They then did a smart thing and hired a good chef, changed the menu and management and began turning out very good seafood-based dishes. But their restlessness seems to have resurfaced, and while they still own the restaurant, they have changed its name to Papa John's, redecorated in partial Key West decor, hired another chef and revamped the menu to offer the most extensive list of Italian seafood and pasta dishes I've ever seen.
The changes seem to be successful, for chef Matthew Thompson's dishes are scrumptious. Still, you may need extra time for dining, for this 12-page menu offers such an incredible variety of seafood and pasta dishes in infinite combinations it could take an hour to make your choices.
Indeed, the menu is terribly confusing. There is a full page of "Create Your Own" pasta dishes in which you select your own pasta from among eight varieties, your own sauce from among seven and your own topping from among 14 choices. Another page of choices is to "Design Your Own" seafood pot appetizers or entrees in which you select from among five shellfish choices and 10 specialty sauces.
Then, there is a page of eight fin fish choices cooked any of six ways (broiled, blackened, au dijonaise, fried, with herbed butter or barbecue sauce) with any of four sauces. Mix and match combinations galore and another page of 15 different lobster dishes may take you another half-hour to study.
When all is said and done, though, you'll probably be well satisfied with your meal. I was, although I believe I was recognized by my waiter from prior visits.
Dinner began with a complimentary dish (refilled without asking) of green bell peppers, onions and tomatoes in a spicy-hot tomato sauce, with crusty Italian bread to cool the palate.
Fiery Louisiana seafood gumbo ($2.95) was chock full of fish, mussels, okra, potatoes, carrots, red bell peppers, onion and maybe more. Shrimp Lejon ($7.95) was four chewy jumbo shrimp with mild horseradish stuffing, wrapped in bacon and broiled; served on red-leaf kale, it came with the chef's own ''lamasse Cajun sauce" that seemed more like glossy Russian dressing with tiny crunches of green pepper than the expected peppery topping.
From the seafood pot menu, a dozen steamed topnecks (also $7.95) were plump and tender, but my spicy Thai sauce was so fiery I could barely eat the clams.
I don't know why it is needed, but a decent salad bar gives you another couple of dozen choices to make. Ingredients included iceberg lettuce with grated carrots, fresh spinach, marinated tomatoes and cucumber slices, creamy potato salad, vinegary pasta salad, minced cole slaw, and the usual pickled beets, chopped egg, black olives, grated carrots, tomato wedges, Bermuda onions, mushrooms, broccoli flowers, cucumber slices, bacon bits and herbed croutons.
Good dressings included Russian, blue cheese, creamy Italian, French, oil and vinegar and a crock pot of bubbling hot bacon.
And that's all just for starters. Seafood Victoria ($18.95), a main dish, was a tasty casserole of sea scallops, shrimp and salmon in a rich champagne- touched, tomato-cream sauce, blanketed with mozzarella and baked to a golden hue.
From the pasta spectaculars ($9.95), tri-colored pasta spirals (rotini) were tossed with tender chicken chunks, chopped fresh spinach and a ton of garlic in a very good pesto sauce ($1.50 extra) crunchy with pine nuts and finished with grated parmesan.
Disappointing vegetables included pebble-hard wild and long-grain rice and ''ratatouille," which was carrots, onions and green bell peppers in a sweet-and-sour sauce.
Luscious desserts ($3.75) included Irish Cream Bash, a cream cheese filling flavored with Bailey's Irish Cream, seated on a chocolate cookie crust, drizzled with bittersweet chocolate and topped with canned whipped cream. Heath Bar Crunch pie with dark-chocolate bottom and sweet chocolate and shaved almonds on top also came with canned whipped cream.
Service was almost too good and I got tired of being asked how everything was every two or three minutes; even the busboy refilled water goblets after nearly every sip.
Except for horrible-looking, sea-green woodwork and chair rails, the decor seems largely unchanged. Seascape paintings decorate champagne-colored walls and bay windows facing Route 1 are still decorated with gathered English country-print curtains; polished steel chandeliers have five individual lamps with pleated shades and gas-fed logs blaze away in a white-painted fieldstone fireplace.
Tables are set with red-and-white-checked vinyl covers, white cotton napkins, silk flowers, an oil wick in a squat, dark-tinted glass globe and uncomfortable bentwood chairs.
Baltimore Pike, Wawa, 459-2410.
Open: Dinner only, 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 4-9 p.m. Sun.
Price range: Appetizers average $5.50, entrees $17.
Credit cards: Major cards.
Nonsmoking section: Yes.
Facilities for handicapped: Yes.