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Bad service overwhelms good food


OK, I have to admit it. I think Bennigan's has the dumbest slogan of any restaurant in America: "Food & Fun for Humans." But apart from that, whenever our family has eaten at this casual dining chain, our meals have always been satisfactory. The kid is happy, the food decent, the service good, the prices fair.

I'd never been to the Bennigan's in Baltimore, though, until after I got a sheaf of promotional material recently on its new Health Club menu -- six low-fat items, including a chocolate cookie sundae.

So the three of us stopped in, prepared to give up our hamburgers and Death By Chocolate desserts in the interest of research. Well, some of us were. Actually I was the only one who ended up ordering from the Health Club menu.

But we started with drinks. My husband asked for a beer, which arrived without a glass. The waitress escaped before he could say anything. When he finally caught her eye and told her, she gave him a look like he was asking for hummingbird tongues. A glass? For beer? After a while when it still didn't come, he reminded her. "Sorry," she said, "But the bartender's pretty busy." Look, lady, this is a glass we're talking about here, not a brandy Alexander.

Yes, he got a frosted beer mug eventually. But it was colder than the beer at that point.

The waitress had it in for him after that. The dressing came on his salad even though he had asked for it on the side three times -- I counted. She brought him his appetizer, crisply fried little broccoli and melted cheese bites, after his hamburger. And he was the one the low-fat sundae was put in front of. (Our other choices were the brownie bottom pie and Death By Chocolate.)

Now if you send a restaurant critic your Health Club promotional material, wouldn't you make sure that the Bennigan's in her city would have those items for at least the next week or two? Or if not, wouldn't you make sure the waitress knew that the Health Club fruit salad wasn't available because, as she put it when she broke the news to me -- while she was serving the other two entrees -- "The kitchen doesn't have the ingredients."

I ordered the Health Club chicken fajitas instead, but cheated a little and asked for some guacamole with it. The waitress brought the fajitas out, sans guacamole, and said, "I asked the jTC kitchen to put it on the plate, but they wouldn't." What is this, the food police? Overeaters Anonymous?

Then we waited so long for our desserts (on a slow night) that I began to think our waitress had quit on the spur of the moment.

We'd been there long enough. I had my credit card out ready to pay the bill when she finally did bring them.

It goes to show you how bad service overshadows what was not a bad meal. I have hardly any space left to talk about the food. The highlights: Those healthy fajitas, even without guacamole, featured tender chicken, delicious sauteed red peppers and onions, and fine whole wheat tortillas. The fat hamburger was great, with slices of ripe avocado, sauteed onions and barbecue sauce. (You get to pick three toppings from a long list.)

As for the Health Club cookie sundae with low-fat ice cream, fat-free fudge cookies and fat-free chocolate and caramel syrup -- let me just say that my husband kept reaching over and eating our Death By Chocolate and the warm, incredibly moist brownie covered with ice cream and hot fudge.


Where: 34 Market Place

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:45 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m., Sunday noon-10 a.m.

Credit cards accepted: Major

Features: Casual fare

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 837-0553

Prices: Appetizers, $3.89-$7.99; entrees, $5.89-$10.99

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