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Texas Roadhouse, Tracy CA

Corporate restaurants tend to forgo quality for profits.  Shipments go out to each establishment with boxes and crates of frozen, canned, and hyper-processed ingredients.  Oftentimes, that feeling you get after eating somewhere like the Cakecheese Factory or Backout Steakhouse is an indicator of your body reacting poorly to what you’ve just fed it, and you’re getting charged a hefty bill for the damage.  But dear reader, we have found that Texas Roadhouse, a corporate restaurant, makes nearly everything from scratch at each of its 300+ restaurants across the country.  The only items not made in-house are the applesauce, light ranch dressing, and steak fries.  And to sweeten the deal further, this casual eatery doesn’t put nearly the same dent in your wallet as some of the other corporate places do.

killer ribs

killer ribs

The award-winning ribs are very popular and there is an entree option, but we wanted to show you variety so we got the appetizer version.  Served on a bed of steak fries, the rib meat was smoky, sweet, and fell off the bone like it was waiting to let go.  There was a great bark enhancing the smokiness, which also helped to highlight the sweet side.

cactus blossom

cactus blossom

The fried onion’s crispy batter was not at all greasy, nor was the onion overcooked.  With the crispness of the batter plus the slight crunch of the onions, the texture of the “cactus blossom” appetizer was ideal.  The onion was slightly sweet, and the creamy, tangy dipping sauce, called “Cajun horseradish,” offered a tiny bite of heat.

house salad

house salad

“Each plate is served with your choice of two sides.”  We each got a house salad with blue cheese because we both wanted some greenery.  Remember that (almost) everything is scratch made, so that includes the dressing and the croutons.  The house salad is also piled with cheddar cheese, fresh tomatoes, and hard boiled egg, making for a simple yet satisfying salad.

bone-in ribeye with loaded sweet potato

bone-in ribeye with loaded sweet potato

August went for red meat, since this is a steakhouse after all.  “Hand-cut to perfection,” this is Texas Roadhouse’s “most flavorful steak.”  With just the right seasoning, an excellent char, and cooked to the desired temperature, this was a great hunk of meat with a nice bone to take home for Bea the Dog.  August’s second side was a baked sweet potato, and she upgraded to the option of loading it.  In fact, any of the potato sides can be loaded in its own way (sweet potato as you see here, regular baked potato that you’ll see below, and even mashed potatoes and fries have their own treatments).  For the sweet potato, “loaded” means it is topped off with caramel sauce and marshmallows.  Baked to model doneness, the creamy sweet potato with such toppings was a side and a dessert in one.

loaded baked potato

loaded baked potato

Zach’s second side was also a potato, but savory and, as Zach says, “loaded to the gills” with sour cream, cheddar cheese, and bacon.  The skin was rubbed with salt, a nice touch to add greater depth of flavor.  The potato insides were fluffy, and when mixed around with the toppings, this was a hearty and delightful side.

country fried chicken

country fried chicken

Zach’s main dish was this massive country fried chicken, pounded from an all white meat chicken breast, then hand-battered, fried, and topped with cream gravy.  The chicken was crispy from the light breading, yet tender and moist – tender enough for a fork and no knife.  The cream gravy was rich and pepper-based, which was “perfect with the chicken,” according to Zach.  It could have been very easy and convenient for the kitchen to throw together a frozen chicken breast and powder-based gravy, but Texas Roadhouse takes the time to make real food with real cooking techniques.

There are significantly more locations in the eastern half of the country, but there is at least one restaurant in every single continental state.  If you’re out of your area, maybe doing a road trip for the summer or a business jaunt, look for a Texas Roadhouse nearby and you can trust in the quality.

Smoked and Barbecued Baby Back Ribs

If your smoker and grill are big enough, why limit yourself to one protein?  Chef Zach prepared chicken tonight, but he also selected this fine slab of baby back ribs and made a rub to complement it specifically.

1 slab of baby back ribs

1/8 cup of brown sugar

3 tbs. of Marshall’s Farm honey (or whatever is local for you)

1 1/2 tbs. of kosher salt

1 1/2 tsp. of garlic powder

1 1/2 tsp. of paprika

1/2 tsp. of dried mustard

1/2 tsp. of onion powder

1/4 tsp. of ground white pepper

rub both sides

rub both sides

Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.  Rub all over the meat.  Let rest on a sheet pan in the refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap.

out of the smoker

out of the smoker

After having prepped your smoker with preferred wood chips (we used cherry and whiskey barrel), uncover and move the slab to the smoker and smoke for 1 1/2 hours at 250 degrees F.

almost there

almost there

Move from the smoker to the barbecue, and grill on the bone side for 12 minutes.

grill both sides

grill both sides

Flip over, and grill the other side for 8-10 minutes.  Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil, then move the slab to that to coat both sides with honey.  Wrap the foil around the meat, and place back on the top rack of the barbecue (if you have a top rack, or else just away from the main flame) and let sit for 10 minutes.

barbecued baby back ribs

Unwrap the foil and let the ribs rest on a sheet pan for 3 minutes.  Carve and serve.

Barney’s Hickory Pit, Concord CA

Zach has been here dozens of times since he was a child with his grandmother, and Barney’s Hickory Pit, for nearly 60 years, has been a landmark in Concord for amazing barbecue.  When we get the occasional craving and Zach doesn’t feel like cooking, we call in orders for take out; for picture’s sake we came in this evening to document the meal for you, looking its prettiest.  Recently a local community news source named Barney’s as the best barbecue in Concord, and we believe it.

barney's bbq 003

We had to start with a salad for two.  Standard is beets, radishes, and green onions, and we selected their famous homemade blue cheese dressing.  Thick and tangy, it’s great not just for salad but also for those who like to dip their sides, it goes well with fries or jalapeño poppers.

junior rib plate

junior rib plate

August knew she wouldn’t have enough room for the regular rib plate, or even the next size up, so she went with the five rib junior plate and a side of cole slaw.  The brown sauce that covers the ribs is not a typical barbecue, sweet-tangy flavor; rather it’s smokier and more gravy-like.  This is Barney’s original sauce, and about 10 years ago they started a sweet-tangy version, but it can be hard to improve upon perfection.  She pulled the meat off the bones fairly easily and wished she could eat more than two, but Bea the dog will be very happy tonight.

ham dinner plate

ham dinner plate

Zach’s dinner was a “good old fashioned smoked ham, tender, juicy, and with a mild smoky flavor.”  He got the same brown sauce because it’s what he’s always gotten his whole life.  The sauce and the ham were “perfect complements,” and for all the excess sauce the grilled hamburger buns were tasty to soak it up.  The fries were typical (packaged frozen, not fresh-cut), but cooked well and properly salted.  If you’re looking for a barbecue place that leans more towards homemade than processed, this is a great choice.