Texas Roadhouse vs. Outback Steakhouse: Which Has the Best Fried Onion Appetizer?
Love them or hate them, onions are an impressively adaptable vegetable. The yellow, red, or white bulbs can make up the core of a hearty casserole or soup, like a classic French onion. They make for a fine dip or they can be sliced into a fresh salad. Onions can be caramelized, pickled, or—everyone's favorite—deep-fried into oblivion in the shape of rings, strings, even straws.
Maybe the most thrilling and creative way for a restaurant to serve up a fried onion is "Bloomin'" or "Blossom"-style. That's when a big, whole sweet onion is carved into petals which fall from the center in a bloom-like fashion, hence the name. The whole thing is then dunked into a seasoned batter and fried until crispy and brown. Served with a dipping sauce, the crunchy segmented vegetable makes for a tasty and easily sharable appetizer.
Outback Steakhouse claims to be the first to introduce the world to this "appetizer from onion heaven," as the chain describes it, back in 1988. But now, you can find an adaptation of the specialty on a slew of other chain restaurant menus, including at Outback's steakhouse rival, the increasing popular Texas Roadhouse.
So, which casual-style steakhouse does it best? Is Outback's original recipe really worthy of all the acclaim and hype? Or, can a superior creation be found in Texas Roadhouse's laid-back southwestern atmosphere where peanut shells used to litter the floor in the pre-pandemic days?
I visited both chains to try out their respective fried-onion appetizers–the Bloomin' Onion and the Cactus Blossom–and to see which rendition truly reigns supreme.
Outback Steakhouse Bloomin' Onion
Outback's Bloomin' Onion is a pillar on which the Australian-themed steakhouse stands. And, just to give you a glimpse into how popular it really is, over eight million blooms are ordered every single year, according to the restaurant's website.
The fried onion from down under is the ultimate shareable. It's also charming with its flowerlike shape, and you can't forget about the fact that it comes with one of those orange dipping sauces that people go crazy for and that pairs well with virtually anything. For these reasons and more, the original Bloomin' Onion has become something of an Outback legend.
Each massive onion weighs in at just about one pound when cooked, and is sectioned into about 200 petals, per Outback. It will also set you back about $9.99, depending on where you live. That's what I paid when I stopped into my local Outback in Columbus, Ohio, to savor the iconic Bloomin' Onion again for the first time in many years.
The Look: Underwhelming, to put it nicely—and not at all "on another level," as its branded serving platter would suggest. The fried onion spanned almost the entire width of the plate, and at first glance, it did exude a proper golden or light-brown hue. However, inconsistency was a glaring problem here. Some of its petals (although I hesitate to call them that–strings may be more fitting) clumped together in spots. And underneath its top layer, I discovered a complete catastrophe. Onion pieces at the bottom appear to have been sliced too thin, and therefore became black and burnt when introduced to the fryer. Because of this, the appetizer seemed more like a chicken carcass rather than an onion dish as I picked through it. Drips of grease garnished the edge of the plate.
The Taste: Again, I resort to the word inconsistent. A few of my first bites from the center of the bloom were crisp and well seasoned. But, this salty spices weren't well dispersed and the breading also fell off the onions quite easily. As for the onions themselves, most achieved that desired texture of not too firm but also not too soggy.
Not surprisingly, the pieces from the burnt-looking underbelly did, in fact, tasted too charred, and these segments were also exceptionally greasy. One constant was that the spicy dipping sauce did complement the appetizer well, and did a glorious job concealing any and all of the fried onion's own shortcomings.
Texas Roadhouse Cactus Blossom
Texas Roadhouse opened its doors in 1993, about five years after Outback, and promptly added its own version of a Bloomin' Onion to the menu. Imitation is the best form of flattery, right?
The southwestern-themed steakhouse dubbed its fried onion the Cactus Blossom and it shares many similarities to Outback's. One noticeable difference is price: despite its advertised "Texas-size," you can order it for just $7.99. In addition, the restaurant doesn't make the appetizer so central to its whole personality–its heavenly fresh-baked rolls and cinnamon butter seem to steal the show more often than not. But, the fried appetizer still receives its fair share of love, and you can even purchase your very own "Hot Blossoms" t-shirt. I stopped into a bustling nearby Roadhouse location, which seemed surprisingly busy for a Tuesday night, and quickly ordered a Cactus Blossom to see how it stacks up against its predecessor.
The Look: Fundamentally picture perfect. This fried onion really did come out looking just as aesthetically pleasing as it appears on the menu. It seemed slightly smaller than Outback's, but still plenty big to share. The petals themselves, however, were wider in comparison. All were very evenly breaded and fried to a splendid shade of golden brown. Any kind of seasoning or specks of spices were harder to detect in this version, but still the presentation was nearly flawless.
The Taste: All-around satisfying–not too greasy and not overly salty or seasoned. Each petal pulled apart easily without bringing its neighbors with it. The breading was fairly heavy, and could have been a little more crisp, but overall had a subtle peppery flavor that wasn't overbearing, leaving the onion to be the star of the show. Each piece was nice and crunchy, not slimy like other fried onion appetizers tend to get (the onion made up for the lack of snap in the breading).
Texas Roadhouse was more generous with the sauce, too, and although it looks identical to Outback's, the dip has a much different makeup. As opposed to the Aussie restaurant's ranch-based dressing, this one is actually a Cajun horseradish sauce, which offers a tiny bit of spice and acidity, but doesn't punch you in the face like other horseradish sauces might.
While neither colossal onion can be considered healthy by any means, it did surprise me that the Texas Roadhouse rendition easily surpassed the Outback original in nearly every nutrition category–and not in a good way. The Cactus Blossom is served up with 630 extra calories, an additional 18 grams of saturated fat, more than double the carbs, and 860 milligrams more sodium. And, that doesn't even include the Cajun sauce, which tacks on another 260 calories.
Based on these two samples, I have to give the upper hand to Texas Roadhouse and its slightly cheaper, albeit less healthful Cactus Blossom. Its symmetrical, pleasing appearance, paired with its tasty breading and well-cooked onions, made for the quintessential fried onion dish.
Outback may have been the first to bloom, but the rival blossom strikes me as a clear improvement on the original.