Sullivan’s. The Angus Barn. The Peddler. Fleming’s. Ruth’s Chris. Vinnie’s. You get the idea. There are plenty of options for you in the greater Raleigh area if you want to go out for a nice steak dinner and never call her again. Little Anchorman reference there sorry, I digress. I mean what’s not to like about a great steakhouse? There is just something about the appeal of going out for a steak dinner. The ambiance of a dimly lit bar with dark wood, servers in ties, red meat, a loaded baked potato, and copious red wine. Maybe a little shrimp cocktail? Best steak I ever had? Peter Luger’s in New York. Better bring cash, they don’t take cards. Best steakhouse memories? Going to Vinnie’s as a kid and seeing our family picture on the wall with the rest of the regulars. However, the one drawback? They ain’t cheap. Want a steak? 50 bucks. A salad? 10 bucks. Taters? Another 10 bucks. I’m not that much of a baller that I can afford to eat out at a high-end steakhouse that often unless someone else is picking up the tab. Outback I can afford. But don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather cook a steak at home. Back when I was in culinary school, we asked one of our chefs where his favorite place to eat in town was. Like the cocky asshole chefs can be, he said his house. At the time I thought he was just being funny. But now after working in restaurants for years, sometimes you don’t want to go out on your day off, you want to be lazy and cook your own food, especially a steak. You know it’s going to be good, plus it’s going to be seasoned well. Probably one of my biggest gear grinders is under seasoned food. Enough about that, I’ll save that for another post. So I get to choose the exact cut I want, char it over my own grill outside in shorts with a beverage in hand, and know it’s going to be medium rare. I find it relaxing to cook on my day off. Weird right? Plus I don’t have to pay 10 bucks per side. Hasselbacken potatoes? Creamed spinach? Obviously a wedge salad with blue cheese with extra crumbles. So recently I have been on a steakhouse kick. In the last few weeks I have been to Sullivan’s, The Capital Grille, and Outback. No rules, just right. You know I had to sneak a chain in there somewhere. Hey, I wasn’t going to Logan’s Roadhouse or Lone Star. The results? Hands down the best blue cheese wedge salad was from Sullivan’s. Their dressing was super crumbly and creamy. Delicious. At Outback, I ordered a blue cheese wedge salad and the server came back 5 minutes later and asked what dressing I wanted. Um, blue cheese? Duh. So when I get the wedge it had blue cheese dressing, but also balsamic reduction! No! Why would you do that and ruin a perfectly good salad? Despite this, Outback was as tasty as it always is. A Blooming Onion, a 10 oz ribeye (skinniest ‘lil ribeye ever), baked potato with the trimmings and a shareable Mason jar cocktail? What’s not to like. So much food. And it was so much cheaper than Sullivan’s and The Capital Grille. Considerably. Best steak? Probably Sullivan’s. Bone-in Cowboy steak was charred well and cooked correctly. Best overall experience? The Capital Grille. Service and cocktails were great, plus the sides were better than Sullivan’s and Outback. Plus you get an iPad for the wine list. Pretty cool. Kinda reminded me of the tablets at Applebee’s and Olive Garden, but actually practical. You could sort the wines by price (obviously cheaper to more expensive for me), scroll through all the cocktails, and see what wines paired with certain foods. Foodie nerds will love it. One misstep of The Capital Grille was the steak tartare. Terrible. Like totes not good. Under seasoned, served on top of hard boiled eggs and capers, with a shitty deviled egg on the side. Ugh. Bad news bears. Outside of that, it was awesome. Great night. Plus we had gift cards so we were playing with house money. So what did I learn from my mi-steaks? Sometimes you gotta pay up for your steak just for the ambiance and Outback hits the spot when you need some red meat and a deep fried onion. Cheers foodies!
