Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Chili’s Not So Hot Anymore

A few years ago, I would have told you that Chili’s was my favorite restaurant. Not because they had a ton of menu items that I loved, and not because I ate there very often, but because I did know and love a few select menu items and because their restaurant style was right up my alley—a good place to unwind but not too sedate, an almost pub-like atmosphere (and menu) and yet a bit more wholesome and family-friendly.

A few months ago, Melanie and I went to Chili’s for the first time in quite a while. My heart was set on the Ground Peppercorn Burger, which is what I ordered almost anytime I went to Chili’s. I was excited and giddy, looking forward to a peppercorn-crusted burger topped with pickles, lettuce, tomato, bacon, onion straws, and bleu cheese dressing—a to-die for concoction. But to my utter dismay, Chili’s had revamped their menu and discontinued the burger I so treasured. I was shocked and saddened. I tried one of their other, new-to-the-menu gourmet burgers, and while it wasn’t all that bad, it wasn’t anything nearly so special. It was a disappointing visit to Chili’s.

Yesterday, I loaded up my family in the car and headed to campus to turn in some exams I had graded, thereby completing all of my responsibilities for the academic year. To celebrate the end of the semester, we thought we’d grab lunch at the Chili’s on campus, which would also provide me the opportunity to show Melanie, Eddie, and Peter around my school a bit more. I knew I couldn’t get the Ground Peppercorn Burger, but I have always been a fan of Chili’s country fried steak as well, so I figured that would serve as my lunchtime entrée. Upon arriving at the campus Chili’s, we learned that because it was between semesters, it and every other campus eatery (save Einstein Bros.) was closed. With our minds set on Chili’s, we decided to head back to the car and drive the couple of miles it would take to get to another nearby Chili’s, and so soon enough, we were seated in a Chili’s with a menu before us.

Without perusing the menu in any detail, Melanie and I decided to order an Awesome Blossom, an aptly named appetizer of onion petals coated in a mildly spicy batter, fried, and served with a tangy, mildly spicy dip. We informed our waitress that we would like an Awesome Blossom, and she told us that Chili’s no longer has the Awesome Blossom, though we could try the vaguely reminiscent onion and jalapeño stack if we would like. Once again, I was truly shocked. Even more so than with the Ground Peppercorn Burger. No Awesome Blossom!?!? Was that not a staple in the Chili’s menu!? Apparently not, but for some reason, I thought the Awesome Blossom was to Chili’s appetizer menu what the Big Mac is to McDonald’s menu. I never would have dreamed it would disappear. What the @*%# was going on? I’m sure Chili’s invested a lot of time and money into researching the potential impact of a menu overhaul, but I can’t believe that my two most favorite menu items failed to make the cut. I’m absolutely astonished.

Melanie and I ordered some fancy nachos in lieu of the Awesome Blossom. They were quite good, I admit, but I wanted the Blossom. I also ordered the country fried steak, which survived the menu changes. It was decent, but somehow didn’t seem up to par. The mashed potatoes that accompanied my meal were full of those dark brown “balls” that are sometimes found in potatoes but should be discarded by any decent chef/cook. Neither the potatoes nor the corn on the cob were anything beyond lukewarm. It was a disheartening experience. Granted, the problems with my entrée may be attributed to this particular Chili’s, or even the particular chef working that day. But on top of everything else, these imperfections just seemed like additional nails in Chili’s casket.

My beloved Chili’s is no more.


  1. It's frozen/prepackaged food shipped out from a corporate warehouse and heated up/microwaved by college kids who would rather be drinking. I'm always sort of amazed that anyone would call a low-end chain restaurant their favorite. Have you tried the burgers at Monk's on Tharpe or Bird's on Bronough?

  2. Downtown Guy,

    On the off chance you check the comments on here again, I should say that I have not tried any restaurants or eateries that are particular to Tallahassee. I hit chains because I know them, and having two small kids, I'm not likely to hit anywhere too expensive or too bar-like. Keeping with the familiar helps me avoid those things.

    That being said, I'm all up for recommendations on where to eat. I'd be particularly thrilled to know of some good Mexican restaurants and some places where I can get some decent Chinese takeout. I haven't had incredibly good Chinese or Mexican in a very long time.

  3. Howdy:

    Good Chinese is easy. Bamboo House on 6th Ave, off Monroe (except you have to go around the block to get there, because it's a one way street). Best buffet in town, and one takeout container can feed multiple people. Their menu food is excellent as well. It's not a massive, 100-item buffet that gets dried out and nasty, it's maybe a dozen to 15 dishes cooked well and kept fresh. It's a favorite for locals, and I always see plenty of kids in there. And after you eat, you can drive or walk a block or two to have a stroll around Lake Ella and let your food settle while the kids climb the old oak tree.

    Mexican depends on your tastes. There's not really anywhere in town that I would say has really authentic Mexican food, but there's plenty of TexMex style places that taste good and run cheap. La Fiesta on the Parkway is okay, but nothing special. (Speaking of that area, if you like pizza you should try Barnaby's. It's a fairly unique style, and they are very kid friendly.) El Tapatio on North Monroe, near 4th(?) Ave, I think. Across from the Paperback Rack. There is a place out the Parkway, just across Capital Circle on your left, called the Old Mexico Grill. I haven't been there in maybe 6 months, but I have had some excellent dinners there.

    And if some of you want tacos and some want burgers, have you been to Cabos in the Ross/New Leaf shopping center on the Parkway? Another local favorite.

    Good eatin'!

  4. Adieu, Fond Friend....I feel bad to hear this news. Many things should be left unchanged...ain't nobody heard of tradition????!!!!!!
    It just does it for you, eh?, they are gone now forever....sigh!