Given three options for dinner in early July, our friends Scott and Denise Stein picked in the Tilghman Square Shopping Center in South Whitehall.
"It's Josh's favorite," Denise said, referring to a nephew.
Our friends had eaten there a half dozen times since the franchise opened almost 20 years ago, in August 1993. My husband Bruce also had enjoyed quite a few lunches there before he retired in November, but it had been a while since I had sampled the fare.
Uncharacteristically, we both scanned the menu and settled on the same selection: a "BLTA" on a croissant with a fruit cup instead of fries. A BLTA is a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with a nice slice of avacado.
I'm a sucker for anything on a croissant, that light and flaky but decatantly buttery pastry, and it's not everywhere you can get avacado on a BLT.
"Delicious," we both exclaimed.
"But messy," I added, as layers slid and mayo dripped onto my plate.
Our friends each ordered the same thing: an arctic cod platter, which came with steak fries.
"It was excellent," Scott said. "I was pleasantly surprised. I usually have burgers."
Red Robin, in fact, is known for its burgers, having won first place in the ZAGAT national chain survey three years in a row. It's no wonder with 28 burgers on the menu, including double burgers with names such as "pig out," offering "bacon and even more bacon;" "cry baby" with crispy and sauteed onions "not for the weak of tongue;" and "fiery ghost," with fresh and fried jalepenos that "will have you seeing things."
Scott said the fish was tender with a crispy coating. "Not British style, which is wrapped in a newspaper cone," he added.
Denise liked it as well but said she preferred the restaurant's onion rings to its bottomless steak fries, a house specialty. "The fries could have been a little crispier," she said. "They were slightly doughy."
General manager Dave Shankweiler, who's been with Red Robin three years, said top sellers include the whiskey barbecue burger topped with lettuce, tomato and onion straws; the avacado salad; baked potato soup and "freckled" lemonade, which gets its name from the addition of frozen strawberries.
He guessed that the restaurant's variety of selections, cleanliness and courteous servers keep their customers coming back. Red Robin also sends its mascot "Red" out to charity events with "bird bucks" that can be used for food. And, because of its proximity to the , it offers patrons a sweet deal of two movie tickets and two meals (without alcohol) for $33.99.
Our server Jake was pleasant and attentive, not pushy, even though we stayed for three hours. I fear we took it out on him, though, when he delivered the only bad news of the evening -- that there was no regular coffee, only decaf.
"That could be a deal-breaker for some," said Scott, who's not a coffee drinker.
"Oh man, no real coffee!" Denise said.
"Are you kidding? Why not?" I asked.
Jake said he didn't know, but they ran out. Turns out their supplier ran behind because of the July 4th holiday.
Good thing too, because it was nearly 10 p.m. and high-test probably would have kept us awake all night.
Our tab for the evening, with three alcoholic beverages: $71.43