This week, we checked out the drinks at On the Border. Chips and margaritas: perfect for Cheap Buzz. What we found: some mediocre drinks but one surprise winner.
'Cheap Buzz' on Serious Eats
Typically, the chain restaurants that I visit serve up watered down punches full of sugar and artificial coloring. They don't have bitters, they don't muddle much, and they count on America wanting a sweet, diluted elixir to make a little bit of hooch go down. But the drinks at Dave and Buster's stand out a bit from the pack: first of all, they're mighty strong.
Buffalo Wild Wings aren't all bad. They tend to be big and lively and feel like sports bars, with huge screens on the wall for my Steelers games. Beyond the wings, they have Naked Chicken Tenders (grilled tenders with no breading) which are a rare chain restaurant order that's not awful for you. (Hey, I write about McFlurry's all day; I'm allowed my off-duty low-carb diet.) And finally (to negate that last sentence), it has an awesome beer list. But at Cheap Buzz, it's about the cocktails. And that, my friends, was a learning experience.
I have to admit up front that I'm a huge fan of the Garden; I used to eat there about twice a week in high school. Breadsticks, never-ending salad, and spaghetti with meatballs—I loved them. And I loved that every Olive Garden had the same pictures on the walls, and played the same Frank Sinatra songs ("Fly me to the moon...") But nostalgia only goes so far. The food might still be tasty, in that comforting generic-and-heavy way. But their specialty cocktails? That's another story.
Want to get messed up? Head to Applebee's. This kid only had the apple juice, and blew a 0.10. I headed over there to check out the margarita menu, and I was pretty impressed.
It comes as no surprise that PF Chang's cocktails are prepared for the Middle American mallgoer's palate. In some cases, they're interesting—even enjoyable—renditions of classic cocktails. In others, they're as sugary as their General Tso's Chicken.
Trader Vic's is Cheap Buzz with emphasis on the buzz. The drinks were powerful and—to my surprise—not too sweet. Of course, part of the fun is the presentation.
As far as fast-casual restaurants go, Chevys Fresh Mex ranks pretty high up there. Fresh pico de gallo, tortialls made throughout service, sizable portions. But, as we've seen, sometimes a place to get a good, cheap meal isn't the best place to get good booze. I set out to see what the watering hole at Chevy's had to offer.
Ruby Tuesday has been duking it out with T.G.I. Friday's in strip mall parking lots for decades. And if you had to ask me, I'd say Ruby Tuesday is winning. Like Boston Market, Ruby Tuesday's has decided, despite the poor economic times, to up the ante. Founder Sandy Beall has poured $100 million into his restaurants, hoping to revitalize the brand. As noted in the New York Times, the furniture is nicer now—all leather and dark wood—and the menu features "fancy" fare. So, have the cocktails kept up with the upgrade? In this edition of Cheap Buzz, we decided to find out.
Happy Gilmore forever immortalized Red Lobster. "Shooter! I'll be at the Red Lobster! God Bless!" I've always loved it: the cheesy biscuits, the enormous portions, the tanks of "pick-your-own" lobsters. We weren't planning to have that much fun on this Red Lobster visit, but we did want to check out the state of the sippables (along with a few snacks to line our stomachs.)