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Review: Applebees and the Under 550 Calories menu

Applebees entree

PastaQueen goes to Applebees, but doesn’t eat any apples.

Disclosure: Applebee’s sent me a free gift card to try their menu.

“Is that the Mortal Kombat theme?” I asked my brother as we waited for my mom to meet us for dinner at Applebee’s.

“No, it’s that song, Twilight Zone by 2 Unlimited.” My brother used to DJ and has an encyclopedic knowledge of dance tunes.

“Oh, wow. It’s like 90’s night here,” I said. We’d already heard One of Us by Joan Osbourne and Adia by Sarah McLachlan. I was starting to have flashbacks to high school, when I’d lay in bed listening to WDJX with a blank cassette in my tape player, ready whenever I felt the need to slap the record button to capture a song I liked. This was before Napster.

“Yeah, they’re probably playing this stuff because people your age are having kids and bringing them to Applebee’s,” my brother, the business and marketing major, said. I sat dumbstruck for a moment as I thought about all my high school friends on Facebook whose profile pictures included babies and toddlers these days.

“Oh my God. You’re totally right,” I said. “I’m ancient.”

My mother showed up soon, before I shriveled up and died of my old age. She arrived just after a table of ten across from us left. Their party included several toddlers who were all loud enough to ensure promising futures in the bingo calling industry. Their departure made our dining experience more pleasant than it would have been otherwise. We got down to ordering some food that was on the house because of the free gift card an Applebee’s representative sent me.

Applebee's entree

Applebee’s has an Under 550 Calories Menu and the restaurant also lists the Weight Watchers points for several of their entrees. This can be handy for anyone watching what they eat. I always feel like I’m playing roulette when ordering off of most restaurants’ menus, trying my best to guess what is low-calorie. Unless you have a web browser handy to search the Internet for nutritional info, it can be hard to figure out what is the best item to order. You can view the Applebee’s menu here.

We started off our meal with a Spinach & Artichoke Dip appetizer, which was tasty, as most cheese-based items are. My mom ordered the Spicy Shrimp Diavolo, my brother got the Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad, and I ordered the Grilled Dijon Chicken & Portobellos. My mom liked her dish, but warned us that it was definitely spicy. My brother was less impressed with the salad and said the chicken tasted like it’d been microwaved. I was satisfied with my meal, though it wasn’t anything worth swooning over. The broccoli was a bit crunchy and it wasn’t all that much better than a TV entrée. My mom ordered the Chocolate Mousse for dessert, which came in a small cup that she said was just the right size. And really, it’s hard to go wrong with chocolate. Mmm, chocolate.

Applebee's entree

When the bill came, I was able to cover the cost of the appetizer, three entrees, a dessert and the tip with the $55.00 gift card I received, which was rather impressive. Applebee’s is definitely an affordable choice if you want to take the family out or don’t feel like cooking for yourself. When I looked around the restaurant, I saw a lot of families with kids, so it’s probably a good choice if you have kids and don’t want to get nasty looks if they start acting up.

So overall, the food was mediocre, and it wasn’t quite the atmosphere I would personally go for, but I think they have a niche that appeals to a lot of people. I liked that I left the restaurant knowing I hadn’t binged horribly. The best part though, was just hanging out with my family for the night, laughing and catching up. On that level, Applebee’s definitely hit the spot.

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27 Comments

Becky @ flybynyght • February 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm

I had the Grilled Dijon Chicken and was beyond unimpressed. There was little flavour (I thought there’d be some dijon-i-ness) and my potatoes looked like they were 3 days old. Luckily, my husband and I routinely order two different things and switch halfway through – meaning I only had to eat a little bit of it.

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Jeanne • February 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I recently had the Asiago Peppercorn Steak at Applebees and while the steak itself was fantastic, the sides left something to be desired. Still, not bad for the money and calories.

