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Outback Steakhouse Edgewater

1/2 Yay, finally. I was thwarted before, at this doozy in an Edgewater, NJ Target parking lot, waving-distance from the upper west side. This is one of the few big chain restaurants that I've never had the opportunity to enjoy.

Since steak is in their name, I felt I should order one. But I didn't pay close attention to the menu and, ended up being talked into one that wasn't steaky so much as roasty and came with a bowl of au jus. Boy, that baby was big. 16 oz. I think. After those Kookaburra wings and Caesar salad, I could seriously could only eat about a third of it. But the next day, fried up with eggs, it made quite a breakfast.

Part of the fun of chain restaurants is calculating the timing between drink order, when the salad and bread will comes, to when the main dish will arrive, to when they'll ask if you want a refill. It's all so wrong, but so accurate. How do they do it? We practically had it timed to the minute from ordering to when the food came out.

Outback Steakhouse makes for a fun afternoon excursion. At 4pm on a Sat., it was our first meal of the day, but clearly many were doing that odd early dinner thing that families and old folks seem to love. But maybe they're on to something. The last time I tried to eat there, it was around 6pm and the projected hour wait (they know their timing so there was no doubt it'd be a single minute earlier) was just too much for me.

You may be tempted to sit on benches outside and enjoy the view of the Hudson River, but the sludge and stink from the little inlet could change your mind. When I think cement shoes, this is exactly the sort scenery I imagine. (5/26/01)

Why are Outbacks so popular? Who waits over an hour for Aussie chain restaurant steak and Bloomin' Onions? I do. I don't know, I can't help myself. What's more baffling about the experience is their choice of music, which you become acutely aware of while waiting hungrily for such long periods of time. It's an '80s mix, smattered with Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen standards, but primarily consists of tunes of the mildly "alternative" persuasion. Old pre-radio Cure "The Walk," Talk Talk, The Smiths "Ask" and the like. This is my youth, it might be the programming director's youth, but it's certainly not the youth of the average tri-state Outback customer. I could be wrong, but I just don't see the Puerto Rican families with five toddlers and stereotypical Jersey couples, complete with crispy curls for girls and pleated khakis for guys, who appear my age since they're married with children, but are probably in their early-mid 20s, and black guys drinking foofy colorful drinks (what's up with that? I've spotted this a lot lately) listening to this music 15-20 years ago. For a true experience head to the restrooms or stand outside the front entrance where it's piped twice as loud as inside. A little tipsy from my giant Foster's, I almost busted a gut while peeing to the sounds of Kim Wilde's, "Kids in America." Am I Outback's intended demographic? Because I kind of liked it. (6/15/02)

OutbackSteakhouse * 539 River Rd., Edgewater,NJ

Friend House

I don't know what's going on at that condemned crack hotel corner of 13th
and 3rd, but all of a sudden there's three shiny new restaurants. There goes
the neighborhood. And as it's James's block, we were hoping for a winner we
could call our local.

Friend House certainly has the name. And who could resist the promise of
an "Asian bistro"? The makings are all there, complete with cute, funky
neo-Asian decor that youngsters dig. But darn it, the menu's pretty blah.
It's comprised of typical Chinese dishes with a sprinkling of Japanese
offerings. Well, the sushi bar might have promise–the eel and spicy tuna
rolls were interesting. I wanted to know if it was run by Chinese or
Japanese as an ordering clue. I'm hoping Japanese, because the greatest hits
like kung pao and moo shu weren't breaking any new ground. They had some
casseroles and hot pots, but I was hoping for something more along the lines
of Funky Broome. Where are the lychees? Boiled frogs? Taro roots? I can get
cashew chicken any ol' time. However. I'll probably give it another go and
sample more of the sushi. (5/25/01)

I liked it better this time. In fact I was pretty happy. Probably
because we stuck to small items like dumplings, sushi and mini Peking duck.
I'm a sucker for snack-sized portions in abundance. (3/2/02)

Friend House * 99 Third Ave., New York, NY

Vegetarian Paradise 3

This is one of those restaurants that sits quietly in Chinatown, never
crossing my radar. It'd only occur to me to pay a visit when my sister is in
town. Chinatown can be very meaty, really (not that I usually complain). I
agreed to check out this vegetarian place, and was especially tempted since
my quest that day was really to find the new Aji Ichiban candy store,
and it happened to be a few doors down. What luck.

