Sunday, November 12, 2006

Applebee's Covertly Provides Low-Carb Choice

Have you tried the new "Crispy Brick Chicken" meal from Applebee's yet?

In Episode 3 of my "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb Show" podcast last week, I highlighted this survey that concluded restaurants do not need to ignore the low-carb consumer because they are a growing group of customers who are beginning to frequent those restaurants who actively cater to their dietary needs when dining out. And it's true, too! Some former favorites have been crossed off our list of restaurants we frequent because they refuse to provide flexibility with their menu to make it low-carb.

Unfortunately, not every popular restaurant chain has gotten the message that low-carb living is alive and well despite the claims it no longer exists. You will recall Ruby Tuesday removed their low-carb menu before the summer not long after scrubbing their phenomenal low-carb cheesecake from their menu at the beginning of the year. It's too bad for companies like Ruby Tuesday who once led by example about how to meet the needs of the growing low-carb market. But not anymore and so low-carbers have stopped going there. That's too bad!

Applebee's banking on the star power of Chef Tyler Florence

However, I was encouraged recently when I saw a television commercial for Applebee's touting their new "Huge Flavor" menu featuring celebrity Chef Tyler Florence from The Food Network who is helping the popular mid-scale restaurant chain spruce up their menu a bit with some exciting new meals.

There was one featured item from Chef Florence's new menu in the TV ad that REALLY caught my attention--it was a plateful of chicken grilled up under open flames with a side of some leafy greens. My immediate thought was "Hey, that looks pretty low-carb!" It's important to note that there was no mention of "low-carb" in describing this meal or any of the new menu items during the commercial. Hmmmm.

Because my wife Christine absolutely adores Applebee's and Saturday was her birthday, I decided to surprise her by going there to celebrate. Not surprisingly, I just had to order the meal from the television commercial which I found out was called the "Crispy Brick Chicken." It looked so good on the television commercial and also in the picture on the menu. Would it live up to my lofty expectations?

Here's how Chef Florence describes this meal on the menu:

"I split a tender petite chicken and press it flat directly against a red-hot grill. The light marinade of rosemary, lemon and olive oil gets seared directly into the skin-it's so crisp it crackles with flavor! I complement this dish with a fresh salad tossed with grated hard boiled eggs, caramelized onions, shaved Parmesan cheese and my own warm bacon dressing."

Did you see all of those ingredients? Except for the "caramelized onions," EVERYTHING in it is VERY low-carb. As in, there's almost NO carbs in it at all! WOWsers! Could it be we have a covert attempt by Applebee's to add a low-carb menu choice without explicitly labeling it as such? It certainly seems that way!

Interestingly, this meal was originally supposed to come with spinach leaves and not just salad greens. I saw a sign at the front of the restaurant when you walk in the door that explains Applebee's no longer serves spinach on their menu because of the FDA's warning about E. coli in September. I have been concerned about the long-term fallout of that incident and it seems my worries about it are coming true despite the fact that spinach is back on supermarket shelves again. In fact, I just bought my first two bags of it again in about two months this weekend.

Nevertheless, even without the spinach leaves this meal was delicious! I dug right into the chicken itself which was juicy and moist beneath the slightly hardened chicken skin that had flavors grilled right into it. Mmmm, I was in low-carb heaven eating this! Then I tried the salad and immediately noticed it was VERY sweet. It was obvious the "caramelized onions" were cooked in sugar water. That's okay because it probably didn't have more than 5-6g sugar in it overall. But I thought I'd warn those of you who are watching your sugar intake like a hawk.

If you are diabetic or in the early stages of livin' la vida low-carb, then simply ask for these caramelized onions to be placed on the side or left off the salad completely. They are good, but you really don't need them to enjoy amazing low-carb meal. With the onions, I'd say this meal is about 8g carbs. Without them, maybe as low as 2g carbs. EXCELLENT!

My wife made an interesting observation about the meals we were served--they included NO bread! Most restaurants nowadays offer dinner bread, dinner rolls, or breadsticks. But not Applebee's. Neither one of the meals we were served came with ANY kind of bread. Is the message finally getting through that traditional bread made from white flour is not good for you? This was just another positive move in the right direction regarding our decision to go to Applebee's.

