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May 27, 2009 05:31 PM

Do any major chains actually *cook* (not just microwave)?

This week my wife and I went to a local TGIFriday's in Ohio. One of the items we ordered, the Balsamic-Sicilian-bla bla bla Quesadillas, were hard as a rock at the edges and could not even be cut with a steak knife. I complained to the manager and he took the price of the item, $8.99, off our bill. He said that it was probably over-microwaved. I realized that he was right - the fossilized hardness of the tortilla at the edges was the same texture of stuff that I have cooked just short of the ignition point in the microwave.

Ok, so I already knew that most of these mass market feeding troughs mainly serve pre-cooked, frozen crap that is microwaved at the point of serving. My wife was grossed out by the thought of our "restaurant" meal being an expensive version of Stouffer's or Marie Calendar's frozen entrees - I think it was truly news to her. (I was somewhat confused and deluded by Guy Fieri, of all people, endorsing TGIF's last year as though it was authentic through and through. I guess it was *strictly* a royalty decision...)

So, here's my question. Do any major chains actually *prepare* food today? I mean: combining fundamental ingredients and then searing, braising, frying, sauteing, etc. to achieve a desired result.

If not, then there is absolutely no point in eating out at one of these places unless you are on vacation and it's the only place along the interstate for 100 mi.

I put no hope for Chili's, Applebee's, and the minor league players like Damon's. But, you tell me.

But has anyone ever done a reference guide to chain restaurants and their preparation "techniques" that addresses this concern? I bet a dead tree guide would sell like hot cakes.


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  1. You order TGI Friday's, you get TGI Friday's. I can't believe there isn't a locally-owned restaurant in your area with decent food that blows the pants off TGIF. If you're waiting for Applebee's/Chili's/TGIF to bend to your will, it ain't gonna happen.

    1. Steaks and burgers are typically cooked on a grill. Deep fried stuff is usually fried to order (although it may go straight from the Sysco bag into the fryolator). Aside from that, you're probably better off asking.

      1 Reply
      1. re: alanbarnes

        When I go to chains I always order a burger, chicken sandwich even though I know it is frozen and pre marinated nothing fresh or a salad. It is safe and simple. Maybe nachos. They are at least baked whether the cheese is good or not, they are descent. I stay away from pretty much everything else.

        I eat fast food, I have clients that meet me there, I don't complain, but I just learn what to and what not to order. And even then, I never say anything. I guess I just am very easy to get along with or not easily provoked. I just go with the flow and try not to cause contraversary most of the time. I may not like it, but I just ignore and don't say anything. My day is too stressed and hectic as is at times and I just don't cause any more. I guess it just doesn't bother me that much.

      2. All the restaurants you have mentioned cater to convenience, perceived value, liquor and presumably an enjoyable experience out. It is arguable whether or not these points are attainable at the places you have mentioned.

        The quality of food you receive anywhere has a direct relationship between costs to prepare and selling price for their targeted customers. Even at the places you mention there are items that are prepared freshly daily, but many others are not and are cry-o-vac-ed or frozen. No big surprises.

        Bottom line, there are many quality chains regardless of what anyone else will tell you...... and they prepare their menus daily with quality fresh produce and meats. You get what you pay for.......... and the chain bashing really gets old.

        1. To respond to the two pejoratives in these responses: I don't expect any restaurant to bend to my will, and I didn't go into this to bash chains. The chains are what they are. My leading question was a sincere one.

          I mean, for the sake of a concrete example, if someone knows that a particular regional or national chain that I didn't mention *does* prepare many of their entrees from fresh-"er"ingredients, I'd like to know about it.

          Re: locally owned restaurants - we just wanted to go out to a restaurant that didn't feel like a dinky hole in the wall. In the area we ate in, almost all the local places are just that - very small places, very lightly patronized, and most close pretty early, well before the 8:30 we sat down at. My point is that none of the road food places in that vicinity feel like a "date night" setting. So it's basically chain food hell or nothing. I like the ambiance of a lot of chains compared to the local equivalents. The tradeoff appears to be to be served food off of a factory line.

          5 Replies
          1. re: donw9876

            Lets be honest here. Here are some of the adjectives and/or words used to describe your experience at Friday's in your original post:

            frozen crap
            grossed out
            frozen entrees

            No bashing and being sincere??? I guess we will have to disagree on the issue.

            To answer your question for any chains who prepare their menu with fresher ingredients. Here are some:

            Ruth's Chris Steak House
            Morton's The Steak House
            The Cheesecake Factory
            Grand Lux Cafe
            Legal Sea Foods

            1. re: fourunder

              >> Lets be honest here.

              Yes, let's.

              Re: fossilized - accurately describes the texture of a tortilla dish that has been over microwaved (according to the restaurant manager.) As in: not burnt, but bone dry and dessicated (sorry, is that bashing?)

              Re: frozen crap - perhaps gratuitous.
              Re: grossed out - a frank reaction.
              Re: frozen entrees - honest and factual

              Thanks for the list. Not so much for the critique of my posting style.

              Have fun, I have better things to do than get bashed on a message board because of a grudge over something meaningless. Back to lurking, where I will not offend anyone...

              1. re: donw9876

                Hey, Don, I for one appreciated your observation. I'd say most, or the vast majority, of the chain restaurants get their food shipped in in a bag, and just throw it together and nuke it. I could be wrong, but that's what a lot of it tastes like, such as Crapplebee's, TGIF, Olive Garden, and the Salt Fest known as Macaroni Grill. Heck, I know the mashed potatoes at Red Lobster are made from a bag because I asked about their "home-style" mashed potatoes. Fresh catch, my ass!

                Don, I thought your point was a good one. Maybe the folks on here who got so up in arms about it really like this food and don't want to be reminded it's out of a bag and they could do the same thing at home!

              2. re: fourunder

                You missed "mass market feeding troughs"

                1. re: fourunder

                  If Cheesecake Factory is preparing that entire, advertising-filled menu from "scratch", it's a miracle.

                  Steakhouses, anyplace with an average check of $50 or more, is probably much more likely to be doing scratch cooking.

              3. The Outback family (Outback Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill, Carabba's) does the vast majority of their prep and cooking on site fresh every day.