LongHorn Opens in Hialeah, Yard House in SoBe; Are Cheaper Chains the New Cool?

Yesterday I received a press release about LongHorn Steakhouse opening in Hialeah. Normally, a restaurant opening in Miami is cause for a Short Order writeup and, sometimes, a first look at the eatery and its food. But this press release made some of our writers chuckle.

After all, this wasn't a new Design District restaurant offering foie gras beignets, fine swine, and tiny grilled octopi with little tentacles beckoning to be chomped on. This was a place that sold $20 steaks from cows with no pedigrees. A (shudder) chain restaurant.

The only problem is that this is how most of America (including our friends and family) eats. Yes, readers, most of your relatives and co-workers celebrate date nights and family birthdays at Chili's, the Olive Garden, LongHorn, the Cheesecake Factory, and Cracker Barrel.

The 2012 Miami/South Florida Zagat Guide lists the Cheesecake Factory as number 31 on the list of the 40 most popular restaurants in Miami -- sandwiched between Mr. Chow and China Grill.

Our neighbors in Fort Lauderdale chose several chains as their favorite restaurants in the same Zagat Guide, namely Bonefish Grill (number five), Houston's (number 15), and the Cheesecake Factory (number 20). Palm Beach Country loved Bonefish Grill too, putting them in the number five spot (the Cheesecake Factory made it to number 19).

A good friend recently checked into Bonefish Grill, Jamba Juice, and Cracker Barrel on her Facebook page. Another friend regularly checks in at Cracker Barrel, Chili's, and Hooters. These are professional working women, by the way (and one is a rabid gym rat). My friend Donna told me that she likes Chili's because of its two-for-one drinks. Plus --
and here's the kicker for all of you snobs -- she really likes the food.

Marilyn Hagerty, the 85-year-old restaurant critic for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota, recently reviewed the hot new restaurant that opened to much buzz. The new place to eat and
be seen in Grand Forks? Olive Garden. In her review, Hagerty wrote that "the place is impressive. It's fashioned in Tuscan farmhouse style with a welcoming entryway. There is seating for those who are waiting."

Her review went viral, with more than 200,000 hits so far. Since then, Hagerty has appeared on several national television spots. Many people have mocked this sweet lady's column -- but did she just start a trend?

For years, Pabst Blue Ribbon was considered shit beer -- the kind of piss water that you drink when you can't afford the good stuff. Then, all of a sudden, some hipsters began drinking it, including food snob extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain. And now it's an über-cool anti-trend. Same with boxed wine, jerky, Southern food, organ meat, doughnuts, cupcakes, and bourbon. All were considered low-class at some point -- food and drink to be ridiculed -- but now they're all enjoying a foodie renaissance.

If you think chain restaurants can't pop up in your shiny condo neighborhoods of South Beach and midtown, think again. Eater Miami reported that Yard House, the beer-centric chain that features sliders and chicken wings, is slated to open a 12,000-square-foot restaurant at 1681 Lenox Ave. in Miami Beach -- right next to Yardbird Southern Table & Bar.

With the economy still in the crapper, and even humble restaurants in Miami charging nearly $20 for small plates, there are probably many people in our community who look at us as food snobs, spending obscene amounts of money on $50 meals and $15 cocktails.

Maybe this is the beginning of a trend toward diners eating at lower-priced chain restaurants. We can only wait and see. But let's look on the bright side. If the Olive Garden and T.G.I.Friday's take over, we can always hope the ancient Mayans are right about the world ending December 12. And if it doesn't, we can drown our sorrows with two-for-one margaritas at Chili's.

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss