The Mother of All Appetizers

Review: The Loaded Bloomin’ Onion at Outback Steakhouse

Loaded Bloomin' Onion
Loaded Bloomin' Onion
June 22, 2016

"This appetizer is meant to be shared." I kept remembering those words by Elizabeth Watts, director of media and community relations for Bloomin’ Brands, Inc., when the piping-hot dish arrives. And, in fact, I enlisted my family to help tackle this feast of golden goodness—a creation of culinary genius made from a kitchen where there are no rules, just right. I am, of course, referring to the Outback Steakhouse Loaded Bloomin’ Onion.

Beginning today and for a limited time only, Outback is featuring this mother of all appetizers, a melding of the signature Bloomin’ Onion and the also-popular Aussie Cheese Fries, resulting in one giant batter royale. That glistening crown of onion straws now comes topped with a helping of fries, melted cheese, and a sprinkling of bacon. It clocks in at 2,360 glorious calories.

But again, as Elizabeth Watts emphasized in an email, "this appetizer is meant to be shared and serves six people." Here at the Arlington, Va., Outback, I show up with a party of four. I remind my family we’re on a mission. And yet the kids insist on ordering the mac-a-roo 'n cheese and chicken fingers. The Mrs. orders a bone-in ribeye. They are totally lacking in focus.

When the Loaded Bloomin’ Onion arrives, there’s a bit of commotion. "Whoa! What is that?" asks my daughter. "It looks like a sunflower blooming," my son observes. After a few bites, he says he’s had enough. My daughter reminds me, "I hate onions." Now we are down to two. And as soon as I see my wife daintily pull one onion straw off and slice into it with a knife, I know I am alone in this struggle.

I tell myself it’s not impossible. For competitive eaters, the Loaded Bloomin’ Onion would be an afterthought. A.J. Liebling writes of his friend Yves Mirande, who dispatched "a lunch of raw Bayonne ham and fresh figs, a hot sausage in crust, spindles of filleted pike in rich rose sauce Nantua, a leg of lamb larded with anchovies, artichokes on a pedestal of foie gras, and four or five kinds of cheese," not to mention bottles of wine. I stick to my iced tea, concentrating on the task at hand. But like the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the appetizer seems to replenish itself even after I strip away row upon row of onion straws. I hardly make a dent.

Nevertheless, the Loaded Bloomin’ Onion is bound to be a hit. Rumors of its existence had gone viral in the last few weeks and, according to Mike Robinson, a senior partner who oversees regional operations, the Arlington Outback and several other sites did a soft rollout, introducing the special ahead of schedule, because of popular demand.

There will certainly be naysayers. WebMD lists the Bloomin’ Onion as one of "10 Foods that Are Health Horrors." But when you’ve got a group of teammates celebrating, say, a hard-fought victory on the football field, is it really a horror to share this dish? Or imagine a writer who is goaded by his editors to take on a 2,360-calorie appetizer—all for their amusement—but promises to eat a salad the next day?

The Loaded Bloomin’ Onion isn’t something to lament. Rather, it’s something to celebrate—a quintessential American invention, much like the Outback Steakhouse itself. In 1988, restaurant entrepreneurs Tim Gannon, Chris Sullivan, Robert Basham, and Trudy Cooper launched Outback Steakhouse. (Gannon and Sullivan had formerly been with the Steak & Ale chain.) But the flavors and spices, says managing partner Timothy Burrows, are actually Cajun-inspired. Gannon had originally trained under the late NOLA chef Warren Leruth. So why the Australia theme? Partners Burrows and Robinson remind me that at the time, Australia was very popular (remember Crocodile Dundee?). So they went for it, and—crikey!—it worked.

The Loaded Bloomin’ Onion comes with spicy ranch and Bloomin’ sauces and will be available for only six weeks. The price of the Loaded Bloomin’ Onion at the Arlington location is $10.99. Prices may vary.