That Food Guy
Friday, May 18, 2012
  Longhorn Steakhouse - Ellijay, GA
Longhorn Steakhouse
30 Highland Xing South East Ellijay, GA 30540
(706) 515-0050

It was a weeklong trip to Georgia. We went to get a little “away time” and to help Cousin Bill finish some chore at his mountain cabin. It is located in rural and mountainous north-west Georgia near some historic Civil War battlefields. There was a sink to install and a pesky problem with the wiring in a three-way stairway light circuit. After the bugs had been ironed out there was some time to walk the dogs along Shakerag Creek and enjoy the night sky; brilliant when not overwhelmed by the lights of the city. A full moon crossed the late evening sky and the telescope was able to depict the rough, irregular outline of lunar mountains on the curved edge of the moon. Deer and black bear were seen in the area. It was all very awe-inspiring, relaxing and an enjoyable break from routine.

During the week we ate simple fare. No need to stock the pantry with food items to lure critters big and small into the cabin when it is closed for the season. By the week’s end we were ready for something more suitable for ravenous carnivores. Known from previous visits, Bill led us to the Longhorn Steakhouse in Ellijay, the small town closest to his mountain cabin retreat. The Longhorn Steakhouse is part of a chain of 354 restaurants located across 33 states. The original Longhorn opened in 1981 in Atlanta, Georgia. Not doing well at first, a quirk of weather, a snowstorm that stranded hundreds of motorists, allowed the fledgling restaurant to garner customers with the offer of $1 drinks. More successes followed and the chain has grown considerably since. If you are interested in more history of the Longhorn Steakhouse, Wikipedia has an excellent article. Sporting a western theme, the steakhouse is decorated with paintings and western-cowboy memorabilia.

We were walk-in customers and we had a short wait in the adequate waiting area, about five minutes before a table was available. There is also a lounge if you desire. We were led to a booth that is roomy and comfortable. As I mentioned the ambiance is set by the western themed decorations but it is hampered by being woefully under lit. It is just plain dark. (I apologize ahead of time for the poor quality of the photos as I don’t use flash in the restaurants.) I had left my reading glasses back at the cabin. As a result I was unable to read the menu. It looked like a bunch of smudges on the paper under the pictures. I had to wait until my wife had made her selection and borrow her glasses to see what wonders the menu held in store.

Known for their steaks and fine meat cuts, their signature dish is Flo’s Filet. However, we chose other delectable’s from the menu. The wife chose a Prime Rib ((Slow-roasted USDA Choice prime rib served au jus and horseradish sauce. While available 12-oz $19.79 16-oz $22.49) I chose a new menu item, Fire-Grilled Flat Iron Steak (A marinated 8-oz Flat Iron steak with the hearty flavor of a sirloin. $12.99) The steaks and prime rib are served with a choice of side, salad and “unlimited freshly-baked Honey Wheat bread.” Additional sides are available at $2.69 to $3.99. Also offered are “Great Steak Additions” ranging from lobster tail ($9.29) to sautéed mushrooms ($3.49). I chose the sautéed mushrooms.

The wife’s prime rib was a large luscious center-cut that needed a platter. It was cooked as ordered to medium-rare. With the baked potato and the bread it was much more than she could finish and the left-over carried home in a doggie bag provided a tasty lunch the next day.

The meals were preceded by a salad; a nice bowl of mixed greens, shredded carrots and croutons. Adequate dressing was provided and with the hot buttered bread made a nice introduction to the meal. I ordered the “loaded” baked potato with butter, sour cream and chives. It had all that and they didn’t skimp. There was still a lot of butter and cream in the last bites of the potato. I also appreciated that the potato skins were oven baked and not steamed in a wrapping of aluminum foil. The slightly crispy skin is so good when cut up with the last bits of potato. The steak was a nice large piece of meat, nicely grilled and cooked to order, medium with a warm pink center. The meat was tender cutting easily with a knife, easy to chew and had a very good flavor. By the end of the meal, unfortunately, there was nothing left to take home for tomorrow’s lunch. The additional side order of sautéed mushrooms were served in a large ramekin. It was a nice large serving of button mushrooms, nicely butter fried. I ladled them on the potato and steak but they would have been just as good had I ate them as a vegetable side dish.

The ambient noise level was low and casual conversation across the table was easy and contributed greatly to the enjoyment of the evening. I noticed that they Longhorn does feature live entertainment. Considering the size of the dining room, entertainment sessions would make for a very loud environment. If you prefer casual conversation to raucous live music I suggest you check their entertainment schedule. We were fortunate to arrive in a quiet moment.

