Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Applebee's


We passed two or three Applebee’s to get to this particular one. There are several much closer to our wooded compound outside Hillsboro. This location was picked because we were dining with some friends. I know! Weird huh?
You’re thinking: “But Dennis, we didn’t know you had friends.”
Well, actually, they were Angel’s friends, and by ‘Angel’s friends’ I mean dog people. I knew of them, some of them at least, but Angel’s pretty tight with one; let’s call her ‘PJ’, a fellow dog trainer. She lives about a hundred miles away (exaggeration) on the other side of Wentzville, and Ballwin serves as a mid-point of sorts between the two hard-working, dedicated ladies. They lunch together occasionally and teleconference regularly. PJ wanted to meet on Saturday night with Angel and a couple of other co-conspirators.
When Angel told PJ about my pseudo-occupation of critiquing restaurants PJ asked if there was somewhere else we’d rather go. I told Angel to tell PJ that it was entirely up to her since judging her choice was an integral part of the exercise. So she chose Applebee’s.
Adam declined the invitation and stayed home to tend to the dogs.
It took just under an hour to get to the rather upscale suburb, the time passed quickly for me as I fiddled with Angel’s Tom-Tom navigation device the whole trip. She’d had it set to speak Spanish and it was driving me nuts trying to figure out what the tall, dark, handsome Latino man (assumption) was saying. Angel doesn’t speak Spanish either, but she said it didn’t matter since she already knew how to get where we were going.
“Then why do you even bother having it turned on?” I asked her
“It gives me somebody to listen to.” She replied.
“Hello, I’m right here!” I whined.
“It gives me somebody interesting to listen to.”
“But Spanish? You don’t even know what he’s saying.”
“That makes it easier to argue with him, I always win.”
I switched the voice to a few of the others she had downloaded, Cylon (Battlestar Galactica), Pirate (Generic), Cartman (South Park). They were all equally annoying. I finally turned the volume all the way down after the hundredth “Arrrrr, swing ‘er hard to port matey!”
 The Place:
Along Manchester Road next to several new and used car lots and some upper-middle class shopping establishments. It looked exactly like the 2000 other Applebee’s around the world. The Applebee’s chain is owned by a company called DineEquity, which before the 2007 acquisition was known as IHOP Corporation. Yeah, they’re owned by IHOP.
We were early, so we sat in the parking lot for a while and made fun of the people that walked by. PJ finally pulled up beside us in her rolling billboard of an SUV. We stepped out and I greeted her, her adult son, who I will refer to as Nathan, and another trainer from Northern Kentucky that for the sake of this review, I’ll call Belinda. PJ told us that we would be joined soon by ‘Jim’ and ‘Debbie’ but we could go ahead and get a table. “And a drink!” chimed in Belinda. I didn’t know much about Belinda and neither did Angel, but we immediately assumed she liked to drink, perhaps a lot, but that was mere speculation on our part which does not necessarily reflect on reality. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, she wasn’t even the one driving. She lives across the river south of Cincinnati, and I assume that may have something to do with it. I’ve never been to Cincinnati, but I did see a show about it on TV, WKRP I think it was called. It looked like a pretty lousy place to live what with all the stupid people there (as God is my witness, they actually thought turkeys could fly). I, myself left Kentucky many, many years ago. I’ve always considered it a great place to be from.
We needed a table for seven, and to the restaurant’s credit they had a booth available that could accommodate, we were seated immediately.
Menus were passed around, a small scuffle ensued over who sat where, which was quickly resolved without unnecessary bloodshed. Nathan took point on watching for Jim and Debbie, Angel and I sat together romantically and PJ and Belinda lined up across from us. Drink orders were taken, I ordered ‘beer’ again, which delighted the ladies, confused Nathan and frustrated the young waiter. He started rattling off a litany of beer names, mostly Anheuser Busch products which I am no longer obligated to order*. Then he hit on Blue Moon, the one I’d tried to order at Taytro’s a few weeks back. I ordered up the 24 oz. version so I would have enough for the entire meal. This will later be referred to as ‘Mistake #1’. The beer arrived and the waiter offered me a giant wedge of an orange impaled on a toothpick-sized plastic sword. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it so I waved it around at everyone until Angel finally took it from me and laid it well out of my reach. “It was for your beer.” She said.
“That can’t be right, the lady at Taytro’s said Blue Moon is best with lime, not oranges. I’m confused.” I answered.
“Maybe it’s good with either.”
“If I wanted fruit juice, I would have ordered fruit juice, I ordered beer because I wanted beer, if it’s missing a critical ingredient I’m not sure if I want it.” That settled that. Angel, obviously embarrassed in defeat, stopped paying attention to me.
The beer was quite good by itself, a citrus infusion would have ruined it.
The Food:
I couldn’t really decide what I wanted. I’d had steak the last time we went to an Applebee’s, so I needed to change it up. Knowing about Applebee’s large portions, I’d fasted most of the day and was pretty hungry. (This empty-stomach issue combined with the ‘244 oz. beer’ to exacerbate mistake #1.)
What I finally decided on was this:
Slow Simmered Beef Sandwich:
Taste the tenderness of beef that has been slow simmered for hours and piled high on a buttery bun from Applebee's collection of bakery breads.
I stopped reading the description at this point, which we will refer to as ‘Mistake #2’
The waiter asked me what side I’d like, I of course responded ‘sauerkraut’ which had everyone at the table looking at me like I was an idiot, until Angel explained the hilarity to the ladies. To his credit, the waiter said that he might be able to find some, I let him off easy though by asking for fries instead.
We also ordered appetizers, Angel and I shared the spinach-avocado dip. PJ and Belinda shared an appetizer sampler, Nathan also asked for the big sampler for himself. The plan among PJ, Belinda and Nathan was to have big appetizers then a salad for the main course. I wish I’d done that.
Jim and Debbie had arrived and ordered, something. My notes are not very clear on their meal partially because of ‘Mistake #1’ and the fact that they were Nathan’s target of conversation the whole evening, which for practical reasons I stood back from. I should point out, with all due respect, that Nathan is quite the garrulous (chatty) individual. Sweet, polite, upbeat and good hearted to a fault, but boy he can talk.
 Note to new readers: Angel and I are chronic introverts, we seldom make actual eye contact with other people and left to our own devices don’t communicate socially much at all. Therefore anyone that speaks more than four or five sentences in an hour can seem a bit intimidating to us. Our double-DNA-dosed son details his entire three-year college experience so far as ‘Fine’, whereas similar-aged Nathan spent forty five minutes, non-stop, talking about his new phone.
It wasn’t long before the dog-people started passing their phones around, showing off the latest cute dog photos, followed by the requisite ‘ooh’s’ and  ‘aww’s’ , enough to make the table sound more like a baby shower than a simple meal among non-pregnant people. **
The wait for the appetizers was long, too long. Most of the table had finished round one of drinks before we saw the waiter again. Which leads to ‘Gripe #1’. The place was not all that busy considering the large staff on hand. Appetizers should be a no-brainer, quick. We waited a half hour, perhaps more for ours to finally arrive. Sure, Belinda, a so-called vegetarian, asked for hers to be devoid of bacon bits and other meat items normal people call ’food’  so that might have added to the wait, but still, appetizers should be quick.
I told Belinda that comedian Mike Birbiglia had a good joke about this: “What do native Americans call a vegetarian? A bad hunter.”
The appetizer trays were enormous. The four trays took up most of the table space, rather awkwardly. Ours was laden with several hundred (slight exaggeration) nacho chips and about a cup of dip. Though the dip was quite good, by the bottom of the bowl the vast majority of the chips remained. The dip/chip ratio was way off.
As for Mistake #1, the unreasonable delay before the appetizers arrived meant we sat and chatted and drank. About half my large beer was gone and on my empty stomach and admittedly lousy metabolism, I was already quite woozy. My notes after this point are meaningless jottings and nearly indecipherable. I do recall that at some point PJ and Belinda were quite taken with my charm and wit. They each threw their wadded-up straw wrappers at my head. Though I can’t recall exactly what profound and inspiring comment of mine it was in response to, I naturally assumed they were flirting. This happens a lot, Angel’s used to it. Whenever I point out that ladies are flirting with me she just laughs it off. That’s why I love her, she’s so tolerant and understanding.

