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3690 E. Bay Drive  —  Largo, Florida 33770  —  727) 538-9499

You were my favorite thirty-five dollar meal for two with good value and great food, so once a week usually on Sundays we would run to this OUTBACK for some meat and chicken. Probably thirty-five to forty times a year.  My wife liked it.  But the last two times in Outback I noticed the bill went up 25%, the wings were half the size and not juicy, the salad half the size and drier, edges going brown, not as cold or crisp as it usually is, and the House Special Steak has somehow shrunk. 

Basically I am the carnivore, and the wife was a chicken lover so we order the same things almost repeatedly and can tell the difference. Outback is a great chain and was one of my favorite experiences in the moderate price range. On one occasion though, the quality and value was a turnoff.  

I composed a letter to their chain not just about the one time but about direction. I have friends there who till now did a great job in merchandising, value for the dollar and quality staff.  

My Outback is one half mile from where I live.  At the time the owner-manager Jennifer has to have three eyes to maintain the level. She does, one eye on the register, one eye on the food and help and one eye for the customer. Thats why some locations in both corporate and franchise locations do well yet the one down the street fails. 

The next two occasions were uneventful, they seemed back on track, I not only eat there with company, I consider their burgers an alternative to the fast food rat race.  I live alone and obviously love to cook, but I too get lazy.  So I get out once in a while and with a nice beer with the meal I head for the Outback.  I could walk there. Beer is not available at Five Guys, still my favorite place for a burger and fries until Culvers came into town and my love affair with five guys ended.

One way that I gauge a place is order something I have ordered before and see if possibly things have changed.  Well, thats changed. I quote them..

THE WOOD FIRE GRILL TO ME SUCKS  "We don’t cut corners and we don’t settle when it comes to authentic ingredients, like our USDA Choice steaks, our imported Danish Blue Cheese, our toasted hand-cut croutons or our homemade chocolate sauce. At Outback, it’s all about quality — and all about the food".  Someone cut corners. It was Sunday evening about 7:30 and we dropped in after a long day shopping and we were hungry.

I was greatly impressed by the make over. Outback is moving away from some of the interior decor reminiscent of the Outback in Aussie land at the turn of the century and looking more like a contemporary modern restaurant chain.  New dividers and subtle changes have a far more modern look, upscale closer to the more expensive steak houses.  The atmosphere and the usual pleasant hellos and service was as usual. Very warm and very accommodating.

On the wall was a large display of the food changes, showcasing the new fire wood grill.  Wood has been around since the beginning of time and usually is superior to gas and hot metal when it comes to steak.  Thats if the Steak Meister is paying attention, and the steak  is a good one to begin with.  This was not the case when we were there on that Sunday night.  The “B” team must have been working including the B team cow.  It wasn’t that busy, maybe key people went home, I don’t know.

NOTHING UNCONVENTIONAL IN OUR ORDER —  I ordered the 12 oz house steak only difference was it was to be prepared on the "New Fire Wood Grill" and the usual wings made with medium heat and a sweet potato.  My guest had the 6 oz filet also on the grill with shrimp and a regular potato with trimmings. We split the salad, Caesar was my choice. You might say I am a creature of habit and usually order similar items at a specific location.

The salad came out on a chilled plate but was very dry and the edges turning brown after a close look. Must have been on the chiller shelf all day, wasn't fresh.  The wings came out much darker than usual, very crisp and lots of drippings. Also left too long possibly on the rack or fryer drain. They were shriveled and just not as good as I have eaten there.

My Fire Wood grilled steak was medium, no taste at all, and needed a machete or a sawing motion with steak knife to cut it.  My suggestion would be to resole flip-flops with that cut of meat.  One of the worst I have ever had.  My guests 6 oz was also tougher than usual and the shrimp were just that, dead shrimp. Her potato was morgue cold.

She agreed with me something changed, not for the better.  I thought I knew Outback and always gave it a four star over the years because any place I eat at frequently I get to know the good days and the bad and generally they are great. She commented it was the first time in hundreds of outings I ever left not finishing a meal. I left 1/3 of the meat on the plate with the emaciated looking sweet potato. 

As one who worked in the trade, I can only surmise what happened.  It was a Sunday, It was about a half hour later than the normal dinner runs.  The head kitchen guy probably left, skeleton crew, and the B team probably wasn’t up to par on the new grill process.  

Another thing that was odd is I understand they get orders out by any server and help each other as they see fit.  Four different people delivered our meal. I almost forgot who our waitress was. I was tired and I should have said something as I know the owner.  My guest and I were tired and since we didn’t know who our waitress was, we just left.  Hopefully they will get their ducks in a row……

They didn’t and for the past eight years we went to Longhorns and never looked back. Some have told me they are better now, we’ll see.  Time for my new book on Tampa Eateries,  so I’ll make the rounds.  New owners since then and one day i’ll give it a shot.