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Loaded menu and historical charm meet at the Grille

April 05, 2004|by E.T. MOORE

This was a first for me: I took my appetizer home in a doggie bag.

Was my frugality flaring up? Go to The Grille at Park Circle in Hagerstown, order the Old Bay Crab Potato Waffles and decide for yourself.

This $7.95 oval dish of crispy potato waffles topped with crab meat, melted cheese and Old Bay spices was a kitchen experiment years ago. It's too much for two and too good to be left partially eaten.

With its varied, loaded menu and its homespun historical charm, the Grille is tough to categorize. Co-owners Dick Roulette and Bob Ginsberg have said they were aiming for casual and eclectic when they decided to buy the restaurant in 1994.

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They've nailed it.

Clearly, reservations are needed on a Friday night, when Dining Companion - DC for short - and I went.

But if you have the time, park on Virginia Avenue or Memorial Boulevard (the small lot will be full), walk in and wait for a table; it will be more fun. Tour the restaurant and the bar and admire dozens of sports artifacts the owners have collected. Find Cal Ripken Jr.'s and Johnny Unitas's jerseys and Pete Rose's batting helmet.

Look at the MG and Mercedes Benz automobile grills, the 1956 Hoo-Wair-N-Wat from Hagerstown High School, the class photos from earlier years. An hour easily could evaporate.

The bar is a lively and friendly place to wait. Five TVs were showing basketball when we went. The bartender gave DC a cigarette. Smokers came in to sit and dine.

We sat in the Grille's other half, the dimly-lit nonsmoking dining area where candle globes flickered and soft jazz was a background to casual chatter. Our corner of the wall was covered with baseballs, a bat, a Milwaukee Braves vs. New York Yankees scorecard - and fencing gear.

The appetizer section of the menu was densely packed, but we came in pretty sure we'd try the potato waffles.

The entree was a longer, tougher choice. DC liked his $14.50 shrimp scampi for its generous number of shrimp, its light angel hair pasta and its olive oil. Green and yellow beans were at the same time soft and crunchy - just right.

To be thorough, I picked The Thrill of the Grille. Each part was a delight - two breaded lump backfin crabcakes, a tender chargrilled honey-mustard-glazed chicken breast and a filet mignon prepared perfectly medium well, just as I asked.

It was also a lot to eat. I asked for doggie bag No. 2.

Our starter salads of iceberg lettuce, onions and carrots were nothing special. However, our breadsticks came to the table not warm, but hot, which made patting butter on them fun.

When I said that, yes, I'd like steak sauce, Carla, our waitress, brought both A1 and Lea & Perrins, a small example of her excellent service. She was right there when we needed water refills, offered menu tips and chatted warmly with us. She hunted for a take-home menu when we asked for one.

It's not often you can say this, but the bathroom was cool and sweet-smelling. DC appreciated the Jayne Mansfield come-hither picture hanging in the men's room.

The appetizer and meal were plentiful, so DC did not want a full dessert. A spoonful of my slice of rich peanut butter pie satisfied him.

I happily finished the rest, which was not a first.

Our bill for one appetizer, two entrees and one dessert - we carried drinks over from the bar - was $51.82, including tax.

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