The great Texas steak-off: I went to LongHorn Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse to see which chain did the best bone-in rib eye.

LongHorn Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse are two chains serious about serving the best meat.
I visited both chains in August to see how each handled the ultimate steak lover’s cut, the bone-in rib eye.
Even though LongHorn delivered the better meal this time, I’d sooner go back to Texas Roadhouse.

It’s no secret that Americans love steak.

Look no further than the booming growth of national chains such as LongHorn Steakhouse and Texas Roadhouse, which have both seen substantial gains in new locations and sales in the past year, even as other full-service restaurants are having a rougher time.

Although neither brand has actual origins in the Lone Star state — LongHorn was founded in Georgia in 1981 and Texas Roadhouse in Indiana in 1994 — both have adopted Texas-inspired identities and a mission to serve the best meat.

To put the two porterhouse powerhouses to the test, I visited locations of both chains near Madison, Wisconsin, in August to see how each handles the ultimate steak lover’s cut, the bone-in rib eye.

This prime cut is one that every grill master worth their seasoning salt takes great care and pride in getting right, making it a sure measure of a kitchen’s talent. Of course, that’s only one (obviously important) piece of the puzzle in the restaurant business.

I started off with LongHorn Steakhouse.
Dominick Reuter in front of LongHorn.

This location is open for lunch on weekdays, unlike the Texas Roadhouse nearby.

I was promptly greeted and seated by an exceptionally friendly staff.
The entrance to LongHorn.

My server took my order and quickly brought me ice-cold sweet tea and bread to snack on.

As a Southerner, I like my iced tea with a pronounced flavor, a lot of sugar, and a fresh lemon. LongHorn gets it right.
Sweet tea and bread at LongHorn.

I had to resist stuffing myself with the bread, which was a warm, fresh multigrain loaf served with whipped butter.

The dimly lit dining rooms in the 572 locations the company operates look about the same.
A LongHorn dining room.

Darden Restaurants, which also owns Olive Garden, opened 18 LongHorn locations in the past year.

The decor evokes a Western ranch lodge, with cowboy chaps and bull horns adorning the walls.
LongHorn decor.

The styling feels a bit dated compared with recent refreshes at other brands, but other diners seemed comfortable with the consistency.

I was impressed by the size and heft of the steak knife — it was huge!
A LongHorn steak knife.

The blade was a bit cumbersome for spreading butter, but it definitely got me in the mood for meat.

My medium-rare bone-in rib eye landed with a sheen of lemon butter and a side of corn on the cob. It smelled delicious.
A LongHorn rib eye.

I had intended to get fries on the side for a better comparison and to keep the focus on the steak, but this corn simply looked too good to pass up.

The color and char looked just right, and I carved off a large piece to check the temperature.
A medium-rare LongHorn rib eye.

The pink was more on the “medium” side of “medium rare” but still within the range of what I’d expect from a major chain.

With the first bite, my taste buds were hit with juicy steak flavor, enhanced by bright notes from the peppery rub and citrus butter.
A closeup of the rib eye.

Dubbed the “Outlaw Ribeye,” this steak packs a whopping 1,250 calories (790 from fat), according to LongHorn’s nutrition guide. The 22-ounce LongHorn porterhouse is slightly larger but leaner.

The texture was nice and firm, with bits of grill char and marbled fat complementing one another.

Turning the bone over, I noticed it was cut to reveal the marrow, which helps transfer some flavor to the meat.

The fire-grilled corn was laden with a crème sauce and panko seasoning, pairing nicely with the steak.
The fire-grilled corn at LongHorn.

Other sides that caught my eye included the crispy Brussels sprouts, steakhouse mac and cheese, and fried okra. I’ll have to go back for those.

Having eaten my fill, I requested the check and a box for the remaining steak.
The bill at LongHorn.

The steak cost $29.29, plus the tea and a markup for the corn, for a total of $35.47 before tax and tip.

After a genteel pause — about two hours to digest and catch up on emails and phone calls — I headed to Texas Roadhouse for round two.
Dominick Reuter at a Texas Roadhouse.