The menu consists of lots of mock items, which I enjoy from time to
time. It's a brown rice sort of place with bottles of Braggs Liquid Aminos all over the place,
which cast this weird health food brainwashy cloud. The Braggs freak me out.

I had tofu prepared like sweet and sour pork, really tasty turnip cakes,
and a seaweedy soup. The $4.95 lunch special is quite a deal, but the
confusing part were the Chinese or American style choices. The only
difference appeared to be that American came with an eggroll. Was I missing

Fill up on brown rice and liquid aminos, but save room for salted plum
and coffee cake flavored gummies at Aji Ichiban up the street.

Vegetarian Paradise 3 * 33 Mott St., New York, NY

Pho Xe La

This was a random choice, yet a good one. I did my best to steer clear of
the chop suey looking joints that seemed straight out of 1964. Fun for
kitsch value, perhaps, but I wasn't sure about the food. I'd previously
eaten at Rangoon, the Burmese place, and there was
no way I was going for the Penang mediocrity I could
get here in NY.

My attention was drawn to a bustling Viet-Thai (heavy on the
viet) place with a cute neon train in the window. The hopping crowds were
right. I love a place with endless subtle variations on dishes like pho and
bun. You could scour the menu forever trying to get just the right combo of
additions. I eventually settled on the bun with egg roll, bbq pork and
shrimp paste on sugar cane. The rainbow ice and beef jerky papaya salad were
also nice accompaniments. James ordered the non-descript pork with black
pepper. What came out was a metal dish of pork belly in an angry boiling
broth. We couldn't figure out how to put out the flames underneath, which
was scary for a moment. I don't think all that pork fat could possibly be
good for a person. My only guess is that it was intended for sharing, not
devouring by yourself.

PhoXe Lua Viet-Thai Restaurant* 907 Race St.,

Tommy DeNic’s

Now this is what I call a sandwich. The roast pork with provolone is
amazing, flavorful and enough for two meals. I got the greens too, which can
put the whole thing over the top sog-wise. Be prepared for a delicious mess.
You'd never know anything special was coming from this lunch counter in the
middle of Reading Terminal Market. I guess that's why you've got to sample
like a madman. Too bad a stomach can only hold so much.

Tommy DeNic's * ReadingTerminal Market,
12th and Arch St., Philadelphia, PA


I heard Aiello's made their wings good and hot. I've got a high tolerance
for heat, but boy, this was no lie. They burned going in and…well, you
know the rest (I had a bit of a hard time the next day at work. Working
stiffs should only eat them on Fridays or Saturdays, and I guess you
telecommuters can eat them any damn time you feel like.

Aiello's * 383 Third Ave., New York, NY

Ikea Elizabeth

You must have the meatball special when you're at Ikea. This is no time to scrimp–lord knows you'll need your strength to deal with those crowds, fighting couples and crying children. A plate of the marzipan sampler also eases the tension a bit. What I don't get is women who split the meatballs and potatoes with a friend, and don't even finish them. What's wrong with people?! Is this some sort of point-counting, Weight Watchers trip? Point counters should be punished by having to pay retail plus delivery in Manhattan. Oh, that'll teach 'em. (5/4/01)

They've revamped a bit, it may be more efficient, who knows. What I do know is that they removed the lemonade from the soda fountain and eliminated the marzipan sampler from the dessert selection. Boo. (8/18/02)

Ikea * 1000 Center Dr., Elizabeth, NJ