The Wagonmaster Steak Company, 5485 S. Vine St., Murray, described as both a restaurant and convention center, does everything in a big way. The outside looks like a huge warehouse with a tall windmill, a graveyard of broken-down covered wagon parts and tall cactuses in a desert, all displayed around the front.

The multistory interior is a reproduction of an old Western town (though considerably safer and cleaner). Old storefronts line a concrete main street that leads into the dining area, a desert scene complete with campfires, cactuses and a few lifelike critters. Diners sit in their own individual covered wagon booths. Familiar cowboy tunes fill the air. The only things missing were twinkling stars overhead and the occasional howl of some forlorn coyote.We'd recommend asking for seating closer to the open campfire scenes. It is more in keeping with the desired ambience as well as closer to the kitchen, perhaps preventing some lukewarm entrees that we encountered from our seating on the fringes of the circled wagons.

Wagonmaster emphasizes steaks, "aged, USDA choice, hand cut and grilled to order," according to the extensive menu. Not only is the cowboy bill of fare filled with lots of quips and cartoons, but diners who prefer something other than red meat will find grilled salmon and halibut, fried shrimp, ground turkey steaks and marinated chicken breasts alongside such favorites as filet, porterhouse and T-bone cuts. Several cuts of prime rib are also offered, and several combination dinners are offered for "folks who can't make up their mind."

We found ourselves in the later camp, ordering two of the several choices. The Doc Holiday special ($16.95) features a tender filet mignon and grilled chicken breast. This was the best of the entrees we sampled. Not only was the filet perfectly done, but it was tender and flavorful. The grilled chicken breast was also nicely prepared. They were both a little on the tepid side, unfortunately.

The Gold Rush ($19.95), steamed crab legs and filet (though we substituted a New York, something our delightful waitress informed us was as "easy as pie"), was also disappointing. The generous portions of split crab legs were mostly cool; the steak was also lukewarm and uneven, ranging from medium rare as requested to medium-well in the thinner section.

The 10-oz. prime rib ($12.95) was perfectly pink as ordered, though somewhat devoid of any flavor. The au jus and cream horseradish sauce added to the necessary zip. Each of the dinners come with a choice of either baked, french fried or au gratin potatoes; trail beans; green salad and warm loaves of whole grain bread with whipped butter and honey.

The house salad is French dressing with blue cheese crumbles; but it was added in too large a dose. The same heavy hand fell on the other salads we tried. Our favorite side orders were the smoky trail beans, tender limas (served piping hot) simmered with ham hocks in a slightly seasoned gravy and sauteed mushroom appetizer ($3.95), though the promised garlic flavor did not materialize. We also enjoyed one of the homemade pies, a dense blueberry ala mode ($3.50). The mud pie ($2.50), a chocolate- and fudge-covered ice cream pie, was luscious.

Other choices on the menu include fried pork, chicken or beef bits with dip, as well as Buffalo wings, for "Beginnin's;" several choices for "Yung'uns;" and lots of beef and seafood combos. Some of these are the "Geronimo" ($16.95), a 16-oz. New York; "Wild Bunch" ($14.95), a steak kebob; and the "White Thunder" ($25.95), a filet and lobster tail. The mixed grill ($17.95) offers diners a choice of any two non-red meat items.

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Visitors to the Prairie Schooner will notice definite similarities in the decorative touches; one of the co-owners of the Wagonmaster was involved in the original operation in Ogden. But Wagonmaster Steak Company is considerably bigger. While the Prairie Schooner still has the feel of a restaurant with quaint touches, Wagonmaster gives one the impression of a Hollywood backlot.

While the scope of this ambitious project is commendable and often effective for its entertainment effect, some of the problems we encountered with our experience might indicate that bigger is not always better.

Rating: * * 1/2

Wagonmaster Steak Company Restaurant and Convention Center, 5485 S. Vine St., Murray, 269-1100. Open for dinner only. Weekdays, 5 p.m. until 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, until 11 p.m. Closed Sunday. Accepts check with guarantee card and major credit cards.

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