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Bee’s in her bonnet 

“Eatin’ good in the Neighbourhood” goes the Applebee’s slogan, and despite the grammatical awkwardness, it’s a catchy phrase. The latest chain to hit Metro, its shtick is that it celebrates neighbourhoods—each outlet is decorated with pics and memorabilia reflecting the ’hood in which it sits. I’m always up for “eatin’ good” and I’m “in the neighbourhood”; in this case, Clayton Park.

I don’t see evidence of neighbourhood stuff, but perhaps it’s something that comes with time (they’ve only been open here since mid-September). I do notice that it’s built for volume—tables are squeezed in everywhere, with some tight-fitting booths tucked along the walls. We’re seated at a table for two that has barely enough room, with all the promotional items and condiments and cutlery, for our elbows, let alone plates.

Feeling nibbly, we split an appetizer sampler ($13.99), which comes out of the kitchen so quickly I wonder if our server got whiplash. I should say “one” of our servers—Applebee’s subscribes to the team service approach, in which anyone can bring your meal to your table, get drinks, clear plates or do anything else you might need in the course of the meal. A great concept in theory (after all, why should your food be getting cold because your waiter is explaining the daily special to another table?), it’s not always successful, and what happens next is a prime example of team service gone wrong. Before we have a chance to even sample our sampler, our main courses are brought to the table (feeling rushed, much?). Keeping in mind the small size of the table and the fact it was already occupied by a large serving platter, I don’t know where the server planned to put the food. I send it back.

We’re picking our way through a generous portion of nachos, mozza sticks, tasty riblets and a good cheese quesadilla when our main courses make a second appearance. I ask server number two to take them back and she asks how much longer we need, will five minutes be enough. Ten, I tell her. Server number three appears not two minutes later with our entrees. I tell her that we’ve asked server number two to hold the food for 10 minutes, and away she goes with our mains. I don’t know why the kitchen fired the mains when we had just been served starters, but they should never have been brought to our table once, let alone three times.

The fourth time the mains come out, we’re ready. The two steak and shrimp combos ($18.99) don’t appear to have suffered from their numerous trips back and forth. Both plates are hot and the steaks are cooked as ordered. Both plates have mashed potato, garlic bread and broccoli as sides; they differ only in the seasonings— one’s a garlic combo, one Cajun. The garlic is very good, but the Cajun seasoning on the shrimp and steak tastes mainly of salt. After feeling rushed through the meal, the $76 price tag (including two drinks and tax) is hard to swallow.

On the second visit to the restaurant, the service is still lacking—our drinks are forgotten twice yet appear on the tab. We sample two Applebee’s “signature” dishes, a Fiesta Lime Chicken ($10.99) and a Grilled Teriyaki Bowl ($13.99). The fiesta chicken is not so much a fiesta as a party where flavour was the special guest and forgot to stop by. It’s bland and safe, but could be great with a bit of heat. The teriyaki bowl is a decent stir fry with nice vegetables and an acceptable rice pilaf.

Overall, the food is good in Applebee’s neighbourhood, but the service is sad and that’s too bad.

Applebee’s278 Lacewood Drive445-4036Sun-Thu 10:30am-11pmFri-Sat 10:30am-12am

Find Liz Feltham online at: www.foodcritic.ca.

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