WHOLLY COW!

Pink Pony Steak House, 3831 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 949-8677. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

A restaurant's reputation is bound to soar once it's known for attracting certain elite groups. In Los Angeles, for instance, Hollywood big shots transformed one exquisite French place into such a celebrity hot spot a few years ago that the swamped owners requested an unlisted telephone number. And in New York, the literary sophisticates who nightly fill an East Side den of culinary mediocrity have practically turned the place into a tourist destination.

Unfortunately, there's no sure connection, one way or the other, between a restaurant's gastronomic quality and the celebrity of its patrons. Our Valley metropolis also sports a couple of establishments that have earned the loyalty of high-profile clientele. Both have been around since the early Fifties, and so have their menus. You won't see any accent marks or foreign words on them. Nor will you encounter artsy plate presentations or sparkling Italian mineral water. You will, however, run into oversize pepper mills, vinyl booths and God-awful baskets of plastic-wrapped crackers.

But most of all, you'll run into serious animal protein: These are places where the elites meet to eat meat.

At the Pink Pony, the arrival of elite diners occurs with the same unerring predictability as the swallows' stop at Capistrano--the first day of spring training.

In the month of March, the Pink Pony is the dining choice of hungry major leaguers coming out of winter hibernation. For hero-worshiping baseball fans, the Pink Pony does what Elaine's does for unpublished novelists, and the Orangerie did for aspiring actors: furnish the opportunity to stare at their idols.

For the other 11 months, though, you can still bask in the ballplayers' glow. That's because the Pink Pony uses the Hall of Fame as its model of interior design. Baseball memorabilia is everywhere. Player caricatures, uniforms, bats and a home plate from the old Scottsdale stadium provide the ballpark atmospherics. The only thing missing is a vendor moving about the place shouting, "Peanuts, popcorn, Cracker Jack!" The restaurant doesn't make the mistake of trying to appeal to everybody. You won't find puff-pastry appetizers or anything bathed in a Thai peanut sauce. The fare is strictly all-American, and it doesn't come in bush league portions. The Pink Pony caters to major league appetites. Take the barbecued-meatball appetizer. Anyone expecting three or four dainty morsels is in the wrong ballpark. We got 18 meatballs, at least a pound of meat. They sported an appealing crispy edge and a solid barbecue kick, too.

One of the unexpected treats was a monstrous caesar salad. To my astonishment, this wasn't an indifferent pile of crouton-studded greenery, the usual restaurant approximation of this much-abused dish. Though it's prepared back in the kitchen, not tableside, this worthy, anchovy-packed version doesn't have to be sent back to the minors for more seasoning.

But oversize ballplayers are not filling booths to nibble on meatballs or graze on romaine lettuce. They're here for big helpings of U.S prime-grade meat.

In some dishes, the grade of beef really doesn't matter. It's overkill, for instance, to use a prime cut of tenderloin filet in beef stew or in a meatballs-and-spaghetti platter. The next quality grade--choice--should do just fine. But when a restaurant risks all sending out big slabs of unadorned meat, there's no hiding the quality under other ingredients or sauces. If the meat's going to shine, it had better be prime. Happily, the first-rate beef at Pink Pony doesn't throw you any curves. When I got my initial look at the prime rib, my first instinct was to call a paleontologist. This is, without a doubt, the most massive hunk of meat on a bone I've run across in years. If Jurassic Park were a meat-packing operation instead of an animal preserve, the prime rib would look like this. But carnivores will be grateful. This prime rib is juicy, beefy and tender. Few people will manage to devour it in one sitting. If you do, the only evening activity you should contemplate is pulling the blanket over your head and logging a full eight hours of sleep and digestion. The 14-ounce New York steak has the same big league credentials. It packs a hard-hitting beefy kick, while it's as soft as the hands of a Gold Glove shortstop. Good thing, too. For some reason, the Pink Pony furnishes patrons with puny, lightweight cutlery that could have come from a Third World cafeteria. Prime meat deserves silverware with a little more heft and polish. Folks who shrink from the sight of huge slabs of beef might be better off with beef brochette. You'll still get about a pound of prime meat, but it doesn't look quite as intimidating divided into smaller chunks. The Pink Pony needs to work on its side dishes. French fries, rice pilaf, even the $2 … la carte cottage fries aren't fit consorts for the meat. And I bet a lot of diners would appreciate some sort of vegetable option. Desserts won't deflect your attention from the meat, either. Made-elsewhere pecan pie and Bailey's Irish Cream cheesecake aren't compelling enough to make you want to save room for them. In baseball, managers will overlook the shortcomings of players who can't run, throw or field, as long as they can hit. I also have my priorities. At the Pink Pony, I'm willing to overlook mediocre side dishes and desserts. As long as the kitchen continues to send reasonably priced prime beef to the plate, I'll be taking my cuts.

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