two eggs over medium, hon

2/13/11

Because of Valentine’s Day and an argument had in the back seat of a car some months ago, please rate the following 8 chain restaurants in order, from Perfectably Acceptable to Vaguely Barf-Inducing:

• Applebee’s

• Chili’s

• Chipotle Grill

• Cracker Barrel

• Denny’s

• IHOP

• Outback

• Panera Bread

CrackerBarrel(bl).jpg

0 thoughts on “two eggs over medium, hon

  1. ken

    I can proudly say I’ve never been to: Applebee’s, Outback or Chili’s. I ALWAYS favor local family-owned restaurants whenever possible but sometimes, you can’t avoid them.
    I’ve only been to Cracker Barrel once, the food was good but the manufactured country vibe ‘gift shop’ was off-putting; in that realm, Bob Evans is FAR superior without the kitchy gift shop. The two times I ate at Chipotle both resulted in my nearly instantly vomiting my meal in the restaurant’s bathroom. Living in Chicago, it’s sacrilege to eat at a chain Mexican restaurant (so many authentic options abound) so my conscience may have had something to do with that.
    Denny’s and IHOP are both perfectly fine if there are no independent options, it’s tough to mess up breakfast food. I spent many a late night smoking and drinking coffee at my hometown’s Denny’s in high school, which ironically is now an independent breakfast place in the same (totally recognizable Denny’s architecture) space.
    Panera is the only place on your list I would actually choose to eat at again and we do once in a while. If we do go that (chain) route, Corner Bakery is far better, though it’s only in Illinois, Texas and California as far as I know.
    Others I think are national but I’ve never sampled: Ruby Tuesday, Joe’s Crab Shack, Olive Garden, TGI Friday’s.

    Reply
  2. Bozoette Mary

    Outback, Panera, IHOP, Chipoltle, Chili’s, Applebee’s, Denny’s, Cracker Barrel.
    Yeah, I’ve been to all of them. Outback can do a decent steak; Cracker Barrel makes me ill.

    Reply
  3. litlnemo

    I think some of them vary depending on location, etc.
    Chipotle, Chili’s, IHOP, Applebee’s, Denny’s
    Have never been to:
    Cracker Barrel, Outback, Panera Bread
    I haven’t been to Chili’s in many years so my rating may not be accurate and they might be grosser now. There was one dish I really liked there back in the day.
    Given a choice, I wouldn’t eat at any of these places, though.

    Reply
  4. scruggs

    We definitely prefer to go local, but in the Suburban South that can be tough.
    Acceptable In order:
    Chipotle Grill – easy, quick meal, esp. when planning around 2 peanut allergic kids
    Outback – 1 mile from the house and you alwasy know what you’re in for
    Panera Bread
    Chili’s – fajitas only
    IHOP – kids eat free night
    Never/Awful
    Cracker Barrel
    Applebee’s
    Denny’s

    Reply
  5. Chip

    I’m going to do this by tiers
    Best: panera, outback, chipotle … I think you could get something there you like. The Mac and cheese at panera is really good. Chipotle has basic food but they use a higher grade of ingredients or so they claim.
    The others I would steer clear of unless I had no other options. The worst dining experience I had in all of 2010
    was at a Dennys in Cambridge, Ohio.

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  6. scott

    In a pinch:
    • Panera Bread
    • Outback
    Only if redneck friends insist, and I don’t want to offend:
    • Chili’s
    • Cracker Barrel
    • Applebee’s
    Only if I am incoherently drunk:
    • Denny’s
    • IHOP
    Haven’t visited: • Chipotle Grill

    Reply
  7. Salem's Little Sister

    Outback
    Panera
    Chili’s
    Cracker Barrel- road trip food and only order breakfast
    Applebee’s
    IHOP-New one right down the street is fast, clean and what kid doesn’t want a sundae after breakfast for dinner?
    Chipotle-worst jingle ever
    Denny’s

    Reply
  8. Mom

    Going completely off the list: I nominate Red Lobser as the restaurant with the most delicious-looking, enticing, gorgeous presentation of foods in their TV ads while providing the most awful, inedible, badly prepared food on the planet. I base this on years of seeing moth-watering Red Lobster TV ads and ONE visit to a Red Lobster with my beloved but palate-impaired Auntie Donna. Worst restaurant experience of my life.

