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Published: Friday, 4/22/2005

Restaurant review: Talip's Rib Cage ***

It's one thing to be attracted to a restaurant primarily for the food, with only a nodding interaction with the people who cook and serve it. It's quite another to find a place that not only turns out good eats but regards customers as part of the family.

You know the kind of restaurant I mean. The bar and dining room usually resound with repartee and wisecracks among employees and customers who have come to know each other well, sharing common values and camaraderie.

That's the feeling I got upon first entering Talip's Rib Cage, a combination watering hole and neighborhood restaurant off Chesterfield Lane in Maumee.

Quite apart from the food, the overriding friendliness calls to mind what TV's hit series Cheers celebrated in song - a homey environment where the bartender knows what you drink, the servers know what food you like, and everybody knows your name.

True to the sign out front, the longtime dinner-only restaurant specializes in ribs and other barbecue. But don't discount the char-broiled steaks, porkchops, and prime rib, or the rack of lamb, chicken, seafood, and pasta dishes listed both on the menu and on a large board of daily specials.

Physically, the Rib Cage is divided into a cozy, low-lighted bar on one side and an absurdly crowded, harshly lighted dining room on the other. So tightly packed was the room that we couldn't help laughing every time a server inadvertently banged into our chairs, jostling the whole table. I ended up doing the same thing myself to a couple of nearby tables as I clumsily maneuvered my way to the restroom.

Ah, but getting bumped about is a small price to pay if you like the sort of unpretentious, down-home food that the Rib Cage and its loyal customers revel in.

On two visits - the second, wisely, in the less-cramped bar area - we tried a cross-section of dishes, and our scorecard pretty much registered "good, good, and good," with two or three "very goods" thrown in.

In the "good" column were a $1.50 cup of hearty beef barley soup, a $3.50 order of delicious baked tomato bread, and a house salad dotted with dried cranberries and beets.

Also qualifying were two entrees, a drippingly good $14.95 ribs and chicken combo, and $11.95 medallions of chicken piccata dipped in egg and sauted in garlic, butter, and wine sauce.

Better yet was a daily $13.95 special of pillowy sea scallops drenched in a scrumptious white wine and butter sauce, and a tender 10-ounce cut of prime rib ($15.95).

I would also go back for the exceptional beef stroganoff over linguine, served with a side of sweet stewed tomatoes, and a $7.95 lake perch sandwich, firm of flesh and delicately breaded.

For men only: Your restroom is festooned with at least eight fetching photographs of Marilyn Monroe. When I inquired about the dcor in the women's room, an employee said it consisted mainly of pillows and landscapes but added: "We've gotten complaints from women that if the men can have Marilyn Monroe, they ought to be able to have some pictures of Brad Pitt."

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com

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