Midtown? Nah. Old North Hills Mall. I miss you. Being a native of the City of Oaks, Andy’s Pizza and Scotty’s were an institution in Raleigh. The best pizza ever. What I wouldn’t do to have a simple pepperoni pie right now. Trophy? Doesn’t hold a candle. And how can you forget the famous Scotty dog and the best greasy burgers and fries? Now all North Hills is high dollar chains, ITB soccer moms in SUV’s that take up two spaces, and a plethora of Starbucks. No thanks. The dining page of the Visit North Hills website says “From high end to fast casual, classic to cutting-edge, North Hills has it all.” Nothing says cutting edge more than Bonefish Grill and The Cowfish. The only reason I go to North Hills is for Target and Sur La Table. And maybe Total Wine. Again, chain city. Lord knows, I’ve spent enough time working and playing in North Hills, I did work at Vivace and Starbucks. Don’t hold it against me. Yeah, hard to picture me as a barista isn’t it? Lots of eye rolling at complicated orders. You want soy and no foam? Nope. That’s why I chose back of the house. Spent many o’ late night at Midtown, and countless Saturdays day drinking at Fox & Hound. Hey, my options were limited back then. We had the ‘ol Hibernian before it ‘burned’ down and the Creekside Ale House. You know, pre-hipster downtown Raleigh. Old North Hills mall was a dump, don’t get me wrong. We used to rush there on our lunch break from Broughton to grab a slice or two and buy cheap sunglasses from The Dollar Tree. Then maybe look at cd’s from Blockbuster Music. Free Jersey Mike’s because we had a friend who worked there also. (Thanks Jessie) Yeah, I had no life as a teenager. Now? North Hills is all shiny, new, and pretentious. Expensive condos and mixed use development. Gone is the Winn-Dixie. Enter a two story Teeter. Give the ITB’ers what they want, Beach Music on Thursday, expensive steaks, and pricey boutiques. Working on a Thursday was a nightmare. Drunktown as it’s finest. I get it though, it’s good for Raleigh. Cameron Village part deux. But it kind of feels a little Charlotte-ish to me though. Forgive me for being sentimental though, old North Hills Mall was part of my childhood. Lots of great memories. It shaped me to be the pessimist I am today. Cheers foodies!
Bucket list. Finally made it to The Office Tavern with AB and McGuzzles. (You know who you are). And what a sight it was. I definitely felt like I was in Carolina Beach at Loretta’s, or the Surfside Bar as it’s also called. You know it’s going to be a good day when you walk into a dive bar on a Sunday and the entire staff, as well as every bar fly, know the people you are accompanying. Not sure what it says about me. Or the company I keep. Anyway, the OT is priceless. Neon signs. Elvis lamps. Pool tables. Fish tank. Cash only. No liquor. Cheap beer. Friendly bartenders. $2 Bud Light aluminum cans on a Sunday. Half way through the day, and quite a few aluminum cans later, a fight happened to break out in the parking lot. A fist fight fight between two older gentlemen, who were also brothers. And one of them happened to be carrying a crutch. And well, he used that crutch to his advantage. It was like the Jerry Springer show broke out on Glenwood South. We had a front row seat to two rednecks beating each other up with fists and crutches flailing. Highly entertaining. Bloody faces ensued. Good thing I was 5 or 6 deep in the metal cans. Cue the jukebox. Anything to calm the situation. Red Solo Cup? Yes. Alabama? Yes. Drive By Truckers? Totally. Even after all the tomfoolery, it still felt like your neighborhood dive bar, just add the assault. I’ll be back to the OT, with their cheap beer (they have the Champagne for 2 dollaz) and for their scenery. The bartenders were salt of the earth, as well as all the regulars. Definitely welcomed with open arms. Great hardworking people who need a place to relax, blow off some steam, and talk about golf and politics. All within dark confines and comfortable bar stools. Don’t we all need that?
I gave Mash and Lauter (and Busy Bee) a second? third? chance. What a mistake that was. How can you be out of half of your entire menu? No mussels? Check. No charcuterie? Check. No bread plate? Check. The tiniest cheese plate ever? Check. Terrible. It’s not like it was late either. It’s half your menu bro. Last time we went to Busy Bee we walked out after 10 minutes. Why you ask? Service. Always service. We’re here to spend money. Please pay attention to me. Your loss. Gave you plenty of chances. Enough ranting for one night. On a side note, congrats to Gallo Pelón. Best bar in downtown. Check it out. Britt and Marshall are amazing. Cheers foodies!
