On a hot night, the lines at Mr. G's Carryout are so long you might think this is the last place on U.S. 40 West serving gooey ice cream sundaes and deep-fried onion rings.
It is, sort of.
"We've survived them all -- the Varsity, Champ's, Howard Johnson's -- all the Route 40 places that people once identified with this road," said Ina Kronthal, who with her husband, Donald, has owned this Catonsville-Westview institution for the past dozen years.
Mr. G's is an unpretentious 1950s carryout where the dip-top swirl cone reigns supreme. The asphalt strip that surrounds the place at Johnnycake Road and U.S. 40 West is seldom free of cars. Some people say it takes four hands to hold the extra-large cone that sells for $2.05.
"The ice cream rush begins in March and doesn't let up until it gets cold again," Kronthal said. ". . . I call Mr. G's my beautiful little place. We never change anything and that's the way people want it."
Even Mr. G's phone number remains the same -- RI-dgeway 4-0011, a reminder of the days when the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. classified Catonsville and its environs as Ridgeway.
Many people return to Mr. G's because this thriving establishment takes them back to maybe a more pleasant time when U.S. 40 was filled with classic drive-in restaurants, places such as the Varsity and Champs, their parking lots filled with convertibles and two-tone 1956 Chevies.
Many of the other Edmondson Avenue-U.S. 40 landmarks are gone. The Hecht's and Hochschild, Kohn & Co. and E.J. Korvette department stores; the Howard Johnson's; the Hot Shoppes; Mischanton's and the Dugout restaurants. All were once popular gathering spots. Mr. G's and the Double T Diner are two survivors.
Old regulars recall the days when people argued about the ingredients in Mr. G's batter for deep-fried onion rings. There was a see-through bin that sat near the little window where you placed your order. The bin held the magic ingredients that made the onion rings so tasty. Were the onion rings coated with corn meal and flour? Was it ground crackers? The recipe remains secret.
And while some customers feel the onion rings don't taste the same today, most keep coming back again and again.
And didn't Mr. G's stick with soft-serve ice cream when other places were despairing of it?
The original Mr. G was Thomas Griffiths, who died in the 1970s. He opened the stand as a Twin Kiss franchise. That commercial allegiance has since been dropped. When Griffiths died in the 1970s the Kronthals, who then operated a sub shop on West Street in Annapolis, approached his family. After serveral years discussing the purchase, they took title.
The Kronthals have kept everything the same, including the vintage neon sign. There are two windows at which food is ordered --one for regular food, the other for subs, foot-long hot dogs, "old-fashioned, bowling alley-style" pizza and the famed onion rings.
"There's no portion control on the steak subs," Kronthal said. "When the roll can't hold any more and the ingredients drip over the edge, it's ready to serve."
The help is generally from local schools -- University of Maryland Baltimore County and Catonsville Community College. Many start at 16 and remain for years.
They don't seem to mind getting their fingers sticky attending to customers' pleas for extra marshmallow or pineapple syrup or concocting the Mr. G's Arctic Swirl -- soft ice cream mixed with Ship Ahoy chocolate-chip cookie pieces. The classic caloric favorite, the banana split, also has many uninhibited takers.
There are no frills at Mr. G's. The food is the attraction. "I didn't want a video [game] machine because I didn't want the place to become a hangout. The lines are long enough already," Kronthal said.