By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
Ranch Steakhouse Grill & Bar veers just slightly from this well-trod cliché. For starters, instead of a dazzling wood-and-glass wine cabinet set off by halogen halos, Ranch features an Indian chief carved out of a log. Instead of a crystal-and-brass chandelier, a moose antler wreath nesting dormant candles dangles from the ceiling. Rather than heavily lacquered mahogany and cherry timber, Ranch Steakhouse Grill & Bar is a devotee of raw lumber: massive wood beams joined by bolts as thick as rail spikes, wood panels for wainscoting and planks for a bar. It smells like Home Depot 2-by-4 aromatherapy body splash. Textured walls hold paintings of horse heads and roosters and cattle fording swift rivers. Wine is listed in a long, narrow, black leather-like billfold where Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Shiraz of uncultish pedigree are rendered in decorative script so slanted and loopy that it's hard to tease out the names.
But what Ranch lacks in traditional steak house sophistication, it makes up for--Barry Bonds-like--on the plate. Take the Tex-Mex nachos. On the menu, it reads like this: chips, chili, jalapeños, cheese, sour cream and guacamole. We put in for a half-order.
1435 N. Highway 67
Cedar Hill, TX 75104
Region: Cedar Hill
BBQ nachos (half-order) $5.95
Onion rings (half-order) $5.95
Crawfish cakes $7.95
New York strip $22.95
Steak Martinez $12.95
Ribs (half-rack) $12.95
Big mistake. These nachos arrive with unprecedented bombast. A thicket of chips is crowded with coarse ground beef tethered by strands and elasticized pools of cheddar cheese in lush bulldozer yellow. Diced tomato is tumbled into the pile, and frothy blooms of sour cream and guacamole rise from chip heap summits. It's massive enough to head-butt two appetites at once, all by itself.
"Sorry. I should have told you it was huge," says our server in a nervous giggle. (According to our check, our server's name is Bubba). "Me, I just took mine home." Where it could stretch into a week's worth of meals if only Tex-Mex nachos aged well, which they don't. Chips voraciously absorb the unctuous chili ooze, with the drooling sour cream and guacamole melding through chip tributaries like nacho bile.
Onion rings comport with equal heft. Our tall buzz-cut server warned us of this half's hugeness. He stretched out his arms and cupped his massive mitts to express the glory of the full order. It is too large to be contained on standard-issue Ranch plates, so the rings are fashioned into a hulking onion high-rise.
The onions are sliced into shoestring loops, "hand-battered" and fried, welding them into knots and hairball nests. Pull the strands apart to dip them into the tiny vat of ranch dressing and your fingertips glisten from oil. And they are annoyingly addictive. You can't keep yourself from pawing the pile. Eventually, the craving forces you to dispense with tearing off bite-size strands, and you resort to stuffing your mouth with whole snarls, not even pausing for a sweep through the ranch.
This "size matters" doctrine takes a burlesque twist with "hot pigs in a pepper," a pair of mild Anaheim peppers battered and swollen with cheese and chorizo. On the plate, these peppers, fried into a woolly bronze, are fat, thick, long and tapered. One leans upon the other like a pair of crossed legs. Cut into these peppers near the tip and the cheese shoots out in lackluster spurts. The sausage isn't very well dispersed, and our first few bites yielded no chorizo kick.
But carve your way up its widening girth and the chorizo grains seem to congregate. Spice explodes in the mouth, taunting cheek walls and taste buds with its ferocity.
Is there a Ranch example that isn't bludgeoned with senseless heft? Yes. Crawfish cakes--three flat, pink-speckled patties resting on a bed of leafy greens. They arrive with rémoulade. The cakes are embedded with bits of bell pepper. They're dismal--dry, pasty, loaded with filler that thumps the slightest perception of racy sweet crawdad into oblivion. They taste like a sponge cake marinated in diluted fish sauce and left to sauna on the hood of a black Suburban at noon.
Ranch Steakhouse is lodged next to a Ramada Limited motel in a development called The Ranch at Cedar Hill, a relatively new ensemble with gift shops and a gallery. One shop features a silversmith who crafts custom jewelry and hawks western trinkets and paintings along with belts, shirts and trousers by Tommy Bahama. It's a morsel of Santa Fe mixed with Texas kitsch. On one visit a guy twisted balloons into dogs and moose while a karaoke commenced on the green space so that sudsed-up folks could express their inner Dixie Chick.
Ranch is a split-level dining room with black cloths over tables surrounded by cherry wood chairs. Entrées arrive on this stage with considerably less heft than split appetizers. This isn't so strange when you think about it. Entrée matter costs more than an armful of chips or a bale of onions, especially when steak is involved. Still, you can snare a lot of flavor without heavy expenditures.