During the two decades I’ve been writing food and wine articles and restaurant reviews for our two major local newspapers, I can’t begin to tell you how often I have been asked the same question: “What’s your favorite restaurant?” However many times I’ve been asked, I have deflected it by replying it’s impossible to answer because there are so many different ethnic restaurants at so many different price points in the greater Ithaca area.
However, I can say, that if pinned down to the five I like most, Texas Roadhouse has been in that group since May 20, 2016, the day it opened on Route 13 in Ithaca.
The fact that it’s part of an international chain with a presence in Dubai, Hong Kong and Western Europe only adds to its consistency, reliability and high-quality standards. What matters the most, to me, is that the owner and general manager live locally and employ local residents. The owner was born in Tompkins County and has lived in the area all his life. Key managers and the staff of about 125 also live in the greater Ithaca area and contribute to the local economy.
Much of the Ithaca operation is dictated by the national organization. For example, the basic size, floor plans, and menus of all 600 restaurants are similar. When you enter, you’ll be greeted at a workstation by hosts who will cheerfully guide you past an open refrigerated display of appetizing hand-cut steaks to a table. You’ll be offered a complimentary bucket of peanuts and freshly baked rolls with homemade cinnamon honey butter. This has all been constructively tweaked since Feb. 15, 1993 when the first Texas Roadhouse opened in Clarksville, IN, so by now it seems to run like clockwork.
The numbers that go with the local operation are impressive. Since the restaurant is large, with a seating capacity of 326, and is almost always full, it may serve more customers than any other in Ithaca. The sweet rolls are made approximately every two hours and 2,000-5,000 are served every day. Butter blocks weighing 30 pounds are softened and spun with cinnamon and honey to accompany the rolls. Close to 500 pounds of baby back ribs are served every week.
Speaking of ribs, they’re seasoned with a dry rub, which includes, salt, pepper, paprika, sugar, and garlic and onion powder, marinated for 12-24 hours and cooked for 4 hours. I used to enjoy baby back ribs at another establishment in town but since Texas Roadhouse opened, I haven’t been back to the other establishment.
Another winner are the steaks, all of which are hand-cut on the premises. Of the five basic types: sirloin, ribeye, NY strip, filet mignon and Porterhouse, the sirloin is the best seller although all are beautifully prepared.
However, it’s not all about red meat. There are a half dozen chicken entrées, grilled shrimp and grilled salmon. The salmon is served flaky, tender, and tastefully seasoned. The chicken, served by itself or in combination with steak and ribs, is always cooked perfectly and never overdone and dry as you’ll find in other establishments.
Almost all of the entrées are accompanied by a choice of two side dishes. I like the huge baked sweet potato with cinnamon-honey butter and chili, which can be loaded with shredded cheese and onions and served as an appetizer. If you prefer veggies or greens you can choose corn, green beans, fresh vegetables of the day, a house or Caesar salad, apple sauce, or mashed or baked potatoes. There are separate sections on the menu for larger salads, burgers and sandwiches.
The wine menu which comes from the national organization is not a strong point. Although wine is probably not a great revenue producer here, there are only four reds and five whites, two of which are Chardonnays. Since local establishments may add local wines and beer, I believe our Texas Roadhouse should offer a New York Riesling and a Dry Riesling since we produce such good quality in the Finger Lakes. The selection of reds could do with a Malbec, and perhaps, a Syrah. It would also help us to make a reasoned selection if vintages and prices were provided.
The beer selection is fine with about a dozen well-known brands plus one added local draught, a tasty, “hoppy” Southern Tier 2X IPA and there’s a good selection of interesting cocktails.
-There isn’t a direct entrance for vehicles. If driving south on Route 13 make a left turn just before the General Nutrition/Fed. Ex. building and work your way around Ollies to park.
-Monday through Thursday, from 4-6 p.m., there’s an early bird offering of 11 entrées at $9.99. There are also specials on Wednesday and Thursdays.
-There’s a small menu showing how some dishes can be adjusted for vegetarians.