This past weekend, I learned a valuable lesson in grilled meats. The reputations and word of mouth recommendations of a small town restaurant are worthless if it's the only restaurant in that small town. Either that, or we're all just spoiled in Southwest Oklahoma when it comes to a good steak.

It's safe to say, I'm a purveyor of steak. I love a good steak, and when it's not a good steak, I'm pretty honest about it. I don't go off the deep end with facebook reviews and yelp... that's what Karen's and Jared's do. I just offer up an opinion when it's asked. That being said, I had the pleasure of learning where not to eat steak over last weekend.

Growing up, my family centered around the oil industry, so we moved quite a bit every few years. I think the one place we lived the longest though was a little town in Northern Oklahoma called Ponca City. A veritable Mayberry of a place. Good schools, nice roads, always clean, and the city never thought to purchase a mall with taxpayer funds earmarked for pothole riddled roads... A real gem of a small town. It's the type of place that has had exactly one steakhouse since 1970-something. It's a neat place called The Rusty Barrel, built like a speakeasy where the entrance is in an alleyway between two old buildings. The interior screams steakhouse too with a huge log-fired grill in the middle where they cook all the steaks. The thing is though, in all the years I lived there, I never once had the thought to eat there. It was a grown up place, and by the time I became grown up, I didn't live there anymore. Then comes a milestone birthday for a sibling that still lives in that small town, and with only one "nice" restaurant in town, The Barrel was the only option for a fortieth birthday celebration.

Looking past the neat entrance and cool but now extremely dated interior, the reputation that eatery has for their steak is stellar. I don't know a single person that has anything but rave reviews for their grilled meats, so I ordered my usual... Ribeye cooked medium. What ended up on my plate was steak in the academic sense... It was meat probably cut of what might have been a cow. You could tell it was a really cheap cut from how tight the grain was, marbling is probably a four letter word in that town nowadays, but I thought I'd just tough it out for the sake of the party, but tough was the first thought in my mind. How can a medium cooked steak be so tough? I chewed and chewed on those first three bites, I couldn't believe it, so I just stopped eating it without drawing any attention to it. It made me appreciate how good we have it here in Southwest Oklahoma when it comes to meats cooked over an open flame.

Honestly, our Texas Roadhouse is one of only two locations I'll eat at. You have no idea how lucky we are. In hundreds of visits, I've only sent one steak back at the risk of a "Waiting" situation happening. Kudo literally tosses good steak on your plate and excellent shrimp into your mouth. Fred's in Altus, while recently hit or miss is usually really good. Back Door in Blair is the same but more often good than not. Rocking H in Temple was solid the only time I went there. Even Mike's Sports Grille has is rumored to have exceptional steaks, we'll see in due time.

I initially thought that when a small town only has the one steakhouse, maybe the expectation of tastiness is lessened since "It's the only choice" in that town... but I don't know of another steakhouse in Altus, Blair, or Temple... So maybe it just comes down to regional taste. Everyone at our table this weekend agreed the steaks sucked, but at least we all got to be together for a decent salad and I got to teach my nephews the "Big" baby corn trick.

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