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Thumper • February 22, 2010 at 12:53 pm

We go there every once in a while for the 7 ounce sirloin… 240 calories, pair it with the grilled shrimp, hold the potatoes, and you have a really good dinner for under 400 calories. Or just get all veggies as a side and it’s under 300.

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Deanna - The Unnatural Mother • February 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I think your review is spot on, food is good enough, good place to go wtih the family, have a good laugh and stay under a certain calorie amount.

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Greg • February 22, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Mmmmmm. Applebees. I agree that you’re always taking a risk eating at a restaurant. Ever since the Eat This Not That book has come out, my roommate has been very picky about what and what not to eat while eating out. He will be excited to hear that Applebees has a 550 and under menu. Thanks for the info!

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Jen B • February 22, 2010 at 1:40 pm

This is how my mind works:

I spent 5 seconds reading the review of Applebees and 10x longer listening to the Twilight Zone on Youtube.

’90s themed restaurants? Meh.
’90s techno songs? Yeah.

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Carmie • February 22, 2010 at 2:01 pm

I will say one thing about Applebee’s — their Santa Fe Chicken salad (minus the chicken for me!) is divine! It’s not super healthy, but if you ditch the sour cream and guacamole, it’s not super bad either. Yumm!

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Steve • February 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I’ve only ordered something off the more diet friendly Applebees menu “once”, and that was 4 years ago and left alot to be desired (the non diet friendly stuff though? Hells yeah). All of those meals “look” good, sucks that the taste doesn’t match. Boo!

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Debbi S. • February 22, 2010 at 3:20 pm

I’ve heard less than stellar reports about their menu as well. I do like the atmosphere though as I do have 400 kids and going to a quiet place just is not reasonable. Thanks for the review!

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Happy Fun Pants • February 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm

I’m glad they offered SOMEONE a gift card to try their meals.

All I got was a crapload of spam about Applebee’s new lower calorie menu – even after I asked to be removed. It was clear that they wanted me to write about their healthy options and I would’ve loved to have given something to my readers but to be a source of targeted spamming? Not so much.

Now I’m deliberately NOT going to Applebee’s.

BUT I’m glad that they at least gave you something to compensate your time.

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love2eatinpa • February 22, 2010 at 4:08 pm

we go to applebees a lot with our kids. i was wondering how those 550 and unders were. thanks so much for the review!

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Rahim Samuel • February 22, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Even though your brother has a good and valid point about the music selection in Applebee’s and other establishments for that matter, I like to believe (in my own delusion) that restaurants and grocery stores play 80’s and 90’s tunes more often than others because there’s so much less GREAT music coming out now. I thought it was my age too, but 80% of music that comes out now is like watered down gatorade compared to the last decade.

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Mary Jean • February 22, 2010 at 7:09 pm

I much prefer TGIFriday’s Shrimp Key West. Shrimp on a skewer with steamed broccoli for a side. Yum!!! And there’s usually less children. Bonus!!

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Quix • February 22, 2010 at 7:20 pm

I worked at an Applebees in college and I can happily say I don’t have any horror stories for you. Only if you have less fries on your plate than you should, there probably was a hungry server working a double shift without a break taking a fry-tax, heh. However, many of our managers were jerkfaces who cared more about money than customers.

As for the food? I ate so much of it 50% off or free that I probably wouldn’t ever voluntarily go back. ;)

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Rebecca • February 22, 2010 at 7:47 pm

It’s nice that they make an effort, but the food just looks kind of gross to me. Maybe if they made some low-cal cocktails too the dishes would look more appetizing! ;)

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PastaQueen • February 22, 2010 at 8:55 pm

@Rebecca – Their PR rep told me that they “will be launching a 99-calorie margarita soon too. The SkinnyBee.” So your wish will be granted!

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Applebee's Slave • February 23, 2010 at 2:44 am

Actually, we already have the SkinnyBee Margarita. It’s not too bad–if you can stand Sauza tequila, which I can’t. The best part is that you get a full shot of alcohol, but less mixer, so it’s stronger overall. The mix is sugar-free and not too bad.

