Friday, September 16, 2011

You Are What You Eat–Denny’s Gut Bustin’ Cheesy Menu, T-Bones Ranch House, Marie Callender’s Pasta Special and Sunday Brunch.

I imagine many of you have ate at one of these places at some point in your life, except for T-Bones which is a local Bakersfield concoction.  It may be harder to find a Marie Callender’s  restaurant near you though.  They closed 30 restaurants in June and filed for bankruptcy protection which is never a good thing.  Most of the stores they closed were on the West Coast, and they gave no notice to employees when they did so, which also is not a good thing.

The one we’ve been to in Bakersfield off and on over the years is still in business, and I’ve always received decent food and service there.  And besides, the pies are always good. 

As for Denny’s, while the menu doesn’t vary much from place to place, there are always variables with any chain.  These would be restaurant management, who’s cooking in the kitchen with Dinah, and of course the service by the employees.  The local Denny’s that we frequent opened just over a year or so ago, and we’ve never had any big problem.  I can only remember a couple of times that our visit might have been worth complaining about at all and nothing really disastrous.  At least not yet.

Before Denny’s came to town, we used to eat at a restaurant up the street called Perkos that really didn’t have a whole lot of competition for the kind of restaurant it is.  I believe it too is part of a chain, but more local than nationwide.  You can see it in this article I wrote previously at the beginning of my blog rejuvenation project.

For a while it wasn’t a bad place to dine.  Then for some reason things went to hell in a hand basket.  The food became inedible, the portions smaller, the prices higher, and the service hit the skids.  After two ridiculously bad visits to Perkos with The Girlfriend, we quit going.  I looked up who owned the chain, sent them an email and they never responded.  That was about two years ago. 

I did go back with Honorable Son No. 3 once to see if things had improved now that they had competition, but sadly, they were just as bad as always.  Still, the local yokels frequent the place, mostly out of habit.  But I can see Denny’s seriously cutting into their business seeing as how management and ownership don’t seem to really give a shit.  So don’t believe this nonsense on their web site.

Anyway, I’m off track and this is supposed to be about Denny’s.  As I was saying, the menu doesn’t change much except for the temporary themes that they have on the menu until they eventually wear out their welcome and a new one appears.  That’s why it always says “For a limited time only.” 

I think the last one they had was called something like Tastes Across America.  It went over well with The Girlfriend who really enjoyed some sandwich that had beef and French Fries on it.  I was in full diet mode at the time so I couldn’t partake.  I usually had the Tilapia and it wasn’t so hot.

But that theme is gone and has now been replaced with “Let’s Get Cheesy.”  Of course you know that anything with cheese in it is loaded with calories.  Some of these items are real artery clogging diet busters even if you’re not on a diet.  So don’t go the day before the doctor is checking your cholesterol.  But I’m not here to count calories.  Far be it from me to try and tell people what they should or should not eat.

So last week The Girlfriend and I were at Denny’s and took a couple of the new menu items for a drive around the eating booth.  The girlfriend ordered the Cheesy Sampler.  I can’t report on how it tasted because she ate it, not I, and she’s not here.  Wait a minute, and I’ll call her on my cell phone and get a full report.

The girlfriend says,

“It was alright.  I liked it well enough.  But it really didn’t have enough cheese on it.  With a name like “Cheesy” I expected it to have more cheese which is what gave it its flavor.  Other than that, I liked it.” 

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, The Girlfriend is staying in Bakersfield for six weeks or more, babysitting her aunt’s house.  Guess I’ll just have to tough it out.  Hurray for me!

Looking more closely at the picture, I can see what she means.  For it being a cheese promotion, the cheese does look a bit skimpy on everything except the eggs.  And I’m not sure about that sausage.  Looks a bit overdone.  That’s what it looks like in real life, but keep in mind that it will probably vary from restaurant to restaurant.

