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The secret - Outstanding at Applebees

Many folks dismiss all chains. I've found what Applebee's does that is outstanding, but woefully publicized. Potatoes. The mashed potatoes are garlic mashed; definitely not from dehydrated potatoes. Some of the entrees come with fried red potatoes with nice blistered skins. These 2 potato sides are freshly prepared, better than I can make at home, and better than at 95% of the non chain restaurants I've been to. The secret is out.

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  1. I'm guessing you don't live in New England. I find that most NE restaurants do use fresh potatoes for their sides. I've found that most places out of NE (except perhaps the better "fine" dining places) seem to utilize instant (especially mashed) & frozen potato products. For that reason, I never order mashed at a chain without asking and always ask when eating outside of NE. I should probably also ask within NE (and sometimes do when I think about it), but rarely get caught surprised. I also avoid french fries for the same reason.

    For the record, does anyone really find instant potatoes anything other than resembling ground cardboard?

    1. Our Applebee's is horrible. Truly horrible. Once had soup, on Mother's Day. It came out like it was glop from a can, no added water, and cold. I sent it back and the server yelled at me.
      Tried it again another time, and got a sandwich. I opened the bun and there was barely any meat on it.
      Seriously bad. Awful, won't ever go back.
      How long have you worked there? ha!

      3 Replies
      1. re: wyogal

        I took my friend of high school age to applebees and he said the food at his school cafeteria was way better. And he hated that cafeteria food.
        Last friday I heard a guy trying to convince his friend to go to applebees for drinks. The friend said he didn't drink so the guy said he could always get the crapplebees wings.

        1. re: givemecarbs

          If the biggest selling point of Applebee's is "but their potatoes are really good," then I'm not buying. I'll admit to really enjoying a side dish of broccoli I once had at TGI Friday's but that isn't drawing me back in there either. Another time, in a depressive fit after my flight was unexpectedly cancelled at Newark Airport, I walked into Chili's and actually ordered the deep-fried mac & cheese and thereafter the depression was joined by self-loathing.

        2. re: wyogal

          I must have had the same soup you did, but mine was warm and my server didn't yell. But I have had that soup before and its Progresso.

        3. Dunno about the fried reds, but a coworker of mine, whose daughters inexplicably like Applebee's, decided to try their garlic mashed once and they came out frozen inside. Not cold, but frozen.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Rilke

            The OP says the potatoes are freshly prepared, but the "frozen inside" observation suggests otherwise. So perhaps different Applebee's restaurants do them differently?

            I find the texture of potatoes that have been frozen to be rather unpleasant, so I think I'll skip Applebee's.

            1. re: drongo

              You wouldn't want to go just for potatoes anyway, even if some locations make them fresh. The food is pretty awful, even for a chain. There is one salad that I can stomach when friends go and I don't have a choice -- it has shrimp and a bacon dressing, but it's just nothing I couldn't make at home for much cheaper and with higher quality ingredients.

              I'll stop because bashing Applebee's is beating a dead horse on CH.

              1. re: Rilke

                Right. To me, that is no saving grace. The last time I went to Applebee's, I tried their French Dip sliders. The roast beef had the taste and consistency of what you would get at Arby's. As someone who is not a fan of Arby's roast beef, it was another nail in the coffin for me at that place. Great potatoes or not (which i have had at plenty of restaurants, including chains, outside NE) it does not make up for the rest of the food.
                Applebee's is festive, they have decent appetizers and decent drink specials, especially when you sit at the bar. If you are a regular, you get treated very well. They do a good job at that.
                For me, that's not enough.

          2. Interesting that you also brought the garlic mashed potatoes up over six months ago. They really must have made an impression on you!

            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/829490

            1. I rank Applebees as the worst of their ilk. Have eaten there several times because my in-laws like it. They are not alone judging by the parking lots we go by from time to time.

              That said, I think most chains could be at least reasonably good if they had a competent manager and staff.

              Case in point, our local McDonald's is good. Yes, I hear all of you laughing and mentally preparing retorts. The fact is the owner owns this one store, he is in there every day from the time they open until the lunch rush is over. I believe this particular franchise is about as good as a McDonald's can be. That may not be good in your opinion but it is certainly way better than as bad as it can get.

              1 Reply
              1. re: kengk

                McDonald's is what it is. Reliable and, for the most part, consistent. It has no highfalutin's aspirations.

              2. Hi Folks, the Applebees that I go to is in Madison Wisconsin. I enjoy, yes I do, the chicken fiesta salad, which has a subtle kick of jalapeno. I think you can stop bashing Applebees-there's enough of that already. For some reason, people take particular liberty in bashing chains. I see that when people discuss TJ products as well. In the Chowhound spirit, I try to share something I've enjoyed. In return, I get mainly blistering replies. I don't find that in the Chowhound spirit. Criticize, but do so constructively. Perhaps the point we can all learn from is that some Applebees have higher standards than others.

                10 Replies
                1. re: elise h

                  I've come to think of posting on CH. as "inviting others to bash me." Of course, I've fallen into the trap, too, particularly when regional values come into play. I was raised eating phenomenal home cooked food, but with no garnish. Eating out was fish camps and Red Lobster, chain steakhouses before they were eaten by buffets, and hole-in-the-wall Chinese. However, Southern Living was a staple in the mailbox and PBS cooking shows filled our Saturdays.
                  I'm not sure why chains are the anathema of foodies. Mass produced can mean horrid or it can mean QC.
                  Chin up :)

                  1. re: elise h

                    "Perhaps the point we can all learn from is that some Applebees have higher standards than others."

