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Tuesday, October 20, 1998

Cattle call

Posted on Tue, Oct 20, 1998 at 4:00 AM

Judging from the packed parking lot, we thought we were about to experience Steaks "R" Us. And since we spotted quite a few "Jeb!" and Confederate flag bumper stickers, we weren't quite sure what else to expect. A gaudy marquee announced Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse to the traffic on State Road 436, and a small group of fiberglass cow statues greeted us at the front door.

And so we found ourselves lining up with hundreds of other carnivores at the restaurant that bills itself as "the biggest steakhouse in town." Steak World might be a better name. The smoking section alone seats about 110 people, and the restaurant holds a total of 375 customers. On a busy night, it's almost like visiting a Disney satellite attraction, where hundreds of animatrons sit neatly at tables, chewing politely on their red-meat fix.

The seating is arranged into dining clusters through a series of rooms, so at least you aren't elbow-to-elbow with the masses. After scanning the appetizer menu, we chose the deep-fried onion blossom -- of course. It's required eating in a steakhouse, and it seems like every restaurant trots out the same basic version these days. Here, it's called "Sam's wild onion rose" ($4.95), and it was not bad at all -- crisp and crunchy, not greasy a bit, served with a peppery horseradish-Thousand Island dressing.

"Sam's wings & ribs" ($6.95) turned out to be drummettes and ribs, but they were fall-off-the-bone tender, glazed with a sweet barbecue sauce. In fact, they were far more tender than my 16-ounce rib-eye ($13.95), which the menu promised would be "exquisitely tender" but wasn't. My guest's 10-ounce filet mignon ($14.95) was the best thing we had that evening. It was cooked properly medium, with a hot, pink center. Our dinners came with a choice of salads and sides, and our favorite was the garlic mashed potatoes. The creamed spinach was excruciatingly bland.

If you have room for dessert, there is a great "chocolate explosion" ($4.50) that features a triple-whammy of cake, mousse and brownie, dunked with hot fudge sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream.

Our waiter was on the ball, obliging every request and checking on us frequently, which couldn't have been easy considering how fast the place filled up. Sam Seltzer's is a notch above the more generic steak shacks, but it's also handy for those times when you don't want to part with the monthly power-bill allowance to feed your craving at Ruth's Chris Steak House or Del Frisco's.

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