After seeing all the advertising for Longhorn Steakhouse, a chain that arrived in Western New York recently with locations in Orchard Park and Cheektowaga, I decided to check it out. ¶ We visited the Orchard Park restaurant, which opened in December. It’s one of more than 400 locations in 36 states, numbered among about 2,000 eateries, owned by Darden Restaurants. The list includes Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants. ¶ The deals got me through the door. Longhorn advertises a $25 dinner for two that includes an appetizer or dessert, two salads and two entrees, like a 6-ounce sirloin or 7-ounce salmon fillet. We arrived on a Saturday to find the place about two-thirds full, and got to order promptly.
Like most successful casual dining menus, it isn’t spa cuisine, but built on its Western-inflected “big, bold tastes.” I said “Yes, please,” choosing cheddar stuffed mushrooms ($7.49) and Wild West Shrimp ($8.99), fried shrimp with spicy cherry peppers.
For entrees, I chose the 20-ounce porterhouse ($24.79), and Cat asked for grilled trout with shrimp and lobster ($17.79). Dinners come with a side dish, salad, and all the warm honey-wheat bread and butter you want. We opted to upgrade (at $1.59) to a “signature” side (steakhouse mac and cheese) and salads (strawberry pecan, Bleu Ridge), and added a side of green beans ($2.69).
Warm bread and butter arrived first, but we didn’t eat much because we’d seen some of the built-for-sharing appetizers go by.
Good move, because the shrimp with peppers showed up as 25 or more medium shrimp, fried adeptly to a crisp before being tumbled in garlic butter and tossed with piquant pickled peppers. A squeeze of lemon and it was off to the races. File under deadly but delicious, and we cleaned the plate.
The stuffed mushrooms were five fungi filled with cheddar, bubbled from a trip under the salamander, on top of a sauce akin to cheddar Alfredo. Not bad. The mushrooms were nicely cooked but the sauce tasted simple, and any herbs were swamped.
The Bleu Ridge salad was generously anointed with crumbled blue cheese, blue cheese dressing, red onions and chewy bacon. The artistic arrangement required romaine chopping, but I needed the exercise. Cat’s strawberry pecan salad was field greens, including arugula and baby beet greens, topped with lots of mild feta. Hidden below were a welcome assortment of fruit: strawberries, grapes, mandarin oranges. Plus pecans. Definitely worth the upgrade.
My steak arrived with a finishing pool of butter on top, and its side of sweet potato puffs, which are essentially finer-grain Tater Tots.
The steak had good char, but tame flavor. I went back to the menu to read again that bold seasoning is a signature. Ordered medium rare, it was medium at the edges, closer to rare in the middle, and chewy all over. I ate it. It was not a terrible steak. But I’ve met better $25 steaks around here.
Cat’s trout was a generous helping of fish, two fillets, sandwiching a filling of chopped lobster bits, small shrimp, corn, bacon, tomatoes and more, dressed in a butter sauce. The ample seafood filling tasted fresh, with a hit of smoky saltiness from the bacon. The fish was well seasoned, but cooked longer than I like, dry around the edges.
The mac and cheese was an example of four cheeses not necessarily being better than one or two distinctive ones. The hollow spiral pasta and more bacon luxuriating in a creamy bath was blandly comforting. The green beans were vibrant green but undercooked, crunchy.
For dessert, we chose the S’mores brownie ($3.99) and Apple Goldrush tart ($6.99). The server, who was attentive and responsive all night, returned five minutes later to say the tart would be delayed but that there were a bunch more in the oven.
He returned with the tart 10 minutes later. Too soon, really; the pastry was gummy inside and needed longer to cook. The S’mores brownie sported lovely toasted marshmallows and caramel and chocolate drizzles, but was undercooked as well, with more of a pudding consistency inside.
Longhorn does offer casual dining values and big bold flavors, but you can find better steaks in town.
Longhorn Steakhouse: 6 plates (Out of 10)
Western-themed chain restaurant offers generous servings, value-priced meals.
WHERE: 3494 Amelia Drive, Orchard Park (longhornsteakhouse.com, 825-1378)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $4.99-$8.99; steakhouse salads and sandwiches, $10.79-$14.99; steaks, $11.99-$39.99 (for two).
PARKING: In the lot.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.