Dessert is the reason to head south to Seibel's, a family-owned restaurant in Burtonsville that has been churning out homemade ice cream since 1943.
Every Thursday, sisters Karen Leach and Lynn Martins prepare 20 varieties. One week, the list might include butter pecan, coconut and peach. The next, cinnamon, blueberry and pistachio. If you haven't tasted homemade ice cream in a while, Seibel's might be worth the drive. It's about eight miles south of Columbia, near the junction of routes 29 and 198.
Leach and Martins took over operation of the restaurannt from their parents, who retired in 1997. Family portraits are hung in both dining rooms, which gives some warmth to the vaguely Colonial dining rooms.
Inside a wooden cabinet in the side room, there's a display of vintage glasses and ice cream scoops, along with an original menu quoting 1940s prices. That was when Seibel's dairy still delivered milk by horse and carriage and used the excess cream to make its frozen confections.
Leach and Martins' parents, who grew up in Takoma Park, remember eating ice cream at Seibel's as kids. They purchased the place 30 years ago, when it had only 10 tables. It now seats 175.
If ice cream is still made the old-fashioned way at Seibel's, the owners have updated the menu, especially with regard to dietary concerns. There's a separate section of low-fat dishes on the menu, including a five-course dinner that starts off with jicama sticks and bean dip. It is possible to eat healthy here, then splurge on a deluxe banana split.
But a sampling of a few low-fat dishes reminded us why often they taste good only to people on restricted diets. The fishy-tasting haddock with chopped artichokes and red peppers -- accompanied by steamed, unadorned squash and Spanish rice -- might have been virtuous but wasn't very appealing. The Irish soda bread that came with the dish would have been a nice touch if it hadn't been dense and dry. And the fat-free spinach and bulgur soup that we started with would have been tasty if the salt had been reduced by half.
For those who choose to bypass low-fat dishes, the crab soup is thick and creamy, with big, pearly lumps of crab (it ought to have a few for $4.40 a cup). Hamburgers are made with fresh beef that Seibel's grinds daily, and they taste like it. They're a bargain at $3.49, but fries are extra.
The pasty scoop of potatoes and insipid gravy and stuffing doomed our roast turkey platter, even though the meat was moist and the accompanying portion of freshly steamed snow peas enormous. Why does a restaurant that takes the time to cut its own steaks, grind its own sausage and bake warm, lovely loaves of white bread resort to instant potatoes?
Seafood is a specialty at Seibel's: Steamed crabs are served on an outside deck on weekends, and crab turns up on the regular menu as soft shells, crab dip, crab cakes and crab imperial. We tried the latter as a topping for an appetizer of button mushrooms. Unlike rich imperials, this one was more of a light, brothlike sauce. There was a lot of flaked crab meat and, unfortunately, more than a few bits of shell.
The steamed shrimp are a better starter, large and perfectly cooked with a sprinkling of crab spice. Our waitress suggested them. She was an all-around pro, timing our meal and fielding all our requests with aplomb.
For dessert, keep it simple. Skip the ice cream pies that look better than they taste, and order a scoop of ice cream in a dish. Or try some on warm pecan pie, with a delicious crust that breaks into a flaky crumble when forked. Just be patient and let the ice cream melt slightly to bring out its best flavor.
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15540 Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville
Hours: Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Credit cards: All major cards
Prices: Appetizers, $2.38-$8.97; entrees, $3.49-$24.99
Food: ** 1/2
Atmosphere: ** 1/2
Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *