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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: Red Lobster

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It’s Chain Week here on the Food & More blog.

Yes, every day this week I will visit one branch of a multi-unit restaurant. Food writers tend to stay away from chains (with one notable exception). When they do venture into the land of vibrating buzzers, you can usually smell the agenda in the writing like a cheap cologne.

I will try to get through this exercise not as a vinyl-banquette sociologist but as a restaurant reviewer who wants nothing more than to show people where to dine well and warn them about places to avoid. I will pledge not to take any potshots at foodservice corporations, American eating habits, other customers and menu lingo. I’m just looking for good eats.

Can you find them at Red Lobster? Specifically, the Red Lobster on Candler Road in South Dekalb?

Most likely, if you get this meal:

IMG_7907Give into the temptation of the Cheddar Bay biscuits. Yes, they taste like dried spices, salt, butter flavoring and Bisquick. They also offer that crunch-puff sensation that makes a certain kind of biscuit craveworthy, here punctuated with pinpricks of cheese. And salt. And buttery badness.

IMG_7911Get a Caesar salad: many shreds of mild cheese, not too much dressing, romaine that’s clean and crisp . Then move on to that pound-and-a-quarter lobster pictured at top. The kitchen cleans out the carapace, which is a bummer if you like to eat the tomalley, but a bonus if it freaks you out. This lobster costs $26.49, which is less than you’d pay at Chequers Seafood Grill ($32.50) or The Oceanaire Seafood Room ($40.95). Add in a baked potato rolled in a bit of coarse sea salt, and you’ve got a satisfying meal.

But what about that other side of Red Lobster — the one you see in the commercials, where the prices are low, the shrimp endless and the lemon wedges burst in mid-air? Well, it looks like this:

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This plate of coconut habanero glazed  shrimp with a shrimp skewer is featured on the $14.99 four-course menu currently on offer. It’s a good value that comes with soup, salad and dessert, but one that comes at the expense of good ingredients. That habanero shrimp is coconut-cake sweet, while the skewered shrimp have no flavor beyond char.

Though I had to wait too long at the host stand before being greeted, service was great once we got to the table. The kitchen screwed up the temperature on my friend’s sirloin steak,  part of his combo platter. Our terrific waiter (newly transferred from a Red Lobster in Dallas) was on top of it. The kitchen prepared a fresh steak while he ate his snow crab legs. The second steak came cooked to order and wasn’t bad at all. The manager came over, comped the steak and offered a round of desserts. Whenever a restaurant handles a problem with this kind of class, it builds loyalty.

- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog

67 comments Add your comment

Matt in Smyrna

August 12th, 2013
10:47 am

Ugh. I went to the one on Cobb Parkway for a family outing a few weeks ago. I wanted something that didn’t break the bank (the entrees are almost all >$15, and I was not about to pay that for mediocre seafood). I went with what I thought would be a safe, reasonably priced choice, the broiled grouper. Oh. Oh no. It was two pieces of translucent fish with a bizarre texture and barely a hint of seasoning. Quite possibly the worst entree I’ve had out in years.

I am a complete sucker for the biscuits, though. I don’t care how much sodium is in them.

AzCat

August 12th, 2013
11:00 am

Chain week, hmm? This should be good. At least your clicks will go through the roof, John. ;-)

It is good to see content from you out here in the hinterlands, though. Thank you!

Yellow Jacket

August 12th, 2013
11:03 am

Food is overpriced.

Steve

August 12th, 2013
11:04 am

You can easily make those biscuits at home…and this place is basically a Captain D’s with waiters. Processed food items, frozen seafood, lots of fat and sugar to disguise the lack of freshness. Ugh.

Gorton Fisherman

August 12th, 2013
11:39 am

If you want good, reasonbly priced seafood, go to Sea Breeze in Douglasville. It is right next door to the Red Lobster on Highway 5.

Bhorsoft

August 12th, 2013
11:40 am

Between Red Lobster and Joe’s Crab Shack I’ll go with Red Lobster. Never got food poisoning at Red Lobster while at I have a Joe’s. Since Atlanta isn’t much of a seafood town, not to many places to go if you don’t want to spend and arm and a leg. Marietta Fish Company and Bay Breeze are a bit better than either but not by much – all these “mid-priced dine-in” seafood places have there good and bad dishes. Best fried shrimp I’ve found is actually at Oyster King on Cobb Pkwy. Almost the same as Charlie’s in Acworth, but Charlie’s is OOB and is now an American Legion hall.

Anton Chigurh

August 12th, 2013
11:47 am

The Darden family that started Red Lobster had a single restaurant in Waycross, Ga. called The Green Frog. When people hear you are from Waycross, they STILL often will mention that restaurant, even though it has been closed for 30 years.

Rex

August 12th, 2013
12:04 pm

Enjoy the best of ITP dining!

Baltisraul....

