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Serviceable chop house 

Blue Ribbon Grill trades on neighborhood atmosphere

The character of Blue Ribbon Grill is defined by its customers. A genuine neighborhood chophouse in Tucker, Blue Ribbon Grill at lunch attracts Northlake's casual business crowd, the kind of diners who aren't worried about impressing clients or co-workers. Families dominate the place at night, and you'll often see at least two generations at a dining table.

With its cozy bar section, Blue Ribbon Grill is clearly a sanctuary and watering hole for its patrons. The servers are authentic in their cheerfulness -- they don't seem to be following the "service with a smile" handbook of a national restaurant chain. They're quick to banter with customers or make disarmingly frank recommendations about the menu, and at lunch recently I noticed the host break into a version of "Me and My Shadow" during an idle moment. Go there often enough and they'll inevitably shout your first name upon arrival, perhaps following it with a high-five, if you're that sort of person. While the food is fine, the fellowship will be more likely to bring you back.

Having opened in 1985, Blue Ribbon Grill evokes bygone days, but not so much authentic Americana as an early era of restaurant decoration. The bar has a wall of framed caricature portraits, like Hollywood's Brown Derby, while the dining room is all but covered in World War II recruiting posters, U.S. and military flags, blackboards for specials and black-and-white photographs of baseball games and male icons like John Wayne and the Three Stooges.

Red meat is prominent on the menu, and while many steak cuts are more than $15 (including sides), I was lucky enough to visit on a night with an $11.95 New York Strip Special, a cost-effective deal including the 10-ounce steak, baked potato, salad and onion strings. Blue Ribbon's steaks aren't tricked out with rock salt or wine sauces, but are simple, serviceable hunks of flesh that are juicy and adequately tender. They're easy to enjoy, but not especially memorable.

You can't really use your fingers to eat the open-faced Prime Rib Sandwich ($11.95), unless you have no inhibitions about getting them juicy. The 10 ounces of meat sit atop a thin slice of rye, which becomes quickly sodden. Overflowing containers of au jus and thin, watery horseradish sauce accompany the entree. Although prime rib cuts tend to be fatty by nature, mine seemed disproportionately high on pale fat and skimpy on the lean.

The "Blue Ribbon Chips" ($6.50) are the house specialty appetizer, and while they don't achieve the balance of flavor you find at the Buckhead Diner's version of the meal, they're good enough. The huge portion of homemade chips (easily enough for four people) is topped with an unsightly looking white Bechemel sauce, but the flavor is fine. If you're not a natural fan of bleu cheese you might want to avoid the more thoroughly infused chips and seek the more lightly coated ones, which tend to cluster on the outside. The chips themselves are crunchy and denser than the pre-packed potato chips we're accustomed to snack on.

The homestyle vegetable plate ($9.25) offers four sides likely to satisfy those who cannot live on steak alone. The sweet, chewy corn pudding -- cooked to be firm, not viscous -- is the most distinctive and tasty. The mashed potatoes are thoroughly whipped and bright, sitting on the plate like two scoops of vanilla ice cream, although the gravy is utterly plain. The spinach dish effectively uses garlic, as well as chopped onions and tomato, while the green beans feature plenty of bacon, making them especially fragrant. The onion strings are effectively named, proving so thin that they taste more of breading than onion.

I've previously enjoyed the restaurant's Blue Ribbon burger (American cheese and bacon on a Kaiser roll) and meatloaf, but I haven't revisited them lately. The strips of fried white-meat chicken of the Chicken Finger Platter ($8.95) weren't too dry or encased in breading, and went well with an unobtrusive honey mustard dipping sauce.

But is there any menu item anywhere more generic than chicken fingers? I swear I have the same ones wherever I go. The cooking at Blue Ribbon Grill doesn't really stand out -- it probably noses just ahead of a Sizzler or Longhorn steak house -- but it trades more successfully on its personal touch.

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