Bad line dancing by the servers. The din of too loud pop-country music ringing in your ears. Peanut shells all over the floor. A plethora of neon signs, searing your retinas at every turn.
Welcome to Texas Roadhouse.
If only the food were great, maybe, just maybe, the carnival like ambiance would be bearable. But the food is passable at best. Bland and uninspired at its worst.
But here's the thing. I find the entire experience to border on annoying. I am terribly confused as to why it's so damn popular. The place is always packed. Night after night there's a line out the door. I usually can 'get' why places I think suck are popular. But the appeal of TR is utterly lost on me. Perhaps that's because so much of what makes Texas Roadhouse, Texas Roadhouse, are things that I just don't care for, such as country music, and mediocre chain food. I don't know.
The menu is a meat lover's paradise, and a vegetarian's nightmare. There is literally one vegetarian entree on the menu, which is just an option to create an entree out of any 4 of the 13 sides. And 1 of 13 sides contains bacon, and another ground beef ironically. I don't have a problem with a menu that gives the finger to vegetarians, as I'm an unabashed carnivore. But still, I find it surprising, considering chain restaurants generally attempt to appeal to a wide range of palates and try to please absolutely everyone.
Let's start with those sides. A basket of warm, baked in-house rolls is brought to the table by the host/hostess, as he/she seats you, with a little plastic cup of cinnamon butter. It's a good idea, after all who doesn't love warm rolls with butter? But the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The rolls are completely flavorless, and they don't have a pleasing texture. They're squishy like cheap white bread, which results in a mushy texture in your mouth. Slathering on the cinnamon butter doesn't help matters much, the butter lacks flavor, or salt, or something. Texas Roadhouse has found a way to make butter bland.
One of the sides we tried is listed as 'fresh vegetables'. Ours arrived as a mix of steamed baby carrots and broccoli. How exciting! They were way overcooked, mushy, and bland. They were pale with little color, which along with the mushy texture leads me to believe they are pre-cooked and sitting in a steam table, a big pet peeve of mine.
I ordered a cup of chili as a side. It's an uninspired concoction of kidney beans, ground beef, and tiny bits of mushy red and green bell peppers, in a tomato base that tasted of only chili powder and cumin. It's topped with diced red onion, and cheap shredded orange cheese. I found it to be boring. And it's lazy. Do the people in charge of the menu have any creativity in their bones at all? Surely they can come up with a chili that's at least a little different and interesting. The chili is especially egregious considering this is a Texas themed restaurant.
We also tried two salads, I the caesar, and my wife the house. The caesar is romaine, croutons, lots of cheap shredded parmesan, and the obligatory creamy caesar dressing. It, like the chili is not terrible, but it's such a perfect clone of every other caesar salad you've ever had at every other inexpensive chain restaurant. It's uncanny, and it's boring. The house salad comes topped with the same cheap orange cheese as the chili, and the greens consist of mainly flavorless iceberg lettuce. My wife asked for the Italian dressing with her salad, and it was surprisingly good. They claim to make it at the restaurant, and it showed. It was light, not gloppy or gluey, and flavorful, if a little too sweet.
The proteins are better than the sides though. My wife loved her salmon, and it was by far the best thing we had there. It was cooked perfectly, sprinkled with a flavorful herb mix, and topped with a light lemon butter sauce. She really enjoyed it. My chicken fried chicken, was crunchy, the breading while not outstanding, had good flavor, the chicken was tender and juicy. It's served in a pool of their 'cream gravy'. The gravy is decent, with lots of black pepper which I like. But it's heavy, and there was far too much of it on the plate. As I ate, and the gravy cooled, it started to form an unappetizing skin on top.
And this was my second visit, on my first visit I left similarly unimpressed.
Average chain fare in an annoyingly loud, harsh environment, definitely makes for a Bad Chain Restaurant. But I'm in the minority, because people love the place. And if you go, expect to wait for a table. Texas Roadhouse must be doing something right, but whatever that is, is beyond me. Is the American palate really that timid? Do people really find the uninspired menu interesting? I don't get it.