So it was Monday night and all I wanted was decent Chinese food. And by decent I mean no Shanghai Express. That’s reserved for 2 AM when nothing else is open. Plus who doesn’t like egg rolls, fried dumplings and General Tso’s after a few beverages? Not anyone I associate with. As much as Raleigh’s food scene has improved over the years, still no great Chinese food. Peace China? Red Dragon? Ehhh. Not terrible by any means, but not good enough to keep me coming back. David’s Noodle Bar is tasty, but I miss his old place, Mandarin House in Cameron Village. I remember going there as a kid with my dad, eating wonton soup, thinking it was cool to drink hot tea out of those little teapots they would leave on the table so you could pour your own. Plus my dad would always get the special fried rice with the Chinese sausage. He still talks about that fried rice today. So whats’s a guy to do? Visit P.F. Chang’s obviously. Nothing says authentic Chinese food more than a chain at the mall. Plus as many of you have read before I have an affinity for visiting chain restaurants. See Chain Reaction or I Did Not Eat Olive It. So being inside PF Chang’s you do feel like you are at the mall because it’s big and shiny, full of giant statues of horses and samurai, and a whole lot of gringos. A Chang’s Mai Tai and lettuce wraps seemed like a great way to start the meal. Tiki drinks are all the rage now, so i figured why not. I was actually expecting it to be super sweet because most of the cocktails I have ordered at chains have been overly sugary and fake tasting. This Mai Tai, not too bad my friends. I think it contained real juice. After eating the lettuce wraps at Bida Manda a hundred times, I have been spoiled in the world of lettuce wraps. There is something about their crispy rice and crunchy peanuts that makes me order is every single time. The PF Chang’s version although flavorful, pales in comparison. They used watery iceberg lettuce which I love for my wedge salad, but not for wraps. Shit. Now I want to go to Bida Manda. So for an entree, I got the Dali Chicken, a favorite of mine from the last time was at Chang’s, maybe 10 years ago? Yeah, it’s been a while. Sauteed chicken with potatoes, scallions, and red chiles. As my better half put it, tasted kinda like Chinese buffalo sauce. Spicy and filling, what else could I ask for. The verdict? A fruity cocktail and some spicy chicken later, I satisfied my craving for Chinese food. Would I have liked to spend my money at a local establishment? Of course, but sometimes a visit to a chain is all you need. It’s like the Saturday morning trip to Bojangle’s or the late night Taco Bell visit. There is something soothing about the sweet tea and seasoned fries, or the crunchy taco with fire sauce. You hate yourself later, but at the time it’s all you need. Until the next chain, cheers foodies!
So I did it foodies, made it to Olive Garden for a Taste of Italy. I figured out of all the shitty chain Italian places it was probably the best right? Lord help me. Getting there around 8 on a Wednesday it was a ghost town, besides the lovely sound of screaming kids. Another drawback of chains, they are very family friendly. When I go out to eat, I don’t want to hear them; hence why I don’t go to chains. Plus the food is shitty. Anyway, as at Applebee’s, the tabletop tablet has arrived at Olive Garden. Who needs a server anyway, I can order an entire meal, drinks and all, through the tablet. Got an allergy? You can also alert the kitchen of any dietary or allergy restrictions as well. Who knew? So to start we got the lasagna fritta. Fancy mozzarella sticks in other words. Hard to mess up fried things. Not gonna lie, paired with my Lemoncello LIT, pretty tasty. Although it felt like I was drinking lemonade. One thing I have learned through my chain experiences is all the specialty cocktails tend to be either super sweet or super acidic. And I’ve gotten a Long Island two out of the three times so far. Is there a theme going? Time for a bottle of red, we are in Italy. Coppola Diamond Collection it is. Nothing but the best right? So of course we obviously had to get the endless salad and breadsticks. Obviously. When in Rome. It was as I remembered the last time I was at the Garden.Yummy iceberg deliciousness. So for entrees I was really tempted to get the Taste of Italy. I mean what trip to Italy is complete without authentic Alfredo sauce, spaghetti with meat sauce, and chicken parmigiana? Instead I got the sausage stuffed rigatoni. Not the wisest of choices. Should have gone with my gut and pigged out on pasta and red sauce. The better half got the stuffed chicken Marsala with mashed potatoes. Kudos to Olive Garden for the mashed potatoes, seasoned alright and they were not actually gluey, somewhat fluffy. The chicken, eh. Not great, not bad. The bottom piece was dry as a bone. Keep the Coppola coming. As tempted as we were to get tiramisu or zeppoli, we passed on dessert. I was surprised to see zeppoli though, good for the Garden. Instead we used the handy tablet to swipe my card and we were done. Completely stuffed with chain Italian goodness. So Olive Garden wins the shitty chain challenge by a mile. Applebee’s and O’Charley’s are tied in a distant third place. So next time you need a chain fix, get something fried, stay away from the specialty cocktails, and never order a steak, unless you’re at Outback. Cheers foodies!
