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I used to be a Texan. Seriously, legally and residentially, a Texan. For my entire military career of nine years, for tax purposes especially. Texas has no state income tax you see, so it was just practical. I was seventeen when I enlisted and my first two bases were San Antonio for Basic Training, then Wichita Falls for technical training and three more years thereafter for my first tour of duty. I bought my first car there, got married, rented my first apartments and my oldest son and only daughter were born there. So I was indeed, a legitimate Texan.
Though I never fully assimilated into the stereotypical lifestyle. The rowdiness and line dancing, the big hats, the brawling, spitting, truck driving, man’s man. I didn’t even care for the Dallas Cowboys or beer.
So a place called ‘Texas Roadhouse’ hardly had automatic appeal. But then again, there is virtually nothing about the chain of steakhouses that hails from the Lone Star state. The chain got its beginnings, as did I, in Kentucky and is still headquartered in Louisville ( Lew-uh-vul ). There are currently over 450 locations, including several overseas.
We’ve been trying to go there for several years. Each and every time though, the lines wrapping around the place scared us off. We don’t like lines. Not so much because of the wait as for the people. Too many random, unoccupied people loitering around impatiently gives off a certain uncomfortable energy that repels us. Though the lines did seem to indicate that it was a very popular choice.
The stars aligned this past weekend though. We had no other ideas and it was Superb Owl weekend. Our thinking was that people who watch that silly game tend to do so around parties in someone’s home. Big food spread, lots of beer, etc.
Adam agreed to join us. In case we misjudged the crowd, Angel suggested making sure our personal communication devices were fully charged to better deal with the possible long wait. She even swapped shifts with her assistant to provide coverage for the client dogs for an extended period, should it be required. We were finally going to do this.
As it turned out, we had predicted correctly. The parking lot seemed lightly used compared to other times we’d tried. There was no line out the door. Adam was already there so we parked beside him and went in. At the entry we were assaulted by a blast of country music from overhead. Some generic, male country singer whining about some drunken transgression or another, perhaps my least favorite form of the genre.
At the counter there were several of the crew milling about, it was hard to pick one person out of the crowd to assist us in navigation. The music was still loud, which caused the more than half packed building to try to talk over it and each other. The walls were wood paneled and adorned with lots of stuff, neon lights, the antlered heads of several large animals, etc. On one wall, near where we were seated, was a large mural of an indigenous American all spiffed up and painted for battle. Adam sat directly beneath a large antlered head, we sat across from him, facing a six thousand inch, muted television that was showing the pre-game shows for the silly sports spectacle. Near us there were a couple of larger groupings, extended families perhaps. One group, the larger of them, had a couple of uncooperative preschoolers that needed to be yelled at frequently. This caused the tikes to shriek back in their own defense.
I noticed the floor was pretty much painted concrete and littered throughout with crushed peanut shells. Which surprised me since I thought I recalled some restaurant or another suffering severe liability issues of letting customers spread the shells all over the floor. The Roadhouse offers up a bucket of shelled peanuts on every table. The things are messy, I know, since I’m quite fond of the roasted beans myself and have been known to leave a mess with the shells.
We also received a basket of yeasty rolls to nibble on while we perused the menu. We wanted steak, after all it is a steakhouse and Angel had seen some ads for steak and lobster, which sounded lovely to me too.
But of course, that was simply not on the menu. Apparently it was a limited time thing. So when the time came Angel and I went with steak and shrimp instead. Six ounce sirloin, medium rare. Adam, who occasionally has steak, decided instead on the country style option, beaten, battered, pan-fried, covered in gravy. For sides, Angel opted for a baked potato and Caesar salad, I for the potato and corn. Adam asked, clearly, for mashed potatoes and corn. The gentleman scribbled down our orders and scurried away. The sticky kids at the nearby group table shrieked again, one started running around the table. My eyes could not avoid occasionally looking up at the giant screen, though with no sound, the antics of the sports guys were unclear and uninteresting. The rolls and my iced tea were quite good though, not so much the cinnamon-butter delivered with them, it just seemed odd.
