A real live Australian describing his experience there...

Recently, while we were in Seattle, we (my family) got a sense of morbid curiosity about the Outback Steakhouse near our hotel. So off we went, to take a look at this most famous of bastardisations of our culture.

The Outback Steakhouse is basically a run of the mill 'franchise restaurant', with a pseudo-Australian theme. It's a fairy stereotypical 'outback' motif... pretty much what you'd expect from a chain started by a random Yank trying to make a buck off the seeming popularity of anything perceived to be 'typically Australian'. (Over usage of the word 'mate' for example) They actually have an Outback Steakhouse in Parklea in Sydney, according to their site. The site also claims that 'bonzer times start with awesome outback tucker'. Just so you know.

Upon entering, I found roughly what I'd expected- an array of various depictions of animals on the walls; koalas, kangaroos, and the like. There was also movie posters from Australia, a couple of Australian flags and a few other odds and ends. Also of note was the dim, pinkish lighting. Then there's the giant cutlery. (That's 'silverware' for you Yanks). At any rate, the 'knoyfes' (As in "that's not a knoyfe, this is a knoyfe") are elaborate, about 15 inches long including the thick, wooden handle and serrated edged blade... the things look designed to saw through bone. The other cutlery is also a bit oversized, but the knife steals the show.

Onto the menu, which is where the bulk of the entertainment is to be had. It's fairly standard fare, but everything has these cheesy themed names which bring enjoyment and mirth.

Firstly, many dishes are named after places in Australia. You can get an Alice Springs Salad, some Toowoomba Pasta, a Brisbane Caesar Salad, or the Melbourne (a 20 ounce steak). Most of these are bland at best, but I thought that Botany Bay Fish O' the Day was clever... even though I have my doubts about how healthy it is to eat fish from any waterway in Sydney, let alone one near oil refineries and the like.

There's something there called 'Bloomin' Onion'. I haven't a clue what it is, but it's a side-dish, (or, an 'Aussie-tizer', according to the Steakhouse menu...) and the description reads "an outback Ab-original". I can hear the groans from here. The rest of the menu is merely silly and amusing... but this one is downright awful and potentially insulting. Painful.

Not as painful as what they're apparently doing to John Howard, though. There's a menu choice called the Prime Minister's Prime Rib. I wouldn't have imagined that our beloved little PM has too much meat on him, but there ya go...

Now onto the 'baffling usage of slang' department: the 'Walkabout Soup O' the Day' (more potential insults to Aboriginals) is described as being "a unique presentation of one of our Australian favorites. Reckon!" Pardon my wanton usage of Internet shorthand, but... WTF!? That quite literally makes no sense.

I also ran across a couple of examples of nearly Australian food. They have 'Aussie Chips', which got me excited until I found that these are merely cheese fries, and thus as American as School Shootings and Krispy Kreme. Same deal with the hamburgers. The supposedly Australian burgers are made with USDA grade American beef, and there's not a slice of beetroot or pineapple in sight.

There are plenty of signs that this at heart an American restaurant, with an Australiana facade. Prawns are referred to by their American term, shrimp, (on the barbie, no doubt) and the only Aussie beer you could get was Foster's, and I'm pretty sure no Aussie would ever even contemplate naming a dessert the 'Chocolate Thunder from Down Under'. I won't insult your intelligence by attempting to explain the multiple opportunities for mockery that name creates.

General impressions? Well, predictably, it's far from an accurate or authentic depiction of Australia, but that's not really the point. As an Australian, it's tempting to get nitpicky and defensive of something like this. The key is to maintain an open mind. The fun in something like this is to just enjoy the farce, and laugh at the absolute cultural surreality of it all. I was also pleased to find it mercifully short on kangaroo and dingo references. Those are two of my pet hates.

I do wonder, however, what percentage of the American customer base is actually taken in by all this, and taking it all as a genuine example of Australian culture and cuisine. Hopefully it isn't too high, but you never really know...


Jaggar tells me that "As it happens, those of us from the USA don't even notice the "Austrialian" theme. We just go there because it's the only place we can get a decent steak and not have to put up with a horrible "Texas" theme"

So there you go.

It is not often that we patronize a chain restaurant. It's also extremely rare that we'd patronize a place so full of kitschy devices in the decor and on the cleverly-worded menu. (In the business it's called "menu-tainment.") We were quite surprised with the quality of the food and the service; so much so it deserves a place in my little collection of E2 restaurant reviews.

