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farewell to the fallback - EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD!

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July 4th, 2010


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07:13 pm - farewell to the fallback
While driving through Medford today, muffyjo and I noticed that the Outback Steakhouse in the Stop & Shop plaza -- and indeed, one of the last few reasons to go to that plaza other than for the Stop & Shop -- is gone.



Windows boarded up, doors locked tight, sign removed from the facade, potential inconvenience apologized for, gone gone gone.

For many it may not be that harsh a blow to American chain restaurants, or to cuisine in general. And truth be told, the US Version of Australia that the Outback Steakhouse featured was tiresome and frankly embarrassing, what with the KANGAROO XING signs and boomerangs everywhere and dishes with names that used outdated Australian slang. The restaurant has ashamed at least one Australian expat I know in the States, and I am certain there are others whose faces will be slightly less red after hearing this news.

But then again, says Mr. Mondegreen, the coin falls on the other side of the shoe as well: There are US-themed restaurants elsewhere in the world which seem to believe that Texas is the true face of all things American. They might believe it -- and Texas believes it, for sure -- but it isn't truly representative of the country as a whole. So it was with the Outback Steakhouse and Australia. Embarrassing culturally, but ... oddly enough, this restaurant was a social focal point for me.

Several of my circles of friends, it turned out, frequented the Medford place. It was where bets were made over poorly-designed cocktails, where Margarita Bob conquered the chipotle-pineapple margarita, or where the margarita conquered him. We're still not sure of the final score there. The post-modern rock group Razorblade Motorcade (so post-modern, not a single song was ever written or recorded) had their CD cover art taken in the parking lot outside after eating there. One could get drunk and saunter a few doors down to the TJ Maxx (now AJ Wright) and make fun of the exquisitely tacky home furnishings out loud. (Trust me, it's worlds of fun if you've got the right store and the right buzz and don't have to drive anywhere.) It was also where a Theatre@First delegation regularly went after their monthly meeting and indeed, one of the first thoughts that muffyjo and I had when staring at the boarded windows was "Now where will the Steering Committee eat?"

Most importantly, it served the best cheese fries with or without the bacon on top and if you asked nicely you could get both ranch dressing and honey mustard sauce on the side and that was practically a meal in and of itself. The French Onion soup was definitely not recommended and I have a cracking great story concerning another soup of theirs which unfortunately cannot be told in mixed company, but their steaks were consistently good and again I draw your attention to the cheese fries and the copious amounts of alcoholic beverages, some of which were actually quite tasty.

It wasn't a destination restaurant. Nobody, with the exception of the T@F Steering Committee I guess, ever said "Hey! Let's up and go to the Outback Steakhouse!" The decision process leading to a visit usually went more like "Hey, let's go out to dinner! You free tonight? Awesome! Where should we go? No, not into the Square, it'll be too busy... oh that's a good idea, but I had Chinese last night... not feeling up for Indian? Hmm, what about Outback? Does that sound good? Okay, let's go."

Because of its magical power to be there for you by default, it was often referred to fondly as the Fallback Steakhouse. But now we no longer have our fallback.

Oh, there are other middle-class restaurant chains nearby. The Valley of the Things in Everett has a Texas Roadhouse, speaking of that whole Texas thing, which gives you free peanuts and lets you drop the shells on the floor (but which does not have a "No Yee-Hawing" section; make a mental note never to take someone there on their birthday unless you truly hate them) and a TGI Friday's. Cambridgeside has a California Pizza Kitchen which features a kitchen that makes pizzas obstensibly from California, and a Cheesecake Factory, which does not feature a factory that makes cheesecake. (That revelation is still a stinging disappointment.) You can head up to Burlington if you're really jonesing for a Chili's or, as the Medford sign suggests, another Outback.

