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Captain Ron’s
Out of a possible five

$5.99 steak big lure at steakhouse tavern

Ron Layton is the captain of Captain Ron’s Corral on Bluffton Road.

That name, however, has nothing to do with a boat, the sea or that cheesy Kurt Russell-Martin Short movie from the early ’90s. Captain Ron is a moniker Layton earned during his years as a bartender.

And don’t let the captain name fool you, the place does not specialize in seafood. Layton considers his bar and restaurant to be a steakhouse and made sure to put that word on the side of his building in big red illuminated letters so no one will be confused.

Those lights on the outside are not what caught my eye the most, it was the inside, which was really nice. It has the standard dark, nightclub lighting, a dance floor, pool tables and a few neon bar signs and NASCAR paraphernalia, but it is still classy. It has modern furnishings and little accents such as bright blue padded chairs that match the spiffy blue droplights over the bar and the lights on plants scattered about.

It was also pretty apparent Layton cares about the place and wants to know how to make it better. He visited every table when I was there and chatted up his customers. And, trust me, if you want a good laugh, ask him to tell you the story about the map of Louisiana covering one of the walls in the men’s restroom.

This steakhouse has a pretty small menu with steaks and with the usual bar fare. The steak being pushed the most was the, believe it or not, the $5.99 New York strip.

Offered daily, this 8-ounce strip arrived nearly raw and had to be sent back. But after it came back cooked to medium rare, it was OK. It had a little gristle and had a little fat, but for $5.99 I wasn’t expecting to be blown away.

When I asked what the best steak on the menu was during my next visit, my server pointed to that strip right away. When I asked again saying I was more interested in quality instead of value, the server was stumped a bit but suggested I try the 6-ounce filet mignon.

It was a good choice.

Although petite, this tender, juicy cut of beef had a lot of flavor and was perfectly seasoned with a blend of salt, pepper and spices. I had a baked potato with it and opted to pay a little extra to have it loaded with cheese and bacon. It had both, but not much of either and was a far cry from any loaded potato other steakhouses offer.

The same issue hurt the appetizers at Captain Ron’s. The chicken wings were good – of decent size, crispy and sauced just right – but the loaded fries could have used more cheese. The thick steak fries were tasty, and the mix of diced chicken breast, bacon, cheese and a little ranch dressing hit the right note, but, again, they paled in comparison to what the competition offers.

The side salads that preceded my entrées were not worth the effort. They had fresh iceberg and diced tomatoes, but with cheese as the only other ingredient and not much of either topping, they were not even up to diner standards let alone steakhouse standards.

The fried green beans were the best appetizer. The bright green legumes had a crunchy breading, they were not oily and the spicy, jalapeño-ranch dipping sauce was fabulous.

The homemade chips, which came highly recommended by a Captain Ron’s regular and which cost extra as a side, lacked execution. Many of the thin potato slices were undercooked and all were dripping in grease. They were nicely seasoned and the ones that weren’t greasy or raw were tasty, there just weren’t many of them.

I would recommend the pork tenderloin over the burgers. I had the tenderloin as part of the Manhattan entrée and regretted it as it would have made a great sandwich. The loin was thick and really juicy, and the gritty breading was crunchy and clean. It needed a little salt, but that was all. However, most of it was covered in poor dark gravy that was pre-made or from a mix. White gravy would have been a better choice – kind of like a chicken-fried steak – but no gravy would have been the best choice.

The rib basket and Corral Burger at Captain Ron’s fell flat. The 1/3 -pound burger, topped with an onion rings, bacon and cheddar-jack cheese, had very little bacon and the onions, like the chips, were saturated with grease. The burger patty was rather mediocre.

Three of the ribs in my six-bone basket were so dry and overcooked I sent them back. The new ribs were cooked fine, but they were nothing to brag about.

I also couldn’t brag about dessert. The cheesecake, which comes with a variety of sauces, was soft and gelatinous like it one of those instant boxed mix versions.

And, as nice as the atmosphere was, there were service issues. During both visits, the servers said they had only been on the job for a few days, and it showed. Neither knew much about the menu and struggled a bit with basics.

Layton, however, was there to pick up the pieces as best he could. It is obvious that he cares and obvious that he is putting in plenty of hours trying to make the place work, but he has a ways to go.

It will take more than his $5.99 steak dinner to bring me back.

Restaurant: Captain Ron’s Corral

Address: 4530 Bluffton Road

Phone: 478-0591

Hours: 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday (kitchen will stay open past 9 p.m. if there is demand)

Cuisine: Steaks & Seafood

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes, until 9 p.m.

Menu: Wings ($7), fried green beans ($3), loaded fries ($5), filet mignon ($14), Corral Burger ($7), tenderloin Manhattan ($9), rib basket ($12), cheesecake ($2)

Rating breakdown: Food: 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 max.), service: 1/2 (1 max.)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.