A big star for great service. An anecdote is in order. The restaurant is now offering take-out service. We entered the place not in the proper front door but by mistake walked into the take-out entrance (although, thoughtfully, they've set aside a few parking spaces for take-out very close to this door, something it occurred to me would benefit my own take-out customers). The young man just inside had a station with a computerized cash register and television monitors focused on the take-out parking spaces. If you give your credit card number, you needn't even get out of your car to pick up your order. Normally I'd criticize people too lazy to get out of their cars and go inside to pick up a bag; however, this is probably a godsend to anyone who's handicapped etc. and has trouble getting out of the car.

The point I'm getting at, by the way, is that we'd entered the wrong door and the hostess/greeter station was quite a way around the corner and on the other side of the building. Now, this bumpkin could've merely pointed and given a few directions and we'd have eventually found a greeter. But to my astonishment and certainly to his credit, he got up and walked us to the hostess station and indicated to her that we'd just arrived (through the wrong door — but heck, the kid walked us to the right place). I learned long ago, I believe from a book about the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, that one never "points" a customer in the right direction; one assures they get there by taking them there. This is the Ritz's number one rule about persons asking for a rest room (as I guess they seek to protect one from the embarrassment of having those all around them hear an employee cry out "it's three doors down on the left!")

Food Full of Flavor

Our server warned us that most of the menu items are very heavily seasoned, and that she should be consulted should we want something bland. We own a Sichuan restaurant so we merely thanked her and said "bring it on!"

The "Blooming Onion" is one of the things they're famous for. The onion's chopped in a special machine (the menu lies and says "hand-carved" — but it ain't) so that it can then be dusted with flour and seasonings and is then deep-fried. The result looks like a huge brown Chrysanthemum. This delectable but fattening tidbit comes with a zippy mayonnaise sauce.

New England-style (creamy) Clam Chowder was some of the best we'd ever tasted. They didn't spare the clam juice nor the clams. It also hadn't been scorched or otherwise compromised.

Lump Crabmeat Cakes were sweet, delectable, and not overcooked. The accompanying remoulade sauce was very, very good.

Caesar salad must include shrimp or chicken (we didn't bother to ask if a plain one was offered). The dressing is quite creamy and redolent of garlic. Asiago cheese is here in abundance. The chicken breast was juicy, full of flavor and very tender.

Then came the steaks. Prime meat that's been marinated in a spicy but not overpowering fashion, cooked obviously at high temperature. Doneness is assured by the server via description of the various stages thereof. How they get this meat so tender is beyond me. I've paid twice as much for a sirloin steak and it's not been this good. I could've cut it with a butter knife. Two side orders are offered with each entree steak. Haricots were fresh, bright green and crispy. Garlicky mashed potatoes were delectable and included bits of skin (we like that; after all, that's where all the nutrients are.

The value was superb. The largest steak on the menu, a Porterhouse, is only $26. They exceeded our expectations with every single dish. Even the warm pumpernickle loaf brought at the beginning was a delectable treat.

We opted out of dessert. The desserts were the usual culprits; chocolate cake, a sundae, and cheesecake. Coffee was very good and a great way to finish a meal this substantial. I'm a coffee perfectionist and this stuff was good and hadn't sat in the pot too long.

Value Meals

There's a tiny list of sandwiches and burgers that are even more a value than the entrees. Of course, this list is tucked in the back of the rather long-winded menu. The burger is sirloin; and very tasty. And those crafty folks have a use for the bits of the "Bloomin' Onion" that fall off; they put them on their house special burger. It's so delectable it must be a sin to eat.


The drink menu starts with the usual cloyingly sweet culprits, Cosmopolitans, Margaritas and the like. The selection of beers is outstanding, however, for those who like their beverages on the dry side. Wines are nothing special, but there are at least two whites and two reds worth going for. The rest is bag-in-box plunk. Delightfully, there is a vast array of "spirit free" 'cocktails' available.

We plan on visiting again soon; a different location, however, to get a feel for a place under different management. But judging by the Outback nearest us, it's a great dining experience and a very good value.

Outback Steakhouse
3210 Berlin Turnpike, Newington CT 06111

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