Taste Test: Outback Steakhouse Sirloin and Lobster Tail

From the 12/02/2009 edition

My intake of food last weekend was rivaled only by my gobbling up of football on television. One commercial I noticed playing in heavy sports-time rotation showed a big surf-and-turf special being sold for what seemed like a very reasonable price. Knowing I'd be passing by said restaurant on an errand, I figured why not check out said special?

What I tried: Outback Steakhouse Sirloin and Lobster Tail, $14.95

Out is in: The only Outback Steakhouse I'd ever visited hovered above the outfield inside of Pittsburgh's PNC Park, and that one seemed fine enough for my simple baseball needs.

Investigating the hours for a local branch on the Outback website, I read that the chain referred to itself as "an Australian Steakhouse restaurant" that's "headquartered in Tampa, Florida." Did I think that sounded odd? Not really.

Anyway, when I pulled up to the Bethel Road Outback on Sunday evening, I was surprised to see the place was completely packed. In fact, there was a 15-minute wait for a table.

While wondering why all those fine people - who looked to be a very representative cross-section of the Columbus population - chose to visit a corporate store for their Sunday dinner, I eyeballed a small two-top opening up in the bar area and, with the friendly hostess' permission, I snagged it.

Hardworking people, soft down underbelly: Like the hostess, my waiter was quick with a smile. He was also full of information (the three lobster tails on my plate would weigh about "3.5 ounces") and was constantly hustling to bring out hot food to Outback's many patrons.

The first thing to arrive was a small and dark loaf of bread curiously stabbed in the middle with a nearly equal-in-size steak knife. The bread was a little sweet, virtually crustless and without much flavor.

When my dinner plate came, I thought the food on it looked like the kind of meal you'd be satisfied with on an airplane. Digging in, the lean sirloin steak was soft, juicy enough, and shoulder-shruggingly bland.

De-shelling the trio of lobster tails, I found each little two-bite sliver to be decently sweet, but overseasoned with a garlicky salt mixture. The mini-tails were soft and a tad chewy.

The best thing about the veggie mix (squashes, carrots, snow peas and broccoli) was that it seemed like it'd been fresh before being overcooked into soft, over-buttered clumps.

As I later looked down on my mostly empty plate, I realized that the most flavorful thing on it had been a lemon wedge.

When the hostess cheerily opened the door for me to leave, I felt like I'd just been ushered through a dining experience calculated not to be an experience at all. Nothing was particularly bad, but nothing was particularly good either. I guess if Outback's primary goal was to be uneventful and inoffensive, then mission accomplished.

Heading for my car in the crowded parking lot, I began to wonder if the reason why so many people were showing up for Outback's soft and bland food was because they felt their lives were already too full of drama. Hell, if that were the case, then maybe I couldn't fault them.

Would I eat it again?: Only on an airplane.

Spot a new menu item you'd like Taste Test to try? E-mail gbenton@columbusalive.com