All those 550 calorie items though? Blah. Customers keep telling me how great they are and re-ordering them. It’s all about managing expectations–people are so used to commercially available diet food tasting like ass that even this stuff is a step up!

btw, your brother’s chicken probably was microwaved. :) We don’t do it all the time, but sometimes they’ll start it on the grill and then zap it, like if the first grilled chicken breast got dropped or something.

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Chris • February 23, 2010 at 9:49 am

This comment has nothing to do with Applebee’s, I think you all covered it….

I just had to comment on the whole having a tape ready to catch songs on the radio…I totally had flashbacks when you said that! I seriously used to sit and listen to the radio for HOURS waiting for a certain song to come on so I could tape it! Ok. I’m officially old.

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Ally @ Sweet & Savory • February 23, 2010 at 11:08 am

You’re right, Applebee’s is “good enough” in my book. Definitiely a good place to take the family, semi-quality food in a nice atmosphere.

I will say their nacho plate is to-die-for….but also heart attack worthy:)

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Karen • February 23, 2010 at 12:14 pm

I tried the Dijon Chicken. Let’s leave it at that – I tried it. Never said I finished it!

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Suep • February 23, 2010 at 2:04 pm

There are a couple of things I really like @ Crapplebee’s:

I like the small sirloin steak; always prepared well, with a big baked potato and broccoli.

Also, I enjoyed what your mom had for dinner; the Shrimp Diavolo: it was spicy, but very good. Of course, the caveat is that my thinking was: “Hey! Not bad for less calories than 2 lean cuisines.”

So you’re right; there is a somewhat lowered expectation.

Will avoid the dijon chicken. :)

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Chelsea • February 23, 2010 at 3:04 pm

I’ve been to applebee’s 3 times, and all three times i wasn’t impressed whatsoever.

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Shannon • February 23, 2010 at 3:25 pm

I just went to Applebees with my boyfriend and there wasn’t a lot I could eat because I’m a vegetarian and almost every dish on the menu had some meat in it. I ended up getting a low calorie salad without meat and it came to the table with the meat. Needless to say, I won’t be back, but I’m glad you had a better experience than I did.

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Sarah • February 24, 2010 at 12:15 pm

I feel like i’m in the minority but i really dislike applebee’s. i’ve been a nubmer of times, but i’ve never had anything that was so good i wanted to eat it again. if i’m going to go out and spend the money and waste the calories i want something GREAT rather than something that wasn’t really that good that i am ambivilent at best. My thought is, if their full fat food isn’t that good to me why would i want to try their ‘healthy’ menu?

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emma • February 25, 2010 at 7:42 am

Man, if you read “The End of Overeating” you’ll never eat at an Applebees, Chilis, Cheesecake Factory, any restaurant with a laminated menu…again.

You brother’s chicken tasted like it had been microwaved? What a surprise! It was! All these restaurants receive food which is frozen, ready to be fried, nuked and served. Which is obvious. No restaurant can offer the array of choices such as you find in these without the stuff being delivered from a central warehouse, flash-frozen. You can’t hire the talent to do anything but drop it in the fryer…not for the wages they are paid.

There are no healthy choices in these places. Really. There is a market for them, but it is not the market of health-conscious people looked to preserve their cardio-vascular system.

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gazellegirl • February 26, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Yes – the microwaving part is true. I took a restaurant management class about 5 years ago. My prof was a restaurant consultant that helped open places like this in Nor Cal and Nevada. One day he came to class and announced he had just checked in with the new Applebee’s he was working with and they had gotten their microwaves installed that day – about 15 of them.

I still go though – it’s comfort food. And the music rocks! Plus they have pictures of my high school days on the wall at my local one.

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Patrick Kallie • March 21, 2010 at 4:51 pm

I go their with the wife at least on day a week, but my wife always makes fun of me because I ALWAYS get the same thing. The chicken breast with cheese and vegetables.

I love these healthy new dishes that the have, hopefully they will keep them for a while.

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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