Our March Casual Encounter was at the most stereotypical of casual dining establishments, Applebee’s. If Olive Garden is the sanitized version of Italian food, Applebee’s is the sanitized version of already-sanitized food. Despite their recent to commitment to sophisiticaed tastes (like “wood-fired grill” menu items), Applebee’s is still the most convenient shorthand for the restaurant we, as overly-self-aware hipsters, love to disdain. Though the restaurant cracks the top 10 on our list (#10, to be precise), we were prepared for disappointment. And we were not disappointed in…being disappointed. We were disappointed, is what we’re saying.
[Ed. note: Jenna and Sarah dined with us as well, but they couldn’t be bothered to send in their comments or ratings in a timely fashion. They are henceforth considered “on notice” though no real consequences exist.]
The hot deal at hand was the 2 for $20 promotion, where you choose an appetizer and two entrees off of a limited menu for, you guessed it, $20. Many of us had the brilliant, if less-than-classy, idea of ordering that promotion with the intention of eating one entree at the restaurant and bringing the other home for a future meal. [In fact, Olive Garden does something similar to this on occasion but calls a spade a spade, explicitly saying that one entree is for now and one is for later. Another in the Win column for OG.] Others of us ordered a la carte, like regular people. All of us experience similar levels of mediocrity.
John says: 3/5 of the table went for the 2 for $20 meal. That’s just prudent planning. I ordered a caprese burger with fries as well as the three cheese chicken cavatappi. I ate the burger as my dinner. IT WAS TERRIBLE. It came absolutely loaded with onions which was disgusting. The cavatappi the next day was really good.
Aaron says: Several of us thought that it was a good idea to get the 2-for-$20 deal. It turned out to be a GREAT idea. Except that the food was pretty sh***y. For the appetizer, I got the boneless wings. They were pretty good, but I have to think they are not that hard to f*** up, so I’m not going to give them too much credit on that one. I got the rib tips for my dine-in option. They were bad. Real bad. I couldn’t tell if they were super charred or just mostly bones. For my second entrée, I got chicken tenders, figuring that they’d be good to reheat for lunch the next day. I toasted them up in my little toaster oven and they were great.
Rachel says: As per usual, I married value with flavor and got the 2 for $20 special, just like John and Aaron. I went with the hard-to-mess-up chicken fingers for my dine-in entree, and the Fiesta Lime Chicken for my to-go entree. My chicken fingers were very tasty, and the fries weren’t bad either. I do think they skimped on portion sizes, even though the menu specifically states that the promo comes with “full-sized entree.” I didn’t get to try the Fiesta Chicken because my husband was hungry later that night and I offered it to him, because I love him/I’m a sucker. Anyway, he said it was good.
John says: I tried to order a hurricane. Apparently I request extremely difficult drinks because their bartender couldn’t make it. [Ed. note: Bartenders know that Google exists, right?] It was the Sevyron situation at Ruby Tuesday all over again. I amended and got a boring ol whiskey ginger after that.
Aaron says: Limited selection of tap beers. Mostly national big brands. But, beer is beer?
Rachel says: They have Pepsi products, so I stuck with water. The water tasted a little funny, maybe Roseville’s water treatment plant is a little more lax or something. I did think it was BS that John’s ginger ale refills weren’t free.
This casual encounter brought us a level of service more in line with general expectations surrounding casual dining. Our server was polite and somewhat attentive, but dead behind the eyes. Either the Roseville Applebee’s was her first career stop, or her last…
John says: I am struggling to remember our server’s name which should say something. She didn’t do a good job of checking in often enough. Also, she recommended the Caprese burger which is a major flaw. I miss Earth.
Aaron: Our service was a little lackluster. The server seemed to avoid us for long periods. On the plus side, they did keep our to-go orders in back for us until we were ready to leave.
Rachel says: Sophia was very nice, but bland; there wasn’t much going on behind her eyes. My guess is she was tired, or an android. She also had perfectly smooth skin, which puts one in the “android” column as well. In any case, she was patient with us during our 2 for $20 ordering frenzy, was pretty on the ball about refills and checking in, and ran our checks herself instead of making us do it on the Ziosk knockoff that was at our table.
Four words: Stuff on the walls.
John says: Again, Applebee’s is known for stuff on their walls and they didn’t disappoint. The most prominent things were the various high schools nearby and all the accolades they’ve won. Congrats Timmy! You won your JV baseball game, let’s go to Applebee’s to celebrate. Terrible parenting.
Rachel says: It was oddly dark where we were sitting. It kind of felt like I was reading the menu by candlelight. The “stuff-on-the-walls” aesthetic had a Minnesota bent to it (e.g. a photo of the State Fair Grandstand) which was a nice, if basic, touch. Our table had 6 seats, but felt pretty squished. There were plenty of TVs so Aaron could watch hockey players beat the crap out of each other.
Ambiance rating: cheesecakes
Despite their pathetic attempt at being more gourmet (see: Wood-fired grill explanation above), Applebee’s remains staunchly casual.
John says: We were seated in the bar area which is not ideal for me. Also, the table was entirely too cramped for 5 people. The stuff on the Rosedale Applebee’s walls was as great as ever.
Aaron says: Still being early in the spring, I opted not to wear my velvet flip flops. I did however wear my crocs
Rachel says: Quite casual. Aaron wore Crocs instead of velvet flip flops, so our methodology is skewed this time, but I’d argue that Crocs are even more casual than VFFs.
Casulosity rating: cheesecakes
Our group had to call an audible and order something else when we learned that no cheesecake (in regular or shooter form) was available. We went with that age-old axiom: When in doubt, order something with “molten” in the title.
John says: No cheesecake available. I was already so full from my shitty burger that I barely wanted to have dessert anyway. But I (we) soldiered on. We ordered the Triple Chocolate Meltdown which is engorged with sugar. And it was great.
Aaron says: Truly saving the best for last. Not only did the triple chocolate cake not have cinnamon, but it was also delicious.
Rachel says: The highlight of the meal. We shared the molten chocolate cake, and it was fantastic. Molten-y, chocolatey perfection. I wish we’d ordered two (maybe that was the pregnancy talking, but probably not).
John says: Celebrating Rachel’s last casual dining encounter before the baby is born.
Aaron says: Being savvy diners and getting the 2-for-$20 for ourselves.
Rachel says: That dessert, and feeling like I made out better than my dining companions by sticking to the basics.
Least favorite part:
John says: Onions.
Aaron says: Generally not good food.
Rachel says: The disappointment of everyone else at their entrees. I could feel their pain.
Next up: Red Lobster!