Big Wheel Steakhouse and Lounge (Closed)

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11401 Steele St. S.
Tacoma, WA 98444
(253) 537-0801

American, Steakhouse
Credit Cards Accepted, Full Bar, Live Music
Avg. Meal:

The Review

Reviewed by: Jake and Jason de Paul

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Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Friday and Saturday
Cuisine: American Bistro/Bar on Redbull
Scene: 75 percent sports bar environment, 25 percent family restaurant dining. Late night live music, dancing, DJs, pool table and televised sporting events, younger crowd enjoying quality food, large portions and really decent prices
Drinkies: Full service bar, seasonally creative cocktails, beer and wine
Prices: $5-$25

ANNOUNCER: Juliet may have said it best when she pondered "What's in a name?" Possibly adding the moniker of "Sportsbar" to the Big Wheel Steakhouse name would define this spot better. Does a name make a difference? For some, having a game or sporting event on flat screen TVs with the volume up is a dream come true at dinner. To others, it detracts from the ambiance. The determining factor may be the clientele that frequents an establishment. Early reports express surprise at the Big Wheel Steakhouse menu, which is of a higher caliber than what is usually expected at a sports bar or pub. Since Big Wheel opened in Sept. 2010, the boys have wandered over to South Steele Street a few times to find out for themselves.

JAKE: Big Wheel has pho - how cool is that?! It's made in-house using authentic ingredients purchased in Tacoma's International District. General manager and executive chef Brandon Escovedo says they started making it because he likes it - and then word of mouth among regulars created such a high demand that the Vietnamese soup was added to the permanent American fare menu. Holy terrific option, Batman.

JASON: I'm down for a good broth and beef bowl, but my vote goes to the teriyaki tender tips we had on our first visit. The tender beef morsels practically melted in my mouth. Natural juice from medium rare meat mingled with Escovedo's teriyaki sauce and mushroom slices. The sweetness of pineapple and brown sugar tangoed with earthy molasses and garlic; green onion looked like confetti atop the dish; and moderately toasted crostini acted as a magic carpet ride for the meat to my mouth.

JAKE: Of the seafood starters, the crab cakes held my attention. A bed of chopped romaine tossed with Parmesan Caesar, jalapeño, black beans and corn held three crab cakes that were thankfully still moist. The hand-formed cakes were lightly pan-seared and seasoned well - on the spicy side - and plump with actual seafood, as opposed to the celery and bread crumbs that I've seen used as filler other places. Reddish-orange chipotle rémoulade was a visual accent and a second flavor punch of spiciness.

JASON: Uh yeah, breadcrumbs belong in stuffing. Speaking of which, we hit Big Wheel on a Saturday night recently and took advantage of the dinner specials. An entire half a chicken was oven roasted and delivered to perfection. The skin was a bit crisp and evenly seasoned with rosemary that transferred to the succulent flesh. Dinner took a little while due to the poultry but it was worth the wait - it was seriously half of a medium-size chicken. Because I wasn't expecting it to be romantic dining destination, the 25 minutes spent with big screens and televised sports action weren't a deterrent for me, but I could see how a first-timer might not dig the wait or the surroundings.

JAKE: And you were in carnivore heaven. I found the brilliant part of that dish to be the carrots with cranberries - what an unusual combination, the little dried cranberries made me think of Craisins. The carrots were cooked with sage just long enough to diminish the hard snap. The stuffing had only a little celery and was balanced right at that perfect place between wet and dry. Thyme from the chef's garden it gave a distinct flavor.

JASON: We've had other dishes, too. Shredded pork and sweet and tangy onions that were wet (but not sopping) with barbeque sauce filled a lightly toasted baguette accompanied by crispy sweet potato fries. The salad was obviously fresh: lettuce crisp and red onion slices still resilient, cucumber pieces had no wiggle. I did wish for more tomato, though, and I'm not a fan of premade croutons. I know, I know, what's the big whoop? I just really like the ones that are made in-house - they always seem to taste better to me. House-made ranch dressing was stellar - I had to refrain from dipping everything in it.

JAKE: I was strongly reminded of sweet-tart Bermuda onions in that sandwich. Hmmm, how genius would that be? Then there're the ribs. These baby back ribs were slow braised and quite tender, the meat pulled away easily from the bone and then fell apart like a sigh once my teeth touched it. More of those killer sweet potato fries and a cup of chipotle pineapple salsa rounded out the meat-fest. I felt a lot like you, Jason, as I scraped the bone for the remaining morsels of barbeque sauce-brushed flesh.

JASON: Yeah, that caveman feeling can be a real good one. A molten chocolate cake sprinkled with nuts oozed chocolate; its heat melted the large scoop of vanilla ice cream. Though completely full it was all too easy to rationalize this exercise in gluttony.


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