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Diner: Dieter's Beware

J. Alexander's offers huge portions in an attractive setting

By Annie McManis · February 1st, 2001 · Diner
J Alexander's, the national chain known for its hearty American fare, opened Cincinnati's one and only location at Norwood's Rookwood Commons last fall. Be warned: No puny appetites are allowed here. The huge portions -- at both lunch and dinner -- will defeat any attempt at eating modestly.

Folks seem to be pretty happy with what they're getting. The few times I've visited, the place has been packed. On some weekend nights, there can be a two-hour wait for tables.

Fortunately, the bar is more than accommodating for those willing to stick it out, or who are looking for a trendy setting for a drink. And the layout is smart, too. The bar is immediately to the left of the entrance, in its own room, so folks won't have to fight their way through a crowd.

On a Monday evening, we walked right in just before the dinner rush and were seated in a plush booth. The dining room is impressive, with dim lighting from large, Mission-style lanterns, rich dark colors and original artwork. The layout features booths and tables, and "peaks and valleys" (some raised sections, some not) that give the large room a more intimate feeling of several smaller seating areas.

My impression of J. Alexander's is the same as it was after my first experience. Everything looks impressive, from the bounty of food served on each plate to the tastefully decorated dining room. Heck, even the bathrooms are remarkable. But after several visits at both lunch and dinner, I've found the quality of the food and service is painfully inconsistent.

At a recent lunch meeting with clients, our server was so inattentive that we spent more time trying to flag him down than we did discussing business. We left feeling like we had interrupted a private party and rudely imposed upon the host.

A previous lunch visit, however, was extremely pleasant with a server who went out of his way to accommodate our large group.

On this Monday evening, the moon and the stars were aligned, and the great server gods blessed us with a young woman who made up for all previous mishaps. She offered several suggestions from the appetizer menu and was very knowledgeable about wine selections. We chose the Mexico City Spinach Con Queso ($7), a gooey, melted cheese dip with flecks of spinach, served with warm, salty tortilla chips. It was tasty and good for sharing. The appetizer selection is limited -- Salsa and Chips ($4), Smoked Salmon Dip ($6), and Mr. Jack's Chicken Fingers ($7) are the only other options -- however, once you see the size of the salads and entrées, you'll know why.

The house salad (Alex's) or the California Caesar can be ordered to accompany a meal ($4) or stand alone ($7). We opted to split a Caesar before our entrées, and still couldn't finish the entire plate of crisp Romaine with creamy, roasted garlic dressing and fresh Parmesan. The Soup and Salad Combo ($9) is a nice option for lunch or dinner, served with the same large dinner-sized salad and a bowl of homemade soup. Two I've tried and enjoyed are the Loaded Baked Potato and the Chicken and Pasta, both creamy and filling. All salads come with a fresh baked croissant, drizzled with sweet vanilla icing.

Burgers and sandwiches -- including the lone vegetarian option on the menu, a veggie burger ($7) -- are served with a mound of seasoned fries. J. Alexander's is, however, known for its beef. Aged Prime Rib (16 oz./$20; 12 oz./$19) is the house specialty. Several orders sailed by during our dinner. Servers also recommend the various steaks: the Steak Maui ($18), a 12 oz. marinated Delmonico with "smashed potatoes" and salad; and the 10 oz. Filet ($22) with baked potato and salad, top the list.

I chose the Grilled Salmon ($19), prepared over a hickory wood fire, served with an orzo and wild rice salad. I had enjoyed the selection at lunch previously and craved it again this visit. However, I was disappointed that the salmon was under-cooked for my taste, even after I requested it to be cooked completely through. The orzo and wild rice salad is a delicious and different side. The cold salad combines the rices with diced onions, peppers and currants, tossed in a light dressing. Add some soup or another side dish, and it would make a hearty vegetarian meal.

My guest enjoyed her selection -- Mr. Jack's Chicken Finger Platter ($12). The heaping plate full of fried chicken tenders and crispy fries also came with a huge helping of crispy slaw. Again, enough for two meals on one plate.

With our two doggie bags between us, we ordered a dessert "to go" for later ­ the White Chocolate Cheesecake ($5). It never survived the entire evening in the refrigerator, although my husband swears he never saw it. It must have been good. Next time, we'll take advantage of the "no split plate charge" and leave room for the massive Carrot Cake ($5) or the Powerful Stuff Ice Cream Pie ($6). ©

z8.25f"Century-Book":J Alexander's

Go: 2629 Edmondson Road, Rookwood Commons, Norwood

Call: 513-531-7495

Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-midnight

Prices: Moderate

Payment: Major credit cards.

Vegetarian Friendliness: Slim pickings. A few salads, veggie burger.



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