The place seemed hectic, the crew was running around all over the place, I somewhat expected a long wait. It turned out to not be so bad after all. Pretty soon the two Caesar salads showed up. . . .
Yeah, two of them. The lady insisted that there were two for our table, though Adam and I both recalled not ordering one. She left it on the table anyhow. Adam took it with a shrug of the shoulders. In a moment or two our first server stopped by. We told him about the salad, thinking that someone wasn’t going to get the side they’d really ordered. He said something about maybe it being a mix-up in the kitchen then darted off. When he returned he told us, in sort of a victorious fashion, that yes indeed the kitchen had made a mistake, as if we really cared much who had bungled the order. We told him we just wanted to make sure that we’d actually get the sides we’d asked for.
I tasted the salad, it was okay, not as subtle as some Caesar’s I’ve had, but not bad.
The nearby table erupted again, this time the adults shrieking at the kids.
The meals arrived in pretty good time after that, the steaks and shrimp still sizzling. Our server kept
Here’s the thing about steak. You don’t need to be a master chef with intense knowledge of spices, herbs and other ingredients when it comes to steak. All you need for a perfect steak is the right amount of heat and to know when to stop cooking it. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and that’s it, perfection. The same can be said about grilled shrimp. A little butter and or lemon/garlic and once you get the heat and done-ness right, you’re done. There is simply no need to do anything else, at all.
Mostly because of the Malliard reaction.
Caution! Researched scientific information!
Louis-Camille Malliard was a French chemist who, in 1912, first released results of an exhaustive, yet delicious investigation into the browning of heated foods. When heat is applied to certain foods, a form of non-enzymatic browning takes place that occurs when the changes in amino acid structure reacts with a carbonyl group of sugars within that food item. Similar in many characteristics, though different at the chemical layer, from caramelization of sugar.
I don’t understand most of that either, but the bottom line is that applying heat to food actually changes not just the texture, but the taste of that food. Toast, for example, which is what I was researching when I came across this science stuff, does not taste like un-toasted bread. Not only a satisfying browning and crispy texture change, but a core taste change.
It is tempting to try to improve upon this, to put one’s personal stamp and flavor profile on steaks. We do this quite commonly with barbecued meats, sauces and rubs. However, steak just doesn’t need it. The same with shrimp/lobster. You don’t need to improve on its most basic and perfect taste.
But alas, Texas Roadhouse could not leave well enough alone. The shrimp didn’t really taste like shrimp, it was crowded out by whatever herbs and spices the joint dunked it in. The steak, cooked perfectly, tasted like it was savagely rubbed down with unnecessary flavor additives. It wasn’t awful, just completely unnecessary. Adam’s CFS had the exact same problem, too much superfluous seasoning.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a terrible meal, just a little less than it should be, a little less than it very easily could have been. After exiting, Angel added that next time she wanted a steak, we should just go back to the tried and true Ruby Tuesday’s in Festus. Or a dozen other places where the meat is better respected. The price, just over fifty bucks was fine, but no better than other places.
Adam summed it up very well later. "Went to the ol' Texas Roadhouse for dinner with the folks. Although I was feeling unimpressed with most of it as a whole, it was the Gather 'Round the Wait Staff and Get Everyone to Cheer for a Birthday that really sold me on never wanting to go there again."
The music, the noise, the stack of small service errors, just didn’t add up to expectations. I understand that some people and families like busy, active, even loud meals together, but that just isn’t us.
The nail on the head was that noisy table with the small kids. It turned out that this was the little girl’s sixth birthday meal. The staff pulled in a saddle mounted to a short saw horse, shoved the little girl on it, then gathered together and started clapping and chanting and cheering like it was a pep rally before a high school sporting event. This really snapped our tightly coiled, introverted brain springs.
Like I said, a lot of people seem to enjoy this level of raucousness, but it is just not for us.
We will not be standing in line for this in the future, there’s just no need.