There's something inherently appealing about a diner, especially one that's wrapped up in neon and stainless steel like a roadside bonbon. But the new Double T Diner in Ellicott City has a history that makes it a little less loveable to some. It opened last summer as the Princess Diner, immediately next to the much smaller, much loved Forest Diner, and directly threatened its business. There were plenty of twists and turns in this coffee-counter soap opera, including the sale of the Princess Diner to the Korologos brothers, owners of the successful Double T Diner chain, after only a few months.
The original Double T is farther east on Baltimore National Pike in Catonsville, with others in Pasadena, Annapolis and White Marsh.
Even though I'd been secretly rooting for the Forest Diner all along, I vowed to eat my eggs unbiased at the Double T.
The verdict: I liked this spotless diner, done up in dark-green vinyl, shiny stainless steel and deep cherry wood. The variety of the menu is enormous and so are the portions. If you can settle for that instead of culinary finesse, you won't be disappointed.
As for service, you'll have to lower your expectations considerably. Spilling our soup without apologizing and later rolling his eyes when we asked a question, our waiter at dinner was both sloppy and rude. Our waitress at lunch was friendly, but clueless about the menu. Poor service didn't matter that much, though, when the food was on our table because, frankly, there was so much of it.
The Double T breakfast special is an embarrassment of riches: two eggs cooked to order, two wonderfully fluffy, full-size pancakes, two fat sausages, three strips of bacon, two slices of toast and a family-size portion of home fries for $6.75. A glass of tomato juice arrived in a tall milkshake tumbler.
An appetizer portion of spanakopita turned out to be big enough for a meal, with one giant square and an extra rectangle thrown in for good measure. The phyllo on top was crispy and golden. Inside was lots of spinach mixed with feta cheese.
A pile of fresh, raw spinach was the base for a terrific salad, topped with bacon, prosciutto, fresh mushrooms, tomatoes and roasted peppers. Watch out for hyperbole on the menu, though. The homemade balsamic dressing for the salad turned out to be a dish of plain vegetable oil with a dollop of pink vinegar in it.
That salad was nothing like the wilted mini Greek salad that came with our chicken souvlaki sandwich platter. It had gone limp under the hot lights, probably waiting for crisp golden fries to join it on the plate. I would have liked a little less cream sauce on the sandwich, but the pita was soft and pillowy, and the strips of chicken tender.
There are pages of dinner options on the menu, from fancy sauteed dishes to classic blue-plate specials that change daily. We tried a special of liver and onions, with three tender pieces of perfectly cooked liver sitting next to a pile of sauteed red onion. It came with a vegetable, a large house salad made with fresh romaine and a cup of homemade but greasy chicken and rice soup, full of chunky vegetables.
Portions are so large, appetizers are not really necessary. If you must, crispy, deep-fried buffalo wings are a better choice than cold stuffed grape leaves filled with mushy seasoned rice.
Desserts are baked on the premises, but some look better than they taste. We sampled bland rice pudding, mediocre New York-style cheesecake, and a lemon meringue pie with thick, green-yellow filling. We washed them down with decaf coffee that tasted as if it had been made the previous night.
Double T Diner
10055 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City
410-750-3300 Hours: Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Credit cards: Major cards
Prices: Appetizers, $3.95-$7.95; entrees, $6.95-$18.45
Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *
Pub Date: 01/14/99