Applebee's insists that There's No Place Like the Neighborhood (they even copyrighted it just to make sure). And, like it or not, there are very few neighborhoods out there where you won't find an Applebee's. Some who claim to have finely tuned palates (yeah, right) insist that
chain restaurants, by definition, must therefore be bad. If that's the case, then we also have to swear-off Ruth's Chris' Steak House, La Tonalteca, Starbucks, Houston's, Clydes, 5 Guys, Chipotle, Panera Bread, Outback, and pretty much anything from local multi-restaurant guru Matt Haley. The list could go on and on. So don't buy the hype. Judge a restaurant on how you like it, not on how many there are.
Haute cuisine? Of course not. Applebee's makes no bones about the fact that they're a family eatery dishing out tried-and-proven comfort food to mom, dad and the kids (and, here in Rehoboth Beach, pretty much any combination thereof). There's a time and a place (and a mood) for everything, so bring on the neon, the kids, the TVs (ESPN, of course) and the stained glass. You're at the beach! During our last visit we started with the Pork BBQ Sliders. Toasted ciabatta-style rolls (a nice surprise. Who wooda thought?) are filled with an obviously pre-prepared, but well spiced and not-too-sweet pork BBQ in sauce. Another messy (and reasonably tasty) appetizer is the Boneless Buffalo Wings. Fried chicken tenders are slathered with your choice of the universal dipping sauces, all of which are just too darn sweet except for the “classic”–the most similar to your basic “Frank's Louisiana Red Hot” (the traditional wing sauce). A new addition to the app lineup is the Queso Blanco, an interesting (and very cheesy) combination of onions, cilantro and peppers. There are better quesos out there, but this one stands up for itself just fine. The star of the appetizer show, however, is the Chicken Wonton Tacos. These crispy little morsels are encased in a wonton wrapper, lightly fried and folded across the diagonal. Each one is stuffed with a delicious spiced chicken mixture (the default is pork, but we got the chicken). The filling is topped with a cool and crunchy asian slaw, then topped with cilantro. Order these.
You don't even have to get out of your car...1/3 Not bad ribs.2/3 Seafood with apple salsa3/3
If it can be popped inside a roll, or squeezed between a couple slices of bread, then Applebee's has it. The burgers are big (the meat appears to be fresh and does not taste frozen–the Foodie can tell), and the various combinations are rich and filling (though they may be your cardiologist's worst nightmare). Well, everything in moderation, including moderation, so go for the Philly Burger. Actually more of a “Jersey Burger,” this burger-on-a-sub-roll includes red/green peppers, onions and cheese. With the peppers and onions, it's more like something from the Atlantic City Boardwalk than your traditional cheesesteak from Philly's South Street or 9th & Passyunk. Another star of the burger show is the Steakhouse Burger. In a shameless double-branding with A-1 Sauce, they combine peppercorns, jack (of course), onion rings and that iconic tamarind-flavored steak sauce and pile it on a nice fresh roll. I will tell you it's a steal for $9.99.
There are at least eight salad offerings, ranging from the California Shrimp Salad (“California,” I guess, 'cause its got avocado), to kind of a “big-taco-on-a-plate” (Santa Fe Chicken Taco Salad), to the Asian Chicken Salad (noodles, toasted almonds and a bright “asian” vinaigrette are “Applebee-ized” with fried chicken tenders. If guess you've figured out that these salads, though consistently fresh and crunchy, should not be considered “diet” food. (Think Cheesecake Factory's “salads,” many of which have more calories and carbs than a Whopper). They are less filling than a big ol' burger, though, so just remember, you only go 'round once. So enjoy.
There's no smoker in the kitchen, and no stack of hickory out back, so the ribs are obviously pre-prepared. The particular cut of baby-backs, however, is of high quality and quite meaty with not too much top fat. The top is seared 'til it's a little crispy. The sauce, however, is a little bright and sweet for my taste. Regulars here at RF.com know how I can whine about BBQ.
Additional items include a selection of chicken entrees. It's all in the toppings (chicken is, after all, chicken). The star of that show is the Fiesta Lime Chicken, kind of a semi-Mexican dish but with a very good lime sauce. Same thing with the seafood. It's all built around a filet (tilapia at the moment), salmon and shrimp, prepared in various ways. On one visit, I had the Garlic Herb Salmon (light and tasty, with almond rice and a veggie du jour). Other members of my small (but loyal) cadre of spies, moles and operatives have enjoyed the healthy (only 6 WeightWatchers' points) Cajun Lime Tilapia (there's that lime sauce again) and the very basic but not-disappointing fish ‘n' chips (with fries ‘n' slaw).
Things are difficult nowadays for places like Applebee's. Not fine-dining (but patrons still want atmosphere and good service), and not quite fast food (but customers don't want to pay much more than fast-food prices), they are stuck in the middle. Applebee's has stepped up to the plate with a wide selection of middle-of-the-road offerings, and even some healthy choices (they even publish the nutritional info on their website)–all the while maintaining a very moderate price point: Entrees in the low/mid teens, and sandwiches and apps under $10.
The Rehoboth Beach Applebee's is in the Tanger Seaside Outlets on Rt. 1 just north of Rehoboth Avenue, on the north end of the center from Chipotle. To my knowledge, their always friendly (so far) servers, bartenders and management keep the place hoppin' every day, in- and out of season, but why not give 'em a call anyway 226-5307. Get ready for neon, kids, music, TVs around the bar and consistent, reasonably priced (and filling) food. Click here to see Applebee's menu. (L., D., Bar) Price range: Moderate -.