I tried the chains take on Prime Rib, see who put the Prime back into Prime Rib
by Alexander Quebec
Chain restaurant food is kind of like herpes; you know it’s everywhere but nary a soul will come out into the open and publicly admit to it. Granted, there are a few standouts that rise to the occasion, but for the most part they tend to be the exception rather than the norm. In addition, chain restaurants have had a rough few years, with declining sales and menus’ that are, at best, so-so. But let’s be honest, no one can do a Southwestern Eggroll better than Chili’s or Cheddar Bay biscuits better than Red Lobster. Sometimes, those items become so iconic, you decide that this is the only way to scratch that itch. Chain places are also convenient places for after hour get togethers, where you can meet people you don’t necessarily hate but would rather not see outside of work in a setting that offers minimally offensive food, drink, and decor to a majority of Americans (or, if you just so happen to have a coupon).
In honor of National Prime Rib day, and because I’ve observed prime rib enjoying a rebirth of sorts in the area, I decided to give the prime rib offered at three locally available chain restaurants: Outback Steakhouse, Black Angus, and Texas Roadhouse. All three are relatively close to me in the South Bay, and they have some sort of ubiquity to the point of being found almost anywhere in California, or America for that matter. So, join me as I subject myself to the chain restaurant prime rib challenge.
One thing I would like you to keep in mind, some (if not all) of these chains are franchises, which mean that someone paid money for the rights and branding to be one of these chains, rather than opening up their own restaurant. Suffice it to say, your individual experience will vary, however, most restaurant chains make every effort to be as consistent as possible from location to location.
Outback Steakhouse aims to give Americans a taste of Australia, minus the ungodly weather and deadly animals.
For my first visit, I decided to hit up the local Outback Steakhouse in Milpitas. For the most part, it was a pretty busy place (the mall and movie theatre ensure a steady flow of clientele) and since it was Thursday, there was a robust crowd of mall walkers, movie goers and after hours office parties taking place, starting the weekend a bit early than most. I sat down in my spot near the bar, where my order was taken, this is what I got.
Well, here it goes: My prime rib had no flavor whatsoever, hell, the au jus sauce added nothing to the experience. I had to put a crapload of salt just to get some life back into it, but it was a futile effort. In addition,the meat was slightly tough; while not making mastication impossible, I did feel my jaws had to burn a few calories just to get the meat to a consistency I could swallow. Overall, resuscitating the patient on my part was near impossible; defeated, I took the rest home to see if anyone else would want to attempt to finish this…whatever it was.
As you could see, however, the potatoes turned out great: rich and creamy and full of flavor. I wish I could say the same for the meat however.
Interestingly enough, I was able to salvage the remaining half a few days later at home. By frying up some chopped up pieces with some salt, I was able to throw those pieces into a cheese quesadilla I was making for breakfast, saving me the dishonor of having to throw away.
Black Angus, originally founded in Los Altos, has the kind of name you can make anal jokes about all day, and still have them be as funny as the first time. My dad has a deep set hatred against the chain, which could explain his recent shift to vegetarianism (but I digress). Still, I went in on a Saturday afternoon right before the dinner rush. I actually had a coupon for their 2 person meal combo on my phone, and seeing how my original plan would have actually been more expensive, I decided to order the two dinners, appetizer and dessert. One of the options you have is, in fact, prime rib.
The prime rib wasn’t that bad. I mean, it was only an 8 ouncer, which is a decent size for someone like me who is probably one 4×4 from In-N-Out away from cardiac arrest. The meat yielded to my teeth easily, and the flavor, while overall pretty good, was inconsistent in that it was here in one bite, but missing in the next bite. The sides were okay, however, I’m beginning to think that based on my experiences from both Outback and Black Angus, the chains are kinda sorta phoning it in with the vegetables. I mean, a tough piece of broccoli is pretty unappetizing to begin with, but we can either go two ways: Healthy enough to counteract what’s on the plate or creamed/fried/etc enough to be appetizing on it’s own. Either way, it just seems like when it comes to veggies, no one is really trying.
The last one took me to Union City, the only Texas Roadhouse in the entire Bay Area. On my visit, I found the place to be slammed, as in, it took me 45 minutes to get a table for one. I was offered a seat at the bar, but considering that it would’ve been a waste of a drinkers night out, I declined. What was kinda interesting about the place is how the mish-mash of decor was actually done well enough to be delightfully tacky, but in a way as to not offend someone who has a somewhat refined sense of aesthetics, in short, these people know who they are very well.
Okay, before we get into it, I have to say that the yeast rolls are legit. I mean, the bread at the other two places was great, but this, these things are divine creations from God themself. The soft, yeasty goodness with the brown sugar butter alone was worth the drive up from the South Bay, but anyways, here’s what I ordere: a 12 oz medium rare with some potatoes and corn (I have had it up to here with brocollii by this point.)
Possibly, the best out of the three I’ve tried. The tender consistency and savory flavor, while a tiny bit tough, were on point. The Au jus was quite delicious, enough for me to attempt to shoot it like a shot of whiskey (it wasn’t bad actually, but I don’t recommend doing that without a glass of water at the ready). The sides were delicious too, with the creamiest mashed potatoes and country gravy I have ever experienced (finding the right biscuit for that gravy would’ve been awesome, but alas, I don’t think they were available).
I want to give another shout out to the yeast rolls. Texas Roadhouse is mainly concentrated on the East Coast, but if this is what we’re missing out on, I’m feeling sorely cheated out of the precious carbs I allow myself to have in a day.
Texas Roadhouse was the clear winner. Granted, the Prime Rib may not be the same quality as what you can get from some of the more high end restaurants, but in this case, it’s all about adapting to the situation when a friend or family member makes the suggestion to go to one of these places. Black Angus was a decent runner up (the awesome app sampler platter kinda makes up for a lot of it) that could be another good option in the bay area, as they are numerous enough to be close to wherever you need to go.
So, dear reader, what do you have for me? Got any great places for prime rib for me to check out? Think I was a bit too harsh or easy on some these places? Let me know, I’m always interested in hearing about more great places.