I am not a fan of chain restaurants. They are typical of the fast food genre, all bounce, sass and flash and very little to recommend on the assembly-line produced stuff you fork down your gullet. Western-themed chain restaurants in particular are to be found wanting.
They invariably cook a mediocre grade of beef to various degrees of incineration, then serve it accompanied by a cordwood-sized stack of fries, or a baked potato so wizened and ancient it might have been directly responsible for my ancestors emigrating from Ireland to this country in the mid-nineteenth century.
However, I am glad to see that Johnson City has finally grown (some would say “annexed”) enough that the Longhorn Steakhouse folks have graced us with one of their excellent restaurants. Not only have they obliterated the remaining fragments of the old Bennigan’s property in north Johnson City, they’ve replaced it with a 21st-century, environmentally green building.
The manager of Longhorn’s Johnson City location is Ms. Melody Carter, a familiar face you readers will remember from her tenure at the local Logan’s Roadhouse. Ms. Carter is that anomaly in the chain restaurant business, a true “restaurateur.” She is not your typical “timeserver in a tie.” She sees the restaurant, its building, accoutrements, wait staff, kitchen staff — all of it — as “hers.”
It follows that Ms. Carter’s customers are also “hers,” in that they are treated with the same care and attention she would give to one of her (or your) family members who’d dropped by to eat at her home. Everyone gets a smile, a kind word, an attentive listen to specific needs, and a follow-up to see if everything is all right.
This is mirrored by her Longhorn Steakhouse wait staff who are just as attentive to the customer as she is. Each order is taken with care, any special details and wants noted, and then read back to the customer for confirmation. This last is something I hadn’t seen done in a long while at any restaurant I’d been to. Nice to see that the Longhorn folks have revived it.
Curious about the latest addition to the Johnson City “dining out” scene, I corralled my dinearound bunch and moseyed over (Sorry, no more Western metaphors, I promise) to their North Roan Street address for supper. Like all newly opened restaurants, Longhorn Steakhouse is quite popular just now, so you will have a bit of a wait, as we did.
Once inside, you are greeted by a staff member, but more often than not, as we were, by Ms. Carter herself. Once we were all settled, our server brought a freshly baked loaf of Honey Wheat bread to munch on while choosing our entrees. In addition to their steaks, Longhorn does a great job with chicken and fish.
Wanting something light, I ordered the Grilled Salmon Caesar Salad ($13.49) and a side of their seasoned rice pilaf. A member of the bunch who’s currently on a low-carb diet also ordered salmon, but as one of Longhorn’s “Under 500” calorie counter meals ($14.99) that abjures starches and fats, substituting fresh steamed broccoli and a garden salad with raspberry vinaigrette.
Another table mate, feeling carnivorous, ordered Longhorn’s 8-ounce Flat Iron Steak ($12.99) with a baked sweet potato and a salad, while my dining partner ordered the Parmesan Crusted Chicken ($14.99) with a baked sweet potato and a side salad.
Since all meals are prepared to order, it took about 20 minutes for everyone to be served. Other than a slight mix-up with the salads (the ranch dressing did resemble blue cheese, until you tasted it) everything was as it should be.
My salmon Caesar salad was excellent — crisp and cold romaine lettuce, torn in the traditional manner and not chopped, paired with a superb-tasting, properly chilled Caesar dressing on the side. Add to this 7 ounces of bourbon-glazed, hand-cut Atlantic salmon grilled to a turn, and you’ve got a meal to dig in to.
One very minor flaw: My side order of seasoned rice pilaf was short on spices and long on salt. I told my server, who said he would bring it to the attention of the kitchen staff at once, and would I like something else instead?
Meanwhile, the rest of the bunch were enjoying their meals with evident gusto. The Flat Iron Steak’s marinade made every bite fork-tender and offered a mouth-watering fantasia of flavors. The Parmesan Crusted Chicken was good at the start, but proved a bit cloying once you started on the order’s second chicken breast. My partner wisely ordered a take-out box, fixings for a tasty lunch the following day. Our dieter also enjoyed the salmon in her Under 500 meal, substituting a squeeze of lemon for the bourbon glazing, of course.
Though tempting, we all decided to leave the desserts menu for our return trip. Although Longhorn’s specialty Caramel Apple Goldrush ($6.99) dessert is worth a look: Apples, cinnamon, butter and brown sugar, baked in a golden pastry shell and topped with Maker’s Mark bourbon-caramel sauce.
Our Longhorn Steakhouse supper for the four of us rang up at $65, tip included.
I can guarantee that there will be a return trip for my dinearound friends and myself, maybe at lunch-time. My dining partner’s wanting to try their Grilled Fresh Rainbow Trout ($13.49), while I’m interested in making a meal of their appetizers, such as the Firecracker Chicken Wraps ($7.99) and the Shrimp & Lobster Chowder ($5.29 a bowl.)
I recommend that you all stop by and welcome your new neighbors at Longhorn Steakhouse to Johnson City, and give a hearty “Howdy!” to Ms. Melody Carter, whose customers you all well and truly are. (Oops! Another western metaphor. Couldn’t resist.)