But they're just not the same. Try as they might, they just won't capture the spirit of the place I'd been going to with friends of one stripe or another for eight, nine years now. I fully realize I am waxing rhapsodic about a restaurant chain of dubious theming and getting all nostalgic like Butters talking about Bennigan's, but you probably have a similar restaurant which you frequent. It may be embarrassing for you to admit it to the snobs you know who consider themselves gourmets, but you go anyway because hell not every trip out can be a visit to the French Laundry and your friends go too and it's fun and you know what to order and what not to and sometimes there are drinks specials. And then one day you go by and the whole operation has disappeared.

I am going to hit myself over the head with this keyboard if I use the words "end", "era", "of" and "an" in a certain combination, so I guess I should finish up and ponder the fireworks tonight instead. Or maybe just take a nap. It's been a long day.

(20 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:alphacygni
Date:July 4th, 2010 11:49 pm (UTC)
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I have many fond memories of that place from a stretch way back when I did dinner most days with a great MIT nerd crowd. I probably ended up there at least every other week if not more often. The various fallback steakhouses (I am familiar with the phenomenon) had nicknames. This was "kiwi", the Bugaboo Creek was "moose". I think the Outback in Burlington was "emu", but we hardly ever went there - the Medford location was king. I remember that the car I was in got caught up in traffic once and so arrived late, and the hostess greeted us with, "The party of large men with beards? They're right over there."

On the other hand, I did lose 35 pounds when I stopped going there, without making much of any other effort. Ah, Outback, what a cruel mistress.
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From:teddywolf
Date:July 5th, 2010 12:10 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I posted about it being closed recently. I didn't know the steering committee ate there, it's pretty close to where I live. They stopped serving French Onion soup about a year ago or so, actually, which was a pity. It wasn't thrilling like the FOS at Petit Robert Bistro but it was acceptable to me.
For the Canadian-themed steakhouse there is the place over the line in Watertown, Bugaboo Creek. I don't care for their bread quite as much as Outback but their beef is better. Plus they still have an onion soup gratinee.
If people were really going to Outback and getting a steak, I would suggest to the steering committee that they consider looking at the Midwest Grill. They cut their prices back to Y2K levels, making the meat spigot with hot and cold bar a cool $20 at supper. If they want something closer to the Hub of the Universe there is Oasis, also churrascaria, and most weeknights a mere $13; but the meat is not as good and the hot and cold bar lacks as large a selection. Plus, Midwest Grill has coupons on restaurant.com that make any table of two go Ooo.
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From:tigerbright
Date:July 5th, 2010 05:30 pm (UTC)
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This.
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From:mmcirvin
Date:July 5th, 2010 02:36 am (UTC)
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I just want to say that I really liked this post. I remember reading this comment thread on Unfogged where all the young foodies there were just congratulating themselves on how much they hated the Cheesecake Factory, and I remember thinking, you know, the Cheesecake Factory isn't my favorite place personally--it's always too crowded--but I don't think I'm enlightened enough to comprehend most of what they hated about it, other than being a big popular chain. They serve comically huge portions, but that's true of most American chain restaurants.
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From:meedja
Date:July 5th, 2010 06:07 am (UTC)
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This bit of the rest of the world doesn't think Texas is the ultimate face of America. Our America is rendered in the 1950's New York Italian stylings of Frankie & Benny's. Unfortunately, at the two nearest me at least, they chose only to copy the food, and failed to reproduce American standards of service to go with it.
[User Picture]
From:tyopsqueene
Date:July 5th, 2010 08:22 am (UTC)
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Yeah, 'American style' is fake 50s diner, milkshakes, banoffee (yeah, I know) and Elvis. Not Texas-themed anything.

