More's the rule, and it's commonly good

February 12, 1993|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Staff Writer

You won't get a mesquite-grilled hamburger with avocado at Alonso's. And none of the pizzas comes with four cheeses and sun-dried tomatoes. Roland Park's best loved neighborhood bar hasn't even tried to keep up with the times: The hottest thing on the menu is quiche. And wasn't that hot sometime back in the '70s?

Alonso's success isn't in spite of its lack of trendiness, but because of it. This is bar food par excellence. People know they'll have trouble getting their mouths around the huge burgers, and whatever they order they'll be hard pressed to eat it all. The specials will be mom food like "Meat loaf, Mashed & Peas" for $4.50. And does Alonso's have a wine list? Not at all. It has a beer list.

Up front is a package store, then a huge rectangular bar that fills up the whole room. People eat here if no tables are available. In back are seven tables and booths jammed together in a tight little space. Even on a Tuesday night the waiting list was long.

If you're lucky you get a table after not too endless a wait, and then you sit back and order one of Alonso's famous pizzas. (In the '80s it was always being voted "Baltimore's Best" by one publication or another.)

Or have one of Alonso's equally famous hamburgers.

These are famous not because of the meat (although it's good) or the method of cooking or the accompaniments, but because lTC of their size. My husband foolishly ordered the Meal in a Basket without asking our waitress to define "jumbo hamburger." It turned out to be, literally, a pound of beef. If you can picture what a pound of cooked beef on a hamburger bun with lettuce, tomato and fried onions looks like, you'll realize it's frustrating to eat. You can get a large bite of meat and a little bun, or a large bite of meat and a little lettuce or a large . . . you get the idea. My advice would be to get the regular hamburger, which is still huge.

Pizza is what Alonso's does best. I like the simplicity of it. There's one size, a medium, and they all cost $9 unless you get plain ($8) or with everything ($10). It hardly needs to be said that these aren't gourmet toppings like lobster or porcini mushrooms. We're talking pepperoni or meat sauce or green pepper or onion -- that sort of thing. The crust is crunchy and the proportion of crust to sauce to cheese to toppings is good. I say toppings, but Alonso's actually blankets its pepperoni or sausage or whatever under the cheese.

If you don't want a hamburger or pizza there are plenty of other sandwiches to choose from. The chicken salad club I had contained very mayonnaise-y chicken salad, which made for a sandwich that tasted OK but was pretty sloppy. Clearly Alonso's isn't going to serve food that can be eaten daintily.

The rest of our meal seemed like an afterthought on the kitchen's part. Clam chowder was as thick as sausage gravy. We uncovered a few fries in the basket under the jumbo hamburger, but clearly no one expects you to finish the burger and eat a lot of french fries. A slice of chocolate truffle cheesecake tasted like the insides of a truffle candy -- a little of this dense chocolate goes a long, long way.

Alonso's

Where: 415 W. Cold Spring Lane.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.

Credit cards accepted: None.

Features: Bar food, pizza.

Non-smoking section? No.

Call: (410) 235-3433.

Prices: sandwiches, $3.50-$8.20; dinners, $4.50-$11.50.

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