1000 Broadhollow Rd., Farmingdale
SERVICE: Upbeat, friendly, attentive
AMBIENCE: Sprawling ranch house, boots and saddles
ESSENTIALS: Open for lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Saturday; dinner 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday to Thursday, and 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Reservations not taken. Major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
LongHorn Steakhouse has carved a niche in Farmingdale as big as the Ponderosa. The brand is red meat, fair prices.
Walk in and you may start recalling both "Bonanza" and "Rawhide." Here's a restaurant with a theme. The ranch house-style sprawls with decor defined by boots and saddles, framed belt buckles, bull-riding art, a hint of Frederic Remington and, of course, branding irons and longhorns.
This steakhouse is part of Darden Restaurants, the Florida-based company that includes The Capital Grille, a high-end steak chain with an outpost in Garden City, plus branches of Olive Garden. There are about 500 LongHorns in 41 states. The Farmingdale spread is the first this side of Queens.
To judge by crowds at dinner and lunch, the 200-seater is what Easterners have sought longer than it took John Wayne to find Natalie Wood in "The Searchers."
The current no-reservations policy pretty much guarantees a wait. On a recent Monday night, it was about a half hour. While you're standing by, check the sports of the moment on wide-screen TVs above the bar, take a look at a map of Texas, notice the collection of license plates turned into an artwork flag, the evocative black-and-white photos, the "Red River" expanse of it all.
You'll be seated comfortably by a very polite, welcoming, accommodating staff. Start your drive through the menu, which advises "2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary." The calorie count of each dish is included. You'll reach 2,000 in a hurry.
French onion soup, with the count at 460 per bowl, has a curt kick of sodium nearly sufficient to qualify for salt-lick status. That saline bite spurs a lot of LongHorn's fare, especially in the crunch of the crisp, buttermilk-fried chicken sandwich. But the moist, white meat also has a rush of pepperiness for balance.
Fried pickles the size of quarters are briny, tasty, sure to make you order a second beverage. The "Texas Tonion," akin to a dismembered version of the deep-fried bloomin' onion you've eaten elsewhere, has petals drizzled with a forgettable "housemade crema." For the record, the "Tonion" weighs in at 1,180 calories. Respectable, all-beef, chili cheese fries reach only 1,020, with four-cheese sauce, bacon and jalapenos.
The "wild west shrimp" opener hits a modest 970, and the garlic-buttered shellfish are pretty good, sparked with spicy cherry peppers, and cooled off with ranch dip. Breaded chicken tenders also are fine, served with honey-mustard sauce. The "steakhouse burger" shows up cooked precisely to order, savory and juicy, capped with the melted cheese of your choice and applewood-smoked bacon.
As for the steak, the recommended cuts are the namesake 22-ounce porterhouse, the 18-ounce "outlaw" bone-in rib-eye and the 12-ounce New York strip. They're not going to remind you of the main courses at Peter Luger, or, for that matter, The Capital Grille. But the tab won't, either. Filet mignon materializes surprisingly chewy, as does the "renegade sirloin." The house's hefty prime rib could use a jolt of horseradish sauce.
If you're not feeling beefy, the Parmesan-and-garlic cheese-crusted chicken is a satisfactory alternative; likewise, the baby back ribs. Grilled "LongHorn salmon" gets a bourbon marinade, but it's overcooked.
The sides are led by the bacon-Cheddar-sour cream-butter-green onion, fully loaded baked potato; mashed potatoes; generous macaroni and cheese; and comparatively puritanical steamed asparagus and broccoli.
For dessert, the Key lime pie in a jar has just enough tang.
The stampede to LongHorn may rekindle some memories of vintage TV Westerns. But its appeal suggests the name of a different show: "The Price Is Right."