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Theismann's is back in the game


You've gotta be tough to play football, and it's a good quality for football players in the restaurant business, too - as when the roof of Joe Theismann's Restaurant in Elkridge collapsed last year, closing the place for six months.

Tucked next to a Best Western hotel near the site of the old Dorsey Speedway off U.S. 1, the business reopened last summer after nearly $800,000 in repairs, partner Vernon H. Grandgeorge said.

"We wondered how business would be," Grandgeorge said, adding that customers came back, and everything worked out well. A new outdoor deck is being readied for Memorial Day weekend to give diners an outdoor option in the warmer months.

Fortunes have waxed and waned for the small local chain that bears the name of the former Washington Redskins quarterback who is Grandgeorge's partner.

"He is my partner and active in the business," Grandgeorge said, explaining that because Theismann lives in Northern Virginia, he visits the Alexandria restaurant more than the one in Elkridge.

The dark wood interior bordered by etched-glass privacy panels sports several large color photos of Redskins and Orioles players, and golfer Tiger Woods, though no Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens - yet. It has the relaxed atmosphere of a neighborhood sports bar/restaurant, though the bar - where smoking is allowed - sits neatly in a corner, behind glass doors. "Joe predicted the Ravens and the Redskins in the Super Bowl," Grandgeorge said. "We're big Ravens fans."

The fare is what you might expect at a sports-theme restaurant - steaks, seafood and chicken dishes prevail, often with specials in each category. On a recent evening, choices included grilled rib-eye or New York steaks, mahi-mahi, broiled crab cakes and a variety of sandwiches, served to the piped-in music that varied from oldies rock 'n' roll to jazz and blues.

Other choices include eggplant Parmesan, black pepper fettuccine, shrimp and salmon linguine, pan-seared sea bass, rainbow trout, chicken Louisiana and chicken Dijon.

Starting with one establishment in Falls Church in 1975, the chain once had four restaurants. Now there are two - in Elkridge and in Alexandria, said Grand- george, who has been involved since the beginning.

The Howard County restaurant opened in 1989, after the owners were lured to what Grand- george thought was a dubious location by an offer too sweet to refuse.

"Darn if the hotel didn't get busy right away and the restaurant was good. It's kind of a nice marriage," Grandgeorge said. He was surprised, for example, at how popular lunch became, but then he realized that the growing number of industrial parks and warehouses along the U.S. 1 corridor are a source of customers.

Another challenge was Howard County's adoption of a law requiring separate smoking and nonsmoking areas. Because the bar was in the center of the restaurant, Joe Theismann's at first banned smoking, which sent their bar patrons over the line to nearby Anne Arundel County, Grandgeorge said. Remodeling solved the problem.

"We try to distinguish ourselves from the chains by not having those prescribed entrees," he said.

A steady stream of customers on a recent Friday evening, on both the bar and restaurant sides, could mean Joe Theismann's will survive Howard County's chain-restaurant onslaught.

Joe Theismann's Restaurant

Where: 6751 Dorsey Road, Elkridge, 410-796-7775.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Appetizers $4.95 to $8.95; entrees $9.95 to $24.95.

Credit cards: : All major credit cards.

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