South Africa and America have a lot in common. Both countries are large and diverse. Both countries are “new” by European standards, and both are former British colonies. Both countries have fought bloody wars over racial oppression.

Both countries have a love affair with steak. Especially steak served in massive quantities, in grimy roadside strip malls.

Thunder Gun! The pickup (bakkie) parked in front is so appropriate.

Last night I dined at a restaurant called Thunder Gun! The name does not officially include an exclamation point. I’ve added it myself because that’s the way I like to say it. Thunder Gun!

I googled “Thunder Gun”, figuring it must be the name of a John Wayne movie, or an old American TV Western, or something like that. But as far as I can tell it is not. There is no entry in Wikipedia. My searches yielded nothing except a small, little-known restaurant in a drab shopping centre on Beyers Naude Drive in Johannesburg. Thunder Gun is apparently quite successful; it’s been in business for more than 40 years.

Thunder Gun! Serving giant steaks since 1968.

I don’t write many restaurant reviews these days, primarily because I don’t eat out very often these days. But I’ve developed a habit of reviewing Jozi steakhouses. First came Spur, the most popular chain restaurant in South Africa. I followed that up with a review of the Grillhouse, a high-end steak joint in Rosebank. Now I will complete the trifecta and tell you about Thunder Gun, a classic piece of South African Americana just up the road from the Cresta Mall.

The interior of Thunder Gun! Howdy, partner.

The owners of Thunder Gun obviously love cowboys. They also love Coca-Cola branding, saloon-style wooden furniture, and beer. Thunder Gun is one of few South African restaurants I’ve been to that has not one, not two, but half a dozen beers on tap. (Most South African restaurants actually have zero.)

Thunder Gun portions are large. I ordered the smallest t-bone on the menu — 300 grams. This is what I got:

The meat was tasty and perfectly cooked, although a bit tough. The veggies were tolerable but a bit overcooked. The meal cost R83.95 — just over $10.

The person sitting next to me ordered pork ribs. This is what he got:

Half a hog, anyone?

I wouldn’t recommend Thunder Gun to vegetarians or pescetarians. The non-meat choices are limited. The person on the other side of me ordered fish and chips, and the portion size was decidedly stingy. I thought he might resort to eating his lemon rind.

This plate was empty before I had the chance to photograph it.

Several of my friends are in love with Thunder Gun! I personally felt the food was average, and you can get a way better meal at the Grillhouse for just a little more money. Also, the service at Thunder Gun, at least last night, was embarrassingly bad.

That said, I would recommend going to Thunder Gun at least once anyway, especially if you’re a small-town American who misses home. In many ways, Thunder Gun is more American than America. Little places like Thunder Gun barely exist in the United States anymore; they’ve been pushed out of business by the mighty Outback Steakhouse chain. (And I must admit, the Outback serves a much better steak than Thunder Gun. There you go, Dad. I said it. Gloat all you want.)

I’m sure I’ll be back, just for an excuse to say that name again. Thunder Gun!

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