Yet, in my research for this post today, I went to the official Applebee's web site to find the nutritional information about this "Crispy Brick Chicken" meal to give you accurate numbers about the carbs especially. Unfortunately, Applebee's must be one of the few restaurant chains that DO NOT provide this to their customers. I was quite surprised that they didn't considering the move by many restaurants to make this readily available.

Here was their official response about providing nutritional info:

"We provide nutritional information on all of our Weight Watchers® items, including fat, fiber and calorie counts and Weight Watchers Points® values. We do not provide nutritional information on other Applebee's® items - with approximately 1,900 locations in the U.S. alone there are many different vendors, which makes it extremely difficult to obtain nutritional information for our items."

If you ask me, that's a total copout on being a responsible company. How can you blame multiple vendors for NOT providing nutritional information about your menu items, hmmm? Every single restaurant in America gets their food from more than one vendor, so what makes Applebee's any different? If you ask me, it's just laziness from their corporate marketing team. If they cared enough to provide this valuable information to their customers, then they would. So how about it Applebee's? Stop making excuses and start providing your customers with the information they need to live a healthy lifestyle.

Ah, yes, let's not forget about the Weight Watchers menu either. You definitely couldn't miss that at Applebee's! They had ten menu items in a section all to their own for all those people counting their "points" as they stuff their faces with low-fat, low-calorie, high-carb meals that rather conspicuously provided ZERO information about their carbohydrate content. Gee, I wonder why. That's because THEY DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW!

In fact, when we were finished with our meal, the waitress asked if we had saved room for dessert. Although I already knew the answer to this question, I asked her if they had a sugar-free or low-carb dessert offering. She immediately chimed in with, "Well, we do have our Weight Watchers dessert!" Of course, she was referring to their "Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake" dessert approved by Weight Watchers for their dieters to eat when dining at Applebee's.

This dessert only has 4 points, but is extremely high in sugar

I respectfully replied, "I don't think that dessert is sugar-free, but thank you for offering." At closer examination of this "diet" dessert on the menu, I noticed it had 230 calories, only 3g fat, and 3g fiber. Okay, that's all well and good, but what about the carbs? Where was this information located? It was conveniently missing and for good reason.

Look at the description of this supposedly "healthy" dessert:

"This chocolate tour de scrumptious is covered in a light cream cheese glaze, dusted with powdered sugar and drizzled with raspberry sauce."

A white flour-based chocolate cake sweetened with sugar, no doubt, with higher carb LIGHT cream cheese also sweetened with MORE sugar, then topped with ANOTHER layer of powdered sugar, and finally finished with a sugar-based raspberry sauce. Yikeseroo! I don't know how many carbs this Weight Watchers dessert had, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was close to 50g! UGH!

Why would ANYONE trying to lose weight on WHATEVER diet program put a dessert like this in their mouth?! Oh, that's right, sugar is FAT-FREE, so it's given a pass to be placed in foods that purport to be healthy. If sugar had fat in it, though, LOOK OUT! It would be treated like the plague and universally condemned. It should be anyway, but sadly the low-fatties like to have their sugar and eat it too!

Although the dessert menu was lacking for people on the low-carb lifestyle, I was highly encouraged by the addition of the "Crispy Brick Chicken" meal to the menu at Applebee's. It's an option for low-carbers that I feel very good about recommending to you if your family wants to go out to eat there. It just goes to show you that something doesn't have to be labeled "low-carb" for it to actually be low-carb. Become your own nutritional investigator and learn to recognize a low-carb friendly menu item when you see it.

Be sure to thank Applebee's for including this new "Crispy Brick Chicken" meal on their menu and encourage them to offer more menu items that are low in carbohydrates, including a sugar-free/low-carb dessert offering, as well as the complete nutritional information about their meals by clicking here. Make your voice heard because they might just listen if enough of us contact them.

