There are a handful of Steakhouse restaurants in & around The Woodlands, two of them in the nearby city of Shenandoah, Texas - Saltgrass Steakhouse and Outback Steakhouse, both part of larger chain restaurant organizations. OSI Restaurant Partners, parent company of Outback Steakhouse was rumored to be possibly going bankrupt in early 2009. Landry's Restaurants, Inc. is the parent company of Saltgrass Steakhouse and other restaurants in The Woodlands.
We have always enjoyed the fresh Honey Wheat bread served up at Outback, which we find reminiscent of the darker brown bread previously served at Steak & Ale (1966-2008).
I always looked forward to the bread at Steak & Ale when I was a kid, I thought of it as chocolate bread due to the rich brown color - which actually came from the molasses and cocoa in the recipe. Of course we all know it isn't chocolate bread, but it sure had a nice ring to it when I was younger. The bread at Outback has molasses in it as well but no cocoa - still a winner in my book. We ate nearly three loaves... this time.
While we awaited our entrees, my dining companion and co-writer had the Filet Wedge Salad. When we first saw the salad the appearance was less than delightful - due to the dark color of the balsamic glaze as well as the yellowish tint of the huge portion of lettuce she opted not to eat. While the flavor added by the glaze might be worthy, the visual effect (for both of us) outweighs the flavor. Iceberg lettuce should be shades of green and white, brown lettuce looks old and wilted. I suppose that if you are trying to hide the not-so-freshness of your lettuce then a "glaze" that hides the wilted color it's a good fit. Seems like a bad idea to us.
For a shared appetizer, we had the Grilled Shrimp with Remoulade Sauce ($8.79), which was very tasty. The shrimp were cooked perfectly and appeared to be quite fresh. The seasoning added just the right amount of spiciness with the light shrimp flavor. The Remoulade sauce looks like Thousand Island salad dressing but don't let that fool you as it goes well with the shrimp.
The baked potato soup was thin, with no potato chunks or bits, and a flavor that reminded me of a liquid baked potato. Overall the soup was satisfying but would have been much better had it included some texture. I imagined that a straw would have been more useful than a spoon. I wonder if Outback uses a food processor when making this dish or maybe it's just a potato mix from a bag...? The Baked Potato Soup is offered as a soup of the day and doesn't appear as a regular menu item.
For the main course, I ordered Victoria's Filet ($18.99), a 6-ounce filet mignon, served "Classic Style" - meaning they don't wood fire it. A good filet doesn't require much fuss. As lean and tender as the meat tends to be, I don't like my filets messed around with. I also always order them medium-rare, because it seems I have the misfortune of getting them over-cooked more often than not. As you can see from the very red juices pooled around my filet and Garlic Mashed Potatoes, however, I maybe should have gone with medium. Initially my filet was so rare I couldn't hardly swallow it. Our very gracious server, Katelin, was back to check on us early enough into the meal, however, that we had it re-fired in short order. Upon return, I found it to be a slightly-better-than-average filet. Sadly one I felt the need to add A-1 to. The Garlic Mashed Potatoes were my favorite part of this meal; served up hot with a nice blend of seasoning and large, visible chunks of garlic mashed in. They were also evenly heated, making me believe they had not been pre-portioned and microwaved, but prepared recently and kept warm.
My 12-ounce Wood Fired Grilled Ribeye Steak ($18.49) was excellent, cooked just as I liked, as were the steamed veggies. That beautiful slice of beef arrived moist and tender with a flavor that was nicely accented by the vegetables. I would suggest that any steak which tastes great without adding any sauces like A-1, etc. is a winner. We try to not make comparisons between restaurants when discussing their foods and simply discuss the entrees on their own merits yet, how much can you say about a steak? The Ribeye at Outback was really quite tasty and I left the restaurant feeling satisfied with the entire meal. Even with all the food I ate - bread, six of the eight grilled shrimp, a small bowl of baked potato soup, the veggies and of course the steak (sans all the trimmed fat), I felt like it was just the right amount of food; all that for a mere $27.00. There are other steak houses where you could easily pay that much for the steak alone and a smaller one at that.
We had arrived early into the dinner rush, but avoided waiting for a table by opting to sit in the bar area - if you're a people-watcher, this is a great place for it. We noticed quite a few after-work folks in for a beer or glass of wine and one of Outback's signature Bloomin' Onion's. The staff all appeared to operate in a well-trained manner, and with the exception of the under-fired filet, everything went smoothly. Outback seems to have met the pinnacle of attracting customers: better than average food and decent prices in an inviting atmosphere with well-trained staff.