We’ve all experienced “menu panic,” that phenomenon in which you sit down at a restaurant and are immediately overwhelmed by the options and not sure where to begin, let alone how to figure out what’s actually good, so you just blurt out the first thing you think of when the server arrives. It’s a real disorder — but don't worry; we’re here to help.
To be honest, before heading back to Applebee's to test out the newly overhauled menu, I was nervous because my last experience (more than eight years ago) was terrible to the point that I didn't return for nearly a decade. But I was surprised in a great way — and my kids are already nagging me to go back, so be forewarned that might happen to you too.
In the event you don’t have a similar “perfectly cooked” experience, feel free to let management know (politely!) and send your dish back. Applebee's rebrand doesn’t have an over-the-top concept or a fad-driven menu — it's just about doing a few things right. Here are the ones I thought they did the best.
Brew Pub Pretzels
My only complaint is that there were not more of these. I’ve become so used to sad, lethargic pretzels when dining out that I had almost forgotten how good they can be. They're served with white cheddar craft beer cheese dip — a term that is normally used as a cheap gimmick with minimal thought given to the quality of the recipe. It was perfectly balanced, with the beer adding a high note of acidity to the richness of the cheese. They should be pouring this stuff on everything. I’d actually go to a restaurant that just served it in buckets.
Cheeseburger Egg Rolls
I enjoyed these far, far too much, which scares me. I may now start demanding all my meals in egg roll form. Has someone already come up with that concept? I hope they’re calling it “Leggo My Egg Roll,” because that would be perfect.
Salsa Verde Beef Nachos
For something that’s served in approximately 95 percent of restaurants in America, it's a national travesty that most do it wrong. Applebee’s used to be one of these offenders, but they have not only rectified that, but elevated the nacho. These have the proper ratio of chips to cheese, evenly distributed through the layers, and a highly generous serving of toppings. I threatened to stab my husband with a fork over the last chip. (I didn’t because people were watching, but I’d consider it next time.)
Bone-In Pork Chop
I never order the pork chop because, well, everyone screws up the pork chop. Restaurants do, my mom does, your mom does — everyone. At Applebee's? Order the pork chop. They’re cut in-house, and so juicy that I was shocked to learn they weren’t brined. If it’s dry, send it back and get a new one. I’ve seen their potential. They know how to do it, and if they don’t, whip out your phone and show them this article.
Southwestern Steak Salad
This tastes like the inside of a Taco Supreme from Taco Bell, which, if you’ve read my previous columns, is my not-so-secret fast food addiction. The grilled skirt steak it comes with is a meal on its own, so if you’re feeling the least bit guilty about eating a giant plate of lettuce topped with tortilla strips and a sour cream dressing, ask for a container and take the bulk of the salad portion home. Do you know what happens once it sits in the fridge overnight? It gets better. Leftover breakfasts are the king of all breakfasts.
The American Standard Burger
I don’t think I can say it’s the best burger I’ve ever had — I mean, I’ve eaten a lot of burgers in my life, and it’s not fair to choose amongst the greats — but is it the best from a chain restaurant? Quite possibly. Here’s what I was served: a juicy, perfectly medium-rare 1-inch-thick beef patty cooked on a hot flat top griddle with pickles, onion and bacon seared right into the meat covered with melty American cheese and slathered with “signature sauce” (pretty much their version of Big Mac sauce). For something that probably contained a million grams of fat, it wasn’t the least bit greasy. Pure, delectable burger nirvana. I’m grateful I live far enough away that these can’t become a three-times-a-day habit because I’d probably only be able to resist that impulse for a week at best.
All-Day Brunch Burger
It’s pretty much the same as above, but with hash browns and a fried egg on top, because yeeeah, America! If you can’t pick between both burgers, order both and take one home. The next day, wrap the spare in a paper towel and microwave for two minutes. It holds up.
Shrimp & Parmesan Sirloin
I was tempted to skip this because cream sauces on steak and shrimp are normally heavy, greasy and overpowering. My first bite was a shock because their version has a shocking brightness you don’t expect thanks to a hefty pinch of lemon zest. It should be the standard for all other surf and turfs. Take note, chains of America!
Apple Chimi Cheesecake
I ate all their desserts (my job is so hard), and this was unquestionably the best. It’s a burrito stuffed with cheesecake and caramel apples, then deep-fried, tossed in cinnamon-sugar, served with ice cream and another huge scoop of caramel apples. I shouldn’t even have to tell you to order this. You didn’t come to Applebee’s to deprive yourself. That’s just crazy talk.