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May 08, 2012

Alice Eats: Texas Roadhouse

225 Interstate Corporate Center, Williston, 288-1110

IMG_4041It was a busy eight days for my stomach. After the last three indulgent meals of Vermont Restaurant Week — an elegant dinner at the Kitchen Table Bistro, spicy Asian specialities at ¡Duino! (Duende) and the best French cuisine I've ever eaten in Vermont, at 3 Squares Café in Vergennes — I took Saturday off and ate Uncle Sam's cereal. But there were still Restaurant Week participants I wanted to get to, even if their special menus were no longer available. On Sunday, I headed to one, Texas Roadhouse in Williston.

Before you jump on me about evil corporations, let me remind you that this franchise is locally owned and actively supports local charities. I participated in a rib-eating contest there two years ago to benefit the DREAM Program, a Winooski-based mentoring charity.

IMG_4035More importantly, managing partner John Strout tells me he sources all his produce from Black River Produce and gets his dairy from Monument Farms. But most importantly, the food is good.

Not good-for-you good. At least not the dessert-for-starter bread. Sweet, slightly salty and hot out of the oven, the bread is delicious, but it's the cinnamon butter on the side that brings it over the top. It's only slightly less decadent than a Cinnabon. Slightly. It might not sound like the most appealing way to start a meal, but once you smell the fresh bread, you'll understand.

IMG_4036Entrées come with a choice of two sides, and the options include a pair of salads. My boyfriend and I ordered one of each, and they came out before dinner, adding an extra course to our meal.

Don't expect anchovy flavor in the Caesar salad. This isn't a chi-chi, Italian-style delicacy. But the fresh, crisp lettuce, musky Parmesan and garlic make a refreshing salad. The very light dressing made up for the indulgence of cinnamon butter. A squeeze of lemon did the salad even greater justice.

My boyfriend considers the house salad, with its finely diced tomato, garlicky croutons and chopped egg, one of his favorite salads in the world. Especially when he adds a thick layer of homemade Thousand Island dressing.

IMG_4038As advertised, the steaks are handcut and ribs are "fall-off-the bone." I got both at once in a sirloin-and-rib combo and was glad I did. Though the grill-marked steak was cooked more medium than medium rare, it was beautifully seasoned, beefy and nearly as tender as filet.

The ribs are indeed so tender that they're more of a knife-and-fork affair than something you can pick up with your hands. It takes some of the pleasure out of the experience. Still, the ribs actually taste like pork, not something that's been languishing pre-sauced in a bag. Said sauce, with just enough slicked on so as not to hide the taste of the meat, is a wonderful combination of tomato-based sweetness and a shot of vinegar.

IMG_4040I was less enchanted with the green beans on the side. Though they looked promising, with bits of bacon clinging to them, they were overcooked almost to the point of inedibility. They could just as well have come out of a can.

The Chicken Critters with buttery, if slightly dry, mashed potatoes were better.

Don't be put off by the name. Roadhouse's version of a chicken tender is enrobed in a surprisingly sophisticated batter. Tendrils of tempura-like crunch wrap around the meat like roads in a futuristic cityscape.

The batter itself is more flavorful that it looks, with plenty of garlic taste, but the honey mustard Dijonnaise-type dipping sauce adds an appealing sweet-and-sour aspect.

After a meal like that, there's no need for dessert. Especially when you've already had it in the form of those rolls as soon as you sit down. But hey, if you're still hungry, ask for some more.

Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to [email protected]

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