>Brief weekend dinner notes

>Note 1. Bob Evans Chicken Pot Pie. What was I thinking??? Okay, I had no choice on the dinner destination. And the picture looked good. I think the whole “pie” had two 1″ pieces of chicken in it, about 3 carrot slices and maybe 10 peas. The rest of it was a too-thick gloppy sauce. Gross-a-rama. Crust was pretty good, but it’s hard to screw up factory-made pie crust. Banana nut bread gooey and heavy. I have NO clue why my friends (or anyone for that matter) like that place. None.

Note 2. On a bit better note, seeking a quick dinner after dog training last night we ended up at Ruby Tuesday. They’ve revamped and upgraded their salad bar. It now has roasted sweet red peppers, artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes among other new entries. And as always their salad plates are ice cold as is the salad. Not a bad choice.

Anyone go anywhere new this past weekend?

>Calorie counters galore

>I’m noticing that all of a sudden, many of the chains which always refused to have any kind of nutritional guide or calorie counts are beginning to offer them. As I noted in my last post, Macaroni Grill now has a nutritional guide, as does Olive Garden. So does Chevy’s. And last night I found such a nice nutrition calculator on the Outback Steakhouse site that I decided to go there for dinner.

This puts paid to the industry excuse that they can’t possibly figure out how many calories there are in what they serve. Of course they can. They just didn’t want to tell us.

There are still holdouts. Fridays and Longhorn for two. Boo on them!

Some chains are also offering healthier choices. For instance, my dinner at Outback of a salad with blue cheese dressing, green beans and the 6 oz Outback Special sirloin was 792 calories. I brought half the beans and half the steak, so my dinner was was closer to 550 calories. You can also ask them to hold the butter on the steak and beans, which brings the whole thing down to 500 calories to start (but I like me some butter). I also love that some chains are branching beyond the boring and bland “Mixed Vegetables” sides. There are the green beans at Outback. Ruby Tuesday has sugar snap peas, succotash, and creamy mashed cauliflower. And Ruby Tuesday is a chain which has always had nutritional info available.

It’s all about making choices. Maybe sometimes I want to splurge. Maybe sometimes I don’t. But having nutritional information in hand can really help me decide how much of a splurge I’m willing to do. Of course local restaurants won’t have that info available. But overall, most of the locals I go to probably cook more healthily in the first place.

>Two burgers, one buffalo chicken, and three fries

>I don’t actually eat burgers that often, but this past weekend must have been burger (or sort of burger) and fries weekend because I ate one or the other all three meals (and yes, I ate out every night, more on that in the next post!)

Friday night several of us gave Coley’s a try, after I told my friends that you blog readers had been giving it a thumbs up. It was my second time there, the first time being right after they opened. Overall we were pretty pleased. The menu has expanded quite a bit, and in a good way. I think their rolls and bread are pretty plebian, but the flavors of the actual dishes were good. I had the mushroom gorgonzola burger, which was cooked exactly to specification. They were generous with both cheese and mushrooms. Bun was boring so I took it off. The fries? One of our readers wondered if they got them from McDonalds and they did have a bit of that air, but were hot and crispy, so what’s to complain about?? One of my friends got the pork tips sandwich which looked truly yummy. So did the mediterranean chicken and the hoisin pork, both of which were plenty big enough to take home leftovers. We’ll definitely be back to Coley’s.

Saturday night was Houlihans. And we were there during happy hour, so I decided to make the mini-burger trio my main, adding one of their nice small chopped salads as a side. For $6, you get three (very) mini-burgers and some fries. These fries were an improvement over Coley’s, better overall spicing and flavor. But the burgers were just not very good. They almost tasted like the meat was a bit old. I won’t be getting those again any time soon.

Sunday, it was off to Ruby Tuesday. They have a nice combo of 2 minis and a salad bar for $8.99, and it comes with bottomless fries. You can get beef, buffalo chicken, turkey, or even crab cake minis in this combo. I chose buffalo chicken and it was nice. The fries were on par with Houlihans, very similar. Unfortunately, the kitchen at Ruby Tuesday was having big problems. We all had some sort of mini-burger thing. One of my friends asked for her burgers as rare as they were allowed to cook it. The other, who had gotten the trio (one beef, one turkey, one crab) told the waiter three times she wanted NO sauce on her burgers. Well the friend who wanted rare? Hers were literally burnt black. And of course there was sauce on the others. So we sent them back. The new burgers came out within 10 minutes or so and were then fine, but my poor friend who wanted no sauce had to wait something like a half-hour! As we left, someone else was sending back their food too. Get it together Ruby Tuesday!

