The Steakhouse Challenge – The Hoot v The Outback

As the countdown towards us leaving Preston Towers races along (that’s now the name i have given our apartment building), there is time to reflect on us tackling three of the steakhouses in Penrith this past month. It is fair to say steakhouse eating has been more about the experience than it has about the food, well, at least in one case.

1. Outback Jacks. This is a pleasant enough place, Australian owned and the atmosphere would be good for a family get-together or somewhere to go after a Panthers match. The decor is fairly tacky, in that Steve Irwin style uniform and wall decorations. Not to mention the giant crocodile attached to the ceiling. The food, curiously, one orders from the steak counter, where they have examples of the cuts in front of you. Just in case you don’t know what steak looks like.

The steak I ordered was wagyu, but it was the most boring wagyu I have had – and not especially medium rare. The accompanying side was so forgettable that I can’t even say what it was.

2. Outback Steakhouse. There was no Jemaine Clement, nor was there an ounce of tackiness in the faux Australian chain from the US. Indeed, my partner in the challenge and in life wanted the light fittings to take home – they were subtle, with a hint of Aboriginal dot painting. This restaurant is more for couples and small groups, with its bays not having the same open feel of Outback Jacks. The lighting, too, encouraged a more intimate feel.

The food and the service were excellent, which surprised us to an extent, but perhaps it shouldn’t have. There was lots of talk of salads being made from scratch as well as a sense of relief and joy that we asked our waitress for a recommendation of which wine we should have. The wine list was very limited and featured mostly mainstream Rosemount / Penfolds stuff but she recommended a less well known one on the list – and it was a good choice. (Mind you, we ate there the night before we headed off to Canowindra, so the poor wine paled in comparison to what we were about to have). The steaks were not only actually medium rare, but had been prepared well and were very nice – as was the salad. In addition, we want to know find out just how they do their sweet potato.

3. Hooters. I was a little scared of this place when we first approached it, the night we tried to go without a booking. Scared because when you walk in, they greet you with a loud holler in an American accent, “Welcome to Hooters!”, just in case you don’t know where you are. The second time, we had booked through their phone system (a call centre), but that didn’t work. Fortunately, we weren’t there on a particularly busy night.

Hooters provided for one of the more surreal eating experiences of our lives. When you go in, you are assigned your own Hooters Girl, whose job is not only to take your order, but engage in awkward conversation. Well, in our case, it was awkward conversation. Actually, in my case, because she seemed really only interested in what I had to say. This added to the bizarre sexist feel of the place. What made it more awkward for me was that I look at a girl with a tight, thin white singlet and orange hotpants and think “she must be cold”.

The conversations were fairly limited and didn’t really branch into Arab Israeli relations nor the best carbon pricing model. Perhaps it should have. Though, she did provide a tempting opening with the question “what do you think Hooters is all about?” I wanted to say readings of Slovenian literature and outer Mongolian music performances, but I said something about eating food and giant televisions. Giant televisions that were beaming the image of a man who used to be Shane Warne. I do hope the plasticising of Shane is now complete – i really do think his name needs to change to Shane Smooth.

I didn’t go into the Shane Smooth discussion, because our Hooters Girl was talking about What Hooters Is About. Apparently, yes, it’s about food but it’s also about the Hooters Girls. Which is not something I really wanted to say. Yes, this place is all about breasts and orange buttocks.

As the food was getting prepared in the kitchen, by a man wearing a “Lord of the Wings” Tshirt (Hooters is apparently famous for their wings, not to mention their “More than a Mouthful” hamburgers), the girls were happily chatting away, taking orders and the like when the Gloria Estefan came on. And that was a cue for a dance routine by all of the girls – a jiggly bootscooting cavalcade. In fact, it was four songs, with the last one featuring an offer by the girls to men to dance with them. Our poor Hooters Girl was stuck in a space between the bar and our table, meaning that our table and the one next to us were in fairly close proximity, adding to the awkwardness. And no, I didn’t participate. I can’t jiggle or bootscoot as well as I used to in my heyday.

The food was pretty good, really – the steak was medium rare (the chef, who was male and not jiggly, though had sleeve tatts, seemingly surprised that anyone ordered a steak, came out and asked if it was OK) and better than Outback Jacks, though not as good as the Outback Steakhouse. In addition, it came out on a wooden slab which could have been a chopping block, accompanied by curly fries (no salad option). The desserts were also pleasant, though forgettable. We had ordered a key lime pie, but the manager (who was female, but was wearing a sensible polo shirt) came out to tell us it was gone. Maybe that Lord of the Wings bloke could be put into better use and become a dessert chef.

I do get Hooters – if you want an upbeat, entirely artificially happy experience, then it’s the place for you. I can also get why families go to the place – it has the feel of a cartoon land (even down to the costumes and dimensions of the Hooters Girls) and I’m sure the Girls are really friendly with kids and would enjoy interacting with them.

As we left Hooters, we were contemplating just what life would be like for a Hooters Girl in Penrith – they seemed pleasant people (and not necessarily full of silicone, which was a mild surprise) and we suspected that if any customer was too out of line, other patrons and the bouncer out the front would quickly sort it out. This is why the place had a friendly, easy going air, where the chat was light and harmless. But I also think we must have looked completely out of place in our work clothes.

But Hooters is not about the food, really – it’s about an experience that need to be shared by more than two – the place is designed for groups of 4 or more, to enjoy rugby league together as well as the Hooters Girls.

That isn’t quite it for the Steakhouse Challenge – there is the entirely more classy Osso next week inside Panthers. However, at this stage, we have been enjoying the challenge and think we may go to the Outback Steakhouse again. Or maybe not. I am getting more and more of an aversion to steak as this challenge has gone on. I am craving vegetarian cooking. Or whatever it is they do at The Taste of Canowindra and Sister’s Rock in Orange. That is more our scene.

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