>550 calories? Really?

>Not usually an Applebee’s fan (in fact, it’s one of my least favorite chains) but at loose ends last night, I decided to try one of the items off of their “less than 550 calories” menu. I chose the Chicken Portobello.

I almost hate to admit it, but I was very impressed. It was quite good. The meal came with a grilled breast of chicken smothered in grilled red peppers and portabellas a touch of dijon and topped with a fairly generous amount of white cheddar. On the side were grilled vegetables (broccoli, baby carrots, zucchini) and an herbed new potato cut into quarters.

Everything was very well seasoned and perfectly cooked. The cheese was hot and bubbly, the chicken was very moist. Just the right amount of salt on the veggies, which were tender while retaining their bright color and full taste. And there was more than enough to eat. At no time did I feel I was eating a diet meal.

There are several options on the under 550 menu, including (hard to believe) a steak as well as several shrimp dishes. I’ll definitely go back.

>Hot Hot Hot

Before my attack

After my attack or as my husband put it “where chickens go to die”

My lips are still on fire from tonight’s wing ding. There was a great turnout.

Participating restaurants included Truman’s, Bennigan’s, Hooters, DRowe’s, Smokin Chicks, Applebee’s, Sports Zone, Hemingways and TGI Fridays. Notable absences were the only two real wing places in town: CJ’s and Buffalo Wild Wings.

My taste and the judges’ tastes didn’t align very well. DRowe’s wings were my least favorite yet took two awards. They were smoked wings, and I can’t eat anything smoked. My personal favorites included Hemingway’s and Sports Zone. Everyone else at my table loved Truman’s. I think I would have liked them as well if I hadn’t already been stuffed when I got around to trying them.

This year’s winners were:

Tastiest – DRowe’s
Meatiest – TGI Friday’s
Best BBQ – Drowe’s
Best Seasoned – Hemingway’s

I didn’t stick around for people’s choice but my money’s on Hemingway’s.

>9 Unhealthiest chain food entrees

>Thanks to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, I now know way, way more than I wanted to about how fattening some of the stuff I’ve been eating is. Which is really sad, because I love some of this stuff!

CSPI calls them the XTreme Eating Awards, which almost sounds kind of fun. Until you read the article.

Some Award recipients from chains here in Columbia:

Ultimate fondue from Red Lobster, with 1,490 calories, 40 grams of saturated fat, and 3,580 mg of sodium.

Applebee’s Quesadilla burger. I have actually eaten this. More than once. 1,820 calories, 46 grams of saturated fat, and 4,410 mg of sodium. Holy Mother Of God.

Think you might be staying light by eating some of those mini-burgers? Think again. Chili’s Big Mouth Bites are a whopping 2,350 calories, 38 grams of saturated fat, and 3,940 milligrams of sodium.

At least we don’t have a Cheesecake factory here, their chicken and biscuit dinner is 2,500 calories.

I’ve long griped about the big chain restaurants and their refusal to make calorie counts public. All of the fast-food outlets now do. A few of the chains, including our local Ruby Tuesday, have full disclosure (an average burger at Ruby Tuesdays is over 1,000 calories not including fries). But too many do not. And no, I don’t think we always know how much we’re overindulging. I actually had the idea that the quesadilla burger might be a bit lower in calories because it was a flatbread quesadilla, not a grilled and buttered bun. Obviously not.

When is the FDA going to mandate that all restaurants over a certain size (number of stores/franchises) be requried to post nutrition information? It needs to happen.

>Salt Overload

>I don’t go to Applebee’s often. In fact, it’s probably been well over a year since I have been. A friend was in town and that was his spot of choice.

I ordered a cheeseburger and fries to eat – I’m typically more of a chicken eater but was feeling burgers that night.

My husband and our friend ordered a Mudslide to drink while we waited for our food. I’ve had Mudslides before but they fail in comparison to this one. It tasted like a delicious chocolate shake. I could hardly even taste the Kahlua. So good.

My burger and fries looked appetizing enough although they did not hold up to appearances. My bun was so saturated with grease that I couldn’t pick my burger up and eat it that way – I had to cut it into bites. And the burger was so overloaded with salt that I couldn’t even finish the whole thing. And I love salt. I left half of it untouched.

Our bill with tip reached $30 for two. I’ll take my $30 somewhere else next time.

>3 Course Menu STARTING at $9.99

>Friday night was an interesting night. I spent 15 minutes driving around trying to figure out where I wanted to eat. El Maguey? Houlihan’s? Boone Tavern? Quinton’s? I finally set on Applebee’s. My husband had been seeing them advertise the 3-course meal for $9.99 and since this sounded like a good deal we thought we’d try it.

The only problem was their $9.99 3-course meal was really $10.99, $11.99 or $12.99 unless you opted for a cheeseburger or salad. Plus the menu was extremely limited. The husband settled on buffalo wings, cheeseburger and fries and a chocolate mousse shooter.

Every time I go to Applebee’s I’m shocked by how small the serving sizes are. My husband credits the night he fell in love with me to a trip to Applebee’s. He ordered a steak and it was so tiny we spent the rest of the meal cracking jokes and laughing hysterically.

The fries on our plate were sparce. The “dessert” was no bigger than shots I’ve taken before at the bar. But surprisingly enough the place was pretty packed. There was a wait for a table when we got there and pretty much every table in the place was full the entire time we were there.

I will say they have great happy hour specials with half-priced appetizers and cheap drinks. Maybe that’s the best time to go.

>Setting the Standard?

>Last weekend, Revee happened to spot me leaving a restaurant. Having witnessed this, our veteran blog-founder insists that I am obligated to write about said restaurant. This, my friends, is but one of the many risks you take when using a bike for transportation: you’re highly visible.

But what the heck can you say about Applebee’s? In my mind it is epitome of the absolute average restaurant.

The food is typically good.
The service is typically good.
The prices are typically good.
The drinks are typically… well, on the weak side but acceptable.

But there is something to be said for mediocrity. They’re quite consistent. They’ve got a little bit of everything – burgers, salads, Mexican, fish… even a little Oriental. They have some pretty good drink specials (a perfect margarita is nice to share). The Weight Watcher’s menu is actually quite good and, possibly best of all, they typically don’t have a wait, even during a Friday night in Student Season.

Oh, and they’re within biking distance from my house. That always helps.

In fact, Applebee’s is the standard I use most of the time when describing other sit-down restaurants. For example, Chili’s is like Applebee’s only with more rib selections and less comfortable booths. So being “average” also makes them the benchmark. That isn’t all bad, right?