Also, clearly the US got the classy Outbacks, as here I know them as vile sportsbars full of arseholes, and to be deliberately avoided in the evening.
[User Picture]
From:gilana
Date:July 5th, 2010 11:56 am (UTC)
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Yay! Maybe now Steering Committee will go someplace where there's anything on the menu I can eat!
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From:bex77
Date:July 5th, 2010 01:32 pm (UTC)
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Suggestions? From past comments to me, should have good food, a bar, take credit cards, have a spot where 8-12 people can sit together, not be too loud, have some lower priced options, and be "not too far" from Davis.
[User Picture]
From:gilana
Date:July 5th, 2010 01:45 pm (UTC)
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I don't know it well, but I wonder if Cambridge Common might fit the bill?

http://www.cambridgecommonrestaurant.com/main.html
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From:plumtreeblossom
Date:July 5th, 2010 02:56 pm (UTC)
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That website made my ears rot off my head. I think that was the worst song I've ever heard. Hope their food is better!
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From:bex77
Date:July 5th, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)
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Interesting idea! I'd worry about parking, but would be willing to try on a Sunday...let's think of several choices, if we can, and talk about it outside of co-opting Spatch's post. :)
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From:tigerbright
Date:July 5th, 2010 05:31 pm (UTC)
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Note teddywolf's comments above.

Also, going to Johnny D's with the PMRP folks was delightful, but I'm hesitant because we never did figure out where the discrepancy on the check came from.

Edited at 2010-07-05 05:32 pm (UTC)
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From:teddywolf
Date:July 5th, 2010 06:24 pm (UTC)
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I do not know if The Burren would qualify on the noise level, but it otherwise fits and is right in Davis - frankly it is less noisy than Outback and has better music IMO, as well as better steak. Bar seems limited to beers, wines and ciders.

If Union Square qualifies as Not Too Far then Cantina La Mexicana has some very tasty Mexican roadside food. Prices have gone up since they went a bit upscale but they are still reasonable; and I believe their bar is a full bar. I don't drink much booze so I don't know from bars.

The Everett Plaza, in addition to having the Texas Roadhouse, also has a TGI Friday's. Noise level is about as high as Outback.

The sole issue with Korean/Japanese Chung Ki Wa in Medford is that I think a table can manage at most 6 people, but they may have some larger tables than the ones I usually sit at. I just called them, they even have private function space and say they can do a large table. Food is really very tasty and prices are similar to or lower than Outback, but for tasty Korean and Japanese food.
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From:plumtreeblossom
Date:July 5th, 2010 02:54 pm (UTC)
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Oh no! There goes our beloved Steering & Steak!! I'll miss the 'ritas for only $3.75.

I wonder where we'll go instead. I certainly hope *not* Christopher's, which I dislike for it's charmless Cambridge yup factor. Maybe we'll have to drown our sorrows at Rudy's.

[User Picture]
From:batyatoon
Date:July 5th, 2010 06:11 pm (UTC)
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But then again, says Mr. Mondegreen, the coin falls on the other side of the shoe as well

I think you mean ... no, not malaprop, that's using a word incorrectly. A mondegreen, though, is a misheard or misinterpreted song lyric.
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From:derspatchel
Date:July 5th, 2010 08:43 pm (UTC)
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At's-a right. I heard it wrong.
(Deleted comment)
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From:minkrose
Date:July 5th, 2010 11:04 pm (UTC)
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I love Outback, and I've been to the one in Atlanta many times, since my grandmother loves getting take out from there. I've only been to the one in Medford once when I dragged Andy there, and he had the misfortune of getting an Actually Still Raw steak. He doesn't have great luck with his dinner choices, though I haven't the faintest idea why. Anyway, he refused to ever go back and that made me sad. I'd almost talked him into it again, too (some four years later).
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From:sarcasticah
Date:July 6th, 2010 02:24 am (UTC)
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There's a Chili's in Reading, too, by the Jordan's Monstrosity. A little closer than Burlington, anyway.
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From:nurrynur
Date:July 28th, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC)
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The thing that sucks about the Burlington location is they're not open for lunch.. I think the hours are 4-10, or 4-11 on some nights. I tried to go there last week specifically cuz they have the best cheese fries ever, and no cheese fries for me. Meh.

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