Whenever a well-known restaurant chain opens its first location in Utah, there's usually some buzz. Remember those days when an opening of a McDonald's was a small-town triumph? It was a statement that your town was finally "on the map." And over the years, certain openings have generated chain-mania frenzy, such as In-N-Out Burger and Cheesecake Factory.
The ribbon-cutting party for the new Longhorn Steakhouse last Thursday offered some fanfare, with Gov. Gary Herbert declaring it a "red letter day" and Grammy-nominated country music singer David Nail serenading the guests.
The Longhorn brand is new to Utah, but its parent company is not. Darden Restaurant Group operates more than 1,900 full-service restaurants, including Red Lobster and Olive Garden. As Herbert pointed out in his remarks, it's the largest company-owned and operated full-service restaurant company.
Located on the site of a former Marie Callender's at 963 E. Fort Union in Midvale, the restaurant has an "Old West" ambience that's more polished than Texas Roadhouse or Ruby River, but more rugged than Ruth's Chris. The walls sport paintings of the open range. There's a lot of dark wood and stone, and the booth dividers are topped with ironwork depicting galloping cowboys herding their steers.
This is the third location for Michael Southworth, managing partner, who opened his last location in Connecticut.
"I recently relocated from the East Coast, and this is the place where I wanted to be," he said. "I'm now a permanent resident of Utah. I think it represents the perfect setting for Longhorn Steakhouse, with the ideals of the American West. The landscape here is amazing."
Southworth said he's worked in the restaurant industry most of his life, and for Darden the past 11 years.
"Our goal is to become America's favorite steakhouse," he added. "We can say with confidence that our food is fresh, never frozen, and perfectly seasoned and grilled to order."
Guests were able to sample some of the menu items that are listed in the leather-bound menus. A moist 7-ounce filet of grilled salmon ($16.49) was propped on a bed of well-seasoned rice. The whipped potatoes accompanying the fork-tender 7-ounce steak filet had just enough tiny potato lumps to let you know they're the real deal instead of instant.
Steak prices range from $11.99 for a 6-ounce "Renegade Sirloin" to a $39.99 "Porterhouse for Two" that comes with a special tableside-prepared steak sauce. The Rancher's Sirloin ($13.99 for 6-ounce) is topped with bacon, a sunny-side up egg and bordelaise sauce.
David George, president of the Longhorn chain, said the company plans to open several more Utah locations in the next couple of years. "Utah is a perfect state for us," he said, noting the growing economy and the number of families who might want to enjoy a nice steak. The company website www.longhornsteakhouse.com/ shows that an Ogden location is "coming soon" at 3647 Wall Ave.
The restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner.
The opening last Friday of a Trader Joe's store in downtown Salt Lake has further cemented the idea that Utah is a great place for national food chains, so to speak. But it's also a great place for home-grown cuisine. When restaurants like Market Street Grill, Café Rio and Greek Souvlaki recently opened locations www.deseretnews.com/article/865566883/Airport-adds-local-flavor-to-dining-options.html?pg=all at the Salt Lake International Airport, it's giving those outside of Utah a taste of our local brands.
And it's all good.