Monday, July 16, 2007

Eatin' Bad In The Neighbourhood

As my wife is wont to point out, "There are times when you have to eat at a restaurant just to remind yourself of why you don't eat there". This has never been proven more true than during the return journey from our recent vacation to the Outer Banks. We pulled off the road reasonably early in order to secure a nice room and relax after a long day of traveling and chose Beckley, West Virginia as our stopping point. We acquired our room and then went in search of dinner. Now, Beckley doesn't really have much to offer in the way of fine dining, or even mediocre dining for that matter. What they do have are lots of "off ramp" restaurants, like Outback, Cracker Barrel, Chili's and Applebee's. Unfortunately, we chose Applebee's, a place we had not graced with our presence in well over a decade.

Now, for those of you who have failed to see the many commercials for Applebee's, I'll clue you in on what they are doing. Currently, they are offering a menu based around the cuisine of celebrity Chef Tyler Florence. I imagine this is a lucrative side business for Chef Tyler. Unfortunately, the recipes leave a great deal to be desired. My wife and I both had "Tyler's New Yorker"- "A juicy strip steak with garlic butter and thick steakhouse-style onion rings served with a Hearts of Romaine appetizer salad."

We should have known what we were in for when the service started going bad and our waitron disappeared. After an interminable wait and multiple excuses our "food" did finally arrive and I wasn't overly impressed, to say the least. The salad was mediocre, at best. (Hint: Croutons should be crunchy, not hard.) Then came the moment of truth . The Select grade New York Strip Steaks arrived. While they were cooked close to the requested degree of doneness, the "aroma" which wafted from the food was a precursor of the horror to come.

The onion rings were not the best I have had by a long shot. They actually had a hard crust, rather than a crispy exterior. And having only 3 of them was a sure sign of stinginess on the part of the restaurant. The steak was slathered with a ball of "garlic butter" that managed to do to that steak what should never be done to meat. It changed the flavour completely from grilled beef to something that approximated a garlic sausage. The steaks literally tasted like a sausage. It was disgusting, to say the least. They were not finished, as they were nigh on inedible. I would be ashamed to serve such a dish to someone.

Applebee's and Chef Florence are pushing the envelope...of inedibility and bad service. Tyler Florence's recipe for a NY Strip steak leaves a great deal to be desired. Taking a mediocre Select grade steak and making it taste like sausage might be a great feat for some, Chef Florence and Applebee's do it with great ease. Frankly, I could have had a better tasting meal if we'd killed a cat and roasted it over a flaming turd. That's just how bad it was.

Perhaps, in another decade we will return to Applebee's to remind ourselves of what we haven't been missing. Then again, as bad as this meal was it's doubtful that the passage of ten years will suffice.

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