Aspen Creek is located in a forest of chain restaurants and fast-food joints in Irving, along a stretch of Airport Freeway east of DFW Airport. But the 4-year-old Brinker-esque mini-chain, which has plans in the next few years to expand around North Texas, embraces all that is good in the land of the Baby Back Ribs.
Owners of the restaurant — whose only other location is in Louisville, Kentucky — are eyeing markets in Fort Worth and The Colony.
The menu certainly skews slice-of-Americana, as does the mountain-lodgelike decor that alternatively pays homage to hunting (mounted deer heads), disco (check out the women’s restroom) and jazz festivals of yore (Aspen Winter Jazz, 1967).
All of your usual suspects are here, from burgers to chicken-fried steak; fried chicken salads to the ubiquitous Monte Cristo. But there are surprise inclusions, too, like a selection of thin-crust pizzas as well as a better-than-average ahi tuna dish and shrimp and grits.
The latter two entrees are new to the menu, which has been refurbished. They’ve also added a southwest steak sandwich and a center-cut tenderloin filet (6 ounces is $17.99; 8 ounces is $22.99) to the mix.
Underneath the spiffy tin ceiling and at the behest of our inordinately competent server, we tried the crispy pickle chips ($4.99), an overflowing basket of battered slices of pickles and ranch dipping sauce. Crunchy and well-matched with the dressing, they were salty if not a tad greasy.
The fried-fare love continued with a surfeit of french fries, which accompany many of the entrees; they were thick-cut and well-seasoned but a little limp. If fries aren’t your thing, there are more than 10 other sides offered, from a loaded baked potato to mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese or coleslaw.
The ahi tuna ($14.99) was expensive, said our hostess, but worth trying. We found it a tad overcooked — the thinner parts were well past medium-rare — but otherwise flavorful, with a sweet, teriyaki-esque marinade. The rice, and the standard sauteed veggies (zucchini, squash, red bell pepper) were bland.
The Southwest steak sandwich ($9.49) was a massive riff on a cheesesteak, with melted Swiss completely covering thick slices of sirloin and rib-eye, sauteed onions and mushrooms. A garlicky mayo and a toothsome hoagie roll were nice touches.
There is also the requisite kids menu, as well as child-appropriate desserts such as the chocolate chip cookie sundae ($5.49) and something called a chocolate explosion ($5.49) — apparently the same thing as the cookie sundae but with a brownie.
Throughout our meal, Diet Cokes were constantly replenished (does the kitchen have some sort of alarm at places like this when your soda dips below a certain level?). Seated near the hostess stand, we couldn’t help but observe how kind and polite virtually every employee was. When a carry-out order was muffed, the staff went into apology overdrive. Clearly, the management here knows its stuff.
There’s also a large bar, which we noted on the way to the ladies’ room; the latter inexplicably has a disco ball hanging from its ceiling.
No one will ever mistake Aspen Creek for a place to enjoy an apres-ski drink. But what it lacks in authenticity, it makes up for in effort — and random disco whimsy.