It wasn’t long before the entrees arrived, too soon after the appetizers really. My sandwich was thick, the beef piled high. There weren’t too many fries and they were rather unremarkable looking. Angel had ordered the steak and shrimp, slathered in cheese.  My sandwich proved to be a disappointment before the first bit. The beef drippings, or the sauce had saturated the bun-bottom. It had the icky texture of, well, wet bread. I had to turn the thing over to keep it from disintegrating completely.
The first few bites of the sandwich were fine, but after a bit I felt something was just not right. A few more bites and my mouth and upper chest started burning, the sensation built up rather quickly. I had to stop less than a third of the way through. It was then I recalled something the waiter had tried to describe when I ordered it. What I saw on the menu you’ll recall was “Slow Simmered Beef Sandwich.
Taste the tenderness of beef that has been slow simmered for hours and piled high on a buttery bun from Applebee's collection of bakery breads. . .”
However there was more information after that mouth-watering headline that I had not seen: “Layered with jalapeno coleslaw, crispy onion strings and our sweet and hot signature sauce” (emphasis mine)
That was buried somewhere down at the bottom of the description. The waiter had said something about the sauce when I ordered it, I thought he was offering me a side dipping sauce, I didn’t recall the details, Angel did, albeit only later.
What he was actually telling me was that “some people consider the sauce it comes with as too hot, would you rather have honey barbecue sauce instead” Which I would have agreed to had I heard/understood him correctly in the first place. I can’t blame the waiter, I lay the entire blame the authors of the menu (gripe #2). If something is THAT spicy by default, then you really, really should make that part of the name of the thing! When I read ‘slow-simmered beef sandwich’ I assume that the emphasis is the subtle tenderness of the meat itself, not a four alarm house sauce mentioned only in small print, after the part about the buttery bun, three lines into the &@?#!! description!
Summary:
I gave Applebee’s a pretty scathing review a year ago, and I must say I wasn’t overly impressed this time either. The waiter disappeared too often and for too long, plates and trays were oversized and unwieldy, the appetizer took forever and the food was not really all that great. I can’t ignore the poor naming of the sandwich, in fact I’ll probably whine about it again and again sometime soon. In fact, on Sunday when Angel went to get groceries she asked me if there was something different/specific I’d like, I told her I’d like a roast so I could have a proper sandwich to make up for the lava-laced one Applebee’s had duped me into ordering. Take sides if you wish, blame me for not being more attentive if you think that mitigates Applebee’s heinous crime, but then at least join me in the rebuke that this food was only ‘okay’ or ‘fine’, nowhere near great. It was also overpriced. Our two meals, one small steak, one sandwich and a simple dip appetizer, plus one beer and a glass of tea, came to nearly forty-five dollars.
I can’t say I’ve tried everything they have to offer, they might make excellent burgers, I don’t know. Maybe not all their steaks are too salty (previous review) and maybe the service is more attentive at different times and different locations. I can only say this, if you want a decent roast beef sandwich and attentive service, there are many cheaper, better places to get one, like Arby’s or Lion’s Choice, or at home.
As for the entire experience, we had a blast, PJ, Belinda, Nathan, Jim and Debbie are great, fun, dog people and they can make even lackluster food and service not matter nearly so much.
So PJ, you did okay picking a place, but only okay. At least we didn’t contract food poisoning. I’m pretty sure you can do better next time if you just apply yourself.


