AS A FREQUENT Food Network viewer, Pam De Bari of Edgewater wondered how producers select the restaurants that end up on its "The Best Of" show.
She also thought her good friend and neighbor, Michael Cummings, chef at Old Stein Inn, would be a good subject for the cable TV program.
Curiosity finally got the better of her. A little more than a month ago, she sent the show an e-mail asking how restaurants are chosen. In her message, she wrote about the great food at Old Stein, particularly Cummings' award-winning Maryland crab soup.
She got a standard response that all e-mails are read but that because of high volume, specific replies are not sent.
"I never told anyone I sent the e-mail, especially when I found out I would not get a reply," De Bari said.
"But about two weeks ago, I received a message from the show's executive producer indicating that they might be interested in doing a segment on the Old Stein. I called Mike in the middle of the dinner rush, and he told owner-operator Michael Selinger. It took a while before either of them believed it. They thought I was pulling their legs."
"We hear about lots of great restaurants," said Patty Power, field producer for Segue Productions in Gulph Mills, Pa., parent company of the Food Network. "But the restaurants we highlight have to serve good food and have a good story, too."
It turns out that there is a story, and last week the production crew of "The Best Of" visited Old Stein Inn restaurant and bierstube to record it.
Old Stein is at 1135 Central Ave., between Edgewater and Mayo, in a building that looks more like a house than a dining establishment. Started 19 years ago by German natives Karl and Ursula Selinger, the restaurant built a clientele through hospitality and classic German cuisine.
The Selingers' son, Michael, was 13 when the family opened Old Stein, and he worked in the restaurant doing whatever was needed, from busing tables and washing dishes to preparing food. Eventually, he left for college and earned a business degree.
Much to his mother's dismay, he returned to the restaurant after college and began operating it last year when his father retired.
"My mother never wanted me to take over the business. She still gets mad at me because she thinks it's too much work," the son says. "I think my dad's happy, though, and I'd rather be working for myself than for someone else."
In recent years, the Selingers have changed little in the Bavarian feel of the restaurant, but they have modernized it. Recent additions include a lively outdoor biergarten where more than two dozen brands of German beer are served in the warmer months.
Traditional menu items such as schnitzels, wursts and sauerbraten are complemented by contemporary German cuisine and variations on regional favorites, such as Mike C's Crab Cakes and Munster Cheese Crab Soup.
Adding to the restaurant's continuity is chef Cummings. An Edgewater resident, Cummings also began helping out at the restaurant when he was 13. He did most of the tasks Michael Selinger had done a few years earlier but decided cooking was his future.
He studied at Anne Arundel Community College and worked at a few restaurants, including one at Loews Annapolis Hotel, before being hired by the Selingers a year or so ago. His Maryland crab soup, often found on the menu, won the People's Choice Award at the Maryland Seafood Festival two years ago.
Since his return to Old Stein, he has learned more about German food and cooking techniques by working with Karl Selinger and by going to Germany. He plans to return to Europe to study the traditional styles in more depth.
"One of the selling points of this restaurant for our show is the story of German immigrant parents starting it and passing it on to the son, even though they didn't want him to take it on," Power said. "Also, the fact that it has been and still is so successful in such a rural area."
The crew arrived about 4 p.m. Wednesday, and Power interviewed the restaurant family, the chef and Pam De Bari and her husband, Tony De Bari.
Moving into the kitchen, the crew taped Cummings preparing one of the De Baris' favorite dinner dishes, rinder rolladen, a beef roll stuffed with onions, bacon, pickle and seasonings.
"The meal takes much longer to prepare than the production crew could be here, so we had to have one in preparation and another completed in advance," said Michael Selinger.
From the kitchen, the crew moved to the dining room, where the De Baris and their daughter Christina sampled the crab soup and rinder rolladen for the camera. The De Baris' son, Joey, a dishwasher at the restaurant, was working at the time and couldn't join them at the table. "They got him on tape in the kitchen," his mother noted.
The two hours of taping will be edited into a two- to three-minute segment.
The Food Network's "The Best Of" show airs Monday through Friday at 9:30 p.m. The show's hosts, Jill Cordes and Marc Silverstein, take viewers to restaurants in five states during each 30-minute episode.
While in the area, the crew taped footage at four other "critics picks" restaurants in Maryland: Friendly Farms in Upperco, Baltimore County; Sly Horse Tavern in Crofton; Pasta Plus in Laurel; and Capt. Billy's Crab House in Pope's Creek, Charles County.
Producers said they did not know when the Old Stein Inn segment would air but estimated that it could be as long as six months from now. Keep an eye on the Food Network Web site, www.foodtv. com, for scheduling.
You can visit Old Stein Inn online at www.oldstein-inn.com.