O'Toole's Roadhouse is one of those eclectic restaurants that became a hallmark of the '80s. Eclectic in appearance; eclectic in clientele; eclectic in food.
One doesn't go to an eclectic restaurant expecting fine cuisine. One goes for the atmosphere as much as for the menu. And, indeed, unless you overindulge in eclectic restaurants, the decor is arresting.
O'Toole's is decorated with advertisements from your childhood and your parents' childhood; tools from the country's past fastened to the walls; an antique propeller hanging next to an antique snowshoe. In O'Toole's case, this somewhat generic eclecticism is softened by a large, four-sided, glass-encased fireplace separating the bar from the rest of the place.
The clientele makes the eclectic nature of such places even clearer.
At the bar, boisterous, happy people are having fun on a Sunday night. Many seem to know one another. This is not a quiet bar where everyone stares into his drink, reflecting silently.
Other customers are young couples, eating quietly and enjoying the person across the table. A few singles, a family or two with small children and, the night my husband and I were there, an older couple hurrying through their meal so they could catch a flight at nearby BWI, round out the gathering.
Back to the cuisine, which ''eclectic'' doesn't begin to describe.
Oriental chicken salad and chicken stir fry. Barbecued baby back ribs and filet mignon. Basic burgers and a tuna melt. Quiche and fettucini alfredo.
Our meal was eclectic, too. After a flavorful start, my dinner was almost bland. My husband's, however, tended toward the fires of Hell.
While I dug into the Potato Skins ($5.50), justly described as ''spectacular spuds with bacon, onion and melted Cheddar cheese,'' he was working through a mountain of Nachos Diablos ($4.75).
4 The nachos' description proved to be a disguise.
''Tortilla chips stacked with picante sauce, spicy nacho cheese, green pepper, tomato and sour cream'' was more like a volcano than a stack of chips. Full of flavor, but full of fire, thus posing the question, ''Even though I like the taste, how much do I eat before my head spins off?''
Thanks to many glasses of water and some help from me, he finished the nachos never dreaming that his entree would be, if anything, even more fiery. Staying with a Mexican theme, he had ordered Chimichangas ($7.95). Another disguised description: ''Beef or chicken rolled with bean, rice and cheese in a flour tortilla, deep fried and topped with enchilada sauce. Served with refried beans, Spanish rice and fresh greens.''
While the portions of beans, rice and salad were minuscule, the por
tion of -- you guessed it -- heat was huge. So huge that it obscured the other flavors. My husband, no fan of incendiary foods, was thankful for a very cold draft beer ($2) and, eventually, very relieved when the flames began to die.
I, on the other hand, had the Marinated Tuna Steak ($7.95), which came with rice and vegetables. Whatever the marinade, it did nothing to moisten this dry piece of fish or to give it much taste. The once-frozen vegetable medley and vegetable-flecked rise were just as tasteless.
The dessert selection was opulent. My husband, however, ordered only ice cream (75 cents). But, then, he was still looking for the fire extinguisher.
I went opulent and was pleased. O'Toole's Apple Crisp ($2.50) was not, by my standards, an apple crisp at all. Rather, it consisted of three scoops of vanilla ice cream atop cooked apples in an edible bowl of thin, flaky fried dough. Dusted with cinnamon, it was very large and very good.
The service at O'Toole's, located in a strip shopping center on Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie, was not eclectic. Our waitress was friendly and competent -- consistently so in a place where little else seemed consistent.
Our bill, with three cocktails, the beer and one coffee was $41.90.
7400 Ritchie Highway
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Full menu served until 11 p.m.; late-night menu served until closing.
Reservations: Recommended for parties of eight or more.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.
Smoking: No separate areas designated, but non-smokers can be accommodated