From our arrival to our departure, the staff were all amiable, courteous and very efficient. The initial greeting by the hostess, the server at our table, they all made us feel quite at home. It is a very well run organization. The food was good, had good presentation, the staff performed excellently. For our dinner, I have compliments and no complaints save one; turn up the lights a bit, please.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012
  Cracker Barrel - Revisited
Cracker Barrel - Revisited
4011 Ulmerton Road Clearwater, FL
33762 (727) 572-8685

It was to be an early day in downtown Clearwater, a hearing before the County Commissioners about a zoning matter; the end of a long and arduous process. On the way we would pass by the wife’s favorite Aunt and Uncle who offered to go along for the moral support. It was agreed that it would also offer the opportunity for a brunch if the proceedings were short, or perhaps a lunch if it were a protracted affair. It was open, to be played by ear… Que sera, sera.

As luck would have it, it was nearly the first item on the lengthy agenda and the motion was passed. It was now a done deal at last. It was time to go and eat some eagerly awaited breakfast. A quick check of the local phone book and a familiar name popped up – Cracker Barrel. There is a certain wisdom in choosing a know name when in an unfamiliar part of town. With a large chain like Cracker Barrel you pretty well know what to expect beforehand and that engenders a certain bit of confidence about the meal. It was quorum and Cracker Barrel it was to be.

This was our first time in this particular Cracker Barrel. It is much the same as the others in general layout but I sensed a bit different, perhaps a bit smaller. I did notice that the fireplace, usually on the wall separating the kitchen from the dining room was at the end on an outside wall. Other than that, perhaps to suit the individual site, it was much as any other cracker barrel in furnishings and décor.

It was not busy and we were escorted swiftly to a large table with a window view. Our server was promptly on the scene and we were sipping coffee and perusing the menu in just a few moments. It didn’t take long before we were ready to order. Aunt Effie and Uncle Gilbert ordered the Buttermilk Pancakes.

“Buttermilk Pancakes with 100% Pure Natural Syrup The secret to our pancakes is in the buttermilk. You see, buttermilk actually activates the mix so it rises higher for more tender, flavorful pancakes - just the way we like them. Enjoy three pancakes, made from scratch and topped with real Butter. Served with a bottle of 100% Pure Natural Syrup, warmed up especially for you.”

The three large pancakes are served on a platter with a dollop of butter and the trademark little bottle of syrup. If one bottle is not enough for you other are brought on request. The pancakes were a nice golden brown, cooked through but not over cooked. Bothe Effie and Gilbert enjoyed their meal. Gilbert noticed something that may have changed – the syrup bottle not pure maple syrup. It is a mixture of maple and cane syrup. My memory, sometime faulty, recalls that it used to be pure maple syrup. Nonetheless, it didn’t appear to change the flavor and Gilbert said it tasted just like he remembered.

My wife Janis ordered the buttermilk pancakes with cherry topping.

“Buttermilk Pancakes with Fruit Toppings Three buttermilk pancakes served with your choice of Golden Delicious Apples, Marion Blackberry, Sweet Peach or Montmorency Cherry toppings. Topped with Real Whipped Cream.”

Again, three large well cooked golden brown pancakes served on a platter. There was a copious slathering of cherries and syrup and three dollops of whipped cream. She seemed to enjoy her selection very well. Suffice it to say that Janis, usually a light eater, didn’t ask for a doggie bag on this occasion.

I, on the other hand are a bit of a trencherman and I chose Grandpa’s Country Fried Breakfast.

”Grandpa's Country Fried Breakfast® Two Eggs* cooked to order with Grits, Sawmill Gravy and Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits along with real Butter and the best Preserves, Jam n' Apple Butter available. Served with your choice of Fried Apples or Hashbrown Casserole and Chicken Fried Chicken or Country Fried Steak. $7.99”

Of the choices, it was a hard pick of the hashbrowns over the fried apples; both are so good. I often times try to imitate the hashbrown casserole with copycat recipes. They come close but not exactly; but one day… I also chose the country fried steak. It is the South and the meal comes with grits, a de rigueur of Southern cuisine. I always think they taste like Cream-of-Wheat which was never a favorite from childhood. I called them wallpaper paste. As for the rest of the meal: It is an imposing array of three plates in front of you. The eggs were cooked to order, over medium. The hashbrowns were succulent. The country fried steak was perhaps a bit over cooked; just enough to make a few too crispy edges. Otherwise it was tender and tasty. For a deep-fried steak it was well drained and not at all greasy. I saved the biscuits and gravy for last and the biscuits were flaky and the gravy just right; they have the gravy down to a science. (I hope my cardiologist doesn’t read this blog.) I cleaned my plate (well, most of the grits went back to the kitchen) and thoroughly enjoyed the meal.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a certain comfort in being in a familiar place as you know what to expect. The staff at the Clearwater Cracker Barrel fulfilled those expectations very well with good service and tasty well prepared food. The fact that we were sharing the day with dear relatives certainly added to the enjoyment of the day; not to mention that Uncle Gil picked up the tab. An enjoyable day was had by all.

PS Memory was correct. I rummaged through the pantry once we got home and found a bottle of syrup from a much earlier visit to a Cracker Barrel; 100 per-cent maple syrup.

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