It was a less than comfortable experience driving home that day. My mom, Khaki, and my sister, Andrea, had come all the way from Laurel, Mississippi, to visit me at work in Baldwin County. After the rare lunch together and an all-too-brief visit, the two of them headed westward around 4:30 p.m. Somewhere around a quarter ‘til 6 they called from their cell. “We are still on the Bayway, stuck. The Causeway is backed up, too!”

I punched the clock about 6:20 p.m., expecting the traffic to at least be moving, but I was wrong. My Causeway route was just as backed up as it ever was. The other drivers and I played “stop and go” with a top speed of 13 mph from Trader’s to the Bankhead Tunnel.

When all was said and done, my usual 30-minute trip cost me an hour and 45 minutes of my life I won’t soon get back. I was tired. I was hungry. I needed a good meal with some company so I called up Agent 549.

The first thing that popped into my mind for dinner with a field agent was steak. After a brief discussion, I could tell 549 was totally on board with the mission and we settled on Briquettes.

I’d visited Briquettes once before, with Rob and Rasp for one of our many Dude Nights Out. Back then the only location was at 720 Schillinger Road. That restaurant is still there, but 549 and I were lucky enough to have the latest location closer to headquarters, in the former Outback Steakhouse on Montlimar. Sure, we still had to cross Interstate 65, but the hike was much less painful.

As I stepped through the threshold, I realized this was a door I’d never darkened so I cannot compare it to the old Outback. It’s got a bar area on the left and an open dining room on the right, where we took a seat at a booth positioned so 549 could keep an eye on the door. Our waiter took our drink order as the agent, on duty, ordered water and I sprang for an Edmeades Zinfandel ($8).

Of all the appetizers, we were steered toward the artichoke spinach dip ($8.99). This won out over Rotisserie Chicken Nachos per our waiter’s suggestion. It is a good take on the dish, with a cheesy sauce served with a side of fresh salsa and tortilla chips. We dipped from one vessel to the other with mixed results. Neither of us thought to just pour it on top, and maybe that would have cooled it off too quickly, but I did love the tomatoes with the spinach.

It was 549 who inquired as to whether or not the Caesar dressing had real anchovies. Our server, Chad, confirmed the suspicion and that prompted two Caesar salads to come to our table. It was indeed a very good dressing with croutons and shredded Parmesan over the romaine.

It wasn’t a red meat day for my dinner guest. It seems the agent is looking to slim down so an order of Portobello Chicken ($9.99) replaced the usual giant ribeye and potatoes. Let me say if you are looking to slim down this is the wrong thing to order. There was so much chicken topped with grilled portobello mushrooms, melted provolone, asparagus and roasted red-pepper sauce that my strong-willed friend took most of it home for the next day’s breakfast and lunch. The side of grilled zucchini was also at the suggestion of Chad.

After my two hours of fighting traffic I was not backing down from the beef. It was as if I deserved another glass of wine, this time a satisfying Justin Cabernet Sauvignon ($12), and the special, bacon-wrapped medallions crusted with cheese ($21.99).

My choices of cheese were blue and Parmesan. Chad was kind enough to offer both since I was having a hard time deciding. With a side of gorgeous onion rings and redskin potatoes with rosemary, red peppers and more onions, this was a heck of an entrée.

My first instinct was that my love for blue cheese would make the second half of these filets unworthy. Boy, was I wrong. I fully admit that the Parmesan was the ruler of the table, not that the blue was bad. The meat wasn’t overcooked, the cheese melted just right and I could feel my neck tension wilting away. I also took the lion’s share of my meal home with me.

I was impressed that the cheese, especially the Parmesan, melted so perfectly without burning the meat. The center was still mid-rare and as juicy as can be. Maybe it was the bacon that kept it so juicy, but either way, the meat was fantastic.

Briquettes offers this as a topping to any steak along with sautéed mushrooms and onions, but the bacon will only wrap around the sirloin and filet.

I grabbed a menu to take home and was reminded that this place has so many lunch specials that sneak in under $10 that one could have a great nooner and not break the bank. I had zero complaints at this visit and managed to avoid the dessert menu in the name of saving a few calories.

Steakhouses don’t have to be expensive, as we saw today. I’ve paid more in crappy sushi joints that left me less than full. Tab was paid, goodbyes were said, and I was home in a jiffy.

My sister called. “We just made it back to Laurel. Where are you?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’d reviewed a restaurant, showered and gotten in bed before she even made it home. Maybe she won’t read this issue, poor gal.

Briquettes Steakhouse
901 Montlimar Drive
Mobile 36609