Pau Hana Patrol: Outback Waikiki
BY STEVEN MARK / firstname.lastname@example.org
We all think we know Outback Steakhouse, the Australian-themed restaurant chain. Its commercials are so ubiquitous, you think you’ve been to one even if you haven’t. That “been there, done that” attitude makes it easy to avoid them.
1765 Ala Moana Blvd.
But what if you actually do find yourself in one? Is it a genuine Australian experience? Can we expect another bills, which Australian chef Bill Granger opened in Waikiki two years ago?
In fact, Outback Steakhouse is an American outfit, based in Florida. Kimi Racine, proprietor of Outback Waikiki, told me the founders wanted to create a laid-back, fun atmosphere, which Australia and its iconic character Crocodile Dundee seemed to represent back in the late 1980s.
Outback Waikiki, in the Ilikai Marina Condos building, was the first Outback Steakhouse in Hawaii, opening 17 years ago. There are now three others on Oahu and one each on Hawaii island and Maui.
Many restaurants of that vintage tend to show some wear and tear, but Outback Waikiki looks like it could have been opened within the last year. It’s clean and shiny, the wood-trimmed bars and walls gleaming and neat. There’s art of an aboriginal fashion on the walls, with Australian terms like “blokes” and “sheilas” marking the bathrooms and other Aussie terms on the menu.
The restaurant itself is spacious, but it’s somewhat unusual in that it holds a bar and booths but no tables for large parties. The chain promotes itself as a good place to celebrate with friends, but apparently the idea is to keep the partying on a semiprivate scale. That’s actually a nice idea.
There are three TVs tuned to sports near the bar, but that’s the only place you’ll see TV, which again probably works to keep any partying contained. Overall, it’s a friendly atmosphere, with both tourists and locals coming by.
Happy hour, or “No Worries Hour,” offers plenty of selection at good prices. $4 is the going rate for most drinks, with call single mixed drinks featuring brand names like Bacardi Superior Rum, Beefeater Gin, Jim Beam Bourbon and others.
Signature cocktails — the Naturally Skinny ‘Rita, Blackberry Martini, Aussie Rum Punch and Melon Chelada also go for $4.
I had the Melon Chelada, a sweet concoction of melon and citrus juice with a miniature Corona beer turned upside down into it. Beer and juice were just the right combination after coming in out of the sun.
Happy hour prices also include $1 off their “Big Bloke” beers, a 610-milliliter draught (about 20 fluid ounces). At Outback Waikiki the selection includes Bud, Kona Brewing Co.’s Lavaman, Heineken, Foster’s Lager, Stella Artois, Samuel Adams and Blue Moon Belgian White, priced from $5.25 to $6.75 during happy hour. (Each Outback offers different beers.) There’s also a $1 discount on house wine.
The cuisine is based on Creole and Cajun cooking. Its specialty is a steak seasoned with 17 spices, a secret recipe that has been a mainstay for the chain.
There is no happy hour menu, but pau hana diners are well served by the “Sips and Snacks” menu, which offers tasty appetizers at affordable prices.
It was the balance of flavors that I found most appealing about the food. The Coconut Shrimp ($4) dish offered four large shrimp, coated in a beer-and-coconut batter, deep-fried and served with lemon and Creole marmalade dip. I thought maybe the taste of the shrimp would be lost with so much going on, but the batter had a pleasant, light taste, and the crisp texture was a nice addition to the palate.
The same was true for the Crab Stuffed Mushrooms ($8.79), which came with a butter and lemon sauce that rounded out the mushroom flavor nicely. Similarly, bacon gave a nice natural saltiness to the Alice Springs Chicken Quesadillas ($6.99).
I also enjoyed the Bloomin’ Onion, which a couple of patrons shared with us. (See? It’s a friendly place.) But bring friends (or, depending on your mood, maybe enemies) if you want one. It’s been cited for its calorie, fat, carb and sodium content. Outback Steakhouse is credited with inventing it.
Racine said Australians like to come by because “they think it’s hilarious.”
But whether it’s truly Australian or not, Outback Steakhouse fits the bill as a fun, affordable, family-and-friends-style restaurant.