where Rob Lowe’s character Benjamin Kane takes Wayne, Garth and Cassandra up to his swanky Chicago apartment and then proceeds to order Chinese takeout even though Cassandra is definitely dressed for a night out? In the scene, it’s necessary to keep the characters in Benjamin’s apartment so that Garth can find the ribbed condoms (“For her pleasure. Ewwwwww.”) and other miscellany that make up Kane’s icky character. And you should be offended on the guests' behalf, that Kane is basically impressing them with his exploitation-fueled wealth and then stuffing them with Select-grade cuts and salt, but those blue eyes and the jaw cut at a brutal 90 degrees just put a spell on you. And you know he smells good. Of course
he always smells good.
Yard House is Benjamin Kane in restaurant form.
You could take this as both a compliment as much as a detraction, depending on what you like in other people. When you walk in the front doors, the handles of which are replicas of the yard-long beer glasses that started the franchise, you’re confronted by deep shades of brown all over. It’s not the high-shine, warm brown of a lacquered bar top, but the muted, matte brown seen in stylish west coast McMansions and penthouse condos. After opening the beer doors, the next thing you see is a large glass wine locker filled with bottle after bottle of red wine. Perhaps this restaurant just has layers, man, you think to yourself. On every wall, there’s a huge mural of artwork. You can see into the kitchen but it’s not “open” per se, and the floor plan is broken up enough to make you forget that the restaurant has a gigantic dining room and footprint.
The Yard House is a recent acquisition of restaurant franchise giant Darden Restaurant Group, which also operates Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, The Capital Grille, and Eddie V's. The new downtown location marks their 59th franchise.
In a sense, you can see Yard House as a case study in how Millenial buying decisions are influencing the way chain restaurants put together a menu and service style. My generation’s love of having anything they want at any time they want translates to Yard House offering every possible iteration of trendy food you could ever want on an enormous menu, from steak and ribs to street tacos, pasta, pizza and burgers. If you go to Yard House and you do not find something on the menu that sounds appealing, you are probably recovering from a stomach bug or unconscious.
Personally, all that the huge menu gave me was decision paralysis, both for my food and cocktail. I ended up getting tacos at the suggestion of our server and a poke (pronounced PO-Kee) stack, which was just marinated raw ahi tuna served with shaved veggies on a stack of fried wonton wrappers. The restaurant serves a few happy hour deals every day, which is what helped me narrow my decision.
The beer menu, however, is what draws most into the restaurant. The Indianapolis location has 130 beers on tap, so this is really the ideal spot for the grown up beer enthusiast. But again, the huge menu is as paralyzing as it is enticing, and we found ourselves more emotionally invested in making the right choice than, you know, talking and socializing.
My first recommendation, if you decide to order a cocktail, is to get one off of the low calorie cocktail menu. Otherwise, you’re going to get a big glass of fruit-flavored syrup. I asked for a recommendation for the “least sweet” cocktail on the menu after seeing a lot of juice and syrup-based drinks on the menu. The one that came to me tasted more or less like orange Fanta. Just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I ordered a gin-based “cucumber and strawberry” cocktail, which was delicious but, unfortunately, still pretty puckeringly sweet, but this time much more balanced against the green botanical flavor of cucumber-heavy Hendricks.
Not to mention that Yard House has all your meat-free needs covered, with a whole menu built around their house-made meat substitute made of soy, grains, pea proteins and other good stuff. The “crowd” at this crowd-pleaser really does include everyone.
Before we get any further, I just want to say that all the food we had there was very good. I sought refuge in the familiar comfort of tacos, which I consider a good metric for the overall quality of a place, and I was really pleased with what came to the table. For their part, Yard House’s menu is concurrently mature with the Millenial generation’s complex tastes. I had one Korean Barbecue short rib and one made of backened cod. Both of the proteins were well-seasoned, well-prepared and dressed with what tasted like freshly-chopped veggie slaw. The avocado plated with the tuna stack was obviously freshly sliced and the lettuce recently dressed. I didn’t have anything that I wouldn’t recommend, so it appears that their formula is working.
Perhaps Darden is learning that the new generation of diners has been to the farmers market a few times and likes their produce fresh and generally un-fucked-around-with. After all, we’re the same generation that got Wal-Mart to add an organic section. Who’s to say that giants like Darden can’t figure out the basics like not using week-old trash vegetables?
Now, are you doing to encounter any ground-breaking flavors here? Certainly not. But you are probably going to get the kind of food you’re in the mood for, and you’re not going to pay an outrageous sum of money. Then again, if you want to pay an outrageous sum of money to eat steak and drink wine in a well-dressed sports bar, which is what a place with a TV on every hung from every vertical plane is, you can absolutely do that, too. Yard House will be happy to find a way for you to spend your money in their restaurant in whatever way you see fit, except maybe naked.
That’s what a Benjamin Kane date would be like: nothing life-altering, but a good time with a good-looking guy without much substance beyond wanting to make money, spend money and be good-looking. So enjoy your ahi tuna, or tacos, or burger, or steak, and enjoy the artificial sophistication of ash-toned brown seats and fancy bathrooms and enjoy yourself, but don’t feel bad about only looking them up when you just want to eat something predictably good that tastes freshly-prepared, like an evening spent with a bland, overeducated, handsome, pine-scented Broxecutive who “plays as hard as he works.”