Bewdie and the Feast

Let me say right up front that the Outback Steakhouse is terrific. Or perhaps I should say "bewdie," which is Aussie-speak for great, according to the menu. Like most theme restaurants, the Outback gets a bit carried away with its shtick. A New York strip is called "The Michael J. `Crocodile' Dundee," a dessert is dubbed "Cheesecake Olivia" (hasn't Newton-John lived in Los Angeles for ages?), and you may wrinkle your nose at the sheer corniness of a reference to the Outback's steaks as "what Mad Max was so mad about." But menu- and Aussie-speak aside, the rest of the operation concentrates on the important things: good food, pleasant and efficient service, and a comfortable setting.

Ensconcing ourselves in one of the roomy wooden booths, we ordered Broken-Hill beer - an excellent lager from Thebarton Adelaide, South Australia ($2.85), and one of a half-dozen Australian wines on the list, a Rosemount Chardonnay ($3.95 per glass, $16.95 a bottle) with a fine oak finish. The beer and wine, along with a loaf of deliciously mealy pumpernickel bread, more than took the edge off our appetites, but an appetizer called "Walkabout Soup," touted ambiguously on the menu as a "unique presentation of an Australian favorite," piqued our interest. Other offerings sported cutesy Aussie monikers, but the written explanations revealed them to be such familiar starters as Buffalo wings, coconut shrimp, and cheese fries.

The soup turned out to be a rich, smooth creamed onion. Served in a large bowl, the potage was hearty and thick, redolent of onions and mushrooms and embellished with shards of cheddar cheese. If you like creamed pearl onions, as I do, you will enjoy this bold adaption.

Meanwhile, my dining companion was making short work of a fresh, crunchy Caesar salad. This last - or, if you prefer, a mixed house salad - comes with each beef entree, as does a choice of jacket potatoes, cheese fries, or steamed vegetables. Non-beef main dishes - pork chops, chicken, baby back ribs, shrimp, fish-of-the-day, and a few combination plates - are served sans salad, but with at least one accompaniment. But the Outback has built its reputation on its steak, so we decided to sample the beef.

A half-dozen cuts range from an eight-ounce prime rib ($11.45) to a 20-ounce porterhouse ($16.95). Steadfastly counting fat grams, my ever-dieting dining companion ordered a nine-ounce prime tenderloin ($14.95), while I splurged on the 12-ounce Outback Special, a center-cut sirloin. We couldn't discern much difference in flavor between the two cuts, perhaps because both had been prepped for cooking by having been soaked at length in a black-pepper marinade. A quick grilling over a hell-hot fire imparted a delicate crust, which locked in the natural juices and a robust flavor to rival that of steaks we have eaten at fancier, more expensive places. Plentiful servings of cheese fries were crisp and tasted mildly of cheddar. (Served as an appetizer, the fries are further embellished with a topping of fresh shredded cheddar and jack cheese, but we liked them just fine in their plain-Jane state.)

While you won't find apple pie on the short dessert list, the offerings are as American as our national treat. In addition to "Cheesecake Olivia," served with a raspberry sauce ($2.75), there's a diet-buster called "Sydney's Sinful Sundae," an ice-cream, chocolate sauce, coconut, and strawberries concoction ($2.95), plus one called "Chocolate Thunder from Down Under" - a brownie with ice cream, chocolate sauce, and chocolate shavings ($3.95). Just reading about these treats made us hanker for a "walkabout" - not the appetizer, but a real "walkabout," which, the menu explains, is Aussie-speak for a long walk to get away from it all.

8255 W. Flagler St; 262-9766. Hours: Sunday through Thursday from 4:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday from 4:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., and Saturday from 3:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Also located in Kendall, Sunny Isles, and Coral Springs.

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