I really and truly love cooking for my family. Especially since whoever cooks in our home doesn't have to clean up after the meal. (Although I go back and finish the clean-up job - my way - once they think they're done.) But I also really and truly love going out to eat. By myself, with girlfriends, or with my boys. And when eating out with kids, it's important to find a good, family-friendly restaurant where the servers are up for a little chaos. Bonus points if there's a dedicated kids' menu.
One place that fits the bill is Applebee's. This American chain is based in Kansas City, Mississouri, with restaurants in 16 countries worldwide, including our own. This month Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar is celebrating their 20th anniversary in Canada, where they opened their first international location back in 1994. That was in Manitoba, and they are now found in cities from Alberta through Ontario, with plans for expansion.
As part of the 20th Year celebrations, Applebee's Canadian franchisee, Dynapple Inc., has introduced several exclusive, new items, available only on the Canadian menu, that celebrate the tastes and heritage of our country. How were these items chosen? In part, they looked to the expertise within their own company and opened up a competition for Applebee's chefs and other staff in Ontario. The challenge was met with over 52 recipes being submitted for consideration, ranging from treasured family specialties through new cocktail creations. Ten finalists were judged by a team including Applebee's International Chef Mike Futris, and three new menu items were chosen.
The first place winner was a California Chicken Melt, created by Chef Dennis Herbert of Ajax. It includes Swiss cheese, avocado and arugula, along with a zesty lemon basil mayo on toasted marble rye bread,and is a really filling and delicious sandwich. Two runners-up also made the menu cut - Fiesta Lime Chicken Rollup (from Chef Meghan Kesick of Ajax) and Applebee's Homestyle Shepherd's Pie (from Chef Drew Torok of Windsor). The Fiesta Lime Chicken Rollup is my favourite of the three. It has crispy tortilla strips and fresh pico de gallo for a great Southwestern taste. I like the crunch! The Shepherd's Pie surprised me, as it's such a homey meal. But the Applebee's version is quite flavourful and brings a great comfort food option to the menu. A word of warning though - the portion on this one is particularly generous. As yummy as it is, you can expect to be bringing some home for tomorrow's lunch.
"It is difficult to overstate how excited we are to begin rolling out these delicious new menu items," said Chef Mike Futris. "All of the winning entrees were initially crafted in the home kitchens of our Ontario chefs and that homemade flavour stands out in a uniquely enjoyable way."
There are other new Canada-only items as well, including the Poutine Burger and the Nacho Burger. According to consumer research undertaken by the company burgers were a top choice for their customers, which makes perfect sense for this casual dining environment. Crispy Onion Petals and a Dulce de Leche Caramel Cheesecake have also joined the family.
Honestly, there's not much more Canadian than a Poutine Burger, and it tastes just as awesome as it sounds. Applebee's prepares all of their burger patties from scratch, by hand - no frozen, pre-formed patties here - and you can really taste the homemade flavour. This Poutine Burger is seriously satisfying, and kind of huge.
Have you enjoyed a meal at Applebee's lately? We don't have one in our neighbourhood, so prior to this it had been many years since my last visit, probably since I lived in the States in the 90s. You can visit the Applebee's website to find a location near you. After tasting these new menu items I'm hoping their expansion plans include a Scarborough restaurant in the near future!