You can compare it to the original on Denny’s web site by going there and……oh hell, never mind.  I did the work for you and here’s a screen capture of what Denny’s says it’s suppose to look like:

Don’t hold the fact that the Denny’s picture looks so much better deter you.  The chances are that’s not even real food on that plate.  I knew what ever I had off that menu was going to put a hole in my diet so I tried to choose something that wouldn’t add 20 lbs. to my frame as I walked out the door. I finally chose something called the “Cheesy Skillet.”   Keep in mind that this thing can best be compared to a breakfast fajita skillet without the tortilla to pile it into.  Also, the one on Denny’s web site shows it with the eggs sunny side up.  Mine was over easy.  Here’s Denny’s ad:

Looks good enough to eat doesn’t it?  Well, keep your expectations in check.  Because there’s the advertisement, and then there’s the reality.  And the reality is this:

All I can say is that it tasted better than it looks.  Then again, mine wasn’t in a shiny new skillet and posed for a picture either.  And unlike The Girlfriend, mine had plenty of cheese.  So much so that it looked like it was seeping through the egg.  I hadn’t counted on the vegetables being charbroiled though.  But for the price, it was good enough,  and filled us both up.  But that may have been because The Girlfriend insisted on us sharing a big plate of pancakes.  But I think on my next trip to Denny’s I’ll try something else.

But if anybody from Denny’s happens this way I do want to register a complaint.  What was the purpose in taking chili off the menu, and then limiting your daily soup selections to about three alternating ones?  I really liked having a bowl of chili once in a while.  Couldn’t you have sold chili burgers to get rid of any excess you may have had?  Bad decision, Denny’s.

Two weekends ago though we made a shopping trip into Bakersfield.  It was supposed to be a movie trip but that didn’t happen.  Instead we ended up at a place we had visited about a month ago.  The place is called T-Bones Ranch House, and is located on District Boulevard in Bakersfield.  The location is not the greatest for us.  It seems to be far away from just about every place we go except Sam’s Club and we don’t go there very often.  This time we were way on the other side of Bakersfield and had to use the GPS to make sure we arrived there without getting lost.  And from all the turns we made along the way, we would have had a bit of trouble getting there to say the least.

The last time we were at T-Bones, I was still in full dieting mode.  I still should be but as you can see I’m kind of not at the moment.  I can’t even remember what I had at that time but I know it was fish or chicken.  It’s always fish or chicken.  I thought I had a picture of that meal somewhere but my hard drive is such a mess.  I really really have to get that situation under control…..someday.

Besides being a restaurant, T-Bones also has a lounge where they have live music.  But if that’s not your bag, have no fear.  It is off on the other side of the building and the acoustics are such that you won’t even notice.  On this trip, the special was a 12 oz. Rib-eye complete with salad, potatoes, and dinner rolls for $18.95 each.  And that is what we ordered.  I ordered mine medium, and my girlfriend ordered hers medium well I believe. 

Although it was a Saturday, the place didn’t seem very busy.  In fact, I don’t think there was enough for all the help to do.  You’ve heard of service with a smile?  Well we got that and then some.  And then some more.  And then some more again.  Sometimes there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.  But I’m not really going to complain about that because I’d rather see the waiter/waitress too much than not at all if you know what I mean.

I took a few camera shots of the interior while we waited on our dinner.  Not really much to see here except that it’s supposed to have that Texas type ranch atmosphere to it.  But I’ve only been through Texas once, and didn’t stop at any ranch in Amarillo, so I’m really clueless as to whether or not that’s what they were trying to achieve.  Maybe it was the Ponderosa from Bonanza they were shooting for.  But the Cartwright's have all gone to the big Virginia City in the sky so I can’t fire off an email and ask them either.

You decide.  I am going to have to work on getting better pictures though.  I’m kind of hesitant about taking pictures as you can see.  I guess I could just pass myself off as a tourist but it’s hard to say you’re just passing through once you’ve been to a place two or three times.