Overall of these three, Coleys wins hands down in spite of the least exciting fries.

>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.

>How to eat at Ruby Tuesdays for fewer than 500 calories

>Okay first things first. Yeah, I stood Matt up. In fact, I SO stood Matt up that when he called me to ask where the heck I was my first thought was, “why is Matt calling me?” And it took a good 30 seconds for it to sink in that holy-god-and-all-his/her-saints I was supposed to be downtown, griping about a parking space and general lack thereof.

I groveled though. Honest. Not many people get to witness me groveling. Matt should feel honored. I hope he didn’t tape it. That could be blackmail.

In my defense, I have been trying to be better about my eating habits again. After losing a rather substantial amount of weight, I’ve been plateaued for a year. A year! I’m tired of plateau-land, so I’m eating more healthy again. And when Matt called, I was eating a pretty awful frozen diet meal. Maybe it was starvation that brought on amnesia.

Tonight when my friends called about dinner, they suggested Ruby Tuesday. This is really good, because Ruby Tuesday lists nutrition information on their website. But it’s also bad, because a heck of a lot of the good stuff at Ruby Tuesday is 1000+ calories, namely what I really wanted, a burger and fries. (Ever think those mini burgers must be fewer calories because they’re small? Think again…four Ruby minis are a whopping 1,327 calories with 83, [83!!!!] grams of fat.)

A quick look at the nutritional information revealed a couple of choices for me. I decided on the Chicken Bella, which is a boneless skinless chicken breast with portabella mushrooms and parmesan cream sauce, served with mashed potatoes and broccoli. I added a salad bar too. By only doing one trip to the salad bar, sticking to mostly greens and using their low fat balsamic vinaigrette (yummy!) I was able to knock my appetite back without killing my calorie quotient. I then ate only half of the huge piece of chicken and the green beans I substituted for the broccoli. I savored every bite of the mashed potatoes though. All together, my dinner logged in at 441 calories. And I am very full. The chicken was delicious and rich and I don’t feel at all deprived. If I had eaten every scrap, my calorie count would have been 700, but less than half of what I would have racked up eating those mini-burgers!

Kudos to Ruby Tuesday for getting that info out there and for having food that’s pretty darned good, with at least a few choices that aren’t totally laden with fat.

>Fully Loaded

>I’m not a salad lover. I eat it when I must, but I rarely choose it over something far more fattening. Today’s visit to Ruby Tuesday changed my impression of a salad.

Ruby Tuesday’s salad bar is fully loaded. My salad could have been 10 miles high with all the ingredients they set out for me. There was 4 choices of lettuce and then spinach leaves as well. At least 8 different types of dressing, 3 different types of cheese including the beloved feta.

Then there were veggies – peppers, mushrooms, onions, carrots.

Don’t hold back on the meat – diced ham, bacon crumbles – YUM.

Then the final touch – croutons – and theirs were great. Did they compare to Pear Tree’s homemade croutons? No. But not many do. Yet theirs were still delicious.

Next time I go to Ruby Tuesday I’m going to skip the burgers and entrees and head straight to the salad bar.

>Columbia’s Healthiest Chains

>Health magazine has ranked America’s Healthiest Restaurants with regards to casual dining and fast food chains. Luckily, about half of the restaurants that made the list can be found in Columbia.

#5 – Bob Evans: Their dinner menu that has lots of low-carb, low-fat entrees. Even their kids menu scores high for healthy dining options. Steer clear of their breakfast though where fatty bacon and sausage lurk.

#6 – Ruby Tuesday: They highlight the healthy stuff on the menu making it easy for you to make smarter selections.

#7 – Macaroni Grill: Their pastas are still loaded with calories but the restaurant has a Sensible Fare menu with healthier entrees.

#8 – Chevy’s Fresh Mex: Despite the fact that the word Fresh is in their name, I didn’t realize that Chevy’s actually lives by it with fresh salsa every house, fresh avocadoes smashed daily and watch them made tortillas (I did know this part). Mexican food usually gets a bad rap but Chevy’s does it right.

#9 – Olive Garden – As long as your avoid the baked pastas, there’s plenty of smart choices. You can even sub whole-wheat pasta for the regular pasta.

