It's hard to capture the essence of another place in a restaurant, but to me abundant portions of barbecue served by smiling faces is about as Texan as belt buckles and wondering who shot J.R.

It's hard to capture the essence of another place in a restaurant, but to me abundant portions of barbecue served by smiling faces is about as Texan as belt buckles and wondering who shot J.R.

I'm the first to admit that I'm no expert on Texas. I've yet to visit the Lone Star State, so when the opportunity came to check out the recently opened Texas Roadhouse, I took a friend who spent more than a year in Austin for a Texan's perspective.

From the building's wood paneling, Texas flag and bright neon lights, it's certainly hard to overlook the restaurant, located at 1720 Delta Waters Road in Medford. If you're seeking subtlety, there are plenty of other places in the valley that offer that. We're in Texas now.

Inside are clean surfaces, fairly spartan materials and more than a dozen large-screen televisions near the ceiling broadcasting a variety of sporting events as country music blares throughout the building.

At most restaurants, patrons wait to be seated so a server can take their order, but Texas Roadhouse patrons order first, pay the cashier then take a seat. My first expectation was that it would strip the last piece of formality from the casual dining experience, but in practice the servers were so attentive at our table that I never felt anything was lost. However, there's no getting around the strange feeling of tipping for service you're going to receive.

My friend welcomed the ordering shift more than I did. In his mind, the ordering structure reminded him of a picnic-style barbecue joint he enjoyed when he called Texas home.

Although diners can easily fill up on the complimentary peanuts and buttery rolls before their entrees arrive, we started with a Cactus Blossom, a fried onion almost identical to the Bloomin' Onion found at another themed steakhouse down the way. The difference between the two is that a Cactus Blossom is hot and ready to be taken to the table.

Diners have their choice of a selection of steaks, barbecue or country entrees and about a dozen sides.

I went with one of their Texas-sized combos that come with two entrees: mine had barbecued pork ribs and a petite sirloin. For sides, I went with a baked potato and green beans. I also ordered a side salad with ranch dressing.

The ribs were very tender and the meat lifted right off the bone. The sauce was nicely cured without being too dry. My steak was similarly tender, and my server had me check my steak to make sure it was cooked to my liking upon presentation. I told him medium rare, and I found a savory steak pink, but not too pink, in the middle.

My green beans were served piping hot, but had a softer texture than I prefer. The salad was a simple combination of fresh iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, hardboiled egg, cheese and croutons.

My friend chose the smothered grilled chicken, a chicken breast well grilled and then covered with cream gravy, sauteed onions and mushrooms. For sides he chose an additional serving of sauteed mushrooms and steak fries.

The soft drinks are self-serve, and I was pleasantly surprised by the Texas-sized beverage bar with an expanded selection of Coke products, including Mello Yello and my favorite, Coke Zero. Lemonade and sweetened and unsweetened iced teas also are available, which my friend used to make himself an Arnold Palmer to his liking.

Adjacent to the beverage bar were bottles of condiments for diners to grab, and while I didn't add any sauces to my meal, my friend was jazzed to see Heinz 57 next to an assortment of steak sauces, ketchup and mustard.

Despite the restaurant's DIY elements, we were never left to fend for ourselves. Our server took the time to give us the rundown on the Texas eatery's unconventional ways and explained that although she'd be our server, we were welcome to flag down any employee for any request — from more free rolls to ordering something additional. Considering the frequency with which we saw employees in their signature "I (heart) my job" T-shirts, we were never left wanting.

— Nick Morgan