Saturday, May 08, 2010

Longhorn Steakhouse overrated, underwhelms

Monroe/West Monroe is in need of a good steak place. The Hobnob used to be good, but it sucks now (see my earlier review, and I've since heard others complain about it). The Lone Star — the first place I ate steak in the area — has been going downhill for years. Most folks round here go to Outback, which I've always thought overrated and overpriced.

A few months ago we noticed a Longhorn Steakhouse open near the Best Buy. Sure, it's another chain, but I've been to chain steak places that are good. Maybe this one will be worth while? It's certainly busy enough.

I got there about 5:15, Alana got us on the list about 10 minutes before that. Even still, we had about another 15 minute wait to be seated. As I said, it's really busy, which is usually a good sign (the Outback is busy, too, so there goes your proof).

We actually brought the average age of the patrons down when we entered. They were obviously seniors with a little bit of income, as the prices while not shocking ($18.99 for Alana's entree, which was the more expensive of the two) weren't exactly a bargain. We saw very few families, let alone young families.

The decor is the sort of warm-toned HGTV decorating show look you come to expect in your modern restaurants, but accompanied by pictures of cowboys and the open range. Paintings of manly men on horseback doing manly things look down on you while country music blares away in the background (and, occasionally, the foreground). It's impossible to find a steak place in the South that doesn't believe the music has to be country. I guess us alt-rock fans aren't supposed to eat steak? Or somehow listening to wailing and twanging makes you more in the mood to devour a cow? But why does it have to be audible? Anyway, that's just a pet peeve.

We ordered the Firecracker Wrapped Chicken for an appetizer. Alana asked for the Outlaw Ribeye as her entree, I went with the prime rib (we came into a little bit of money recently, so we splurged). We both had the garden salad. We skipped the soft drinks; they were Coke products (yay!) but without a price on the menu (boo!). That's usually a good indicator that we'd be paying $2.50 to $3.00 for watered down bar Diet Coke, so we passed.

The Firecrackers were supposed to be a stuffed pastry with chicken in them. I thought they tasted remarkably like Melvin's "mini tacos" (something Logan loves, from a local sports bar/restaurant), which are deep fried tacos with refried beans in the middle. I thought this on my second Firecracker. The first one had some sort of seasoning salt on the outside, so my first impression was of a Tex-Mex spring roll that was dowsed in salt. Alana didn't have the same issue, and the too much salt thing was only evident on two of mine.

These "firecrackers" were little hollow tubes with some refried beans in the middle. Not as good as Melvin's mini tacos, too salty, and too pricey. They were "spicy" but while they had a mild kick when you first ate them, the kick went away quickly.

It was a little later that Alana pointed out that they were supposed to be stuffed! And with chicken! She found a slight string of chicken in one of hers. I don't recall seeing any chicken in mine. Seriously, I thought they were supposed to be little hollow tubes of fried pastry with a little refried bean paste, because there is no way you could adequately call these things "stuffed". We're talking false advertising here. Either that, or something happened and the insides melted out before they were served to us.

Next came the salad. "Garden salad" in this case meant "lettuce and crouton salad with a little diced tomato and a piece of what might have been cucumber covered in dressing". It was edible (the lettuce was nice and fresh), though Alana pointed out that there was more diced tomato on the Firecrackers as a garnish than were in her salad. Nothing to write home about. If you want a real salad, try Olive Garden.

The steaks arrived. I had mine with a sweet potato with butter and cinnamon. The chef forgot the cinnamon, but the waiter caught it right away and brought me some without me having to ask. I honestly didn't know sweet potatoes came that small, but, really, I didn't need a bigger one.

My prime rib was okay. It was perfectly cooked, it just didn't have a huge amount of flavor. The outside was heavily peppered, but the meat wasn't marinated. Now, it's hard to get a good prime rib with flavor all the way into the meat. Usually that's what the au jus is for. Properly flavored au jus adds to the prime rib. In this case, the au jus wasn't flavored, other than mildly with salt. This was a little disappointing. The beef was a good cut, and cooked to perfection (medium rare, if you were wondering). It just didn't have much flavor.

Alana's Outlaw Ribeye (18 ounces, with the bone) was more flavorful. That is, the parts that weren't gristle were more flavorful. A good third of her steak was too gristly to eat. We figure she got about 10 ounces of actual edible steak out of it. We should have known better than to order what the waiter suggested. He recommended the Outlaw. Waiter recommendations are usually indicators of what they'll make the most money on. In this case, it was a cheap cut of steak with delusions of adequacy.

Alana's steak was cooked properly, though, and it was flavorful in the middle bit that was edible. It had that going for it.

Still hungry, we ordered the cheesecake. I have never been greeted by such a huge piece of cheesecake! It must have been a good five inches tall. Our smiles turned to scowls when we bit into it. The cheesecake was frozen. The strawberries and whipped cream were canned (the strawberries had a subtle metallic taste). We should have brought the Firecrackers to the waiter's attention. We did inform him that the dessert was frozen and that we wanted to go boxes so we could eat it at home, when it had thawed. He went to the back, returned with the boxes, and apologized. He said the chiller was set too cold. He would have replaced the cheesecake for us, but they were all that cold. He thanked us for bringing this to his attention. He did not remove the cheesecake from the bill.

As positives, the service was good, the meals came out on time, and the staff was friendly.

For the price, the meal was decidedly sub par. Granted, Alana and I know a good steak when we bite into one, and we may be a little pickier than someone just looking for a slab of properly cooked cow. When you combine the price and the inexplicable popularity of the place, it's not worth it.

The Longhorn Steakhouse is in Monroe, Louisiana, near the Best Buy and Kohl's. Save yourself the horrendous wait and eat elsewhere.

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