Non CoMo restaurants that made the list: Uno Chicago Grill, Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes, Mimi’s Café, PF Chang’s China Bistro and Denny’s.

Health magazine -found that fast food restaurants are even more forthcoming with their nutritional information than their sit-down counterparts. These 5 fast-food restaurants make the grade: Noodles & Company, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Cosi, Panera and Au Bon Pain.

Independent restaurants are a little harder to rank because they often don’t list their nutritional information. Tell us, which locally-owned restaurants do you think have the most nutritious menu?

>Top 20 Worst Foods in America

>I got this off of the MyFoodDiary site this morning. I’m not sure of the original source. My comments are in italics…

20: Worst Fast-Food Chicken Meal – Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips from McDonald’s (5 pieces) with cream ranch sauce. 830 Calories, 55 grams fat (4.5 trans fat), 48 carbs. Add a large fries and regular soda and this seemingly innocuous chicken meal tops out at 1,710 calories.

19: Worst drink – Jamba Juice Chocolate Moo’d Power Smoothie (30 fl oz). 900 calories, 10 g fat, 183 carbs, 166 g sugar. Jamba Juice calls it a smoothie, MSNBC calls it a milk shake. The beverage contains as much sugar as 8 pints of Ben & Jerry’s butter pecan ice cream.

18: Worst supermarket meal – Pepperidge Farm Roasted Chicken Pot Pie (whole pie). 1,020 calories, 64 g fat, 86 g carbs. Label may say this pie serves two but who ever divided a small pot pie in half? Once you crack the crust, there will be no stopping.

17: Worst ‘healthy’ burger – Ruby Tuesday Bella Turkey Burger. 1,145 calories, 71 g fat, 56 g carbs.

16: Worst Mexican entree – Chipotle Mexican Grill Chicken Burrito. 1,179 calories, 47 g fat, 125 g carbs, 2,656 mg sodium.

15: Worst kids’ meal – Macaroni Grill Double Macaroni ‘n’ Cheese. 1,210 calories, 62 g fat, 3,450 mg sodium. It’s like feeding your kid 1 1/2 boxes of Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese.

14: Worst sandwich – Quiznos Classic Italian (large). 1,528 calories, 92 g fat, 4,604 mg sodium, 110 g carbs. A large homemade sandwich would more likely provided about 500 calories.

Quiznos avoided openness about their calorie counts for years. I’m glad they’re at least making this information available now.

13: Worst salad – On the Border Grande Taco Salad with Taco Beef. 1,450 calories, 102 g fat, 78 g carbs, 2,410 mg sodium. This isn’t an anomaly: Five different On the Border salads on the menu contain more than 1, 100 calories each.

12: Worst burger – Carl’s Jr. (Hardees’s on East Coast) Double Six Dollar Burger. 1,520 calories, 111g fat. Carl’s Jr. brags it’s home to this enormous sandwich, but the restaurant chain also provides convenient nutrition info on its Web site ~ so ignorance is no excuse for eating it.

11: Worst steak – Lonestar 20 oz T-bone. 1,540 calories, 124g fat. Add a baked potato and Lonestar’s Signature Lettuce Wedge, and this is a 2,700 calorie blowout.

I heard from a former Lone Star employee that all steaks must be ladled with “go juice” before going to the table, and that is a mix of 20 parts butter, 1 part lemon. It ups the calorie count dramatically from an already calorific piece of meat.

10: Worst breakfast – Bob Evans Caramel Banana Pecan Cream Stacked and Stuffed hotcakes. 1,540 calories, 77 g fat (9 g trans fat), 198 g carbs, 109 g sugar. Five Egg McMuffins yield the same caloric cost as this stack of sugar-stuffed flapjacks, which is truly a heavy breakfast, weighing in at a hefty pound and a half.

9: Worst dessert – Chili’s Chocolate Chip Paradise Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream. 1,600 calories, 78 g fat, 215 g carbs. Would you eat a Big Mac for dessert? How about three? That’s the calorie equivalent of this decadent dish. Clearly, Chili’s customers get their money’s worth.

8: Worst Chinese entree – P.F. Chang’s Pork Lo Mein. 1,820 calories, 127 g fat, 95 g carbs. The fat content in this dish alone provides more than 1,100 calories. And you’d have to eat almost five servings of pasta to match the number of carbs it contains. Now, do you really need five servings of pasta?

