How much do first impressions count when you visit a new restaurant?

I have to say when we stopped by the BBQ Factory Steakhouse, the tasteful décor inside and out left us with a great impression. The old Barbecue Factory was a small place across the street in a strip mall near Hooters, and it could be pretty crowded when we visited on a Friday for one of those great burgers I was regularly raving about. Now they’ve taken what for the longest time was Cactus Valley Mexican restaurant — which had been through a few owners in recent years and was looking shopworn — and transformed it into a pretty special environment. My companion was quite taken with the door closest to busy Rosedale Highway (obviously an emergency exit now) that had gray slats framed by black metal. Further south in the parking lot the main entrance had a brick façade and two heavy dark wooden doors, and the stucco looked fresh and inviting.

It gets better inside. On the walls is the work of renowned local photographer Greg Iger, color shots of oil fields and ag scenes displayed tastefully throughout. I like seeing the familiar through a talented artist’s eyes. The floor has gray faux wood slats, with black tables and chairs and gray cushions on the booths against the wall. Something about the whole ambiance had a subliminal relaxing effect. You can have a conversation. Lighting is subdued but not too dark. Someone made some solid and deliberate choices here.

A lot of the food should be familiar to old customers, with the combination of ribs and barbecued meats, which my companion sampled, getting the chicken and tri-tip with chili beans and a small salad ($16.50). I had to try one of the steak dinners, the eight-ounce filet mignon with a twice-baked potato and vegetables ($26.95). That steak was impressive, particularly at that price, even if the ordered-as-medium ended up as rare when presented. I will make clear why that was a forgivable offense eventually.

My companion’s meal was a complete hit, the chili beans so good with bits of leftover meat and a muddy brown stock elevating these common beans that she immediately began musing on how and where she could find a recipe to make beans this good at home. That’s when you know you’ve hit the mark. The chicken and tri-tip were both smoky and tender, the beef sliced into discs and about medium with a nice rub on the outside.

The twice-baked potato, available only with the steak dinners, is a must order, with bacon and cheddar mixed into potatoes that have not been pureed, but comfortingly have a lump or two here and there, the better to contrast the texture of the bacon and cheese. The skin itself below seems to have been crisped and the top with the cheese is firm to the fork, too. The kitchen here gets it. And the vegetables — carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, squash — had to have been cooked twice, steamed then grilled with seasonings as they had a subtle smoky taste. I literally couldn’t keep my companion’s fork away from them. I always love it when a kitchen gives vegetables the respect they deserve.

Now the steak was quality beef and, like the other meats, had a pleasantly smoky flavor, not as pronounced as the way Tahoe Joe’s does but I would say the beef here is cut above that popular spot in quality. The issue is that I thought I ordered it medium and it came rare. It’s one of those things that you start to doubt yourself — am I sure I told her medium? It did show up that way on the bill, which of course is computerized and we all know computers can never be wrong. Actually once I told our waitress she took it back for some time on the fire and the kitchen replaced the half-eaten potato and vegetables with fresher, hotter versions, a gracious touch considering the slight delay in time.

In both ambiance and food, the restaurant seems to be stepping up their game. The wine is served in glasses with the restaurant name and logo etched on the side. I sampled a very simple chicken noodle soup before our dinner and it seemed genuinely homemade with penne pasta. The menu touts house-made sausage, though I didn’t see the burger on the regular menu anymore. My companion’s salad was simple but first rate with the freshness of the greens particularly notable, and the red wine vinaigrette dressing was a perfect fit. And when you arrive they bring out this most amazing grilled garlic bread, with extra butter on the side, that, if you have a normal appetite, must be finished before even the drink order is in.

The wine list is not extensive with 21 varietals but it’s fairly priced and moderate in quality. I should note my glass of zinfandel arrived at the table slightly chilled, but wine experts would say the ideal temperature for such a full-bodied wine is 60 degrees, not room temperature. I didn’t have a thermometer to check how close that was to the ideal.

The move has worked. It’s a different restaurant. Check it out.

Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears in The Californian on Sundays. Email him at

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