Now, you know I tend to talk far more about our local restaurants here in Arkansas than I do any sort of franchise that extends past the borders of Arkansas. But as I have pointed out before, local outlets of these franchises employ folks who work here, including a lovely array of individuals who cook, wait tables, host and generally make a night out lovely for us all.
So when the opportunity came up to check out the new Conway location for Outback Steakhouse came up, I jumped at it. Different locations of the operation are usually where Grav celebrates his January birthday each year, be it in Fort Smith of Little Rock. We’d been to the old Conway location before, but an invite to check out the new place got us on the road.
And wow. Yes, this Outback Steakhouse is firmly set in the 21st century.
The three of us – Grav, Hunter and myself, came in on a Thursday night expecting a little bit of a wait. I was worried when we first arrived, since there were already folks waiting and what appeared to be a very busy restaurant, but we waited less than ten minutes before we were given a booth on the restaurant’s south side.
This location is larger than its predecessor, seating 242 people in a large open room and a smaller bar area. This particular Thursday there were, if I counted correctly, four different party-style gatherings in the space, which could have made for a very chaotic situation. But the staff seemed to be very calm, darting about like a very well-oiled team.
Once seated, we received our menus and that lovely brown bread I find nigh on irresistible. I want the recipe for this bread. No, really, I do. I remember back to my first Outback visit in high school to the location in North Little Rock and just digging that bread and fresh butter and those jolly sweet knives. When business trips over the years I worked in television meant a stop at an Outback, I was always quite content.
We started off by ordering a Bloomin’ Onion – which, to my surprise, Hunter had never encountered. I was trying to figure out why and determined it’s because we’d been sampling our way through the appetizer menu over the years, and the last time we’d actually had a Bloomin’ Onion was when she was still too young to really dive in. But boy, did she dive into this one. Grav asked for an additional ramekin of sauce, which was awesome since they both got into it quite a bit. Hunter was grabbing big handfuls of the strings and dividing them on her plate before dunking them one by one.
This salad was both hot and cold – with a nice char on the lettuce that I don’t recall getting my last few visits elsewhere. But I loved it. It gave just a little caramelization to the iceberg lettuce. I’m in.
Grav got his Caesar salad, which is his default and what he always gets because, well, Caesar salad. Hunter took the opportunity to claim great swaths of the Bloomin’ Onion.
This hunk of beef was huge, dwarfing his loaded baked potato on the plate, spreading from one end of the platter to the other. A cut showed a gorgeous rare to the meat, exactly as he ordered, and he just kept bragging on his plateful.
Mind you, there was enough meat there to serve him, me and Hunter too. She was well pleased, though, with her very own little rare steak, which proved to be exactly the right size. I helped her cut it (the big knives are still a little hard for her to handle, despite her long fingers) and she took off on it. She didn’t even ask for steak sauce.
Mind you, I had fleetingly thought about changing my mind and going with the new Bearnaise Crab Topped Filet, because that sounded like an irresistible combination. But, c’mon, PRIME RIB.
Grav stopped his bragging, though, after I let him try my side of Steakhouse Mac and Cheese. The strong and substantial tang of Gouda cheese paired with extra long macaroni noodles that spiral about along with the added crunch of breadcrumbs was over the top for him, and he decided next time that’d be his side. I was pretty impressed with it, though I usually go for the asparagus. Both are very worthy sides.
I have to admit, driving back to Little Rock after that was a slow ride. Hunter crashed in the backseat before we got out of the parking lot, and Grav even snoozed off once. It was a great, filling meal and, as Hunter muttered before sleep took her, we all went into a “beef coma.”
There are Outback Steakhouses all over this region of the United States, and each one of them employs a number of local individuals who make things great. This particular visit we had marvelous service from folks local to Conway, who chatted with us and who made sure we had a great dining experience. I’m looking forward to our next “beef coma.”
You’ll find this neat new outlet for Outback Steakhouse at 955 East Oak Street in Conway. If you’d like to order ahead, you can head to www.outback.com or call 501-548-6220. Oh, and there’s wifi, in case you need to check your email or catch Pokemon while you wait.