Red Robin, the newest chain eatery to arrive in the Baltimore area, is one of those high-concept casual restaurants that feels like it was hatched in business school.
"Say, what's your favorite food?" One youthful MBA wannabe probably asked another.
"Burgers, no question."
"And your favorite drink?"
"Love a good mixed drink. You know the kind - comes in a souvenir glass and is usually made with triple sec, whatever that is, and a slice of orange on top."
"My man, I've got you covered."
You laugh, but from such conversations spring places like TGI Fridays, Olive Garden and Macaroni Grill. The Colorado-based Red Robin chain has grown to 150 outlets, including this latest one in Owings Mills near the Town Center mall.
This is a restaurant about big burgers, big drinks and big desserts at reasonable prices, with a "bop-bop-bopping along" family-friendly attitude. Expect to find plenty of young people and families with little children who will love the noisy atmosphere, the no-nonsense menu, and that little cartoon robin that seems to show up on all the tableware.
Of course, that's not to say the food's not worth your time. Actually, a lot of it's pretty good, and that probably explains the chain's rising success. Just don't expect anything terribly exotic or original.
Our meal started with the Just-in-quesadilla (starting to get the idea?), a pretty good rendition of a chicken quesadilla, with grilled chicken, mushrooms, bacon, cilantro, tomatoes and nacho cheese in a flour tortilla. Guacamole and a decent salsa are served on the side.
Onion rings are big, crisp and hot, an ideal combination. They deserved better than the ketchup-and-mayonnaise-based sauce that accompanied them.
A side salad was fresh and crisp, its low-fat Oriental dressing a flavorful discovery - think sesame oil and rice vinegar. But one note to the management: There's something about an Oriental dressing and shredded cheese that just doesn't work, OK?
A Lone Star burger, charbroiled with melted jalapeno pepper-jack, guacamole, salsa, lettuce, tomato and pickles, was terrific - if a bit messy. Fortunately, the burgers come wrapped in wax paper to spare diners from those unwanted condiment blasts.
The Whisky River BBQ chicken burger, one of a half-dozen chicken breast "burgers" on the menu, was also a worthy dinner partner. The grilled chicken breast was smothered in a ketchup-heavy barbecue sauce with Cheddar cheese, sauteed onions, lettuce and tomato.
Both sandwiches were accompanied by "bottomless" steak fries, but the first servings were too generous to test this offer.
There is an assortment of entrees for those curious souls who didn't come for the burgers. We can recommend the Red's rice bowl with steak, a wok-full (yes, it's delivered in an individual-serving wok) of still-crisp veggies and marinated morsels of steak with an Oriental dressing on the side.
Desserts are sized for two and then some. The house favorite is the "mountain high mudd pie," a giant wedge of vanilla and chocolate ice cream with peanut butter and chocolate cookie crust drenched with caramel and fudge sauces. It was our favorite, too.
We also tried the hot apple crisp, which featured sliced apples topped with an oatmeal cookie crumble and several small scoops of ice cream and caramel sauce. It was just a bit too sweet and cloying for our tastes.
Service was courteous but uneven. A drink order was misplaced, another drink was spilled on a diner and a salad arrived before the appetizers, but at least the waitress was attentive throughout the meal.
We'd include a review of some of the 13 specialty mixed drinks on the menu (from nuclear ice tea to the Absolut lemonade) but it was a school night. For the younger set, there are mocktails, too, by the way.
4 Restaurant Park Drive, Owings Mills 443-394-0999
Hours: Open 10 a.m. for lunch and dinner. Closes 11 p.m. weekdays, midnight on weekends.
Credit cards: All major cards
Prices: Appetizers $5.95-$7.95; entrees $5.95-$9.95
Rating system: Outstanding, ****; Good,***Fair or uneven, **; Poor, *