I also had a shot of the exterior but damned if I know where it went.  I know I took one but I may have accidentally deleted it.  You know how it is when you’re all thumbs.  Then there was the one I took just as you walk in the door but that was too blurry too use. 

You get your dinner rolls before you get dinner.  The dinner rolls are actually one of the best things about T-Bones.  Rule of thumb:  No matter where you are, if the bread is good, it helps set the pace for the rest of the meal.

Eventually they brought our steaks.  Mine was cooked about the way I liked it but The Girlfriend says that her steak had too much pink.  But she opted to eat it anyway mainly because when we eat out like this The Girlfriend seldom eats much of her meal.  She usually takes most of it home especially since having the lap band surgery.  I told her that if she reheated her steak in the microwave that the pink would disappear.  And it did when she took my advice the next day although she said it made the steak tougher.

The steak was tasty enough, but the quality probably could have been  better especially for the price that was charged.  It was a little tough even without The Girlfriend zapping it.  The chili beans weren’t that good either.  They tasted more like the Mexican refried beans than chili beans.  The Girlfriend concurred with me on that.  She had them on our last visit and said they were better that time.  There was also more grease sliding around on my plate than I prefer but it’s not something that would make or break a meal for me.  On the other hand, the salad was fresh, and they use real tomatoes and not those phony miniature ones that some restaurants try to pass off on you.   But I think for the price they could have had a few more ingredients in the salad.


The total for all this was about $44.00 not including tip.  So we’re talking roughly $50.00.  Really, I hate the way that having a damn glass of tea or a soft drink in these places jacks up the price.  We’ll probably return to T-Bones again, although once I hit the $50 mark I begin thinking Tahoe Joe’s or even Famous Dave’s.

This past weekend I went to stay in Bakersfield with The Girlfriend and headed up there on Saturday afternoon.  We decided on dinner and a movie.  The movie was “The Debt” of which I’ll be writing about in a separate post sometime soon.  We had our usual debate on where to dine.  We knew that we were going to Marie Callender’s the following morning for brunch because The Girlfriend had purchased some “buy 1 get 1 free coupons” some time back and they were going to expire in October. 

I suggested that we just go to Marie Callender’s at this time as well because it was within reasonable proximity of the theater and not really much out of the way of her Aunt’s house.  She didn’t think we should at first because we would be eating there the next morning.  My argument was that brunch was one thing but this was dinner so we wouldn’t be eating the same things.  After looking at it from that perspective she agreed.

There are many Marie Callender’s around but I’ve only been in two. The one on California Drive in Bakersfield, and we stopped at one near Magic Mountain on our way to L.A. about seven years ago.   But here’s a crappy exterior picture of the one in Bakersfield, and one of the interior as well that I took with my I-phone because once again I forgot the good camera.

I usually have decent meals at this restaurant but on this particular day they had a special on Pasta.  Your choice of Pasta with a Caesar Salad and a slice of pie.   I generally don’t order the specials very often because except for a place like Olive Garden, they’ll often jack you around with serving portions.  But I ordered the Chicken Alfredo and The Girlfriend had the Rigatoni. 

At Marie Callender’s you get cornbread which doesn’t do a thing for me because I’m not a fan.  The girlfriend likes it well enough, but to me it’s just a crumbly tasteless mess.  But I ate a piece anyway, just to be sporting.

See, crumbly mess just as I said it was.  But I imagine it keeps their food cost down and if any chain needs to keep that under control at the moment it would be Ms. Marie’s. 

Soon after we had the cornbread they brought the main meal, and right away I knew that we had made a couple of mistakes.  The first one was in not ordering an appetizer and the second one was ordering the damn special in the first place.  I don’t really know what I expected. Maybe I have spent too much time at Olive Garden.  The Pasta Items on OG’s menu are served on their own large plate and come with all you can eat soup or salad, and all the breadsticks one could ever hope for. In fact, The Girlfriend usually fills up on breadsticks and pasta and then takes her pasta home.

