Invasion of the Texas Steakhouses

Finding a bit of the Lone Star State in Rhode Island



I remember restaurants that were different, purposefully different — “The Magic Time Machine” with waiters in costumes and each booth decorated like a different movie set, “Old Spaghetti Warehouse” where you could sit in a trolly car or in booth constructed from an old brass bed, “China Palace” where each booth looked like a different merchant’s shop in a Peiking marketplace. None of these were around here — I spent many of my formative years in Texas, and many of my adult years in Texas restaurants. There are a few themed restaurants here in Rhode Island, but, oddly, a couple of restaurants in Rhode Island follow a Texas Theme.

Remember the old Shoney’s on Bald Hill Road? It’s now a Panera Bread restaurant, but for a while it was Rhode Island’s first experiment with a Texas Steakhouse. The Lone Star Steakhouse was there for quite a while. I first encounted the Lone Star steakhouse on a trip to Alabama where they had placed the Texas state flag upside down. Fun environment, thick steaks. When the national chain brought the restaurant here, they also brought along a few nice touches — baked sweet potatoes, iceberg lettuce wedges with bleu cheese dressing, and leftovers packaged to take home in decorative twisted foil creations.

The name was similar to a restaurant I enjoyed many years ago in Austin — Lone Star Cafe — but Lone Star Steakhouse wasn’t from Texas — in fact, none of these are. It’s just a theme, an excuse to decorate the restaurant with huge cattle horns, play country music on the PA, and make customers think about big beef steaks.

Lone Star Steakhouse is gone now, but the demand for a Texas theme and hefty beef is not going unfulfilled.

It took me a while to try Longhorn Steakhouse. Can’t explain why — it just wasn’t high on my list to visit. Inside, though, was a restaurant that followed the same model as Lone Star. More Texas decorations, more thick steaks.

Service was decent, they had hot bread and fresh iced tea, and the steaks were tasty, unadorned slabs of beef — exactly what I hoped when I went in.

Another Texas themed steakhouse opened in Cranston. It sneaked into a stretch of Route 10 that I seldom see, so it took me a while to stumble across it. The Texas Roadhouse is the same concept — steaks and Texas, both in the same place. It had some differences. As you come in, there’s a wash tub full of peanuts for you to munch on while you wait to be seated. Just toss the shells on the floor. And a couple of pails at your table for more peanuts and their shells. If you have a severe peanut alergy, you’re tremendously out of luck.

The country music, heavy on the Willie Nelson, blares on the PA, and is turned up when they play the roadhouse song. The reason they turn it up is so that the waitstaff can do their line dance down the restaurant’s central isle.

So the atmosphere is fun,in addition to being a chain restaurant’s idea of “Texas”.

On the menu you’ll find steaks, pork ribs, and “country fried steak”, what we called “chicken fried steak” in Texas because it’s battered and fried like fried chicken. Skip the “country fried steak” if you are looking for large slabs of meat, but if you do go for it, don’t forget to ask for cream gravy — that’s the traditional way to eat it.

The steaks were good, provided you don’t order them well done. The mixed drinks suprised us when they billed separately for the drink and the alcohol.

The service was cheerful, though somewhat less than attentive. Their marketing folks, though, have spent a lot of time sending me birthday wishes and special offers through my email.

And, just in case I find the drive aaaaaaaalllllll the waaaaayyyyyy to Cranston too far to bear, they’ve opened another Texas Roadhouse in East Greenwich (well, technically Warwick) on Division Road at the Showplace Cinema. So, where to go?

If you want steaks in a Texas theme, choose either Longhorn. If you want fun, choose Texas Roadhouse during the busy part of the evenings when the place is hopping.

If you want the real Texas, you’ll have to wait, it hasn’t come here yet.

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