    Reply
  9. kent

    I’d say Chipotle and Panera will have edible things for sale, though Panera bagels are a joke.
    The rest of the list demonstrate what I think is axiomatic: Any food advertised on television is bad for you. And in some cases, a crime against nature. Blooming Onions? Greasy and too salty. Cracker Barrel’s Corn On the Cob? Mushy and awful.
    Chili’s/Applebees should have been put out of business by the dead-on satire in Office Space. They seem to be the result of marketing people from another solar system, trying to build a ‘fun’ restaurant based on misheard descriptions of actually fun restaurants.
    Denny’s and IHOP are the same restaurant. Eating at either is just like having a meal, with everything that’s good or satisfying removed and sold overseas.
    I’m old enough that I can decide that I’ve eaten my last bad restaurant meal. I can cook, and where I live there are locally owned restaurants run by people I know. I’d go to any of the places on this list only if I hungry and had no other option. Having worked at chain restaurants, I know that they buy the cheapest ingredients in bulk and do heinous things to them to enhance shelf life and plate presentation.
    I’m surprised that Outback gets rated so highly. They should have defribrillators at every table next to the salt and pepper.

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  10. trregen

    • Applebee’s = VBI
    • Chili’s = VBI
    • Chipotle Grill = VBI
    • Cracker Barrel = PA/VBI
    • Denny’s = VBI
    • IHOP = PA/VBI
    • Outback = Acceptable if only thing available
    • Panera Bread = Acceptable if only other choice is starbucks for breakfast

    Reply
  11. dct

    Weird relationship to Applebee’s. Lived next door to one in College Park, MD, and it was the worst food on the planet. Here in Hays, America, however, oddly okay. They use local beef for their steaks, and it’s so much better than the other Applebee’s type restaurants I’ve been to that it’s thrown my perspective off completely. Just goes to show how much chains can vary, I guess.

    Reply
  12. noj

    from best to gnarliest
    • Chili’s
    • Chipotle Grill
    • Outback
    • Panera Bread
    • Cracker Barrel
    • Denny’s
    • IHOP
    • Applebee’s

    Reply
  13. Neva

    Normally I can be as high falootin’ as the next stuck up elitist. But, okay, I’m just gonna say it. Ya’ll need to get over yourselves. Not every restaurant is a 5 star experience and these are all just fine thank you and a step above McD’s at least.
    Although I have never eaten at Chipotle Grill (not sure we have them here) I would not turn down a meal at any of them especially if it meant I didn’t have cook. Order a salad and a glass of water and just shut up.

    Reply
  14. Edie W

    I actually like Chipotle. I think Panera is OK too, although too salty. My husband has a strange affection for Cracker Barrel, and their fried apples are tasty, in a heart-clogging kind of way. We did end up at Cracker Barrel on Valentines Day once, in a night that has gone down in history as one of the worst of our relationship. I would have put Applebee’s at the bottom based on several terrible meals there circa 2001 (and the fact that at that time they had exactly 0 vegetarian menu options, and only 1 option for a fish-eating fake vegetarian like me, which was popcorn shrimp), but I was forced by circumstance to eat at one a few months ago, and it was surprisingly tolerable.

    Reply
  15. jje

    *shrug* I love Chipotle’s if I’m getting fast food (which is rare for me, other than the obligatory devotion to CFA because of my kids – not me, I’m vegetarian). I think they do have responsibly resourced, higher quality food than most and McD’s is no longer an owner or involved with the chain. We live within walking distance of Moe’s (a similar chain) and eat there on Kids Eat Free night, and I’ve wished more than once it was a Chipotle.
    I also like Panera for a quick sandwich (Mediterranean veggie, yum!) or salad with my girlfriends. Love their shortbread cookie.
    We also live within walking distance of Outback and it’s not the worst meal in the world when we want to go somewhere kid friendly. *shrug*
    Fortunately we can also walk to and drive to great local restaurants, so we always have a variety of great options. I appreciate good food, but I also appreciate being able to go out for a nice dinner with my guys without feeling like I need to keep them on short leashes.
    Finally, I won’t turn my nose up at Applebees or Chilli’s if we’re roadtripping. Vastly prefer a meal there over the usual suspects.

    Reply
  16. jon

    I’m with Neva. Well said.
    My list, in order:
    1. Cracker Barrel (surprised by the vitriol directed here at what I consider to be the finest example of mass-produced home cookin’ ever conceived.
    2. Panera
    3. Outback (been at least a decade since I ate at one, but as I recall, perfectly tasty steroid-injected meat.)
    4. Chipotle (Think I’ve only been to one once, don’t have much of an opinion, so burying mid-list)
    5. Applebee’s – bottomless soup and salad at lunch = not bad
    6. IHOP
    7. Chili’s – Yuck, just always yuck. Oh wait, except for that one time a year or so ago where I ate at an airport Chili’s and it was a completely different menu and way better than all previous Chili’s experiences…
    8. Denny’s – only in a travel-induced pinch

    Reply
  17. emma

    The closest of any of these restaurants to my home is probably 25 miles. I have to give Outback some props as they donated as many meals as we could sell tickets for a couple of years ago to our PTA – it was 100% profit.
    I really like Panera. Soup and half sandwich is great.
    Have only been to a Cracker Barrel once in my life. Never heard of Chipotle. Applebee’s and Chilis are fine.
    Haven’t eaten in an IHOP or a Denny’s in 15 years, so really can’t say. And then, either drunk or hungover probably.

