by Len Lear
The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s most famous catchphrase was “I don’t get no respect.” The same phrase could be applied to mid-level chain restaurants such as Bertucci’s, Olive Garden, Chili’s, Carrabba’s, Applebee’s, Bonefish Grill, Outback, etc. Restaurant critics like Craig LaBan (Philadelphia Inquirer) almost never mention them except in a derisive way, as do many stand-up comedians.
But there must be a reason why millions of customers frequent them all over the country. In recent years, for example, we have eaten at least 25 times at the area Bonefish Grill restaurants – in Newtown Square, Montgomeryville and Willow Grove. They are almost always crowded; in fact, once we had to wait an hour to be seated at the one in Newtown Square on a Saturday night, even though we had a reservation.
Some would say that having one of the best dishes in a chain restaurant is like being one of the sexiest people on life support, but I disagree. At Bonefish Grill, we always get the addictive “Bang Bang shrimp,” a bowl of crispy rock shrimp, similar to tempura, with greens and just enough spice to partner with a cold beer or cocktail.
There are always several reasonably priced fresh seafood dishes to choose from, and the shrimp Caprese dip is a wonderful, creamy canvas with gooey melted cheese and squooshy blistered tomatoes. You might say it is a Velcro pleasure, because the taste sticks with you for hours.
My only knock on Bonefish Grill is the sometimes inconsistent speed of the service. It is not unusual for your entrees to come out before you have finished with your appetizers. I wrote about this to the company’s website once and received no response. And like almost every crowded restaurant, it can be really noisy. One time when we went to the one in Montgomeryville, we were literally seated one foot away from two women, one of whom practically had a foghorn for a voice. We could have passed a test of questions afterward about all of their grandchildren, nasty neighbors and co-workers.
In all of our many visits to the Bonefish Grill restaurants, the servers, obviously very well-trained, have been unfailingly polite, friendly and efficient.
Another sometimes maligned chain is Ruby Tuesday, whose most publicized feature is their “garden bar,” which they must feel sounds more appealing than “salad bar.” I used to have a co-worker who said she will never eat from a salad bar because of the germs from so many customers’ and workers’ hands. My reply was that if she spent time in the kitchens of even the most exclusive restaurants, she might not ever want to eat in a restaurant again, even those without a salad bar.
We have been to the Ruby Tuesday in Plymouth Meeting at least 20 times and always enjoy it. We usually get the hickory bourbon salmon with unlimited salad bar for a slight extra charge ($1.99) and a side dish. The salmon is so soft and light that it could be made of nothing but ghosts and brown butter. I know it sounds like heresy, but this is our favorite salmon dish, even though it is half the price ($18.99) that we have paid for a salmon entree in an elegant downtown restaurant like Barclay Prime.
One big plus for Ruby Tuesday is that there has never been a noise issue for us, no matter how crowded it may be. So many restaurants, including upscale ones, play the most horrific, loud music that makes customers talk much louder than they normally would. Ruby Tuesday does not, and the acoustics are excellent.
One could easily complain that the basic menus at these places rarely change much, which cannot produce much creativity from the chefs. On the other hand, one could also argue that the unchanging dishes become so polished by time and repetition that they sometimes feel as comfortable as your favorite t-shirt.
You have to be as tough as old boots to wait on the public, but as with Bonefish Grill, we have always been pleased with the friendly servers at Ruby Tuesday.
Our main issue with Ruby Tuesday is the lightning-fast service, which is even faster than Bonefish Grill even when we ask them to slow it down. We have often been in and out of dinner in one hour, which would just cost four quarters if they had meters in the parking lot. One more issue: whenever I order a cocktail “light on the ice, please,” it only comes out that way about one-third of the time. It’s the same thing for most expensive restaurants, however.