*Anheuser Busch products, obligation to order: For nearly three years I worked for the large beer company. Though the company itself had no such loyalty requirement I also belonged to an independent, adjunct organization ‘The Royal and Ancient Order of Elbow Benders’ that did. Its membership was limited; only AB employees, former employees and contractors need apply. We met twice a year for barbecue and beer. That was it, that was the only thing the group ever did together (that I am allowed to talk about).

** Dog update! Last week I wrote about our foster dog Eva. I’m happy (and sad) to report that she has just this week found a great family of her very own. A real sweetheart, she’ll be missed around our house especially by her BFF Pip, my little female Am-Staff.

3 comments:

  1. I love this review! All the comments Denis makes about the service was so true. Thepeople we were there with though was the best!

    Next time we will all have to meet at 54th Street Bistro. That is my favorite place to eat and spice is in the name of the item!:-)

    Let me know when you and Angel are ready for another unusual evening and we will see what we can set up.
    PJ

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  2. You may not talk out loud much but you sure like to write !

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  3. we just had dinner at the applebees on countyline rd springhill fl.
    We all ordered steaks. 3 steaks. two 7oz. one 9 oz.. ALL came out same shape, same length, same width, same height. like they were ALL exacltly the same. Kind of scary because they did NOT taste at all like steak...Is Applebees still serving steak or is it some kind of pseudo fake stead. Just curious.

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