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Dimensions

August 22, 2004

By E.T. MOORE

If you like dining in a place where everybody knows your name, Dimensions is the place for you.

Dimensions is the new restaurant run by former managers of the Ground Round restaurant at Valley Plaza Shopping Center, near Valley Mall. Former Ground Round general manager Mary Hoffman and kitchen manager Brad Sheldon have opened a small restaurant that features personal service and quality food at a reasonable price.

A recent visit, six months to the day after Ground Round was abruptly closed, showed the new restaurant is still uneven, but has plenty of the atmosphere and quality of Hoffman's and Sheldon's previous place.

Two dining companions and I stepped inside on an evening that threatened rain. Eric, a Ground Round waiter who joined Hoffman and Sheldon at Dimensions, waved us to pick any table. We sat by the front window and looked around.

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Dimensions is basically a neighborhood eatery based on the Ground Round-Ruby Tuesday pattern. Sports paraphernalia is scattered on one wall. Historical photos of the region decorate another. Tan walls and tables are complemented by deep green curtains. The floor is a black and white checker pattern. Wooden chairs and wood edging on the laminate tabletops add warmth to the room. An oldies radio station provided background music.

The menu is immense. Running to 10 pages with a dozen items on each page - pasta, chicken, steaks, burgers, sandwiches, fajitas, subs and a kids' menu - it must have something for nearly everyone in the family.

The staff is enthusiastic. With few diners at tables during our visit, Hoffman and Eric dropped by often.

Eating at Dimensions is like eating with family. Hoffman and her wait staff are outgoing and friendly, eager to chat and make diners feel like old friends.

This casual atmosphere extends to the bar service. Because the restaurant is too small for a liquor license, diners are encouraged to bring their own bottle. We brought wine; Eric provided stemware.

The food is good. Like many family-style restaurants, Dimensions serves some familiar commercially made items - chicken tenderloins and buffalo wings, cheesecake - which are expected fare.

But the menu items not purchased off the shelf are better. Quality, fresh ingredients are handled well.

Over two visits, we ordered a baked crab dip served in a bread bowl as an appetizer ($8.99 off a specialty menu), a chicken quesadilla ($7.79), a grilled chicken and spinach salad ($7.99) and a combo of a 9-ounce filet mignon and a crab cake ($24.99) with a side Caesar salad ($1.99 extra). We liked just about everything.

My junior companion likes steak; J.C. was happy with her filet, even though she wanted it medium rare and it came well done.

"This is so good," J.C. said. The baked potato on the side also was excellent and was served with real butter.

Senior companion grew up in Maryland and knows crab. S.C. liked the crab dip, but it was smooth, and S.C. wanted chunks of meat - and maybe a bit less Old Bay seasoning.

The big crab cake got high marks.

"Very good. Lots of meat. Not too many breadcrumbs," S.C said.

(J.C., an award-winning speller, is sensitive to pretentiousness. She pointed out that the specialty menu spelled bread bowl with "too many vowels." But the bread "bouille" was actually French bread and excellent - crusty on the outside and soft on the inside.)

My quesadilla was satisfactory - a big, meaty serving - and the salads were crisp. S.C. questioned the freshness of the Caesar salad that accompanied the combo dinner. The romaine was crisp, but was it fresh? I thought so; S.C. differed. The salad was good, though. The dressing was tasty, and the croutons were crunchy but not hard.

The grilled chicken and spinach salad was pleasantly inventive. Red seedless grapes and shredded Gouda cheese joined fresh baby spinach, roasted red pepper and crisp bacon under a juicy, flavorful chicken breast.

Dimensions has many things going for it, but there's a down side. The rolls served at the meal's beginning are dry and drab. Our desserts (we had slices of chocolate cake and cheesecake and deep-fried cheesecake balls) were forgettable, but the ice cream on the side was outstanding.

Overall, our experience at Dimensions begs for a return as it continues to evolve.

It's a family restaurant worth a visit. Bring a bottle of your favorite wine or beer, and work your way through the long list of menu items.

Dimensions

n Food: 3 forks (out of 4)

n Service: 3 forks (out of 4)

n Atmosphere: 2 forks (out of 4)

n Value: 3 forks (out of 4)

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

Location: 635 S. Potomac St., Hagerstown

For more information: Call 301-739-7260.

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