When I say that Steve's Landing is one of my favorite places to eat, I need to throw in a disclaimer. It's one of my favorite places to eat in the spring and fall.
The expansive wooden deck at this waterfront grill in Soddy-Daisy is one of this restaurant's biggest selling points. Eating outdoors is not an option in the winter, of course, and it's often too hot to be enjoyable in the sweaty throes of summer. But when temperatures moderate, the deck is where you want to be.
So we were disappointed when we were told we couldn't sit outside on a recent beautiful evening because "it's getting dark." Say what? A waterfront deck at sunset was kind of the idea.
So there we were: Whiner, party of two. Forced to eat indoors. Ugh. Our window seat was little consolation.
Where: Steve's Landing Waterfront Grill, 1145 Poling Circle, Soddy-Daisy (at Pine Harbor Marina).
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: $3.99 (basic burger) to $17.99 (rib dinner).
Steve's Landing doesn't go overboard on its choices -- you get one steak option, for instance, a 12-ounce center-cut ribeye ($15.99). But the menu hits all the major categories: salads, burgers, sandwiches, wings, ribs, chicken, pork, pasta and seafood, as well as several appetizer and dessert selections.
The menu boasts that the ribs "made Steve's Landing famous," and I don't doubt that this dinner drives traffic. It's very tasty -- slow-cooked and basted with a secret barbecue sauce and served with a choice of side for $17.99. When I'm ravenous and don't mind being a little messy, it's a favorite.
In keeping with the waterfront setting, there are several seafood platters: catfish, fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, a shrimp-and-catfish combo and fried grouper ($10.99 to $13.99). All are served with french fries, slaw and jalapeno hushpuppies.
Seafood also figures into the appetizers, with a half-pound of peel-and-eat boiled shrimp, shrimp bread and grouper fingers among the selections. From previous visits, I can also recommend the queso and chips, a made-from-scratch spicy cheese dip served with warm tortilla chips.
Dieters can check the helpful selections marked as "The Lighter Side" and "Not So Lighter Side." The former lists yellowfin tuna, swordfish and mahi-mahi, grilled with herb butter or blackened ($13.99 to $14.99). The latter goes with two 6-ounce pork chops (seasoned, grilled and served with two sides), smothered catfish (hand-battered and smothered in a white sauce containing shrimp and scallions) and Bayou chicken (served on a bed of cornbread dressing and topped with a spicy crawfish and mushroom sauce). I've tried this one before too. It lives up to its billing -- very filling.
The beverage menu includes beer and wine coolers along with the standard soft drinks, tea and coffee.
I ordered Kickin' Chicken, a grilled breast basted with barbecue sauce, covered with Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses and topped with diced tomatoes and scallions ($8.99). It's served with one side and Texas toast.
My daughter ordered the barbecue chicken sandwich, which is basically Kickin' Chicken on a bun ($5.75). Fries were an extra $1.50.
Kickin' Chicken is my standby at Steve's Landing. It's one of the cheaper dinners, and the flavor combination never disappoints. This time, it was even better than usual. It was a very thick breast -- so thick I was concerned it wasn't thoroughly cooked when I cut into it. I needn't have worried. It was cooked perfectly. The cheeses finished melting as I ate. The diced tomatoes and scallions not only looked good on the plate but added a subtle flavor boost.
The baked potato I chose as my side looked as if it had been sitting a while. And it probably had, since we arrived a half-hour before closing time. It was overcooked, but the chicken was so perfect, I didn't mind.
The food took slightly longer than expected, but there was a fairly good-size crowd when we got there. Our server was prompt, helpful and friendly.
Steve's feels a little cramped inside, which is one reason I like to eat outdoors. The place was maybe three-quarters full on our visit, but the noise level was very loud.
Despite the waterfront billing, Steve's Landing is not really about the view, even on the deck. The restaurant fronts the boat docks of Pine Harbor Marina. You have to be seated just so to see the lake. But the deck -- solidly crafted and shaded by trees -- just has a laid-back vibe that makes it appealing.
It wasn't until after we were seated inside that we remembered what we saw two couples do last year. When told the deck was closed on a spectacular fall day, they got their food to go but ate it on the deck, sans refills or other table service. I remember watching from inside, thinking "Why didn't we think of that?"
I eat at Steve's Landing fairly regularly, and I'm not likely to change that habit. The food is good. The prices are reasonable. The staff is friendly. But they really need to rethink that deck policy. Fire up some tiki torches. String some patio lights. Strap a mining helmet to the server's forehead.
Maybe the ribs made Steve's Landing famous, but the deck is its biggest asset. Around here, decks are like flip-flops -- usable most of the year. Weather permitting, the deck could be open practically year-round. And it should certainly be open through closing time for diners who like their meals under the stars.