                    They're a chain. I hardly think their corporate philosophy is "do what you like." The whole point of chains is consistency across all locations, so forgive me if I don't buy into "but this is a BETTER Applebees."

                    1. re: ferret

                      I agree. A chain is a chain and the #1 goal in that case is consistency. If the food is frozen at one location, then it is frozen at all of them.

                      1. re: Njchicaa

                        Yes, but at some locations they might actually reheat it properly before serving to the customers. Frozen food is not inherently bad. I freeze food all the time. Just put 13 packages of corn from my garden in the freezer. It's going to taste damn good this winter.

                        1. re: kengk

                          I have nothing against frozen food, but if that's what I want, I will stay home and reheat it myself.

                          When I go out to eat, I want freshly prepared food.

                    2. re: elise h

                      Gimme a break... you posted about Applebee's and we gave you our experiences. It's not because it's a chain, it's because it sucks. I have had horrible experiences with the food and the servers there.
                      period.
                      Here's my constructive criticism: if you want a decent meal at a chain restaurant in my locality, and if you get to Applebee's, keep going; the Outback next door is much better.

                      1. re: wyogal

                        "the Outback next door is much better"

                        The Outback here sucks. Could it be that some locations are better than others?

                        1. re: kengk

                          of course. Which is why I said our locality. Which is why I disagree that Applebee's is great. If the OP would state that they love the Applebee's in their area, then it would be different, but to make a blanket statement that Applebee's is "outstanding," is inaccurate. as evidenced by the replies.

                          1. re: wyogal

                            I revise my statement. I love the Applebees in Madison Wisconsin. Thank you.

                          2. re: kengk

                            The Outback here sucks, too. If Hitler wasn't a vegetarian, he'd eat at my local Outback.

                      2. glad you had a good experience, the meals I've had at Applebees in the last few years were terrible - inlcluding the potatoes. I'd almost rather go hungry than eat there again.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: jujuthomas

                          Several years ago I was staying in a hotel in Times Square (if there's a hell, then this is what it would look like) and was working in my room when I remembered I hadn't eaten in a while. I took the elevator downstairs and the first place I passed was Applebee's. Never in a million years would it be on my radar but I thought "hey, it's right here and I can get back to work quickly." I walked in, looked at the menu and promptly walked out. I picked up a couple slices at a pizza place around the corner and order was restored in the world.

                          I have nothing against chains, I eat at McDonald's, Culvers and others when I need a quick meal without turning up my nose in the slightest. I just can't do Applebee's, Chili's or TGI Friday's ever again - it's like TV dinners prepared by others.

                          1. re: ferret

                            ferret, your aversion to Applebee's, Chili's and TGI Friday's seems to be well-justified. I see in the August 2012 issue of Consumer Reports that these 3 chains are ranked 16/22, 17/22 and 19/22 in their category ("Pub-Style and Grill"). I'd hate to try the chains even lower on the list (Hooters, Hard Rock Cafe, and Buffalo Wild Wings).

                            1. re: drongo

                              Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere, although Hooters does have a great buffalo chicken sandwich.

                              1. re: drongo

                                IF (and that's a big IF) there was some advantage to going to those chains I would have no aversion - I don't dislike the idea of a chain. However, I do dislike that I'm being charged a good amount of money for subpar food. There are literally hundreds of establishments in my area that are cheaper and better.

                          2. Swore off Applebees many years ago. Their parking lot is still bustling every day. Just another one of those things I don't get.

                            1. Funny thing - I actually went to Applebees on the day the OP posted this! It was not my choice however, it was at request of the couple I was with who was also watching a 3 year old (chain restaurants can handle tots). I wasn't expecting good food. Good thing, because it was sooo mediocre (again, what else can you expect?) I did sample my friend's red potatos (funny the OP should rave about em) and I can say they were surprisingly good. I wouldn't go back for them though, and Applebees is still one of those last laaaaast resort places. I'm still balking at how Applebees sells Kraft mac and cheese for kids for something like 4.99. HAH.

                              1. Places like Applebees have a central 'food production plant' that ship boxes of frozen, dehydrated food to their restaurants. Except for the fries, and steak, as I recollect, very few of their dishes are actually cooked on site (reheated ≠ cooked)

                                If you want to read what it's like to work at one, please check out Tracie McMillan's book "The American Way of Eating". I highly recommend it. She also touches on why it's so popular with middle class Americans.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: pdxgastro

                                  Good recommendation, pdxgastro.

                                  There's a Tracie McMillan piece about Applebee's available online at Slate: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/fo...

                                2. I might be missing something here. How difficult is it to make decent mashed potatoes???

                                  If that's the best thing that can be said about a restaurant, I have to pass, and I'm not that picky of an eater. I think the Egg McMuffin is delicious.

                                  1. I guess if you like trans fat you might like Applebee's mashed potatoes. Not for me, thanks. Same with the fiesta chicken salad that elise mentioned above - trans fat.