As soon as they enter Texas Roadhouse, customers see differences between this new Chantilly restaurant and other steakhouses.
Guests pick up bags of peanuts to munch on while watching TV in the waiting area where a handpainted mural of Chantilly and Westfield high school football players adorns the wall.
"Chantilly and Westfield students make up the bulk of our front-of-the-house staff, serving as hosts and assistants," explained Shawn Page, the restaurant's managing partner.
As customers are led to their tables, their hosts immediately give them a basket of homemade bread, mixed and baked on site and served with honey/cinnamon butter. And if they'd like a Cactus Blossom appetizer — a large, battered and fried onion mum served with Cajun horseradish sauce — the host will grab that, too, so the customers may enjoy it instantly, without waiting.
"You can watch the steaks being prepared, as you enter, and you can pick your own steak from the glass display case, if you'd like," said Page. "There's even a digital juke box in the lobby," said marketing director Tina Chen. "It's free, it has a touch screen and it plays country music."
A TEXAS-THEMED, scratch-concept restaurant, Texas Roadhouse is at 4993 Westone Plaza, at Route 28 and Westfields Boulevard, uphill behind the AmeriSuites Hotel. And customers may call ahead at 703-378-9887 to get their names on the wait list. Hours are Monday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m.; Friday, 4-11 p.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
The restaurant has a fun, relaxed, casual atmosphere and, every so often, the hosts and servers cut loose and line dance in the aisles. "There's a lot of energy," said Chen. "Don't come here for a quiet dinner," added Page.
Texas Roadhouse even has two mascots — Andy the Armadillo and sidekick Iggy the Iguana. And its decorations are geared to the local area. Murals feature a Washington Redskins helmet, the Hogettes and motorists driving on I-66 in a red convertible.
There's also a painting of a cowboy, plus a large scene of Patrick Henry, George and Martha Washington and Thomas Jefferson barbecuing at Mount Vernon. George is wearing a "Kiss the Cook" apron, and Jefferson is writing the Declaration of Independence on a picnic table.
Local university names and initials are in neon lights, and caricatures of famous NASCAR drivers decorate the bar area. The restaurant seats about 230 people, with 95 percent booth seating. It opened April 26 and has 160 employees.
It's part of a 170-store chain, but is the just the fifth in Virginia and the first in Northern Virginia. "We did a lot of research, and we felt like the population numbers were good for this area," said Page, who lives in Centreville's Newgate community. "We're very excited about being here in Chantilly."
"I lived in Fairfax County for many years, so we're glad to be back here, close to family," said market partner Jesse Griffith. "What sets us apart is that we stick to the basics — quality food, hand-cut steaks and a quality dining experience. When people come here, they feel like they're part of something — not just eating in a restaurant."
Most of all, Texas Roadhouse prides itself on its food. "Our ribs are fall-off-the-bone," said Page. "You can lift 'em up, and that meat will fall off the bone without any tugging. We make everything from scratch — even the gravies, salad dressings and country-style green beans. Steaks, salmon, pork, chicken — everything is cut fresh on the premises in a refrigerated room to insure freshness."
Steaks range from $8.99 for a six-ounce sirloin to $18.99 for an 18-ounce Texas T-Bone; pork ribs are $11.99 for a half slab and $15.99 for a full slab. Prime rib is served daily, after 4 p.m., while supplies last. Said Page: "It's slow-cooked and marinated overnight in secret spices so it's especially flavorful."
THE GREEN BEANS are seasoned with ham and bacon, and the baked beans feature pieces of sirloin in every bite. Even the sweet potatoes are unique, since customers may order them topped with marshmallows and caramel sauce. And local residents had a hand in choosing the chili.
"We had a Web site contest, asking the community if it wanted beans or no beans in the chili, and over 60 percent of the people wanted beans," said Chen. "More than 200 people voted, and two winners each received $100 gift certificates."
Recently, Mary and Philip Jackson of Franklin Farm feasted on the ribs and ribeye combination there. "The ribs were outstanding," said Mary. "They were lean and perfectly cooked — tender and fall-off-the-bone delicious. They're the best ribs I've ever had. We're going to come back again."
She also praised the "fun, casual and friendly atmosphere" and said the servers did a great job. Husband Philip called his baked potato and bread "excellent" and said he'd recommend Texas Roadhouse to others.
Jay and Susan Vaccarino of Centreville's Belle Pond Farm community also enjoyed their meal. Susan had the ribs and chicken combo and raved about the tender ribs. "It was an excellent sauce, but not messy," she said. "And the barbecued chicken had a very good flavor."
Jay pronounced his grilled chicken salad — with crisp greens, strips of marinated chicken, jack cheese, egg, tomato, bacon, red onions and croutons — "terrific," saying, "There was more than enough for me, and the chicken was great."
But what he liked best, he said, were the baked beans: "The sirloin made them so flavorful — I never had baked beans like that before." He, too, said he'd recommend the restaurant to others because of the food and the service. Said Jay: "We can't wait to bring our son — who's away at college — here, because he likes ribs."
Texas Roadhouse is also doing business partnerships with Westfield and Chantilly high schools and, during a pre-opening fund-raiser, it was able to raise more than $7,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. "Our company believes that we should be actively involved in charity, and it does a lot of humanitarian work," said Page. Added Chen: "We hope the Make-A-Wish funds may be used for a local child."