Carrabba's - a non-steak chain with a great steak
In a different thread, Tom in Austin said:
Tom in Austin>"On the subject of steakhouse chains with an Austin presence that are better than Roy's, here are a few off the top of my head.
I'd rather go to Ruth's Chris, Fleming's, Eddie V's, Sullivan's, McCormick & Schmick, Houston's, and Outback."
In the price point of Houston's, Outback, etc., I've had the best steak at Carrabba's on 183 near Duval. I always crave red meat after a trip across the pond, but a friend wanted to eat at Carrabba's.
Ordered the "Filet Fiorentina" with "the Chicken Bryan topping" i.e., with the goat cheese with sun-dried tomato topping. The filet arrived exactly cooked to medium rare, grilled with the right amount of seasoning, and the goat cheese w/ sun-dried tomatoes was a perfect accent to a great steak.
I asked the server how it was prepared on their grill so I could try to duplicate it on my Big Green Egg (it's a grill http://www.biggreenegg.com/ ). She called the manager when the questions got too detailed. He sat down and talked with us for 15 minutes or so.
Their calimari has also always been excellent - never tough, lightly battered, tasty tomato sauce on the side.
The other huge plus to Carrabba's for us late-night roamers is they stay open late - 11 on weekends, 10 during the week.
Maybe this will tempt us to use our Carrabba's gift certificates which are laying in a drawer. The only time I've been, everything was so incredibly salty that I was up frequently in the night looking for a drink of water...and I tolerate salt reasonably well.
I have always dug Carrabba's. I used to eat there in H-Town from time to time, and now in Austin I sporadically dine there.
I first moved to Austin in 1994, and I went through a period of culture shock. I immediately recognized the superior BBQ in this wonderful city (and surrounding environs), but on the fronts of Mexican, seafood, Asian of all varities, and Italian I felt completely at sea.
Once I discovered Carrabba's in Austin, it temporarily became my embassy for Italian food. It wasn't as good as the Carrabba's in H-Town I was used to, but it held me over until I learned where else I could go for good local Italian.
Now days Carrabba's is the place I go when I'm looking for a lunch spot near I-35 and 183. I can also use it to settle a "Where are we eating tonight?" discussion with visiting xenophobic Houstonians.
I would have listed Carrabba's on my "steakhouses that are better than Roy's" list, except that Carrabba's is not a steakhouse. The steak there is superior to Roy's, as is pretty much everything else. But if I listed chain restaurants of all genres that were better than Roy's (instead of just steakhouses), I would be here all day. The bar is low. For example, Taco Cabana, on the merit of their carne guisada taco and low prices, is preferred over Roy's.
Is Carrabba's great Italian food? Well, I've never been to Italy, Sicily, etc. So my perspective is limited to American tries at Italian. Even by that lens, Carrabba's best on Kirby in Houston isn't spectacular, and the Austin variant is noticeably weaker. But it is reliable: as far as Italian chains go, it is hard to do better. This is the pinnacle of the chain American-Italian style of cuisine, and I agree with sweet100's that their steak is quite delicious.
Not on par with Vespaio or Enoteca. But still a jam.
We went last night to the this location. I have always wondered why they didn't get a little more respect. We have been to this location probably 10 times and we always think this will be the time we get bad service. It has never happened. My favorite dish is the Pollo Rosa Maria. My wife gets the Sirloin Bryan which was not on he menu, but they will make it for you upon request. I have also had their seafood specials and they have been very good. I know...I know they are a chain, but they are very good and I agree about the Macoroni Grill comment twinwillow.