    Reply
  18. Sarah

    So, Chipotle is like crack to me. I could eat it several times a week, but usually have it once a month or less.
    My list:
    Chipotle
    Panera
    Outback
    Applebees (a very distant 4th)
    IHOP
    Chili’s — never found anything I like there
    Cracker Barrel — I just don’t get it
    Denny’s
    I was in high school when all the Applebees/Outback/Ruby Tuesday type chains popped up. I used to love going there (which wasn’t that often, maybe once a month with the family, maybe more often on high school dates). Now I have no desire to eat at most of these places. Have my tastes changed that much? Less tolerant of most people who eat there? Or has the food declined to crap? Or is it that I moved from the suburban south to Chicago, where the best Thai food outside of Thailand is only a 4 block walk?

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  19. ken

    I see Neva’s point but seriously, unless I am in hotel/motel hell with no other options or on the road, I’d rather just eat fast-food than patronize chain family restaurants. It’s not snobbery to me, it’s just saying if I want a basic meal, I’d rather spend less and get on with my life than sit down for an underwhelming steak or cheeseburger. I know I can get an underwhelming cheeseburger at McBurger Hardee’s or a weak taco with only 45% beef at Taco Hell.
    Same way with beer, Budweiser isn’t going to kill you but give me a Goose Island any day over the big guys.

    Reply
  20. josie

    I am with Neva. I think every place has it’s time/context which makes it a-ok.
    And, Ken, these places are not generally expensive. Especially Crapplebee’s / Chili’s. You can get a lot of consistent food and drink for very little money.
    Here is my list:
    I would go gladly: Panera for quick lunch with kids or friends, or The Mom who only eats scraps of salad and soup.
    Would easily go if I was in suburban-ville or road tripping and didn’t want to risk a deep-fried or truly inedible meal: Chili’s, Applebees
    Haven’t been often enough to pass judgement: IHOP, Chipotle.
    Lived in Tampa where it was a religion (HQ), and you just went: Outback
    Over-hyped and try to avoid: Cracker Barrel
    Just gross, but a good joint if you’re road-trippin’ with kids: Denny’s

    Reply
  21. Jackie

    I like Chipotle.
    I also thought Cracker Barrel was good. However, they had a clear policy of discrimination against gays and lesbians for years and even though they have rescinded the policy they still have the lowest ratings of any restaurant chain for their treatment of their GLBT employees.
    So, I haven’t been there in years.

    Reply
  22. Neva

    Okay, guess I was having a hormonal moment but really I was beginning to feel like Nell from appalachia just b/c I actually like to eat at Dennys or IHOP once in a while. So, thanks for the support guys. Honestly, we don’t eat at these places much but they are at least kid friendly and predictable which has it’s place and time.
    I happen to love breakfast at any time of the day so give me some pancakes and sausage anywhere, anytime and I’m there.
    Now, would I pick it over Magnolia Grill or Watt’s Grocery, no, but I least I didn’t have to cook it or clean up after.

    Reply
  23. LFMD

    I am with Neva. Why all the hate toward chain restaurants? Where do you people actually eat?
    My favorite places to dine lately are Five Guys and the Cheesecake Factory. I am but a simple girl from Jersey.

    Reply
  24. amy

    oy. wow. i’ve been in the restaurant industry for a while, and i won’t go to any of these places unless it’s with my family and i have no choice. in order, from “fine, i’ll deal with it” to “you totally owe me for this”:
    outback
    panera
    chipotle
    chili’s
    ihop
    denny’s
    applebee’s
    never been to cracker barrel
    i know instantly if i’ll go on a date with a guy based on his suggestion we go to one of these places for lunch/dinner. it says a lot; for instance, we have nothing in common.

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  25. Kevin_In_Philadelphia

    Outback
    Chipotle
    Panera
    All others FAIL
    in order from “I’ll find something I like” to “I’ll starve, thanks”.

    Reply
  26. ryke

    Chipotle
    Cracker Barrel
    Panera
    IHOP (But who really feels like hopping whan they have been there–Jim Gaffgan
    Denny’s (Waffle House with fewer tatoos)
    Outback (Mad Max should bring extra shells!)
    Chilli’s (I want my baby-back, baby-back, baby-back …ribs)
    Applebee’s (Dante is waiting at the Hostess stand to seat you in the lowest level of non-existent-third-person-possessive-chain-garbage-chute-processed-menupalooza-tchotchke-laden level of Hell and offer you an appletini, light on the tini.

