Monday, July 25, 2011

Applebee's: Dysfunctional Family Restaurant Posing As Bar & Grill (Includes Review of White Spot)

Applebee's Neighbourhood Grill & Bar, 1654 McKenzie Ave, Saanich, BC

The newly opened Applebee's at Tuscany Village in Saanich is almost indistinguishable from other chain restaurants in the Americana food genre. Think Boston Pizza without the pizza. Applebee's bills itself as a bar & grill, but it feels much more like a family restaurant with a bar. The aim, of course, is to be all things to as many demographics as possible. Millions upon millions of dollars have been spent on marketing by the big American chains, and every time I enter one of these places it shows, rather glaringly, that every last detail is the product of corporate marketing and branding research. I very much doubt the original Applebee's that opened in the state of Georgia in 1980 bears any resemblance to the Madison Avenue-created cookie-cutter spinoffs of today.

If I can get beyond the fact that Applebee's is an American chain with an infamously bad reputation for poor labour practices, I can usually settle in and enjoy if the food is good. Regrettably, the "clubhouse" I ordered here was a sad rendition of the real thing. Pressed chicken and ham are bad enough, but using only two slices of bread when the real deal requires three, I feel cheated every time I get a clubhouse sandwich with no third layer of bread. To add insult to taste bud injury, Applebee's version of the classic club has BBQ sauce slathered within. Yuk!!! What genius in the Applebee's menu marketing department dreamed this innovation up? He or she ought to be fired! The rest of the sprawling menu looks like fast food versions of items seen on Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. You get all the cholesterol with a fraction of the flavour, creativity and freshness.

I'm sure this place will go over well amongst some university students who have long sought an alternative to nearby Boston Pizza (see my review of Boston Pizza here). Applebee's has several flat screen TVs (or pub/bar pacifiers, as YRS calls them) strategically situated about the room, which may further lead some to wonder if the moniker 'sports bar' should be added to the name. Whatver the case, Applebee's is what it is: A big American chain restaurant that's barely a Darwinian step up from the fast-food chain.
Applebee's Neighbourhood Grill & Bar on Urbanspoon


White Spot, 710 Caledonia Ave, Victoria, BC

If forced at gunpoint to pick one family restaurant chain in Victoria, I'd go with the BC born and raised White Spot. And if you want a really good clubhouse sandwhich, White Spot's is pretty darn good, infinitely superior to Applebee's.

And unlike Applebee's, White Spot has a tendency to occasionally venture into new, creative culinary terrain and play up regional foods. 

At the end of the day, White Spot is still a chain restaurant serving chain restaurant food, but it's an example of the truism that some of these places do serve okay food. This BC grown chain is further evidence that not all chain restaurants are created equal.
White Spot (Caledonia) on Urbanspoon

Other White Spot locations I've dined at in the CRD and would endorse over other family restaurants if forced at gunpoint include:

White Spot, 3965 Quadra St, Saanich, BC

There are a lot of food choices in this area, including takeout from my favourite grocer, Planet Organic, not to mention Thrifty's, but compared to the neighbouring DQ and other food outlets, I choose White Spot in a heartbeat.
White Spot (Saanich) on Urbanspoon

White Spot, 1845 Island Hwy, Colwood, BC 

This is a good location if you are returning to Victoria from a day hike at the Juan De Fuca Marine Trail or East Sooke Park, or if you've just spent the weekend eating bad camping food at French Beach.
White Spot (Colwood) on Urbanspoon

White Spot (Oak Bay), 1871 Fort St, Victoria, BC 

If you've just spent a few days eating bad hospital food at the nearby RJH, or do not want to venture too far behind the Tweed Curtain for that fake Oak Bay, English style pub fare, you can't go wrong with this White Spot.
White Spot (Fort Street) on Urbanspoon

White Spot (Airport), 1640 Electra Blvd, North Saanich, BC 

I've travelled most of the globe and spent countless hungry hours waiting in all kinds of airports, all of which seem overrun now with fast food chains, or just really bad, overpriced equivalents. I'm telling you from learned experience, you can do much worse at an airport than White Spot. To the fellow Urbanspoon reviewer who hated the salad? What were you thinking, or expecting in ordering a salad from White Spot? Next time get the burger or clubhouse and you'll be fine and dandy before stepping on your flight.
White Spot (Airport) on Urbanspoon