and downright breathtaking.
The early bird specials are not skimpy. They include fresh-baked bread, salad, potato and vegetable. The only thing that has been cut is the price.
I chose a New York Strip Jr. ($12.95) -- a perfect, tender cut of beef. My wife decided upon beef and broccoli ($13.75). The beef was so tender it nearly melted in your mouth, while the broccoli was crisp.
The kids chose chicken nuggets ($4.95) served with fries and applesauce or salad and chicken chow mein ($4.95), a generous serving of tender chicken and crisp vegetables.
The desserts -- provided by Ms. Desserts -- are equally satisfying. The pecan pie ($3.50), served a la mode, was delicious. The kids chose ice cream ($1.50) but had their eyes on everything from a chocolate mousse cake to strawberry shortcake.
The Bonfire is a spacious, sparsely decorated restaurant that makes families feel welcome. You'll be surprised by the number of families -- with well-behaved children -- seated around you.
The staff is courteous and the service is unsurpassed in Ocean City. And, you won't have to ask for that second cup of coffee here. They just keep pouring.
71st Street and Coastal Highway, (410) 524-7171.
Hours: 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Credit cards: V, MC and AE.