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A slight ribbing

There is no middle ground in the rib game. The best are eaten either in a joint destined to be condemned or in an upscale restaurant such as Houstonís. And itís appropriate that while the eyes of the world were on Atlanta, Houstonís, one of that cityís more popular restaurants, opened in Winter Park.

I have dined at Houstonís both in Atlanta and South Florida and loved each experience. While the local outlet did not exactly match my high hopes, it is still good food.

I ordered a signature item, the "Fork and Knife" ribs ($14.95), so tender that you donít have to use your fingers. Unfortunately, my order was not that tender and I had to use my fingers a great deal. The ribs were good, but not as good as I had enjoyed on visits to other restaurants in the chain. (Another time, the rib appetizer was delicious and fingers were not necessary.)

A traditional salad ($3.75 on the side, $6.25 as a meal) was huge and included real bacon (vs. bits) and bleu cheese dressing with large chunks of cheese. The fried chicken tenders also were quite good, and again can be ordered either as an appetizer ($6.25) or main course ($8.50). My companion was less lucky with the salmon ($13.75), which arrived very undercooked.

Like the salads, the desserts come large. Unfortunately they are not equal in taste. I had the Key lime pie ($4.25). It was only average, and certainly not as good as I would expect at a restaurant of this quality and price range.

The service still has some kinks (although servers do look as if they have stepped off of the pages of a fashion magazine). Our waiter was polite and efficient and handled side-item substitutions without hesitation. Still, at times we couldnít track him down. Another server picked up our plates to wrap our leftovers, then promptly lost them. It took him five minutes and three visits to the table to find them. When our original server returned with $10 extra in change, returning it became a complicated game of find-the-waiter-in-the-crowd.

Perhaps itís just the early crush of popularity. And with wood accents, lots of windows and a beautiful view of Lake Killarney, the setting itself is splendid. But the food could be kicked up a notch. After all, there are plenty of other joints where ribs already rule.

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