Wichita could use fewer – not more – chain restaurants serving steaks, seafood, salads, burgers and sandwiches. The city has so many, and more open every day, sometimes on the very same lot. (Kellogg and Rock’s trio of LongHorn Steakhouse, Logan’s Roadhouse and BJ’s Brewhouse comes to mind.)
But Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, Wichita’s latest entry in this genre, is a nice east-side addition despite its familiar feel – and its proximity to similar restaurants such as Bonefish Grill, Chester’s Chophouse and Redrock Canyon Grill.
The restaurant, part of a small chain owned in part by Lone Star Steakhouse founder Dennis Thompson and onetime Wichitan Doug Glendenning, opened in early October in the spot formerly occupied by Brooks Brothers at the Waterfront development at 13th and Webb Road. The restaurant is cavernous and gorgeous, and the food is good – especially the steaks.
On a recent Saturday night, Firebirds felt like the place to be as prom-bound high schoolers in formal gowns crowded in with families, couples dressed up for date night and a large group of well-heeled east-siders celebrating a 50th birthday.
ON THE MENU Firebirds has two menus: one for lunch and one for dinner. They’re nearly identical, except that a long list of steaks on the dinner menu is replaced at lunchtime with burgers and hearty sandwiches. (Lunchtime diners have a shorter list of steaks to choose from, and a few burgers and sandwiches remain on the evening menu, too.)
The steaks come in a variety of cuts and preparations, from a blue cheese filet ($29.99 for a 9-oz.) to a pepper-crusted sirloin ($21.45 for a 12-oz.) Other entree choices include salmon, ribs, trout and chicken breast. The restaurant also has a nice mix of salads, from a grilled shrimp and strawberry salad topped with goat cheese to a crab cake salad with a cilantro-lime vinaigrette. The appetizer list includes standard choices such as chicken wings and onion rings alongside seared ahi tuna and lobster spinach queso.
There’s a portabella sandwich and a French dip, and the lunch menu also has fish tacos.
DON’T-MISS DISHES We started with two appetizers, which are priced the same at lunch and at dinner. The restaurant is proud of its lobster spinach queso ($11.95), which was rich and creamy and filled with lobster chunks, spinach, tomatoes and pepper Jack cheese. It had a distinct seafood flavor and was served with a side of tri-colored tortilla chips. It disappeared quickly.
We also tried the coconut shrimp ($11.45), five large, tail-on shrimp fried in a coconut tempura batter and served atop a mango habenero chutney that had huge chunks of mango still intact and a tasty “tortilla slaw” that mixed cabbage with cilantro and tortilla strips. The dish was a sweet-and-salty treat.
The highlight of our experience was the two steaks we ordered: a 14-oz. aged rib-eye that was $25.75 and a chile-rubbed Delmonico that was $21.75 for a 12-oz. cut. Both steaks tasted wonderfully smoky, a product of the wood-fired grill promised in the restaurant’s title. The rib-eye, which we ordered medium rare, was cooked perfectly and was melt-in-your-mouth good. It came with a choice of one side, and we got a loaded baked potato that was a salt-crusted Russet stuffed with cheese, sour cream, bacon and chives.
The Delmonico cut also was tender and flavorful, and the chile rub had a spicy kick. It was served with a side of Southwest au gratin potatoes that were cooked in a separate dish and came out bubbling with melted cheese. Neither steak came with a vegetable, but diners can add a small salad for $4.95. Skip the house and the Caesar and go straight for the BLT, a tossed salad dripping with creamy garlic Ranch dressing and mixed with crunchy bits of Applewood smoked bacon.
The sesame-encrusted salmon ($14.95) was overdone and dry, though a ginger mustard aioli made it more palatable. The sides saved the dish. It came with a serving of Parmesan mashed potatoes and some unique and wonderful fried spinach. When fried, the fresh leaves dried up and developed an unusual but interesting crunch.
We also weren’t impressed with the Kobe meatloaf ($17.95). Though it was topped with big slices of flavorful portabella mushroom, the meatloaf was more loaf than meat and was cut into two too-firm discs that were unpleasantly chewy. Mom can make spongy meatloaf. In a restaurant, it should be fall-apart tender and moist. The dish came with a side of Yukon gold mashed potatoes and some nice, al dente fresh green beans with pecans.
For dessert, we took the waiter’s enthusiastic recommendation and tried the delicious creme brulee cheesecake ($7.25), memorable because of the crunchy sugar crust that coated the surface.
AMBIENCE Firebirds’ beautiful, high-energy interior is one of its best attributes. Diners are greeted by a large bar that’s highlighted with a dramatic display of lighted, multi-colored glass bottles. Lots of seating is available in the bar, including tall tables and a cozy cushion right in front of a fire place.
The dining room is huge with very tall ceilings, one wall lined decoratively with bottles of wine, and lots wood, leather and stone decorative accents. Diners seated near the kitchen can see the staff searing steaks and other dishes over the wood-fired grill in the open kitchen.
PRICE RANGE More than Outback; less than Chester’s. Appetizers are $8.25 to $14.50. Salads are $7.75 to $15.95. Steaks range from $21.45 for a pepper crusted sirloin to $29.99 for the blue cheese filet. Non-steak entrees average about $20, and burgers and sandwiches are mostly $10.50 to $11.50. Several entrees cost a few dollars less at lunch time.
SERVICE Our waiter was charismatic, knowledgeable and prompt, even on a busy Saturday night. The food arrived alarmingly quick in some cases, but that’s better than the alternative.
The restaurant takes reservations over the phone and online. Without them, it took about 45 minutes for us to get a table on a busy Saturday night.