Target demographics:Carnivores. Grandparents. Lonely Businessmen.My antithetical demographics:Vegetarian. Grandson without progeny. Generally-satisfied-with-my-social-life librarian.
As I mentioned in my last post I had originally intended to go to Outback for my initial steakhouse adventure. Since that intention was foiled, and since Ponderosa ended up being even more disappointing than I had imagined, I was eager to get back to the original plan. So, I convinced my friend to subsidize an outing to Outback less than a week after the Ponderosa disaster. We made sure to arrive there a little after four; I'm not sure if I could stand the irony of waiting outside a steakhouse before it opened. That's the type of thing you do at the library when you're eager to learn or homeless. We arrived fashionably late.
It was immediately apparent that Outback was a far more traditional steakhouse than Ponderosa. Ponderosa has more of a carpeted cafeteria feel to it. But at Outback the lights are turned down low, and the walls are full of homey bric-a-brac. All in all, it has a typical psuedo-rustic charm that contrasts with Ponderosa's much more efficient and unadorned decor. Another, initial difference is that, at Ponderosa, you're greeted by a large intimidating woman who does not take kindly to fancy-pants who don't know what's going on; at Outback, you're greeted by a more standard issue awkward 14 year old girl who isn't entirely sure what her job is. Actually, I'm not really sure which one I prefer, though the dear in headlights bit is sometimes good for a pre-digestive chuckle.
But the largest difference between Outback and Ponderosa is that Outback functions like an honest to God grown up restaurant. You get a waiter and everything. But besides his mere presence the waiter at Outback deserves special attention for his manly enthusiasm about meat. He sauntered up to my friend's and my booth and addressed us in his thick Brooklyn accent, and man, did he like steaks. He was so enthusiastic about steaks that he made me feel guilty for necessarily ignoring everything he said. If he wasn't so good-natured I would have been afraid that he would have been disappointed that I wasn't ordering one of his selections. I may be misremembering this, but I'm pretty sure he did one of those stereotypical gestures where you kiss the tips of your fingers to indicate how succulent something is. "Oh, and the rib-eye, MWWWAH!" If he didn't do that physically, he certainly did it verbally.
So it was with some regret that I immediately realized that there was literally no entrée without meat. This is what I expected, so I regarded my situation with a mixture of satisfaction and regret. Satisfaction that I was correct and regret that I couldn't eat anything. In the end I cheated, I ordered a pasta dish with a bunch of shrimp in it. How sad, really: it's the second blog entry and I've already broke the rules.
Now I know what you're saying, why didn't you just say that you didn't want the shrimp. Well, I don't know. I could've, but I just feel like I'm missing out on such a large part of the dish when I dismiss the meat. If I could get some mushrooms instead of shrimp, I would be more satisfied, but that's not the option I was presented with. I guess I wanted to wallow in the lack of initial options I was presented with. In a way, I became a bit offended when I realized there was absolutely no vegetarian option. I didn't want to sink to their level by pointing this out. Somehow I rationalized that by ordering an inappropriate meal, I was performing some sort of silent protest against their lack of consideration. Surprisingly, I don't think anyone noticed this. Instead the waiter gushed about how good of a choice it was and left. "But wait," I wanted to shout, "it's not a good choice! No, you don't understand!"
I also ordered a Bloomin' Onion. For those not in the know, a Bloomin' Onion is kind of Outback's signature thing. I mean, steak is really what they're all about, but the Bloomin' Onion is their quintessential brand thing. "Come to Outback and get a deep fried thing with a silly sort of Australian name!" It's how they stand out in the crowded mid-range steakhouse chain market. "Outback? Oh, that's the Australian place. You can tell because they have an appetizer that puns on the adjectival definition of "Blooming" and its expletive attributive aspect, which is fairly unique to stereotypical Australian speech." What is a Bloomin' Onion? It's an onion sliced vertically, peeled apart a little, fried up and served with a sort of sweet something or other sauce. In other words it's an onion that fell apart and landed in a fryer.
So how could I not order a Bloomin' Onion? Well, I don't know, but I shouldn't have. My friend did not partake in the bloomin' festivities, letting the onion onus fall directly on me. A Bloomin' Onion is not meant for a single person. It's meant for a gaggle of secretaries celebrating Friday evening. It's meant only to soak up enough alcohol to keep the people who are eating it coherent enough to order one more martini. When you eat it by yourself you realize that after only a few bites, it's the worst thing ever. My friend knew what he was doing when he refrained. I did not. Additionally I have a fairly awful tendency to eat whatever's set in front of me no matter how much I hate myself for doing so. I blame being reprimanded at Catholic school for not finishing my plate. Somewhere in the back of my mind, always, is a nun telling me a tale of starving children.
So after finishing way more of the Bloomin' Onion than I should have, I got my pasta dish. Honestly, I was a little nervous about diving in. My mom is highly allergic to seafood and since I never eat it, I was little frightened that I'd developed a similar issue. What if I would seized up, inflated like a beach ball, and fell out of the booth? How embarrassing would that be? But I figured that I was doing this out of a sense of adventure. And what's more adventurous than anaphylaxis?
Thankfully I didn't die, and honestly the dish was quite good. The pasta was doused in aa mildly spicy cream sauce and, well that was about it. It was simple no-frills alternative to Outback's standard large hunk of meat. Unfortunately there was one major problem with it: the shrimp. The worst part of meat for a vegetarian is not necessarily the taste, but the texture. You can now get a simulacrum of the flavor of meat through the heroic efforts of food scientists, but a veggie chicken patty doesn't really taste like a chicken patty mostly because the familiar chicken taste isn't accompanied by the chicken's delicate sinews sticking between your front teeth. So when you bite into a real chicken sandwich you can tell right away. And it's a disgusting feeling. How to best describe the experience of a vegetarian biting into a piece of shrimp? Well, imagine a very large M&M, except instead of chocolate it's filled with gristle.
So my pasta dish was partly ruined by the occasional invasion of gristle balls. I tried a few of them but quickly developed an incredible distaste for their interruptions. "Yum, slurpy pasta! I'll just suck this down and *CRUNCH* Erp..." Admittedly the disgust was probably exacerbated by the hunks of fried onion dipped in slop that were sitting incontentedly in my stomach. All in all it was an expected but unfortunate experience.
So how did my two premier steakhouse expeditions compare. Honestly, despite the total lack of options and the stomach churning results, I have to give the prize to Outback. I felt like taking a shower after Ponderosa, Outback just left me dissatisfied.
I've openly speculated to friends that Ponderosa could only be less vegetarian friendly if they punched you in the face when you walked in. Outback doesn't seem quite as hostile. How can that be if Outback doesn't offer any options and Ponderosa at least has a buffet? Well, I'm reminded of the following Outback commercial from a few years ago with the guy from Flight of the Concords:
After going to Outback, I'm not sure if they're being entirely facetious. I started to wonder if they actually thought that's how vegetarianism worked. There's an apocryphal story about why lesbianism was left out of England's sodomy laws: the myth is that lesbianism was never made illegal in England because Queen Victoria could not possibly conceive of the concept and rejected its mention in the laws. I sort of wonder if Outback feels the same way about vegetarians. "Perhaps we should include some vegetarian options on the menu, just in case." "In case of what?" "In case a vegetarian comes and doesn't want to eat meat." "...A what?" "A vegetarian." "What's that?" "Someone who doesn't eat meat." "No... no that doesn't make sense."
Ponderosa, on the other hand, knows that vegetarians exist. They just hate them.