The Bloomin’ Onion has starred on Outback Steakhouse's appetizer list since 1988, when the chain’s co-founder, Tim Gannon, introduced it to the menu. Now two new menu items inspired by this icon have launched at the Tampa, Fla-based steakhouse chain.
Aussie Twisted Ribs and Bloomin’ Fried Chicken both take the onion’s proprietary seasoning, crunchy texture and signature Bloom sauce in new directions.
The ribs are a riff on Royal Bloomin’ Ribs that gained immense popularity at Outback Steakhouse’s Brazil locations, says Efrem Cutler, VP of research and development for parent company Bloomin’ Brands.
Originally, the ribs were deboned and filled with cheese, then coated with the onion’s signature seasoned flour. “To make the process less labor intensive, we are using bone-in baby back ribs at our U.S locations,” says Cutler. “We season them with the Bloom flour, fry them crisp, then toss them with barbecue sauce and finish with a drizzle of Bloom sauce.”
Although the flavor profile of the housemade Bloom sauce is a secret, Cutler reveals that it combines horseradish for pungency and hot sauce for a little heat. That plays off the crispy texture of the ribs, “which shatters in your mouth when you bite into it. A fatty product like ribs really picks up the flavors and fulfills the bloomin’ experience for guests,” he says.
The chicken also carries the flavors well, Cutler adds. It starts with an 8-ounce chicken breast that’s hand-breaded in house with the seasoned flour, then fried until golden brown and drizzled with Bloom sauce. “The Bloomin' Fried Chicken has become Outback’s highest-selling LTO and will get to the core menu,” he says.
Aussie Twisted Ribs, an appetizer, start at $9.99 and Bloomin’ Fried Chicken, served both as a sandwich and entree, goes for $11.99 and $14.99, respectively.
Outback has previously introduced other “blooms,” including the Bloomin’ Burger, which is menued as the Aussie Burger at the brand’s fast-casual concept, Aussie Grill. It’s topped with the Bloomin’ Onion’s fried petals and Bloom sauce, along with American cheese, pickles, lettuce and tomato.
Cutler is working on other line extensions as well, including country fried steak “which works great with Bloom sauce,” he says. But the chef is staying away from salmon, as the fish is too light and delicate to marry well with the flavors, he adds.
In developing new dishes, Cutler aims for bold flavors in step with Outback’s Louisiana heritage. But his goal is always to balance the bold.
He likens that balance to being in a symphony, which the chef did when he played the French horn throughout high school. “I move to create a harmony of flavors—bold, sweet, astringent and peppery,” he says, admitting that his threshold for heat is a bit higher than average. “We do a lot of sampling with our culinary team, marketing, supply chain and others at our R&D lab in Tampa to get the balance right,” he says. “The guest experience is at the forefront of every decision, and we are sure to make the heat level acceptable for the guest.”
During the pandemic, Outback had to change its business model, quickly adapting to delivery for its Fleming’s and Bonefish Grill brands and using new packaging for some of its Outback specialties.
“We had to become innovative with the packaging for our Bloomin’ Onion to preserve its crunch,” says Cutler. Vented packaging was added to the lineup, and the onion had to pass a quality test after 30 minutes in the new carryout container.
“We are currently developing menu items through the lens that 39% of our business is off-premise,” he says
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