And then the staff starts to stare.
Bradley's Steak Seafood restaurant presents just such an iffy conundrum, at least on weeknights. Not only that, but it has a little godforsaken rock formation, too, what with the entrance walls crusted with faux canyon facing framing a faux waterfall that tinkles like a real one might if it were made by the Muzak corporation. ("We call what we do audio architecture. You'll call it amazing.") Plastic ficus trees sprout up here and there as the rock formation gives way to workhorse carpeting. Slipped into a strip mall with a hog-leg bend, Bradley's dining room is a strange breed of geometry. It's not quite triangle, not quite trapezoid. It's more like the state of Nevada.
Walls are murky mustard. Tablecloths and napkins are jet-black polyester. A steam table apparatus is set up in a nook in the back wall, presumably to serve salty gullet sponges for the happy-hour denizens lining up at the $4 martini trough.
The fare is land-yacht-stranded-in-the-middle-of-the-road steak house: onion rings, Caesar salad, rib eye, strip, lamb chops, pork chop, lobster, fish du jour and sides and "add-ons" of baked potato, grilled asparagus (with hollandaise), pestered portobello, rice, sautéed mushrooms and something called lump crab and chardonnay sauce.
Yet even the simplest standards here refuse to come across with the coarsest of steak house verve. Steak houses make profuse employment of beefsteak--the tomato species, that is--perhaps as an insalata alla carprese with mozzarella slices, or as is more typical, with a red onion blitz. Bradley's chooses the latter. The plate is carpeted with supple and unblemished baby spinach leaves. Four tomato slices are thicker than political rhetoric. And five huge onion rings could moonlight as Honda wheel rims. But probe a bit, and this patch of robustness lists a little. While the tomato was cool and juicy, it was nearly tasteless--not uncommon for most of the year on most plates and bowls in Dallas, though steak houses seem to locate the few with taste. The onion rings, in Olympic games logo fashion, were settled over the tomato, as were crumbles of cool blue cheese. Those spinach leaves were splashed with a slightly sweet vinaigrette that was overly oiled. But the dressing stayed down low: None of it made contact with the tomato slices or the rings or the blue cheese, something that would have integrated the disparate elements a little better.
No dressing could have saved the grilled portobello mushrooms, at least one that wasn't flammable. Like the tomato salad, this plate has a leafy undercarriage, though it is of the grab bag, mesclun mix variety (long live frisée) and not limited to infant Popeye fodder. But the greens--frisée excepted--were limp with curled edges and flaccid bodies. Underdressed, too. This very well could have been a heat lamp tragedy, except the focal points of the plate, two large stripeless (grilled?) mushroom caps, were cold, dry, hard and waxy. The only thing warm here was the little dollop of blue cheese dabbed on the 'shroom tops, and blue cheese is generally not something that can avert a wreck.
Yet the above are simply weird execution aberrations of no-brainer steak house staples. What happens when Bradley's gets wacky with the classic shrimp cocktail entry? It succeeds. Whoa. Six golden shrimp crusted in coconut are unceremoniously deposited on a white plate with a metal ramekin of dipping substance (a barbecue sauce of some sort with what tasted like a dash of horseradish). No frilly flora sprays or froufrou bottle squirts. Just shrimp: crisp, juicy and lustfully sweet. Sure, they were a little greasy (though not enough to leave yellow skid marks on the plate). But after those mushrooms, a little oil to mat down the fuzz in your throat is like a welcome salve.
Yet the creaks and cracks in the appetizer paled in comparison with the deafening groans and yawning crevices in the entrée slate. Take the "cowboy cut" bone-in rib eye, a steak with a nicely charred bone flaring out from the center like a battle-hardened flange. Loose, grainy and dry, the meat fibers were studded with swollen globules of fat. Yet all they seemed to do was speckle the meat with points of luster. Flavor was virtually absent.
Lamb chops sang from the same stultifying page. Three chops embracing three ribs each were bonded by tufts of meat that were loose and grainy and virtually void of juices and racy flavors--save for the sweet rosemary mint glaze over the meat surface that just barely skirted a cloying crime. The chops were haphazardly tossed onto the plate, with a smudge of baked seasoned rice (a side) across the center.
On the night in question, it was possible to convert each meat offering--steak, lamb, pork chop, chicken breast--into a classic surf 'n turf with the addition of a lobster tail and 25 bucks tacked onto the bill. We decided to traverse this course with lamb chops. The tail arrived on the plate with grilled corn on the cob and a metal ramekin of butter sauce. My companion pulled the meat from the tail, releasing a billow of steam. It was odd. The meat wasn't plump and white as one might expect; it was limp and fibrous, with a dull, brownish tinge. Was liver trouble lodged somewhere in its briny medical history?
He carved a piece and put it on my plate, glancing up at me to see if the bait would snap me out of my "cowboy cut" bone-in funk. Then he carved a piece for himself and plunged it into the ramekin; bringing it to his lips just as I caught a whiff of danger. "Don't put that in your mouth," I yelled. "What?" he said. "Sniff," I shot back.
And in that moment, our nostrils were simultaneously greeted with a strong acrid stench of ammonia, with hints of sulfur tossed in to add olfactory interest. The table suddenly smelled like boiled main library entrance. Either this was a much-yearned-for Saddam-sequestered WMD cache, or the decomposition process in this tail was well under way. It's difficult to believe that this odor wasn't prominent during the preparation and cooking process, indicating either the chef had his eye (and nose) well off the ball (and arse), or he was a flagrant violator of the Geneva convention.
Either way, Bradley's is one turf that doesn't surf.
1101 Cheek Sparger Road, #122A, Colleyville, 817-577-4688. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; open for dinner 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. $$-$$$