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Southern hospitality 

Don't mess with Texas, but do try their food at the Lone Star, says Liz Feltham.

Everything is bigger in Texas, they say. And the first thing we note on the Lone Star’s menu is the 72oz Challenge—that’s four-and- a-half pounds of sirloin steak with all the trimmings and if you can eat it in one hour, it’s free. I guess they take that bigger thing pretty seriously.

Interestingly, “Canada’s Only Authentic Texan Restaurant” did not originate in Texas, but was started in Canada by a Texan playing in the CFL who missed his home- state cooking. The Lone Star is one of those strongly themed dining rooms you either love for its kitsch appeal or hate on sight. Plenty of western paraphernalia abounds: swinging doors and wooden floors, barrels and my favourite, the tortilla press, where you can watch the ball of dough being turned into a tortilla before your eyes (I’m easily amused).

The menu, as expected, is heavy on the beef along with Tex Mex items and Gulf Coast seafood and is so extensive I have to visit twice to get a good taste of what’s on offer.

Meals start out with warm tortilla chips and the Lone Star “made fresh daily salsa,” a nice change from bread. The salsa does taste very fresh and comes with just about everything—I like that. We split the Texas sampler starter ($13.29), a whopping big platter of chicken quesadilla, onion strings (instead of rings), fajita nachos and pork riblets. A mound of salsa and generous portions of sour cream and guacamole round out the plate. Gigantic glasses of pop come with free refills (how many people take them up on that offer? I wonder).

My dining partner and I sit on opposite sides of the political fence so when he orders G. Dubya’s Steak Sandwich ($10.79), I snicker and try not to let my views influence the taste. The fajita “po’boy” sandwich ($9.39) is grilled chicken served on a bun with sautéed peppers, onions and plenty of Monterey Jack cheese. Fajitas ($11.99) come with mesquite grilled steak or chicken, Mexican rice, beans, sour cream, cheese, guacamole, and salsa. A word on the mesquite seasoning: if you’ve got that summer barbecue craving, the Lone Star offers the next best thing. The beef and chicken are heavily seasoned and quite good, the pork ribs (half rack, $14.99) include a choice of “Chuckwagon sides” (garlic mashed potatoes, “blazing saddle” beans and so on) and finally, we choose the Louisiana catfish ($16.99), which we order blackened. All of the portions, as expected from a Texan restaurant, are huge: I have to wonder how much is wasted—I have a very hearty appetite but cannot manage everything on my plate.

All the food we try is very good, with the exception of the catfish and the Dubya steak sandwich: The thin steak is overcooked and bland and lost under all the onion strings—disappointing, considering how well- flavoured everything else is. The catfish is overcooked and dry and the vegetables cold.

For me, the real standouts are the fajitas—from the just-pressed tortillas to the fresh daily salsa, everything tastes great and again, they’re generous with the fixings. You can have beef, chicken, shrimp, or veggie fajitas, or a combo if you can’t make up your mind.

On both our trips here, the service has been outstanding, with the staff playing up the whole “Texan hospitality” thing. If only there were half-orders available, we might have been able to sample dessert.

For me, the Lone Star definitely does well for a chain restaurant, with pretty good food, great service and huge portions—but I would love to see someone tackle that 72oz Challenge!

Lone Star Texas Grill287 Lacewood Drive445-7827 Mon-Sat: 11am-10pmSun: 12pm-10pm

For a full plate of Liz Feltham reviews, visit: www.foodcritic.ca

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