Saturday, July 12, 2014


For many years, my husband Jack and I - often accompanied by our son Scott and daughter Chris - made an annual trek to the North Carolina Outer Banks, usually in early June before rental prices headed sky high in peak season. Almost always, we stopped in Winchester, Virginia, for a night on the way just to break up the nearly 11-hour trip into manageable drive times. We'd arrive in plenty of time for dinner and head straight for the Texas Roadhouse there. It was our first experience with the chain, which started in 1993 in Clarksville, Indiana.

The food was wonderful - no way to beat those steaks and filets. But I love peanuts, so I had a great time diving into the tin bucket on the table, cracking them open and pitching the shells on the floor. The decor was fun - lots of western "stuff" on the walls, a large jukebox and such - but it was the taste that was as big as all outdoors.

So the announcement that a Texas Roadhouse would open in the Eastwood Mall Complex here brought a Texas-sized cheer from our house, and we couldn't wait for it to open. Unfortunately when it did, we waited, and waited and waited some more before we could manage to get in.

During the week, the place doesn't open until 4 p.m.; and every single time we drove past shortly before that time for at least a month and a half, the parking lot was overflowing into other store lots. The first time we tried, in fact, was on a weekday perhaps a week after the opening; it was so crowded that we turned tail and headed across the way to Lone Star Steakhouse. It, too, was fairly crowded - and we learned we weren't the only ones to pass on a wait of an hour or more at the new place.

In fairness, Texas Roadhouse does offer call-ahead seating, but all that means is your name will be on the waiting list when you arrive so you don't need to push through a throng to get to the reservation desk, but that doesn't quite do it for us. There's also a restaurant in Boardman, but restaurants there usually are even more crowded than in the Niles and Howland area so we didn't want to chance driving that far and having an even longer wait. In the end, we held off for a few months till, we hoped, some of the newness had a chance to wear off - finally picking a Saturday when the place is open for lunch. We timed our arrival  at about 3:15 p.m. - after lunch but before most folks are thinking about dinner - which would give us the best chance of getting right in, we figured.

We figured right. We had no wait at all this time, but by the time we left an hour or so later, the place was nearly filled to capacity and a few people were waiting. 

As for those peanuts, it appears the option of tossing the shells on the floor is here; but when we were seated, we noticed that the bucket on the table was empty - apparently you ask for peanuts if you want them. We're not sure whether that's an attempt to save money on peanuts by giving them away to people who really want them or trying to cut down on the mess on the floor. Since the floor didn't exactly crunch under our feet, it could have been either one.

As often happens, we dragged our friends Jerry and Barb along (or maybe it was the other way around; they'd been wanting to try this place as well). We were seated almost immediately, walking past a glass display case of various cuts of beef. There are many booths and tables in several sectioned-off areas, all surrounded by lots and lots of wood.

We placed our order for drinks and appetizers right away: a Cactus Blossom (a Texas-sized onion deep fried and served with Cajun horseradish sauce for $4.99) and Rattlesnake Bites (diced jalapenos and jack cheese battered and fried with that same sauce (also $4.99). By the time our drinks arrived, we'd decided on entrees - but not without some difficulty. For openers, there are several special entrees for $8.99 available Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., including a 6-ounce sirloin and a pulled pork dinner.

There are plenty of steak choices here as well, plus burgers and other tasty-sounding sandwiches, "country" dinners like pork chops and beef tips over rice or mashed potatoes, several big salads and more. If I have a complaint, it's that seafood options are very limited (three items were on the menu at the time of our visit, one of them fried catfish, one of few fish species for which I don't care much).

As a huge fan of ribeye, Barb's choice was a no-brainer; the 12-ounce bon-in at $11.99, with a salad and veggie - broccoli and carrots on this afternoon. I went for steak as well, but an 8-ounce choice sirlous ($11.99) with a Caesar salad and cup of chili.

Jerry and Jack took different paths, with Jerry choosing the pulled pork dinner with a Caesar salad and baked sweet potato ($9.99). The slow-cooked pork is covered in the restaurant's signature barbecue sauce and comes with toasted bread. If beef tips are on a menu, it's a pretty good bet Jack will go for them - and he did ($11.49). They're served over seasoned rice (or mashed potatoes if you prefer them) with sauteed mushrooms, onions, brown gravy and sour cream. For his side, he chose fries with cheddar and bacon.

The appetizers both were delicious - especially the rattlesnake bites. The onion was a little on the overly browned side, but it was quite good, as was the sauce. A ranch-type sauce came with the rattlesnake bites, and it was exceptionally good with what we figured was a hint of horseradish.

Jerry  I enjoyed the Caesar salads; the dressing was quite mild with no strong anchovy flavor, and the greens were cut into manageable bites. I'm not a huge fan of croutons so was happy that the salad wasn't covered with them, although they were exceptionally good as croutons go. Barb said the broccoli was done as she likes it - still slightly crispy - which means I won't order it (I like mine very tender). Meantime, Jerry raved about his baked sweet potato.

My steak was outstanding - relatively thick and cooked perfectly to medium rare. Barb raved about hers as well - also done to medium rare perfection.  Jerry loved the pulled pork, saying he wouldn't hesitate to order it again, and Jack was happy with his beef tips. The gravy was very rich and the rice had a great flavor - and there was plenty left to bring home. 

As we finished up and were waiting for the checks, we all agreed we'd be back here any time we're in the mood for a great steak. We'll definitely try to get here for at least one of our birthdays; the special person gets to sit on a rolling "steer" saddle while servers sing to you and yell "Yee-haw!"

If you go:

Texas Road House
2260 Niles-Cortland Road S.E.
Warren, Ohio 44484
(330) 349-9488

Open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.