For Marie Callender’s special, the  pasta and the salad were both on the same plate, although the pasta was in it’s own special little Shirley Temple side dish.  I don’t know why I expected it to be on it’s own large plate and the salad in a bowl but I did.  I guess I was daydreaming about other places again. 

The Chicken Alfredo Pasta actually looked like it was made from a box of Betty Crocker’s chicken helper, the Rigatoni looked like it came right from the Kitchen of Chef Boyardee.  But maybe it tasted better than it looked.  It didn’t really.  It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t very flavorful at all.  The girlfriend felt the same way about her rigatoni.  And the salad was so chintzy, I would have been better off just ordering a meal with the salad bar.  But lesson learned:  No more specials at Marie Callenders because the only thing special about it is the money they make by being chintzy with the food.  I mean, there’s just nothing more to say about it, so I guess I’ll just show you.

And I’m sure you thought I was exaggerating.  Anyway, there was always the pie and you can’t really go wrong with pie now can you?  Have you ever seen the movie Michael?

Me oh my
Nothing tastes sweet, wet, salty and dry
all at once o well it's pie
an' wet bottom.
Come to your place everyday if you've got em'
Me o my
I love pie

Anyway, that’s how I feel about pie.  And of course, since it is a special, and considering what had come previously, you knew it wasn’t going to be very much pie.  And you would be right.  Notice the fork size and the slice of pie slice.  I think two bites and I was done with that sucker.  Oh well, at least it kept us from dawdling and we made it to the movie on time.  But your best bet is to wait until they are on sale and buy one of their whole pies.  That place sells a lot of pies that way.  This here was just sad, and if it weren’t for The Girlfriend’s coupons we wouldn’t have gone back the next day.

Buffets are tricky.  They can either be very good, or just terrible or even somewhere in between.  They can be overprice or a real bargain.  We had been to the Marie Callender’s Sunday Brunch Buffet before and at $18 a pop, it’s in the upper stratosphere of buffet prices.  At least for the Bakersfield area.  Of course, if you’re ever in Vegas and go to The Bellagio’s buffet, then you’d better take out a loan.  Remember, we had a coupon for buy one get one free so we were basically paying only nine bucks each.

The brunch is a mix of breakfast and lunch items.  The last time we went to Ms. Callender’s for this we arrived later in the day and the place was packed.  This time it was around 9 a.m. and just about everybody was either sleeping off their hangovers or in church praying for forgiveness for whatever it was they were doing when they tied one on the night before.  So that was a big plus and something to keep in mind if we ever go back.  So arrive early if you can.

As buffets go, this one is pretty good.  There is a wide variety of breakfast and lunch items to choose from, although the majority of the items are breakfast oriented.  You can also get an omelet freshly made to your specifications.   Order your omelet before getting any other items.  And unlike some places, the staff does a good job of refilling your drink (the price is included in the meal which is always a big plus), keeping the food fresh and warm, and the food area very clean.  Everything has it’s own heated container, and the lid’s actually shut properly so that’s another point for their side.

But remember, you are seldom allowed to take any food home with you unless you sneak in some baggies and put them in your pocket or purse.  The Girlfriend always gets the big eye and piles up way more than she can eat so I end up having to help her out because I hate food waste.  Also remember that at $18, you have to eat a lot of food to get your money’s worth.  But here’s what our meal looked like:

You can see that I probably piled too much on my plage, but sometimes it’s hard to choose and I don’t like having to get a bunch of different plates.  But The Girlfriend doesn’t mind doing that.  She had an omelet, ribs, ham, potatoes and Eggs Benedict.

That blurry picture is barbecued chicken.  That was mine.  All and all, I’d say this meal made up for the night before so I’m glad we went.  I’m not sure if it’s worth almost $19 each though if you’re just having breakfast, but that’s up to you and your pocketbook to decide that.  Not me.  At any rate, I’m sure we’ll go back sooner or later as long as they’re in business.  However long that may be.  Ladies and Gentlemen, dinner has been served.

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