Counting Calories at Applebee’s

In their neighborhood, there’s something for weight watchers and everyone else.

I don’t know about you, but I when I dine out, I rarely see the kind of people depicted in a restaurant chain’s TV ads. You know, those good-looking, witty, cheery diners who have nothing but great things to say about the food, the service and each other.

But I came pretty close to it last Saturday night at Applebee’s on Jamacha Road in Rancho San Diego. The people weren’t quite as good-looking and groovy as those in the TV ads (myself and my companion included), but the meals, service and prices did exceed expectations.

A greeter opened the front door for us -- nice touch. We were seated promptly and brought ice-cold water in thick, chilled glasses -- nice touch on an especially hot evening. The place was cool and clean -- which made us glad we left the nearby taco joint we were originally going to review, which was neither.

Applebee’s has a wide-ranging menu, with everything from onion rings and Reuben sandwiches to steak and seafood entrees. We were very pleased to see that every item was accompanied by the calorie count. There were Weight Watchers-endorsed meals plus an under-550-calories selection.

Since we’re both trying to eat healthier (my companion doing better at it than I), we opted for the under-550 sirloin steak with garlic herb shrimp ($12.99), and the grilled Dijon chicken ($10.49).

The 7-ounce grilled sirloin arrived medium, exactly as requested. It also was just the right temperature, juicy and delicious. Who knew Applebee’s could deliver such a deal? It was covered with slightly fishy shrimp in a light cream sauce, along with a baked potato subbing for the sliced herb potatoes, baby carrots, broccoli and cucumber slices, fresh bruschetta, sliced almonds and chopped parsley. Hard to imagine this was all less than 550 calories, but I couldn’t argue with the flavors and certainly felt full.

The chicken was a grilled, marinated breast topped with roasted red peppers, onions, Portobello mushrooms, Dijon sauce and aged white cheddar, accompanied with the same vegetables as the steak. It also was flavorful meal and filling, but a tad salty. We had to ask for more Dijon as well.

Even though we asked for no cheese on the chicken, it arrived covered in it. The waitress was accommodating, offering to either bring a full replacement or just the chicken sans cheese. We chose the former, which arrived promptly.

Despite feeling healthy and sated, I had to try two of the reasonably sized and priced ($2.49) dessert shooters. The strawberry cheesecake was piled atop graham cracker crumbs, infused with strawberry sauce and topped with whipped cream. The chocolate mousse was on a bed of Oreo cookie pieces and likewise topped with whipped cream. I didn’t even bother to look at the calorie counts because I knew I was falling off the wagon. Each shooter was (pardon the cliché) scrumptious and definitely satisfied my sweet tooth.

Our selections reflect just a portion of the Applebee’s menu, which also contains some items you don’t often see, like frozen lime-aids and low-cal cocktails. There’s a wine and beer menu, too.

Applebee’s slogan is “There’s No Place Like The Neighborhood.” If your vision of the neighborhood is corporate-dictated eclectic Americana pop culture, you’ll feel right at home with the stained-glass hanging lamps, Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne artwork, and loads of other knickknacks. The background music was all over the place, sometimes too loud and other barely audible.

Service was friendly and efficient. About the only other thing we can fault besides the cheese gaffe is that we had to ask for drink refills instead of having them served automatically.

This is one of the few places we’ve been to recently where we didn’t have any leftovers to take home -- perhaps because of our under-550-calorie choices. But no matter. We left impressed with the menu choices, prices and quirky ambience. It’s a neighborhood we’d return to, even if it doesn’t quite match the one in the TV ads.


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