August 12th, 2013
12:10 pm

You can buy the Bay Bisquits from Red Lobster at Sams club. Can’t tell the difference. But as others have suggested, easy to make from scratch at home. I crossed RL off our destination restaurant many years ago. Way to many options around here to drop $ at this chain. It is ‘C’ for average!

JimMAY

August 12th, 2013
12:18 pm

Being a chef knowing the obvious, when you buy seafood like Red Lobster, by the ton, you get the good & the bad. There’s absolutely no way around it. Think about that while you are eating your frozen coconut habanero glazed shrimp.

just me

August 12th, 2013
12:46 pm

Hey John, loved the disclaimers. I’m guessing you’re referencing that McDonald’s stir up from a couple years back.

Anyway, I love Red Lobster but just for the biscuits. I don’t trust fish from just anyplace so I usually stick to the salads as a way to feel less bad about myself wolfing down those biscuits. Trust me, their cheddar biscuits, a salad and their virgin strawberry daiquiri and life is good (and cheap).

Hey John, have you ever reviewed Nick’s Seafood just outside of downtown?

Rupricht

August 12th, 2013
12:51 pm

THE best seafood in the area is @Pier 213 behind the square in Marietta. We try to go there at least once every few weeks and they never disappoint. The oysters on the half shell are huge and reasonably priced. Crab cakes; the same. Do yourself a favor and go see Sean & Kammie for some of the freshest seafood you will find.

Road Scholar

August 12th, 2013
1:09 pm

Red Lobster at Northlake isn’t bad. Good-great service and the combo plates aren’t too pricey. The biscuits are killers (ask for a bag of fresh ones to take home!)

The best fried shrimp are at Collonade! Their shrimp and sea scallop combo is a killer! (So is the fried chicken and the pot roast!)

bc

August 12th, 2013
1:13 pm

I seriously thought this review was a prank

jonnymack

August 12th, 2013
1:38 pm

If you love salt, you will LOVE Red Lobster. I’m not a fan, find it to be overpriced for the food you get but have never tried the lobster. Next time I am forced to go, I will try the “Kessler special” and see if my experience is any better.

Kar

August 12th, 2013
2:43 pm

Oh come on, we don’t need to be food snobs all of the time. Yeah it’s a chain but obviously there’s some value to it if they cover the land like red ants.

Next I want to see you cover a Steak & Ale or PF Chang’s. Or lor help us, some food court options like that weird lemonade/hot dog hybrid. If you REALLY like salt, Panda Express or Willie’s.

Art

August 12th, 2013
3:06 pm

I’m looking forward to “Chain Week” although I rarely visit them. I wish Led Robster remotely resembled its commercials. The Darden restaurant group actually has some pretty decent chains, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, the Capital Grill and even a prime seafood chain, Eddie V’s. It’s a shame that some of their better places can’t rub off on the likes of RL and The Olive Garden.

John Kessler

August 12th, 2013
4:16 pm

Yeah, the fried shrimp were really salty…but the plain lobster? Not bad.

GaPeachy

August 12th, 2013
4:32 pm

@Kar, Whenever someone mentions Steak & Ale is brings me to tears, I sooo miss this place. It was my favorite chain restaurant, and they new how to cook a steak to perfection! Does anyone know if they r all closed or was it just the one downtown?

Art

August 12th, 2013
5:03 pm

Steak & Ale was good. The chain declared bankruptcy and the last one closed in 2008. There has been talk of them coming back as franchises but nothing has happened thus far.

Baltisraul....

August 12th, 2013
5:08 pm

GeorgiaPeachy……my wife was a GM @ Steak & Ale in Ky. She still makes the burgundy mushrooms and Hawaiian Pineapple chicken. Not sure any are still open.

Baltisraul....

August 12th, 2013
5:14 pm

Steak & Ale filled Chapter 7 in ‘08. All company stores are now closed as are all company owned Bennigan’s.

CL

August 12th, 2013
5:19 pm

Wouldn’t you “give in to the temptation?” Not sure but “into” is bugging me.

Mississippi State B.A.

August 12th, 2013
5:26 pm

I’ve been going to Red Lobster since my days as a young runt in Mississippi and had it catered at my wedding. I’d bathe in cheddar biscuits if it were possible.

luckysnap

August 12th, 2013
5:33 pm

Red Lobster is the cleanest seafood restaurant in the USA!

Steve

August 12th, 2013
5:36 pm

Red Lobster can be good if you avoid the temptation of the budget meals. The Rock Lobster is outstanding and quite a difference from the Maine. Salads run from horrible (Cobb Pkwy) to tasty and fresh (Town Center Mall RL), Every piece of shrimp I have ever had at RL is tasteless in my opinion. Just stay away form the shrimp.

Go for the lobster (as good and cheaper than frilly restaurants), but stay away if you want the Captain D style dishes that are just not good (and not good at CD’s either).

To those talking about making the biscuits form home, you can make ANYTHING at home. This isn’t about that, it’s about grading a dining experience. If you never dined out on something you could easily make at home then almost every Italian restaurant would go out of business in weeks because it is far cheaper to make at home and you can typically make it to your liking.

