Outback's Outdone Themselves

I don’t normally write about chain restaurants, but this time I’m going to make an exception.

I first heard of Outback Steakhouse in the mid-90’s. I was working as a server at Steak & Ale when all of a sudden we started hearing about this upstart spot that was less expensive and was so busy the servers were making way more than we did. Several of my coworkers were lured over and everyone had something good to say about the place – the food, the company philosophy, the work environment – so even though I didn’t make the switch myself I’ve always had warm fuzzies about the restaurant.

After this week those warm fuzzies have blossomed into a full-on crush.

I was invited with some other writers to check out their new wood-fire menu items. The invitation said it would be a tasting. It didn’t say it would be a smorgasbord fit for a king from the Rennaisance era (have you seen paintings of their dinner tables??). Maybe it wasn’t quite that extravagant, but it was definitely a treat.

We started off with the California Chicken Salad. That chicken was some of the most tender I’ve ever tasted. There was a definite hint of smoke from the grill, but it wasn’t overwhelming and added a nice counterpoint to the green apples. Served over mixed greens and baby spinach it was tossed with roasted walnuts and topped with Feta cheese.

Next we compared their traditional seasoned and seared sirloin with the new wood-fire grilled steak. John Li, Senior Vice President of Culinary Innovation and former Chicagoan, passed around the seasonings used for both. The seared steak gets the spicier treatment and the grilled is given more of a salt and pepper mix. Both were great, but since I’m a fan of char I personally preferred the new preparation.

These were followed by Baby Back Ribs. John explained that these are smoked and then finished off on the grill. The sauce is a sweet tangy BBQ and the meat, of which there is more of than fat, falls off the bone.

The Wood-Fire Grilled Pork Chop was tender and cooked to a perfect medium, infused with a touch of oak and served with a slightly sweet Creole marmalade (top photo). The pork chop is something I probably wouldn’t have ordered. Now I will.

On the lighter side, our next course was Hearts of Gold Mahi. Maybe it’s because we enjoyed the chicken, sirloin, ribs and pork so much, but we weren’t as enthralled with the Mahi. While the accompaniment of sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and lemon sauce was good, the wood flavor was almost too much for the fish and the flavors didn’t hold up to the previous items. That being said, if I were coming in for dinner and wanted something lighter I’d probably be satisfied.

Up next: Wood-Fire Grilled Prime Rib. Herb crusted, hand-carved, and then thrown on the grill. ‘Nuff said. Then our final entree was the ribeye. Flavor, flavor, flavor, and surprisingly tender for this cut of meat.

And before I forget the (almost) best part, we were served both carrot cake and cheesecake with raspberry sauce. The carrot cake was filled with nutmeg and cinnamon and topped with a cream cheese frosting. I hate carrots. I loved this cake. The cheesecake was New York Style and the raspberry sauce was just right.

Obviously I enjoyed everything, so what would I order if I went in for
dinner? I’d see if somebody wanted to share the chicken salad to start,
and then I’d get the ribeye. Or would it be the pork chop? Maybe the
ribs. I would definitely finish with the carrot cake. And the cheesecake. And the…

There’s just one Outback within the city limits of Chicago, but there are several in the surrounding suburbs including Joliet, Naperville, Crystal Lake, and Bloomingdale.

All photos courtesy of Outback Steakhouse






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