Red Robin remains a fun place to sit and enjoy a meal

Menu simple, but chain has a few perks

Eats: dining reviews, Table Talk

October 02, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Red Robin is a very American restaurant. It fits all the stereotypes - how Americans love hamburgers and sweets, like to eat in a hurry, and often watch television while we're eating.

Well, the sweet tooth is heavily indulged here. Desserts are over-the-top extravaganzas, and the drink menu includes plenty of sugary alcohol drinks.

My favorite touches are the television that's actually embedded in the floor of the waiting area, and the promise of "bottomless" steak fries with the burgers. Of course, anyone who keeps eating the fries won't be bottomless at all, but that's a different story.

Red Robin, a restaurant chain that started in Seattle in 1969, now has about 200 restaurants. Five are in Maryland, including the one in Columbia, which opened in March. The others are in Annapolis, Gaithersburg, Germantown and Owings Mills. Although 21 are in Canada, this is still a very American place.

Red Robin is popular with families that have young children. It is large and loud, and kids get their own cup, crayons and balloon.

It's definitely for grown-ups, too, as the extensive drink menu indicates. Though there are a few wines and beers, the highlighted drinks have names like "sand in your shorts" and "jungle shake." These are presented in attractive glasses, with pretty garnishes, and the sweet taste masks the heavy alcohol content.

Though the menu promised to check I.D. of anyone under 39-and a-half, we were not carded, although all of us were at least a few years younger than that.

Aside from this obvious insult to our youthful good looks, service at Red Robin was super-speedy and friendly. We ate an entire meal, including drinks, appetizers, main courses and desserts, in just over an hour. And we enjoyed nearly everything.

A particular favorite was the artichoke and spinach dip appetizer. Unlike so many dips that are just mayonnaise-y, this one actually tasted of parmesan cheese and was chunky with the green vegetables. It came with a large assortment of things to dip, including carrots, celery and tortilla chips in a variety of colors.

The "towering onion rings" is something of a signature at Red Robin because of the dramatic stacked presentation. The rings were large, with a nice crispy batter, and they came with two dipping sauces - one that tasted smoky, and one that tasted like ranch dressing.

Of course, hamburgers are the main event, and Red Robin has dozens of varieties, including ones made with chicken, fish, veggies and even pot roast. The banzai burger, marinated in teriyaki and topped with pineapple, cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo, was slightly rarer than I requested but meaty and flavorful anyway.

The California chicken burger featured a large, tender breast with a delicious combination of guacamole, cheese, bacon, tomato, lettuce, pickles and mayo. Both burgers arrived on substantial buns, with a generous serving of steak fries that were large, bland and not at all crisp.

The menu does have a few entrees, including fajitas and some pasta dishes. We had the fish and chips, which featured large, sweet and flaky fillets in a crisp batter, plus the same unexceptional fries. Desserts were show-stoppers, and the servers seemed to know this as they brought the gorgeous concoctions through the dining area.

The mud pie was a tall slab of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, buttressed with a peanut-butter-and-cookie crust, chocolate and caramel sauce, and of course, gobs of whipped cream. The apple crisp was warm and very sweet, with a generous dollop of vanilla ice cream, and the Snickers cheesecake would have been good enough on its own, but it was covered in hot fudge, caramel and whipped cream for good measure.

Red Robin may not be a culinary adventure, but it is a fun destination anyway.

Red Robin

Where: 8640 Snowden River Crossing, Columbia

Call: 410-312-0214

Open: Lunch and dinner daily

Credit cards: All major

Prices: Appetizers $6.99-$8.49, entrees $7.29-$12.49

Food: ***

Service: ***

Atmosphere: **

Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

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