So you've probably noticed that I can be a bit of a food snob. I love upscale, high-end restaurants. I also love funky little inexpensive restaurants. Basically, I like one-of-kind restaurants that you can only find in one location (or in several limited locations).
Needless to say, I spend a fair amount of time bad-mouthing low-to-mid-priced chain restaurants.
This isn't to say I won't eat at chain restaurants; I will. However, if you tell me I can pick anywhere in a certain radius to eat, and that radius contains a unique restaurant or bar found only in that radius, no way am I picking Applebee's (which I really don't like very much at all).
Anyway, after enduring a certain amount of eye-rolling over the years, I have decided to NOT complain about these places and instead put together a list (in no particular order) of low-to-mid-priced chain restaurants that not only will I eat at, but that I actually LIKE.
5. Noddles & Company
For a low-priced lunch spot, you can't beat Noodles. I love everything I have had there. It's quick, it's cheap, and the ingredients taste fresh even if they're not. I have enjoyed pasta dishes from Noodles much more than I enjoy pasta dishes at mid-priced chains that do not specialize in pasta (pasta at TGI Friday's is not worth it. Trust me.) I even enjoy it more than I enjoy pasta from some more upscale places I've tried. My favorite dish on the menu: Pasta Fresca with grilled chicken and extra feta.
I first encountered Chipotle when I needed to grab a quick lunch in Chicago. I had never seen one before - we didn't have them in Michigan. I soon wished we did because Chipotle is awesome. Football-sized burritos with your choice of beans, meat, and salsas; quesadillas stuffed to the brim with grilled chicken or steak; decent guacamole...I realize there are other fast-casual Mexican options, but Chipotle blows Qdoba out of the water. Plus, even though it's corporate fast-food, they seem to have a commitment to quality, using smaller free-range farms as meat suppliers instead of factory farms like other fast food outlets. My favorite dish on the menu: Grilled chicken burrito with black beans and medium salsa.
3. Max & Erma's
I am sure if Eric Schultz were reading this blog, his jaw would drop in disbelief, because about eight years ago I professed an intense hatred for this chain. I have no idea what I ate there that inspired this hatred. I started going back to Max & Erma's several years ago when one was opened in the parking lot of the Canton Meijer. My parents enjoy it, so Kristen and I would tag along. I found that Max & Erma's has the best tortilla soup on any restaurant menu anywhere and pretty good burgers to boot. The Third Street Salad/Village Salad with the bleu cheese crumbles, bacon pieces, crunchy almonds and and slightly tangy dressing is awesome, too. My favorite dish on the menu: Cup of Tortilla Soup and Village Salad.
I was addicted to Zoup when I was contracting at the Ann Arbor Pfizer site. Zoup is a midwestern chain - almost all the locations are in Michigan and Ohio with a few in Pennsylvania. Every day Zoup offers ten different rotating varieties of soup along with fresh-baked bread and a selection of salads and sandwiches. The soups range from hearty, stick-to-your-ribs varieties such as twice baked stuffed potato and chicken pot pie (with crusty pastry crumbles on top) to lighter, broth-based offerings such as vegetable with orzo and herbs and chicken noodle. I very much miss the days when I could walk across the street (although crossing Plymouth Road always was a little treacherous) and get a steaming hot bowl of soup for lunch. My favorite dish on the menu: Macaroni and Cheese soup or Chicken Pot Pie soup.
1. Olive Garden
I have a weird and unnatural love for Olive Garden. It begins with their salad and breadsticks and continues through to the chicken fettuccine alfredo or the portobello ravioli. Olive Garden is hands-down my favorite chain restaurant. The aforementioned ravioli is as plump and flavorful as many ravioli I have sampled in more upscale restaurants. Their wine list is pretty crappy, I'll admit, but at least there is more of a selection than at other similarly-priced chains. Olive Garden can, in a pinch, pass as a "nice" restaurant. But only in a pinch - I do still have certain standards to uphold! My favorite dish on the menu: Portabello Ravioli (but I get it with alfredo sauce instead of the sun dried tomato sauce!)
Happy New Year!
3 years ago