11-14-06 UPDATE: After expressing my concerns directly in an e-mail to Applebee's the other day, they were nice enough to respond to me about the carb count in their new menu item as well as other options for low-carbers:

Dear Jimmy,

Thank you for taking the time to write to us about low carb menu selections. We currently have nutrition information only on our Weight Watchers items which is based on calories, fat and fiber.

Although we're not able to provide complete nutritional information on every product due to variations in menus, producers and suppliers, we try our best to give our valued guests like you plenty of options when dining with us.

Each of our Applebee's servers has a "Dietary Alternative" card which lists several options for guests looking for carb-conscious menu items. These options include the Applebee's House Sirloin, Fajitas con Sizzle, Grilled Italian
Chicken Caesar Salad, Bacon Cheeseburger and our famous Honey BBQ Chicken Sandwich.

We hope this information helps you make an informed decision the next time you visit us at your neighborhood Applebee's restaurant. I will also share your feedback with our Menu Research and Development team.


Applebee's Guest Relations

No, that didn't answer my question. I wanted to know how many carbs are in the new "Crispy Brick Chicken" meal. Was that too difficult a question to get a simple number for an answer? As for those "carb-conscious menu items," I doubt the "famous Honey BBQ Chicken Sandwich" could be considered low-carb on any planet! Oi, these people kill me with the ignorance--knowingly or otherwise. I still think it's a crying shame that they can't post their nutritional info for their customers like every other restaurant chain does. GET WITH THE PROGRAM, APPLEBEE'S!

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Blogger Lili said...

I was pretty upset at Ruby Tuesday, too! I'm not a low carber, though; I'm a diabetic. I need to know how many carbs are in things and it drives me nuts when restaurants that can amply afford to have their food tested (*cough* Claim Jumper) refuse to, because they don't want their customers to know what's in their food. I wish low carbers and diabetics could band together in this to change the restaurants' minds.

11/12/2006 5:22 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

Trust me, Lili! I'd LOVE to see that happen because the restaurants act like little dictators when they do idiotic things like ignoring a large customer base. Low-carbers and diabetic SHOULD band together to rise up against any company unwilling to at least give us alternatives. It's sickening! THANKS for sharing your comments!

11/12/2006 5:28 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey said...

Assuming the cake has no protein.

230 Calories - 27 Fat Calories = 203 Calories / 4 Calories/Gram Carbs = 50.75 Grams of Carb - 3 Grams of Fiber = 47.75 Net Carbs.

11/12/2006 5:35 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

Then my guess of 50g carbs was pretty darn close, Jeffrey! THANKS!

11/12/2006 5:43 PM  
Blogger Wanda said...

Ohhhhh I totally relate.
A few weeks ago we went to a restaurant who had a low carb menu but when I sat down and looked at it, I found they had removed it. They didn't sell enough they said but I also think it was because it was REALLY pricy.
It was cheaper to buy the higher carb ones and pick out the junk then buy a low carb meal! UGGGGGGGGGGGG And why can they load us up with french fries but if they have to substitute with a small salad does it cost more?????

Then yesterday I ordered a steak and told the waitress to load it up with vegs. Her answer to me was that I also get a side dish with the vegs and salad. I know but load it up with double hot vegs! She didn't understand that concept at all. No potatoe? NOPE NO bread? Nope! Just vegs........YES she got it!!!!!!!LOL!

I don't have an Applebees around here in this small town but that sounds really good Jimmy.

11/12/2006 7:03 PM  
Blogger Sharon89012 said...

I just sent in my comments to Applebee's and also added that diabetics and low carbers would sure appreciate a sugar-free dessert or two added to their menu. But even more needed are the carb and sugar amounts on their menu choices. Red Robin does have a lettuce wrapped hamburger on their latest menu. I personally just remove the bun and eat the hamburger, it's easier then trying to hold it together with a lettuce wrap.

About a month ago, I e-mailed Krusteaze and asked if there is a possibility of having their top quality low-carb bakery mixes back but not packaged as low-carb. To my pleasant surprise, there was a phone message from their customer service saying they are working on that and hope to have the low-carb mixes back again. If any of you have used these items in the past, an e-mail to them might hurry along their low-carb mixes.

