I have a confession. I am an appetizer addict. I have a hankering for hors d’oeuvres. I’m that person who orders a starter as the entree when I go out. There’s something about small portions, dipping sauces and fried foods that just make me happy — especially as a complement to a night out.
There are several places in town where you can find great appetizers, and I’m a fan of many. But I have yet to find a favorite appetizer, or a venue that has a standout menu. So I’ve decided to go on a mission to find the best beginners out there. I can’t eat them all in one week, though, so this will be an ongoing mission.
This week I recruited some fellow food fans to traverse the appetizing trails of the chains — Chili’s Grill & Bar (www.chilis.com), T.G.I. Friday’s (www.fridays.com) and Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill (www.applebees.com) — since they’re known for varied and colorful menus, large selections and servings, and combination platters.
We began at the Abbott Loop Chili’s (there are two local locations), already packed at 6 on a weeknight. There were 13 appetizers, and we went for the Triple Dipper ($10.99), which includes three items from a list of several — we chose the boneless buffalo wings, Southwestern egg rolls and cheese sticks (not sure what kind of cheese, though). The wings were a hit, spicy and served with blue cheese dipping sauce, and the egg rolls were dream-inducing. Though the cheese sticks were a disappointment — I’ve had better at Carrs.
At T.G.I. Friday’s (190 W. Tudor Road, 563-8443), we bypassed the combination platter (Friday’s three-for-all, $13.89) and had potato skins ($7.29) and Tuscan spinach dip ($8.89) from the menu’s 15 starters. The spinach dip was scrumptious and loaded with chunks of artichoke. The potato skins were good but came with only a small serving of sour cream. Our waitress asked if we wanted more sour cream, but then she never brought us any. We left a few forlorn potatoes on the plate — adequate dipping sauce is essential for appetizer appeal.
At the Midtown Applebee’s (two locations locally), we ordered the queso dip ($6.99), though Applebee’s also offers “ultimate trios” ($13.99) which contain some options that aren’t available on their own. The queso dip was enough for three people and came with plenty of chips and a nice side of salsa. That said, it was just cheese dip. It looked great, but anyone could microwave Velveeta and salsa and achieve a similar result. Still, after 9 p.m., all appetizers are half-price, making a subpar cheese dip much more attractive.
I left the chains satiated but not quite satisfied. The good points of the chain gangs are relatively easy parking, available seating and extensive menu selections including combo platters you can create yourself and entire menus devoted to drinks. But sometimes there are no prices on the mass-produced menus and no drink or draft specials listed. Be sure to ask before ordering.
Though I’d head to Friday’s or Chili’s when I get a craving for spinach dip or egg rolls, neither felt like a true favorite.
So the appetizer hunt continues.
What’s your favorite starter or place to grab appetizers? Help me in my quest and post suggestions!
-- by Jessica Bowman