In Canton, a civilized, urban Outback

At steakhouse with an Aussie theme, choices are obvious

Sunday Gourmet

October 03, 2004|By Elizabeth Large | By Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Four of us arrive at Canton's Outback on a Thursday 6:30 p.m. and are immediately seated in a prime spot, no pun intended. The steakhouse is half full.

What's wrong with this picture?

If you don't know, try getting a table without a wait at the Hunt Valley location of this popular Aussie-themed chain, or any other Outback in the 'burbs. The steakhouse's appeal for adults is, of course, beef and lots of it. Its appeal for kids is -- well, I'm not sure what the appeal is. It always seemed like an adult's restaurant to me, in spite of the children's menu. But like it they do, and families flock to Outbacks.

So you can imagine my surprise when I heard an Outback was opening up in Canton, where many of the city's hip young (and childless) professionals live. They eat in trendy bars and cutting-edge fusion restaurants. If they want steak, they have the money to go to Fleming's Prime Steakhouse, an upscale chain that the Outback company operates, or Ruth's Chris. An urban Outback is an oxymoron, practically a contradiction in terms. Who, I wondered, was going to be their customer base?

Well, there are plenty of families with kids in the city, if not in Canton, and others who just like the Outback experience (more about what that is in a minute). My theory is they don't know an urban Outback exists.

I base this on a very scientific survey, which consisted of my mentioning to several people that I had had dinner there. None of them had heard there was an Outback in the Can Company where Bibelot bookstore used to be, although it's been open since December.

The chain's foray into the city has changed its usual format in two ways: Canton's Outback has more architectural style than usual, and it seems to me the Australian stuff is a little more subdued, a plus. (Before I decided to do this review, I made a solemn promise to myself that I wouldn't make any Aussie jokes, wouldn't use the word "mate," wouldn't refer to Crocodile Dundee, wouldn't say "no worries" -- you get the idea.)

Of course all the items on the menu have names like Darling Point Crab Cakes. We can ignore that. You and I know those are Maryland crab cakes, and they are there because, as a restaurateur once told me, you can't open a restaurant in Baltimore if you don't put a crab cake on the menu.

That doesn't mean I'm going to eat a crab cake at an Outback. I'm having a 16-ounce prime rib-eye, which may not be quite the prime steak you're going to get at big brother Fleming's but has lots of beefy flavor and crisp-edged fat. One of my friends wants a lobster tail, and I make her order it as an add-on with the USDA choice rib-eye so I can see how the two steaks compare. The choice steak is $5 less than the prime, and it stands up to it surprisingly well. At $17.49 and $22.99 respectively, they aren't cheap; but you do get soup or salad and vegetable or potato with them.

Insiders know that you can ask for grilled vegetables, including red peppers and squash, instead of the steamed vegetables, which are forgettable. Do so. And have the soft, hot sweet potato, dripping with butter and fragrant with cinnamon. It's too sweet, but who cares? It's a guilty pleasure, like the Bloomin' Onion, a pound of battered and fried onion that you dip into a sort of Russian dressing (otherwise known as the Outback's remoulade sauce) because it doesn't contain enough calories on its own.

If you want seafood, I'd go with the grilled shrimp or the grilled lobster tail. The swordfish we try, a special, isn't bad, but for the price the meat is a better deal. If you don't want beef, have the meaty baby back ribs dripping with a spicy barbecue sauce.

Outback's strengths are its protein and carbs. We sample the house and the Caesar salad, and they aren't worth the room that could be used for, say, the fine potato soup.

Desserts follow the same concept as the rest of the meal: If you're on a diet, forget about it. They involve layers of chocolate cake or a brownie with ice cream, whipped cream, caramel and chocolate sauces in various combinations. There's also a cheesecake, which is excellent even without all the extras. But you know, I'd just as soon eat some more of the Bloomin' Onion or the dessert-like sweet potato.

While various Outbacks seem to have certain features in common (lots of wood, slowly revolving ceiling fans, a good-sized bar, big, comfortable booths), the Canton location is more handsome than others I've seen. The original space gave the renovators plenty to work with in the minimalist-chic line, such as high ceilings, exposed pipes and huge windows. It's a very light-filled Outback, particularly if you get one of the booths in the front.

The service is good here, although the servers still squat down and lean on the table to take your order, which bugs me and can't be that comfortable for them.

Basically, this is a traditional Outback in a decidedly untraditional location, with a little more style and a shorter wait for a table than most. The only problem is that once it gets discovered by the suburbanites, it's going to get crowded. After all, I-95 South is just a couple of miles away.

Outback Steakhouse

Food: ** 1/2

Service: ***

Atmosphere: *** Where: 2400 Boston St., Canton

Hours: Open daily for dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $6.49-$8.99; Entrees: $11.99-$27.99

Call: 410-522-7757

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.