Survival in the restaurant business means a constant evaluation and being tuned into what customers want. Steak & Ale, a national chain begun in Dallas, seems to have its ears to the ground.
There is a special ramp entrance for wheelchairs, a reservation policy, a room for nonsmokers, reduced prices for children's portions and a menu that includes light fare even at dinner.
Even the salad bar has been revised. Real bacon rather than an imitation waits to top your salad of crisp spinach. The raw vegetables are in bite-sized portions rather than the minuscule tidbits that often decorate other salad bars.
But do not be misled. All is not roses. For example, we had difficulty with a disappearing waiter, a young man who seemed to return to the room only when he had something to bring every table. His economy of movement caused us some unnecessary delays in getting water, steak sauce and the final bill.
A special feature of the restaurant is the number of different rooms. Noise is kept to a congenial minimum and there is a private atmosphere. Heavy dark wooden tables and booths line the rooms. Cloth napkins, pewter plates and lantern candles are the extent of fancy table decor. Yet the rooms are filled with comfortable furniture, highlighted by occasional antiques. Certainly, it is a comfortable setting for any dining mood.
On the children's menu there is a choice of chicken breast, steak or hamburger. The children's entree comes complete with corn or potato, salad bar and ice cream. The inclusion of the salad bar for young children is a special treat that other restaurants often ignore.
Our daughter selected the chicken ($4.25), a single breast lightly marinated and then broiled. It came with a large portion of rice and an overcooked ear of corn. Otherwise, her dinner was excellent.
Steaks and prime rib are offered in various sizes for an assortment of appetites and budgets. Stuffed flounder was the special of the month, but it is also listed as a regular menu item. Because the restaurant uses frozen fish, we concentrated on beef, the chain's original specialty.
My husband's medium-size portion of prime rib ($10.95) was a thick piece of perfectly trimmed beef that was exactly medium rare. The juice was served in a separate dish to avoid drowning the beef.
My filet ($9.95) looked perfect but tasted bland. It was an overtenderized piece of meat that had lost all its natural juices.
We capped a basically successful evening by sharing a slice of strawberry cheesecake, a product of World's Best.
For all its effort and it many successes, Steak & Ale is a cozy retreat from the ordinary. Our dinner for three, including wine, soda and tax, cost $33.17.
Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. Dinner: $1Sunday through Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Later lounge hours.
Atmosphere: Old English.
Price range: $4.95 for quiche to $13.95 for a combination prime rib and lobster platter.
Credit cards: Most major.
Special features: Ramped wheelchair entrance. Highchair and booster seats. Smoking and nonsmoking rooms. Children's menu.