Applebee’s got the selection today. I don’t think I’ve been to one in over 10 years. This one is located in the Gold River Town Center. It is one of the only businesses in the center to have it’s own building (Outback is on the far other side). I headed over at 11 sharp.
Like I said, I haven’t been in one of these in forever, so I didn’t really know what the atmosphere would be like. I was greeted at the front door by an employee holding it open for me, then another greeted me at the host’s podium and took me to a table of my choosing (there were a grand total of 2 other tables seated when I arrived). I picked something off on it’s own with a good view of the whole place. The person that sat me, and then took my drink order, was very friendly and warm. I’ve done this before…It took me a second, but this place and the service reminded me of Black Bear Diner. I went there very early one Thanksgiving morning before hitting the road to visit family and so many things were the same. The laid back, inviting and warm personalities of the servers, the quiet of a nearly empty restaurant, the dining areas going around the center of the big room leveled just a few steps up. It feels like a blatant copy.
One thing that Applebee’s had that Black Bear didn’t (though maybe they do now too, it’s been several years since that visit as well) is a little screen at every table, very similar what Chilis uses. It’s just more marketing despite the fact that you’ve already chosen to eat there. A big benefit to this one over Chilis is that you seem to be able to order from the entire menu, rather than simply re-order drinks that you’ve already had as Chilis does.
I skimmed the menu and gravitated towards a lunch special where you pick two items. There was a little bit of everything to choose from. I started with a salad, as is required by the blog, and went with the Grilled Shrimp ‘N Spinach (Tender spinach, crisp bacon, roasted red peppers, red onions, toasted almonds and hot bacon vinaigrette topped with grilled shrimp.) and then finished the combo off with the 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese with Honey Pepper Chicken Tenders (Honey pepper balances the richness of this dish by giving a sweet and savory flavor to our breaded chicken tenders. They’re served atop a mound of our indulgent 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese loaded with Applewood smoked bacon.). This combo came to $8.99, though if you pick the more basic items it can be as low as $6.99.
The order took about 15 minutes to come out. The serving size was about what I expected, maybe slightly larger, it felt good for the price. The salad was a tidy little pile of fresh baby spinach, glistening in the bacon vinaigrette. The red peppers were soft and the onions were huge slices, too big if you ask me. There were 6 small-to-medium sized shrimp scattered over top. This was pretty good, perhaps a bit heavy on the onions though. I felt like I got several in every single bite. The peppers didn’t really have much flavor, or what was there was masked by the fairly potent bacon vinaigrette, which was indeed quite bacon-y flavored. The shrimp were tasty and cooked perfectly.
A very boring bread stick divided the salad and the pasta dish. In the dish were spiral pastas with a somewhat thin cheese or cheese-sauce. I would say it was more oily than gooey. It did taste oily as well. Despite this being 4-cheese mac and cheese, it didn’t have a heck of a lot of flavor. The chicken on the other hand, was quite good. The thing is, it only had a very light honey flavoring to it, and they looked nothing like the much darker, shiny-with-rich-honey-glaze pieces advertised. These were more dry in appearance and in texture, but they were still very enjoyable. The batter was perfectly crisp and the chicken inside just right, nice and tender.
I would call this a very so-so lunch from Applebee’s. The only thing they really nailed was the service, which was friendly and always around if you needed them, but not intrusively-so.