Friday, September 12, 2008

Saltgrass Steak House - Houston, TX

“Texas to the Bone” is what their napkins say about Saltgrass Steakhouse. Well, any place that serves chicken fried steak is at least a little bit Texas. The “…to the bone” label should be a limited classification for places were Sam Houston drank whiskey from a jug or where Lyndon Johnson stuffed a ballot box.

Saltgrass has done a fine job of approximating what people thing a Texas restaurant is like, but they have done so a bit like a casino in Las Vegas. You know what I mean: huge hotels created to look like Venice, New York or Camelot. In truth, it’s a bit of a sham – a sort of Bennigan’s with Texas-themed junk instead of stuff you might find in your garage. This thing might sell well in California, Wisconsin or Florida, where Texas is more myth than reality, but IN Texas, it’s just a little awkward.

To the food. The meals (even lunch) come with a very nice Shiner Bock beer bread (… this does border on “Texas to the Bone”) that was just what beer bread should be: creamy, sweet and nutty. A little butter made it a very nice start to the meal.

The CFS: It was tasty and rich. The meat was a nice, tender sirloin that had good give when bitten but enough resistance to make the texture of each bite interesting. The balance of flavors was strong (garlicy) but not overwhelming. The menu bragged it was “thicker than the rest” – it was not! Not that thickness equates to taste in CFS (so the boast didn’t make much sense to me).

The Breading: “Southern style.” Such chain restaurants (see review for the Black Eyed Pea) tend to go in this direction (which I personally like). I haven’t been to a commercial place where the style was more west or central Texas style. The breading was a bit thin and I couldn’t manage to keep the top and bottom crust for each bite. (weep not for me, I did manage to clean my plate).

The gravy: Rich, creamy and, if eaten in a blind tasting, was reminiscent of chicken soup. Full chicken, onion and garlic flavors were present. The flavor gravy really dominated the whole dish, but not in a bad way.

Knife size: The plate came with a larger steak knife, but it really wasn’t necessary. A smaller knife would have been fine.

Sides: Pick one (for lunch). I was in the mood for some mashed potatoes (and the other sides didn’t particularly appeal to me), so I ordered the “garlic mashed potatoes.” Like the gravy / CFS combo, the flavors were strong (garlic) but in proper balance. It was a nice compliment to the CFS.

Cost: $8.99 on the lunch menu.

Service: Quick. Very quick. Perhaps too quick. I had the kind of waitress who answers her own questions after asked (“How’s your steak? Good.” “More iced tea? No problem.”). Overall, things moved quickly and I was in and out in a hurry.

Music selection: new country.

It always troubles me when attempts to make something “authentic” go overboard. Such was the case here. Still, it was a good meal and worth a trip.

17275 Tomball Parkway; In the Willowbrook Plaza

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