7: Worst chicken entree – Chili’s Honey Chipotle Crispers with Chipotle Sauce. 2,040 calories, 99 g fat, 240 g carbs. “Crispers” refers to an extra thick layer of break crumbs that soak up oil and adds unnecessary calories and carbs to these glorified chicken strips.

6: Worst fish entree – On the Border Dos XX Fish Tacos with Rice and Beans. 2,100 calories, 130 g fat, 169 g carbs, 4,700 mg sodium. Perhaps the most misleadingly named dish in America: A dozen crunchy tacos from Taco Bell will saddle you with fewer calories.

5: Worst pizza – Uno Chicago Grill Chicago Classic Deep Dish Pizza. 2,310 calories, 162 g fat, 123 g carbs, 4,470 mg sodium. Downing this “personal” pizza is equivalent to eating 18 slices of Domino’s Crunchy Thin Crust cheese pizza.

4: Worst pasta – Macaroni Grill Spaghetti and Meatballs with Meat Sauce. 2,430 calories, 128 g fat, 207 g carbs, 5,290 mg sodium. This meal satisfies your calorie requirements for an entire day.

3: Worst nachos – On the Border Stacked Border Nachos. 2,740 calories, 166 g fat, 191 g carbs, 5,280 sodium.

2: Worst starter – Chili’s Awesome Blossom. 2,710 calories, 203 g fat, 194 g carbs, 6,360 mg sodium.

1: The worst food in America – Outback Steakhouse Aussie Cheese Fries with Ranch Dressing. 2,900 calories, 182 g fat, 240 g carbs. Even if you split these “starters” with three friends, you’ll have downed a dinner’s worth of calories before you entree arrives.

Holy crapola. I love me some Aussie Cheese Fries. I’m now officially depressed. And craving Aussie Cheese Fries.

>Would the Kaiser Chiefs eat at Ruby’s?

>

So many songs with Ruby in them, so few restaurants. Ruby Tuesday is actually an old Beatles song. And yes, I’m old enough to remember when the Beatles were still together and watched A Hard Day’s Night at a Drivein sometime back in the 60s.

But hey, this is a food blog, not a song blog, yes? So let’s get back to the Restaurant with Ruby in the name. There are two Ruby Tuesdays in Columbia, one at the corner of Stadium and Bernadette by the Columbia Mall, and one at Bass Pro, Vandiver and 63. I’ll review the one by Bass Pro because I’ve been there far more often and have had better overall experiences there—I’ve had very poor service at the one by the mall.

For a long while I think Ruby Tuesdays struggled with how to distinguish itself from the crowd of similar restaurants like Fridays, Chiles, and Applebees. All of them have American type menus with burgers, steaks, chicken. Ruby Tuesdays has always been the one with the salad bar, but apparently that wasn’t enough because they have been changing their menu fairly extensively. As you can see, their tag line is now “simple fresh American dining.”

Having eaten there pre-change and post-change, I have to say that overall I think they’re definitely moving the right direction. The salad bar isn’t quite as full featured as it used to be which makes me sad (bring back the green olives!!). But it’s always very cold and very fresh, with a good variety of lettuces to choose from and lots of yummies to put on your lettuce as well as several pasta/potato type salads. The dressings are excellent.

The menu has a number of above-the-norm entrees on it. The burgers are great and it’s one of the few places where you can get a turkey, bison, or beef burger (and wheat buns if you wish). They have several really good (and different) chicken entrees, including chicken fresco, a concoction with tomatoes, balsamic vinagrette, and lemon butter sauce. Other chicken entrees have crab, asparagus, and artichokes. If you’re on a low-carb diet, Ruby Tuesday offers mashed califlower instead of mashed potatoes.

One of the best things about Ruby Tuesdays is the fact that full and complete nutritional information is freely available on its website. That way you can know exactly what you’re eating. If you want the 1392 calorie Smokehouse Burger you can go for it. On the other hand, you can cut those calories in half by having the 2 Ruby Mini burgers and salad bar alternative.

I don’t know why Ruby Tuesday isn’t packed every night. I do take advantage though–we like to choose them when we have a big group of people who want good food on short notice. There’s hardly ever any kind of wait.

I think if the Kaiser Chiefs ever showed up in Columbia, they’d probably think Ruby Tuesdays was pretty fine.