Since the terrible chain experience went so well the first time, I must be a glutton for punishment. Next up was O’Charley’s in Brier Creek. I hadn’t been to one in years, and I obviously wasn’t missing much. I was surprised at first glance of the menu at how expansive the beverage options were; Margaritas, Signature Punches, Southern Favorites, Classic Cocktails, Sangrias, and even Sunday Brunch Drinks. I said expansive, not good though. I decided to opt for a Front Porch Punch and a Sour Cherry Julip. The Front Porch Punch wasn’t terrible, was like drinking Firefly and lemonade; in other words, my mid 20’s. The Sour Cherry Julip on the other hand, not so much. The menu listed it as Red Stag muddled with cherries, fresh lime juice, and mint. My ass. More like cherry ‘Tussin on the rocks. Still taste it a week later. Yikes. Enough about cocktails, on to the cuisine. To start, we ordered the Tater Tot Fondue; the one saving grace of our trip to O’Charley’s. Pretty much tater tots with a side of nacho cheese topped with bacon and scallions. Sounds pretty freakin’ good right? Name one person who doesn’t like tater tots. Yup, you can’t. They were really good though. My better half got a wedge salad with actual big chunks of blue cheese. Not bad so far, things are looking up here. Then the entrees arrived and it was all downhill from there. I decided to avoid ordering a steak again since the one I got at Applebee’s was cooked to death. By death I mean gray city, Sahara dry. Chicken pot pie with mashed potatoes and bacon seemed like a safe choice. Marie Callender would have been proud of the pot pie. The mashed potatoes on the other hand were gluey, bland, and absent of salt. I sound like Gordon Ramsay all of a sudden. One bite and I had to take a swill of ‘Tussin. Not sure what was worse. I tried a bite of the chicken fried steak. One bite was enough. Hey, at least we got a free slice of pie since it was on the 9.99er menu. I did overhear a guy at the table behind up ask if he could get his steak Pittsburgh. I almost died. It’s like me going to Golden Corral and asking for rare tuna. Not gonna happen. So a promising start fizzled away. Chain restaurants 2, The Well Red Chef 0. Oh well, I’m persistent and will keep eating and drinking away at America’s chains to settle the score. Cheers foodies!
So why did I start a blog anyway? To be honest, I figured why the hell not. It seemed like everyone else had a blog, so why not me? If Guy Fieri can become famous, then I can at least start my own blog. All my experiences as a chef and working in the service industry would be interesting enough right? Would people actually read it though, that was the question. It’s almost been a year since my first post, and people are still reading for some reason. I’m no Bill Shakespeare, but I think my dry sense of humor comes across in my writing. That was my biggest fear actually; that people wouldn’t read it or either they wouldn’t like it. I think it took some cojones to put myself out there for the world to see and to critique. When I started this whole endeavor I didn’t want to write just to write, I wanted it to mean something; not just a waste of time on my part, and for those people who were reading it. You know, not to have mail it in post or filler just to say I blogged something this week. All in all, I think my blog has been a success in that aspect. Have all my posts been winners? Of course not, but it has been great writing again. I missed it. Whatever creativity I am lacking in my career it has been transformed into the blog. That’s the great thing about having your own blog, you can write whatever you want, obviously within reason. Sometimes I publish posts that I think are great and I get crickets. Other times I’ll post something and it blows up. Who knew? What is really cool is when I get people reading my blog from other countries. Great Britain, Australia, even Canada eh. Sarcasm translates apparently. I think it is funny that two of my most popular posts were about The Ale House and Applebee’s. What does that tell you, that I should stick to writing about shitty restaurants? Maybe that’s my calling; instead of The Well Red Chef I should be called The Well Red Chef Shitty Chain Restaurant Blogger. Hey, at least there is plenty of material to write about though. Thanks for the continued support, it has meant a lot to have people that actually follow me and enjoy reading what I have to say. It makes this whole project worthwhile. And yes, there will be another visit to another shitty chain soon. Cheers foodies!