White’s Rule (Original Version): Don’t eat at a new restaurant until the novelty wears off.
I had good reasons for that rule. Brand-new places seldom have their kitchen working optimally, their wait staff are learning how to work as a team, and more. So it’s hard to get a real read on the quality and service. Besides, how good will it be later? I’ve found a new place can get a lot better as they settle in. Or, it can get worse as cost controls get brutal and some of the early enthusiasm (owners, kitchen staff, wait staff) wears off.
There are times and occasions, though, where you simply have to toss the rules. Like daughterperson’s 21st birthday. (Yeah; I know. I’m old.) AND her beau’s 21st too. And some other inside-the-Clan reasons to celebrate, as wifey is quick to point out.
So, we made reservations for about a bajillion of us at the LongHorn Steakhouse in New Braunfels, which is fairly near to Jessi’s school. Not to mention pretty much in the middle of the rest of the Clan that wanted to participate. With gas prices like they are; well, you understand…
Oh, and did I mention it was Valentine’s Day? Yeah; I was sunk. No way out.
So with my usual good grace I relented and off we went. We were trying to get there by about 7 PM, and some of us were actually early. LongHorn doesn’t take reservations, but they do take priority seating calls. We arrived and checked in, taking our blinkeralarmthingie out into the brisk breeze to wait with the rest of the crowd.
We were told it would be at least an hour. Good thing we called ahead, eh?
We finally managed to get everybody into one pile, and to pass the time we had the celebrants open gifts. So much stuff! Fortunately it was only a few steps to the cars, so we stashed the loot and went back into waiting mode. The evening was getting colder, the wind raw; we moved to the inside area near the bar. The chaos inside was actually settling down, and more people were leaving than arriving. It seemed we would actually get a table soon! Then our alarm buzzed…
It was a false alarm, as it turned out. We were
doomed destined to wait another 45 minutes, as it turned out. The manager was very apologetic (and sincerely so), and she gave us a card for free appetizers.
This was like tossing starving dogs a big pile of raw meat. And we were, by then; starving, I mean…
As we waited (and several plotted how to get their whole meal from appetizers), I took a small walking tour of the facilities. I peeked into the kitchen, which was the expected, barely-controlled chaos of dinnertime at a popular place. On Saturday night. It was then I noticed that the dining area really isn’t that large. Based on the demand we saw, I was sure they were undersized by at least a factor of two. I strolled over to the greeting station and asked casually about loads on other evenings.
The harried greeter and waitresses all agreed, this wasn’t an unusual night. Which confirmed my suspicion that they could handle a lot more patrons if they had more space. Certainly we saw lots of demand, the evening we were there!
Once we were seated, the merriment began. Not for our two waitresses! No, we kept them hopping. That and the several other tables they were covering. We were primed with our appetizer choices: Firecracker Chicken Wraps, Shrimp & Lobster Dip, Western Cheese Fries, Texas Tonion. Two each of the last two items, in fact. We considered having more, but decided not to push our luck on what exactly “free” meant.
The Texas Tonion was the interesting one. Not a Blooming Onion although the concept is similar. These onion bits were breaded and fried, and not served in a large mass. The sauces were different too; I really enjoyed the zesty, Southwestern-style sauce.
The Western Cheese Fries were a huge pile of fried potatoes, cheese, bacon and more. Chili, Monterrey Jack and jalapeño slices, for instance. Very tasty. The trick is, though, to eat this one while it’s still hot. Once it chills out it’s not as nice. The jalapeño slices were a nice touch, I thought; and since the rest of the table wasn’t in agreement, I had a full share.
Service was still slow, but we were sharing a lot of family news and fun, so it didn’t matter quite so much. Our orders disappeared into the back, and we had time to let the starters settle out of the way of our dinner.
Also, we enjoyed several of their mixed drinks. It’s an adult birthday party, right? The game went like this: Jess and Kai didn’t want to “get drunk” as a rite of passage, and we all agreed that wasn’t the way to celebrate the event. So, we’d fetched along a couple of small sampling glasses, and those of us who enjoy a cocktail would share with them.
So we made a variety of choices, including some we normally would skip right over. Cranberry martini, raspberry margarita and more. If the “new” adults wanted a try, we passed the glasses around.
I learned that, no matter how doctored-up alcohol might be, it’s still an acquired taste. The yoongsters found little to like. (Which left more for me; how can I complain?)
The entrées began to arrive, and the table talk went way down. The Clan tried some of the specials, like Flo’s Filet and the Outlaw Ribeye. I had a Renegade Top Sirloin, and you could tell the meat had been handled and prepared properly. Very tender, I could cut it with a butter knife. Didn’t need to, though, as they supplied ample steak knives all ’round.
Others had chicken or seafood, according to preference (or food allergy). I asked around, and nobody said anything even mildly second-class about their food. Some of the dishes were amazingly large, like the Parmesan Crusted Chicken that Mikey ate. It smelled wonderful too!
Side dishes are some of the usual and expected, with a few novel signature add-ons. Baked potatoes, loaded up, or mashed; seasonal veggies; french fries and rice pilaf. And on the less usual side, sweet potatoes with butter and cinnamon, a nice touch. Signature sides include steamed asparagus, and a dish called Steakhouse Mac & Cheese.
Jessi declared that this mac & cheese was the primary reason for returning to LongHorn, in spite of all the other good food there. She even opined that maybe she’d come and simply order two servings of the pasta and forego an entrée! That got my attention, so I tried it.
As usual, she’s right. (She gets that from her mom.) Very tasty, a perfect balance of cheeses and pasta. With bacon; how can that be bad?
The obligatory salads are also offered, and some specialty ones too. Like their BLT Salad, which I might try next time. (Must. Have. Bacon.) Or a Strawberry and Pecan Salad, with feta cheese, oranges and other goodies. Lots of brain food there! LongHorn also offers several meal-salads, like Grilled Salmon or 7-Pepper Sirloin. That last one, smothered in Chipotle Ranch, would satisfy the carnivore inside while helping you feel good about eating salad fixins. A true win-win!
As we all slowed down and began to pick at the leavin’s, I noted that we’d pretty much mowed down the lot. Oh, there were bits and pieces scattered about, and some dregs in a few cups. A satisfying end to a long-awaited evening.
Which leads to a revised White’s Rule: Don’t eat at the new restaurant in town on a holiday weekend evening. With a large group. And no reservations. Unless you can wangle free appetizers, and don’t mind the wait…
LongHorn Steakhouse, 2963 Cold Spring Dr., New Braunfels, TX 78130 (Other locations as well; visit www.longhornsteakhouse.com) Phone 830-629-9360 Open Sun-Thurs, 11 AM to 10 PM; Fri and Sat, 11 AM to 11 PM No reservations; priority seating available
Enjoy the (Celebration Steak Massacre) Heat!