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Steakhouse provides a summery taste of barbecue

Food is pretty good, especially bread; it’s family-friendly

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There's nothing like a barbecue in the dead of winter to make you pine for warmth. The weather guys say we've officially started a true winter pattern. I say it's just plain too cold!

Though it is bitter cold and everything is frozen, it's still possible to get a piece of summer here in the valley — at the Desert Star Cowboy Steakhouse, the recent annex to the Desert Star Playhouse in Murray.

My family and I went in on a busy Saturday night, and there was quite a crowd. We'd been told the grub was good, hearty and simple but to leave the necktie at home (or else they cut it off in a public ceremony!). This is a decidedly casual place, complete with red-checked table covers and lanterns, where one can find a decent steak and other meats all for family-friendly prices. It's very Utah.

After a 20-minute wait for a table, we went straight to the entrees and ordered the Big Cowboy, which is a 1 1/2-pound porterhouse, and a combo plate of ribs and chicken. This way, we reasoned, we'd get a fair sampling of the meats on the menu. The only thing missing was the marinated salmon. Another time perhaps.

The menu is simple. Three choices for steak. Three choices for ribs (one with chicken). Three choices for filet mignon (one with salmon). Each is served with a dinner salad of romaine and a cherry tomato, charro-style beans and a loaf of house-made sourdough bread.

My big steak came well-seasoned but a bit rarer than medium-rare. I should have had them throw my partly tartare portion back on the flames. As it was, I could have had a better cut, for this one had a bit of gristle throughout the meat. On my husband Gary's combo, the chicken was a little dry, but the seasoning was smoky and tangy.

Ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender and amply drowning in a sea of barbecue sauce. The sauce was certainly fine but lacked a certain complexity I prefer.

We loved the bread. I appreciate such house-made touches. It was hot, dense and chewy and great to eat with the beans.

Offerings for children are simple and affordable, with things like macaroni and cheese, hot dogs and chicken. Our little guy gobbled up a roasted hot dog with beans on the side.

Believe it or not, we all still had room for dessert, or at least we thought we did. We shared a brownie sundae and the peach cobbler. They were both tasty, but I think I liked the cobbler a little better. It had a good ratio of fruit to sauce to cobble; it wasn't too sweet and the cobble was flavorful, separate from the rest. The rich chocolate brownie in the sundae was more like a thick slice of dense cake and was piled high with whipped cream. Both desserts were large and plenty for two to share.

The Desert Star Cowboy Steakhouse seems to have been a smart move for the theater as dinner and a show are a classic pastime. The dining room is cavernous and homey, the menu a simple formula and, overall, a good thing for anyone, especially families, with simple tastes and a big appetite. While the proprietors would say come all year, I say it's especially good right now in the dead of winter.

Prices for dinners range from $7.99-15.99 (including salad, sourdough bread and beans), burgers $4.99 and $5.49, sides $.79-1.99, desserts $1.99-$3.99, kids' meals $3.

Desert Star Cowboy Steakhouse

** 1/2 (out of five)

Hours: Monday-Thursday 5-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5-11:00 p.m.

Location: 4859 S. State St., Murray, 293-9393

Payment: checks, major credit cards

Reservations: accepted for parties of eight or more

E-MAIL: stephanie@desnews.com