This location is one of 29 new ones to open in the past year, bringing the total to 647.

Even though it was before dinnertime, the well-staffed restaurant was getting busy with diners.
The entrance to Texas Roadhouse.

The average Texas Roadhouse location does roughly $164,000 in weekly revenue, significantly higher than LongHorn’s $106,000 average.

The famous display of hand-cut steaks, which are prepared in-house daily, stood near the entrance.
Texas Roadhouse’s famous display of steaks.

I didn’t see a rib eye on display, but the offerings looked tempting.

A host grabbed a basket of warm, sweet rolls and led me to a booth.
A booth at Texas Roadhouse.

Each table had an electronic mini kiosk for ordering, paying, and even playing video games.

The dining-room ambiance was more New Country than Old Western, with exposed wood and neon signs instead of leather and paintings.
The vibe was New Country.

The layout was centered on a U-shaped bar, with plenty of TVs showing sports and one playing music videos of the country hits booming over the speakers.

My server brought over an iced tea, which was plenty sweet but less flavorful than the one at LongHorn.

The rolls were also sweeter and less flavorful than LongHorn’s loaf, and the steak knife was disappointingly basic, too, but I digress.

My medium-rare bone-in rib eye arrived quickly, with servings of corn and green beans on the side.
A bone-in rib eye at Texas Roadhouse.

I went with corn to try to match the LongHorn meal, but unfortunately, it was not served on the cob. The green beans were generously flecked with pieces of bacon.

The steak had a lighter color, less char, and larger fat portions than the Longhorn version.
A bone-in rib eye at Texas Roadhouse.

Rib eyes get most of their flavor from the marbling of fat, but that can cause the steak to have more gristly bits than some diners like.

A similar initial cut revealed a temperature that was more on the “rare” side of “medium rare.”
A bone-in rib eye at Texas Roadhouse.

I interpreted the rareness as a sign the chef was averse to overcooking a steak.

The first bite was phenomenally tender, with an aroma and flavor that had a more pronounced garlic and onion profile.
A bone-in rib eye at Texas Roadhouse.

The seasoning was also a bit salty for my taste, and the sides were somewhat bland.

The restaurant’s manager stopped by my table a few minutes later to see how I was enjoying the meal and told me he had cooked my steak personally.
The bar at Texas Roadhouse.

The manager later told me the saltiness of the seasoning is a common critique, but it’s one of the only food items that is delivered as is rather than made from scratch in-house. He also said meat prices had been going up, but he was doing his best not to pass that on to customers all at once.

I could also see how the same seasoning and cooking process that would lift a more common steak cut could be a bit of overkill on one as rich as the rib eye.
Rolls, a menu, and digital ordering device at Texas Roadhouse.

Plus, I’d bet the seasoning pairs nicely with one of the restaurant’s signature margaritas.

At the end of the day, LongHorn came out on top in terms of preparing a more satisfying meal for die-hard steak lovers.
LongHorn’s steak.

LongHorn’s seasoning allowed more of the meat and fire flavors to take center stage, and the sides were more interesting.

The knife wasn’t bad, either.

Seriously, just look at that thing.

But when I think about which one I’d rather come back to first — and bring my kids — my choice would be Texas Roadhouse.
Settling up at Texas Roadhouse.

The difference between the rib eyes wasn’t dramatic, and the prices were comparable. The Texas Roadhouse steak cost $28.99 with two sides — $0.30 less than Longhorn — and the tea was $2.99 for a total of $31.98 before tax and tip. Beyond price, Texas Roadhouse felt more lively and welcoming, with a wider variety of menu options to try for different diners.

That could be why, even as both chains post strong growth, Texas Roadhouse is ahead and extending its lead.

For the most recent quarter, Texas Roadhouse saw same-store sales increase by 8.4% on a 4.3% increase in guest traffic compared with the same period last year. Meanwhile, LongHorn’s delivered a very respectable 5.2% sales increase, even with a 2.7% decline in guest counts.

For Texas Roadhouse, the slowdown affecting other casual dining brands is proving to be an opportunity to gain share — and I can definitely see why.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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