Thanks for the link to Applebee's.


11/12/2006 7:17 PM  
Blogger Newbirth said...

I'm suspicous. Their steak has sugar injected it in, ruining what could be a low-carb dish. If their steak has sugar, what other meats might also have sugar?

When I go I usually get the steak, sub out the potatoes for extra veggies (without the croutons, thank you), and pass on the garlic bread.

11/12/2006 10:19 PM  
Blogger low carb tennis guy said...

I agree with Newbirth. I don't trust them. If they ever decide to start publishing the carb counts in the food they serve, then I will consider going back. Until then, I'll take my business elsewhere.

11/13/2006 12:30 PM  
Blogger renegadediabetic said...

I went to Applebee's last week and had chicken with asagio cheese sauce. I asked to substitute extra veggies for the mashed potatoes, but they brought the plate with potatoes. When I brought it to the waitress's attention, she brought me the extra brocolli. The food was good and didn't raise my blood sugar. I did notice the Weight Watchers stuff and decided it probably had too many carbs.

I ate at Ruby Tuesday's this summer and, while they didn't have a low carb menu, I was able to eat low carb, substituting their wonderful mashed cauliflower for potatoes. Fuddruckers allows you to order a sandwich without the bun. I tried it last week and they served up the burger on a big lettuce leaf. They may have inteneded it as garnish, but it was perfect for wrapping around the burger. I just made a small salad from the fixin's bar and I was in low carb heaven. At mexican restaurants, I order fajitas, pechugas, carnitas, or seafood with guacamole and and don't eat the starchy stuff. Even Olive Garden has grilled salmon with vegetables. If you watch what your order and ask for substitutions, you can eat at most restaurants and keep up the low carb lifestyle.

I'm sure the Weight Watchers cake had sugar. I've eaten many other Weight Watchers products that had sugar or corn syrup. Even though Weight Watchers tells you to limit refined sugar, they still put it in their products. Weight Watcher "points" are determined by calories, fat, and fiber. Even their "Core Plan," which some have touted as moving towards low carb, still restricts fat. The unlimited "Core" foods are low fat, low sugar, limited starch, which is better than eating anything in smaller quantites, it is still a low fat. If you do well with low fat eating, then Weight Watcher is good. I suppose you could do low carb on the "Core Plan" and ignore the fat restrictions. However, why pay for that? I spent hundreds of $$ for a Weight Watchers rollercoaster ride and would recommending just investing a few dollars in a good low carb lifestlye book of your choice.

11/13/2006 2:18 PM  
Blogger teapotsgalore said...

I would also be suspicious of the warm bacon dressing maybe having sugar or honey in it. All in all, restaurants really need to try harder. But a lot of chefs aren't interested in calorie or carb count (did anyone see the Camp Glucose episode of Top Chef last week?)...

11/13/2006 2:29 PM  
Blogger karishma said...

I second teapotsgalore's comment: twas probably the warm bacon dressing causing the overwhelming sweetness.

I had a similar experience at another restaurant - I think Bob Evans, but don't recall exactly. I ordered a salad that sounded pretty lowcarb but forgot to enquire about the warm bacon dressing that came with it. Big mistake - it was really sweet, I couldn't eat much of it, ruined what would have been a perfectly acceptable meal otherwise.

Ruby Tuesday's salad bar suits me pretty well if I have to eat there.

But, recently I've been cooking more at home. We only go out to eat when we are visiting friends out of town. (I'm not doing too well at resisting temptation on those trips, but I'm working on it. And anyway, that's a whole 'nother story, as they say.)

11/15/2006 12:08 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

I too was looking to find nutritional info on the Chicken dish from applebees... I did find a receipe from Food Network, sounds a lot like the chicken he made for applebees...

1 whole (3 pound) chicken
3/4 cup olive oil
2 oranges, juiced and zested
2 teaspoons cumin seed, toasted
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

I am pretty sure I tasted rosmary in the Applebee's version... here is a link to the Food Network Receipe by Tyler Florance,1977,FOOD_9936_15134,00.html

1/22/2007 12:03 PM  

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