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  27. litlnemo

    Saying I wouldn’t want to eat at any of those places if given the choice is not so much anti-chain snobbery in my case — it’s that many of those places don’t serve me all that well. (I don’t eat meat except for fish, and there’s some stuff I just don’t like. If a restaurant’s idea of serving veggie meals is to give me a bunch of broccoli, I am not happy.) Chipotle is actually pretty good, but I’d choose a different burrito place ahead of it if I could get a west coast fish burrito. Applebee’s has more that I can eat and enjoy than Denny’s, but the quality is so, so spotty at the Applebee’s around here. And Denny’s discontinued my favorite sandwich years ago and hasn’t replaced it with anything I like all that much. If I’m in the mood for breakfast food it’s OK, but otherwise I don’t have a lot of choices. (IHOP sort of falls into that realm too. I do like their Harvest Grain and Nut pancakes, and if I’m in a breakfasty mood, I’ll choose IHOP over Denny’s any time.)
    It’s mostly choice that does it for me. But some chains have pretty weak quality, too. Red Lobster, for example — I can eat most of the stuff on the menu, but whenever I have, I have regretted it. The fish has been pretty bad. Dry, flavorless salmon… ugh. The cheese biscuits there are made of crack, though.
    Then there are the desserts. Desserts in a lot of chain establishments these days are all about two things: size and a certain bland yet overwhelming sweetness. They taste like corn syrup and not much else.
    Still, I have gotten plenty of good meals at chain restaurants; I don’t object to them if they are good.
    I just ate at Denny’s tonight and I must say that it was not exciting, but it was fine. (I had a cheeseburger with a veggie patty.) Not special occasion food, but perfectly nice for what it was.

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  28. Greg

    Being an actor, I have spent most of my life in food service in one way or another, actually rising one time, against my will, to the level of Executive Chef at a major hotel. Any of these places can be OK or puke-inducing, depending on the quality of management at the individual store. If a place is visibly dirty or emits a strange aroma (even low-key), leave immediately–regardless of how hungry you are. If you even get “a funny feeling about this place,” leave. Your nose knows. Trust your instincts. Use the force.
    I have never eaten at a Chipotle.
    Of the others, Outback has been tolerable more than the rest and even enjoyable a couple of times.
    I confess to a mild addiction to a few of the items at Cracker Barrel because I am a southern boy in yankee suburbs and sometimes I need a ham biscuit.
    But we have had bad experiences at every one of these places at one time or another.
    I will never set foot in an Applebee’s, Chili’s, IHOP or Denny’s.
    I am baffled by the supposition that Panera is in any way superior to these other places.
    A list, in order from “It’ll do” to “I’ll grab a Snickers Bar, Combos and a Diet Coke at the gas station:”
    Outback
    Cracker Barrel
    Panera
    IHOP-Denny’s-Chili’s-Applebees–Tie
    Chipotle-unknown

    Reply
  29. julie

    Late to the game here but here goes. I personally like Chipotle and Panera, although if I eat at Chipotle I will not be able to eat anything more for roughly 12 hrs. It is just heavy and dense and salty. I have never been to Denny’s so I can’t comment. All the rest are just ok. We have to go to CB every once in a while b/c my husband LOVES the meatloaf dinner. I am ok with the grilled cheese sandwich or the breakfast food. I must admit I haven’t been to the other chains in at least a year so the experience may now be different.

    Reply
  30. littlerattyratratrat

    Panera’s — for drinkable coffee and good bread
    Crackerbarrel — real maple syrup, come on, that puts them in a class by themselves for a roadtrip stop for breakfast. And I’m a sucker for turnip greens and pintos and cornbread.
    (And where’s Waffle House? Not here in Michigan, anyway.)
    Outback — though it’s interchangeable with other industrial beef joints like Lone Star.
    The others are all ghafla.

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  31. jje

    Julie, what do you get at Chipotle that is dense and salty? I always get the same thing – the veggie bowl, which for me is rice, black beans, mild salsa, a little dash of cheese and lettuce (I don’t do tofu and every once in a while I’ll have them throw in some of the fajita veggies). It’s one of my favorite light lunches when I’m on the go or meeting a friend. It’s right across from preschool, which makes it super convenient.
    Moes is definitely heavy and salty to me, but the boys love it on Tuesday night. I basically do the same thing as above but have them add cukes and olives, no rice.

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  32. Julie

    Hey Jennifer-see this is when being a carnivore gets ya :). The chicken and the pork are pretty salty (not as bad as Moe’s and about the same as Qdoba). Plus you know me – cheese is my weakness so I get more than a pinch ;)

    Reply

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