At always-open Ronda's, stick with the traditional diner food

February 25, 1994|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Baltimore doesn't have that many places where you can get a meal any time day or night, so it's good to know about Ronda's, a new diner that's open 24 hours a day.

But diners have changed since their heyday in the '50s. Did diners used to cater weddings and bar mitzvahs? Did they used to have duck a l'orange on the menu as well as a hot turkey sandwich?

How about a whole broiled lobster side by side with a milkshake? I didn't try the lobster, but I can vouch for the milkshake: cold, rich and creamy with the scent of real vanilla. And the potato salad is good. Other than that, though . . .

If I ate at Ronda's again, I'd stick to the traditional diner fare: burgers and sandwiches and hefty breakfasts served any time. Maybe I'd venture into the Greek specialties (a gyro or moussaka) or Italian food (ravioli or chicken parmigiana). What I wouldn't do is order any of the dinners, even though they make up a large part of the menu.

Liver steak, for instance, came to the table smelling so strong I could barely taste anything else. It was a paper-thin slice, but it still wasn't easy to cut, and it was cooked to death. No onions. No bacon. Nothing but a huge plate of liver.

A seafood platter seemed to have been broiled all at the same time, so the fish and scallops weren't overcooked, but the tiny shrimp had shriveled up in the heat. The fish was fresh enough, but I didn't appreciate that salmon steak had been substituted for the filet of sole without telling me. The promised baked clams simply never made an appearance.

Dinners came with a decent enough small salad, made with green leaf lettuce; lumpy mashed potatoes with sauerbraten gravy (not that sauerbraten is on the menu); frozen peas and frozen mixed vegetables.

You can start with soup, although the vegetable bean soup had spent too many hours on the back of the stove, or one of several appetizers such as broiled mushrooms, which had a well-seasoned stuffing of crab that contained more shell and bread crumbs than I'd want again.

I ordered the shrimp cocktail. When the cook couldn't find the jumbo shrimp, the waitress told me he substituted the smaller size but gave me more of them. That was fine with me.

As for dessert, a piece of chocolate cake was so stale the icing was rubbery, and I couldn't cut through the cake itself. It's one of the few times I've ever returned a dessert, but I didn't want it to be served to anyone else. The lemon meringue pie wasn't as far gone, but the crust was still pretty soggy.

Ronda's is located where a Howard Johnson's used to be, and it looks much the same, without the orange booths and freshly redone. But remember those fried clam sandwiches and the peppermint stick ice cream you used to get at HoJo's? Bring back the Howard Johnson's is what I say.

Ronda's

Where: 5705 Baltimore National Pike

Hours: 24 hours a day

Credit cards accepted: D, MC, V

Features: Breakfast, lunch and dinner

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 744-1000

Prices: $2.50-$18.95

* 1/2

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