I don’t care when you go, what night or what time, Outback Steakhouse in Bakersfield has a good crowd. Kind of like Chili’s and Applebee’s, there always seems to be patient people sitting in the lobby or outside waiting for a table. Sure when that’s been us, we’ve noticed the smart staff brings out a bloomin’ onion appetizer and they walk around offering samples to these future customers (brilliant low cost move, really).

On recent trips, however, we’ve spurned the 45-minute wait on the list, got a seat at the bar where the entire menu is available and the helpful, positive bar staff — hardworking, always cordial in our experience — will bring out a wooden block that sits on the rail closest to your body to accommodate your plates. If you’re pressed for time, this is the way to go. (“Call ahead seating” is available if you’re a better planner than us.)

We were headed to Outback because they have a few new menu items as well as the specials on the menu insert that they always rotate. My companion was a tad apprehensive as she’d seen the aforementioned bloomin’ onion on one of those “Eat This/Not That” TV segments and I’m sure you can guess which category that particular appetizer ended up on. Outback has joined that national trend of listing calories on the menu and quite a few of these are frankly frightening. Except for the desserts, where no mention of the C-word occurs. Wisely.

We tried to stick to the new menu items, leading my companion to order the bloomin’ chicken ($17.99), a chicken breast prepared with the same batter used on the onion we keep talking about. I went with the steak and frites ($26.99) with the new chimichurri sauce and the new roasted Brussels sprouts on the side for an extra $1.

We liked most of what we sampled. My companion’s deboned chicken breast was wide and perfectly crispy and that beer-paprika-garlic distinctive batter seems even better with poultry. Her dinner included steamed broccoli (perfectly done) and house-made mashed potatoes with evidence of skins left in the mix. There is some of bloom dipping sauce on the side and a bit drizzled over it for presentation impact, but my companion thought leaving it on the side might be advisable in case you’re not a fan of that sauce.

My 12-ounce New York steak was presented sliced, cooked to medium as ordered and drizzled with green chimichurri that, while not up to the level of what we’ve received from Chef Lino Gonzalez locally, does have the parsley-garlic-vinegar versatility you expect, and this Argentine standard is commonplace enough for Outback to add it to the menu. The beef is on the spectrum between Sizzler and the late, great Cafe Med (its neighbor to the east) in tenderness and flavor.

It comes with french fries tossed with garlic butter that are another new menu item clearly worth ordering. The real star of my meal, however, was the Brussels sprouts that are flash-fried then tossed with a wasabi vinaigrette that was the perfect finishing touch. The heat from the mustard with the sharpness of the vinegar on the slightly crispy but still firm vegetables was quite bracing. My companion couldn’t keep her fork out of that dish. For some reason some crispy tortilla strips were on top. I didn’t get those. They were like an uninvited guest compared to everything else.

Other new items we found interesting:

The steakhouse nachos ($13.99), an item I thought we’d seen before: in-house fried kettle chips topped with bacon, smoked gouda, pepper prime rib and pico de gallo. Yes, almost 2,000 calories but a friend insists it’s an amazing must-order.

A “shareable” sirloin ($36) with 18 ounces of beef and two sides.

Seared or grilled halibut with a lemon butter sauce ($27.99)

Sauces for steaks including Foster’s braised onions and melted bleu cheese and a cabernet sauce.

Sides now include jasmine rice and the fries and sprouts we mentioned above.

A specials insert that includes pineapple and pork medallions ($18.99), seared peppered ahi ($13.49), and an assortment of steaks with fried or steamed lobster tails.

Happy hour has been ramped up since our last visit for the column four years ago, expanded to every day, an hour added to end it at 6 p.m. and also from 9 p.m. to close. House Woodbridge wines and signature cocktails for $5, $6 “Big Bloke” draft beers and four $4 food treats including “bloom petals” at only 750 calories. Bottles of wine are half-price if you buy an entrée. Another value is the Walkabout Wednesday deal for $10.99: 5-ounce grilled sirloin or chicken breast with fries and a beer.

As we mentioned, service is really great at the bar though it can be hard to snag a seat and it seems like most of the time only two folks are working but you won’t be ignored. Outback also has the tablets at the tables that you see at Yard House, Chili’s and other restaurants to help turn those tables, something you’ll appreciate if you bear the long wait for one of those booths.

Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears in The Californian on Sundays. Email him at pftittl@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: @pftittl.

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