Ralphie's can be many things to many people.
It calls itself a diner. But there's enough dark wood paneling to build a fern bar.
It makes excellent milk shakes. But the martinis are just as good.
You can begin with gravy-covered french fries or scampi. Then move on to meatloaf or linguine primavera.
So, what's the word on Ralphie's, a nouveau diner behind a lot of glass on the first floor of a Timonium office complex? The word is: Different.
And pretty good, at least from the range of foods my family and I sampled one recent Thursday night.
My husband and I began with drinks -- a scotch and a Manhattan. Our daughters, with shakes -- one chocolate, one vanilla. We were all pleased.
The adults then split an order of Spiced Shrimp ($5.95). It was listed as an entree but made a fine appetizer for two. The 13 shrimp were large, tender and pretty, but not what I'd call spicy. The accompanying cocktail sauce was very good.
Our 8-year-old dove into an oversized bowl of split pea soup ($3.95). She loved it, as did her father, for its smoky richness. Me? I don't touch the stuff.
Our 3-year-old skipped an appetizer, preferring to spend her time asking unceasingly where her grilled cheese sandwich was. Not that it seemed slow in coming -- unless you're 3 years old.
Besides the much-awaited (and quickly eaten) grilled cheese, our entrees were a Caesar Salad with grilled chicken for me; eggplant Parmesan for my husband, and an order of french fries for our older daughter, who was not especially hungry.
The Caesar Salad ($7.95), one of the night's specials, was mixed with chicken chunks that, in size, mimicked the croutons. The overall effect was delicious; the cold, broiled chicken blended beautifully with the Worcestershire-edged dressing.
It was both a salad and a main course, and left me room for some french fries ($1.95) swiped from the giant plateful presented to our older daughter. The order of thick, fresh, golden brown fries was more than she could finish after the filling split pea soup.
The grilled cheese ($2.95) from the children's menu was everything our grilled-cheese lover likes in her sandwich -- mild cheese, beautifully browned (and slightly greasy) bread, served hot.
The hit of the evening proved to be the eggplant Parmesan ($6.95), another special. Four large, crisp, well-seasoned eggplant slices were covered with cheese and a superb, chunky marinara sauce that also topped the accompanying mound of al dente spaghetti. The sauce was beautifully simple on the spaghetti, but appeared pleasingly different with the seasoned eggplant.
Only our 3-year-old and I had room for dessert. She had a slice of deep-dish apple pie ($2.95) that was cold and tasteless with a tough crust; even our daughter -- known to be indiscriminate about sweets -- didn't bother to finish it. My rice pudding ($1.95) was likewise cold and tasteless, as was a bread pudding ($1.95) that we took home and tried later.
We were surprised by the low quality of the desserts. Ralphie's makes a big show of its sweets, lavishly displayed in a large bakery counter just inside the front door.
Despite the poor ending, we had enjoyed our meals and our time at Ralphie's. The atmosphere is polished and pleasant; the service accommodating. With two cocktails and two coffees, our bill was about $50.
Ralphie's is a good place to take children: The prices are reasonable, at least by suburban, yuppie standards, and it has what kids want, whether they're predictable or choose to explore a bit.
Indeed, its variety -- both in what it serves and how it mixes dining styles -- makes Ralphie's Diner worth trying.
7690 Deereco Road,
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Reservations: Not required but sometimes advisable.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.
Smoking: Separate areas designated.