I never ate steak growing up in a Hindu household, and by the time I ventured out on my own, I realized that my body would never grow accustomed to it. I've tried a little piece on occasion, but any experience involving big slabs of beef just never sits right with me.
That said, I recently dined at a restaurant that has been recognized time and time again as cooking up the best steak in Augusta -- TBonz Steakhouse on Washington Road.
You might be wondering why someone who doesn't eat steak would choose to go to a steakhouse. Well, the simple answer is I really wanted a baked potato. And everyone knows that where there is award-winning steak, there are also some pretty great baked potatoes.
Another reason I wanted to go to TBonz is because it's one of the most popular restaurants in Augusta and because it's so serious about steak that the word "steak" is in its phone number. I also wanted to see whether what is often dubbed the best steakhouse in Augusta can meet that standard with other menu items.
When I first sat down in this very casual setting, two things jumped out at me right away -- a huge mounted moosehead and the fact that it was fairly dark inside. With overstuffed leather booths and rustic woodwork all around I immediately felt like I was in an all-male hunting lodge.
It kind of felt like a place where no girls or anti-steakers are allowed. A twinge of discomfort dissipated when I noticed the cornucopia of décor that encompassed all things Augusta. Masters memorabilia, autographed T-shirts, University of Georgia-themed items and a corner dedicated to James Brown made me feel more at home.
I love baked potatoes because they are a blank slate. You can add anything to one and completely change its personality. But at a steakhouse, I like the simplicity of a plain potato that somehow has more flavor without all the bells and whistles. It is pure quality that I have often tried and have never been able to replicate in my own kitchen.
I presented myself with a little challenge, too. I've always been impressed by those who can scrape every last bit of flesh out of a potato and leave just the slightest layer of skin behind. I wanted to join that elite group of baked potato enthusiasts.
A warm and pillowy loaf of pumpernickel bread started out my steakless steakhouse meal. Each chunk of sweet-smelling bread was spongy and soft and held a small cloud of butter effortlessly before being devoured.
As for the rest of my meal, I had to overlook several beefy entrée items on the menu before coming to what I thought would be a suitable accompaniment to my baked potato. I figured the grilled chicken breast would be simple enough without stealing my potato's thunder.
But my eyes lit up when this glistening meaty beauty came out. It was the perfect size, not too big or too small, and it was covered with tangy sautéed mushrooms and the right amount of Monterey jack cheese.
Most restaurants can get carried away when a cheese topping is involved, but in this one, there was no mistaking that the grilled bird was the main event. It was juicy, flavorful and boldly seasoned. Certain sweet spots of crunchy char made this one of the best pieces of grilled chicken I've ever had in a restaurant.
Let's not forget the baked potato. It was the size of a softball, split down the middle and flecked with coarse salt on its skin. By all accounts, it was a gorgeous and fleshy package holding a lot of potato goodness. The only thing missing was the steam that I had expected. It came out warm when I would have preferred it to be piping hot.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed that pure and fresh taste. I added a teaspoon of butter, a teaspoon of sour cream, some black pepper, and I was in potato heaven. As far as my self-imposed challenge, I could probably use more practice at scraping the skin.
My first TBonz experience reaffirmed a philosophy to which I have long subscribed: Even if you don't chow on cow, that's no reason to pass up a good steakhouse experience. Who knows? The chicken might surprise you.