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Published: Friday, 3/29/2002

Texas Roadhouse: Western-themed restaurant opens

Naturally I'm well disposed toward an eatery called a roadhouse; “Texas Roadhouse” just sounds right, doesn't it? There is a full bar, to be sure, but so far as I can see, no dance floor, which some readers consider essential to an authentic roadhouse.

Nor does the Texas Roadhouse (may I call it simply TR from here on?), a newcomer to the Airport Highway commercial strip, admit to being just another roadhouse. What this restaurant promises is “legendary food,” “legendary service,” and “legendary fun” with “legendary people”!

Nor does this first local TR look the stuff of legend to me, though the chain - for it is a chain, now counting 120 locations in 26 states - is clearly doing several things right. For example, the furnishing successfully combines a sense of open space with the intimacy of small booths.

Of course that's not always positive. I found myself once involuntarily included in a small group's supper meeting, less than a foot away across a shoulder-high divider from the nearest of the group.

But on the whole, the interior is attractive, while the mandatory “back at the ranch” wall hangings are minimal, the country-western music is just shy of being too much, and the lighting is soft and soothing after a hard day at work.

Dense type on the outside of the take-home menu sketches the growth of the chain since its opening, a mere nine years ago, and introduces three key persons, all native to this area: managing partner Dean Pickett, service manager Jaime Stryffler, and kitchen manager Eric Gwinn. Another nice touch is hiring some eager-to-please teens alongside adult college students.

Inside, the double-page menu is the sort one has to review patiently, finding appetizing suggestions half-hidden here and there amid clever cartoons. Along with two meatless dinner salads, there's a vegetable plate tacked onto a country-dinners listing. And just when you might assume that you've seen everything that will please a steak eater, some very fine print just after the mushrooms, onions, and a combo slab of spareribs, offers three three-ounce tenderloin medallions on a bed of rice with a couple of side dishes.

The country-dinners section of the menu is where you'll find chicken done up in a half-dozen ways, and there, too, are pork chops as well as fried sirloin and sirloin tips with saut ed onions and mushrooms in brown gravy. If this list amounts to a menu that's short on variety - and it does - the seafood list is still shorter, just a nod to fish lovers with grilled mountain trout, grilled salmon steak, and fried catfish. The TR is really not what you want when you're thinking pickerel or perch.

Unlike some high-volume, “no substitutes” eateries, the TR gives its customers control over what comes on the plate with the entr e. With all but the barbecued ribs and chicken combos you have a choice of two sides, in addition to a dozen more at extra cost. And prices are certainly reasonable. The children's menu, five items from $2 to $3.50, is an open invitation to bring the family.

The size of the entr e is also something of an option. Prime rib and all the steaks except chopped beef can be ordered in two to four sizes.

The ribs, captioned “killer ribs,” are slow cooked with a unique blend of seasonings and a proprietary barbecue sauce. A full slab didn't give me as much meat as I had anticipated - which, given my appetite, was hardly cause for complaint - but the barbecue sauce is quite ordinary, without much tang and piquancy. Though it is said that the TR ribs have won eight cookoff prizes in various cities - even in competition with entries from Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina - that sauce will need some creative tweaking between now and the next local contest if the restaurant's entry is to come in third, much less become its ninth winner.

Is bread a major clue to the quality of what comes next? If so, I'd rate the TR about a B; it could be better, but could be less, too.

The TR's big illuminated sign, being easily visible from Airport Highway, could be misleading, for you can't get to it off the highway. The parking lot entry is, rather, on Trust Drive, the first turn west off Holland-Sylvania Road north of Airport Highway.

MUSICAL CHAIRS? Alfie's Alley has segued into a new location and with it a new name. It's now open as the Madison on Main (419-843-4533), in Sylvania at the corner of Main Street and Convent Boulevard. This location once housed Someplace Else and most recently Kokomo's. As this move took place, the Barada followed close behind, leaving its West Alexis home for the former location of Alfie's Alley in the Beverly Hills shopping center, 5215 Monroe St. (419-843 2080).



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