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10th Inning

August 10, 2003

By E.T. MOORE

FUNKSTOWN - Gritty Chicago columnist Mike Royko once waxed indignant over having been served a cheeseburger in California that contained pecans.

Royko had definite ideas about a proper cheeseburger, and pecans, avocados, pineapple, et al. were certainly not part of the equation.

The 10th Inning Funkstown Tavern and Restaurant, however, would have fulfilled his checklist quite adequately. The local bar and eatery's interpretation of the all-American classic is a healthy patty of asymmetrically formed beef (well-done, of course) on a soft, white roll with tomato, lettuce and gummy American cheese roughly the color of highly reflective rain gear.

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It is, in a word, fabulous for those times when you feel like sinking your teeth into a warm, satisfying chunk of pure Americana. The 10th Inning Funkstown Tavern and Restaurant at 23 W. Baltimore St. doesn't cater to fancy tastes - but it does give basic a good name.

Although primarily a bar, complete at 11:30 a.m. with the requisite barflies - figuratively and in one case literally - and the beer advertising posters adorned with scantily clad women, the Funkstown Tavern boasts a menu that can be enjoyed either at the bar, in a side dining room divided into smoking and nonsmoking sections, or on a sun-splashed patio with umbrella-topped tables. The indoor dining areas are within earshot of the horseshoe-shaped bar just inside the establishment's entrance, but diners are far enough removed from the smoke-and-Keno bar bustle to enjoy their meals.

The sole bartender doubled as our waitress during a recent lunch hour, providing quick and pleasant dining room service despite a full bar crowd.

And the price can't be beaten.

The lengthy list of sandwiches on the menu - from the classic BLT to steamers and Reubens - cost between $1.50 and $3.25. Six-inch subs cost between $2.75 and $3.35. Such side orders as homemade French fries, onion rings and a cheese platter are priced at between $1.60 and $3. A cup of coffee costs 50 cents. At $5.50, the half-pound of steamed shrimp is the priciest item on the menu.

And homemade soups such as beef with rice and ham and bean are easy on the wallet at $1.75 per bowl and $1.25 per cup - a bargain for diners who don't expect the finest gourmet quality. The beef with rice, for example, was heavy on the white rice and light on the beef. The onion rings, on the other hand, were outstanding. The six rings were crunchy and golden brown. We found them more appetizing than the homemade fries, which would likely appeal to the diner with a soft spot for Boardwalk-style fries, but which we found a tad too limp with the flavor of oil challenging the potato.

Along with the onion rings and burgers, the $1.50 steamer (no, that's not a misprint) was a beefy and hickory-flavored winner without being drowned in a runny, sweet tomato sauce. We decided to step out on a limb by choosing a Reuben, one of the menu's more exotic listings. It wasn't heaping with meat like at a New York deli, but it was surprisingly tasty - with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and a tangy sauce on crispy, toasted rye bread.

The less adventurous palate will be satisfied with old standbys such as the BLT, made with four pieces of bacon with a thinly sliced tomato and iceberg lettuce on toasted white bread with the appropriate amount of mayonnaise.

All of our food choices except the steamed shrimp were served piping hot. The shrimp, though amply sized and nicely spicy with a flavorful cocktail sauce, came to the table lukewarm.

The amenities at the 10th Inning Funkstown Tavern and Restaurant are not plentiful, but then they were hardly missed. Plastic tableware was par for the course, and the seemingly recycled dining room/office furniture plain but comfortable. Aside from a fly or two and some dust in the bathroom, the place was plenty clean enough. We did find ourselves lacking in silverware - but when one has a fat cheeseburger on one hand and an Old Milwaukee Light in the other, of what use is a fork?

10th Inning Funkstown Tavern and Restaurant

n Food: 2 forks (out of 4)

n Service: 3 forks (out of 4)

n Atmosphere: 2 forks (out of 4)

n Value: 4 forks (out of 4)

Hours: 10th Inning Funkstown Tavern and Restaurant is open from 10:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Wednesday and 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Thursday through Sunday. The kitchen is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; and 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday with a limited menu.

Prices range from 50 cents for a cup of coffee to $5.50 for a half-pound of steamed shrimp.

Phone: 301-733-6355.

Location: 23 W. Baltimore St. in Funkstown.

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