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Standard fare for a hometown crowd

March 21, 2004|by E.T. MOORE

The Colonial Motel & Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue in north Hagerstown bills itself as a throwback to the '50s, and sure enough, one look at the decor will convince you that nobody is going to out-bobbysocks this joint. A jukebox stands along one wall of the small dining area, and the walls are jammed with artwork incorporating mid-century starlets, '57 Chevys and thin Elvises. Black and white is in, and there is nary a fern in sight.

The dining room is clean, unpretentious and relaxing, with Formica tabletops, a big TV, Keno and other modern-day parlor games. Nonsmokers might feel uncomfortable, however, as the restaurant lacks a walled-off nonsmoking area. Though we arrived on a Saturday evening without a reservation - after trying to make one earlier in the day but getting put on hold for nearly five minutes without a response - the friendly staff did their best to accommodate us. We were politely offered a reserved table if we promised to dine in less than an hour - so we got down to business.

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We waded through an appetizer menu with more than one dozen offerings ranging from Chili Cheese Fries ($2.99) to one-half pound of U-Peel-Em Shrimp ($6.99), choosing an order of breaded, deep-fried Zucchini Sticks ($2.99) and honey-dipped Buffalo Wings served with hot sauce, celery and blue cheese dressing ($4.99). Our appetizers arrived in paper-lined plastic baskets, a testament to the Colonial's no-frills style. The wings were a spicy dream - reason alone to visit the Colonial. They were succulent and plump with a wonderfully delicate, crackly skin and a well-flavored sauce. The deep-fried zucchini was decent - big, fresh and meaty sticks that were done perfectly, so as to still maintain some bite. But the breading, while crisp, had little going for it in the way of flavor. Even a little oregano and a good marinara sauce, rather than the ordinary ranch dressing served on the side, would have done wonders.

**Our chief gripe with the dinner was a lack of daring. In the eatery's defense, this may well be how their regular clientele prefers it. But the main dishes we ordered struck us as ranging from timid to bland. The Boneless Rib Eye Steak ($9.99 for a 10-ounce "queen cut" and $13.99 for a 16-ounce "king cut") was well-cut, tender, bursting with juice and done perfectly as ordered. But again, it made us wonder if they had salt back in the '50s. Just the option of some sort of spice rub - maybe Cajun, or even just cracked peppercorn and sea salt - would have made this hefty slice of meat memorable. We also ordered one crab cake with prime rib ($16.95) from the nightly specials menu after our server said the Colonial's crab cakes were known as some of the best in town. They aren't. Though the prime rib was tender, juicy and cooked exactly as ordered, the broiled crab cake was stringy and bland.

Perhaps it would have been wiser to stick to the kinds of fare hometown restaurants tend to do best. The Colonial offers more than enough such choices - from honey dipped chicken ($7.99) to chopped steak topped with gravy ($5.99) to simple steamed shrimp seasoned with Old Bay ($9.99). In addition to six entree-sized salads and a few homemade soups, the menu boasts a variety of sandwiches and burgers at affordable prices - from $1.99 for egg salad to $2.89 for a deluxe cheese burger or fish sandwich served with chips and pickles to $5.49 for the hot roast beef sandwich or club. The children's menu includes a choice of chicken nuggets, hot dog or grilled cheese with french fries, applesauce and a small drink - all for $2.79.

All entrees come with a choice of two dishes from a list that includes such comforting offerings as baked potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green beans and applesauce. We chose french fries, cole slaw, scalloped potatoes and stewed tomatoes. We found the fries tasty and crisp and the stewed tomatoes plenty warm and pleasantly sweet. We weren't so fond of the runny and bland scalloped potatoes or the cole slaw, which was reminiscent of that sold in a supermarket deli.

From a fundamental standpoint, the cooks at the Colonial seem truly excellent, but it would be good to see them spread their wings a little.

The establishment was willing to step out on a limb with its deserts and admirably so, especially in the case of its deep-fried cheesecake. Yes, as if cheesecake could get any more calorically diabolical. But it works, a rich, creamy cake just slightly melted in a flavorful, deep-fried dough. The hot fudge sundae also was enjoyable, though the fudge sauce could have been a bit warmer.

It was refreshing to see a server staff so willing to help each other meet customers' needs. We never did learn the name of our server or the several others who shuttled food and fresh beverages to our table, but we appreciated their efficient service. The Colonial also features a full-service bar - which boasts nightly specials. Our meal, which included two glasses of red wine, totaled $54 for the two of us.

Colonial Motel & Restaurant

Location: 14130 Pennsylvania Ave. in Hagerstown

Phone: 301-739-0667

Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday.

Colonial Motel & Restaurant rating

Overall:

Food: (out of 4)

Service: (our of 4)

Atmosphere: (out of 4)

Value: (out of 4)

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