Thrash

August 12th, 2013
5:42 pm

Best time to go to Red Lobster is after the lunch rush and before the dinner rush, about 5pm. No wait and the salads are fresh, cold & crisp and the biscuits are almost too hot to handle.

warren

August 12th, 2013
5:46 pm

rupricht, you’ve got to be kidding about Pier123! I live right off the Square and the shrimp is awful! Hush puppies taste like wallpaper paste and has the same consistency. My experience was so bad that I don’t dare try the oysters.

Rex

August 12th, 2013
5:48 pm

Anybody that doesn’t eat ITP for every single meal, specifically Decatur or Midtown, is stupid. They can’t be as smart, tasteful, classy or refined as I am. There are no good places OTP. Anything and everything made within the perimeter automatically gets 4 out of 5 stars, even roller food from a gas station. You people will never learn. Geez.

Scott

August 12th, 2013
6:02 pm

Kudos to you, Mr. Kessler, for a fair review of (what I’ve found to be) a middling restaurant. As a reader, I sincerely appreciate you avoiding the temptation to go into hyper-critic mode and blast Red Lobster for not being on par with a $100 meal elsewhere.

I enjoy food as much as anyone, but it’s important to remember that everyone can’t afford (or might not be into) the high-end places that see to get so much attention by the food snobs out there. Nice work!

ses

August 12th, 2013
6:03 pm

I’m spoiled visiting my in-laws in Pensacola – fresh seafood every day right off the boat at Joe Patti’s. Red Lobster in Canton rocks! Same staff has been there for years. Small one room restaurant; no weaving in and out of rooms to get to your table. Make sure to say hello to “Mikey the bartender”. We will wait an hour to have a booth in the bar area.

crackbaby

August 12th, 2013
6:03 pm

Nice effort, JK. Thanks for the solid advice to stay away from the lowest price point. Nice to know that a conscientious server and manager provided excellent service.

My oldest child always bugged me to go to RL – we never went. The kid is now a 20-something, out of college and working. Probably should have obliged at least one visit.

Art

August 12th, 2013
6:10 pm

LOL @Rex!!! Thanks for trying to goad us into a big ITP/OTP “knife fight”. We’ve actually matured quite a bit since the early days of this blog and all get along quite nicely. Keep enjoying your gas station food cuz we’re not biting!

no1e-babe

August 12th, 2013
6:20 pm

RL biscuits are good, but I prefer hush puppies with my seafood.

Baltisraul....

August 12th, 2013
6:36 pm

Steve, list all the rules about posting a comment so we will know next time. Some of us, that don’t play well with others, need some direction.

I'm Hungry

August 12th, 2013
7:23 pm

Hey Baltisraul, The love for Steak and Ale for me is epic. I have seen copy cat recipes for the Hawaiian chicken but if there are any secrets to the “Real Thing” post it. Pulease!

CA

August 12th, 2013
7:28 pm

Is this a joke? You want us to take your credibility and this “30 for 30″ blog seriously and you go waste a day on a visit to Red Lobster? What a disgrace to the true growing and flourishing food scene in the Atlanta area. The AJC should be embarrassed by this blog.

Baltisraul....

August 12th, 2013
8:03 pm

CA……chill……next 30 for 30 is McDonald’s, featuring the McRib.

Baltisraul....

August 12th, 2013
8:07 pm

I’m Hungry…….my wife gets home tomorrow, I will check. The Kensington Club was awesome also!

OTP

August 12th, 2013
9:25 pm

Seriously, the safest thing there is the shrimp cocktail.

Aribi

August 12th, 2013
10:05 pm

Please review Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen. Have always wanted to try it but reluctant thinking it may be little to expensive for my wallet. Be sure to also go over in detail the wait staff, décor and drive-thru service.

Baltisraul....

August 13th, 2013
7:32 am

Aribi…..I believe I can help you. The wait staff never seems to be on site when I am there. Décor is Louisiana plastic, but tasteful. The drive-thru is better now that they eliminated the clown mouth to speak into. Pricing is about what you would expect. Cheaper by a mile than Zaxby’s.

Anton Chigurh

August 13th, 2013
8:28 am

I once worked for a guy who was looking forward to his Florida gulf coast vacation so he could indulge in seafood. He went to Red Lobster. True story.

Rupricht

August 13th, 2013
8:39 am

Warren, that’s a shame that you had a bad experience @Pier 213. They had some hiccups for awhile when they opened, but seem to have ironed them out. Even took my parents there a few weeks ago and it was just as good.

Baltisraul....

August 13th, 2013
9:13 am

I’mHungry…..not sure what ingredients you are using but my wife says this; Marinade should include red wine vinegar, sugar,dry shrerry, soy sauce, minced or granulated garlic & unsweet pineapple juice. She said the key is that they rotated the chicken using a new batch every 48 hrs.Depending on the freshness of the chicken you could go to 60 hrs. Cutting small slits in the chicken skin will allow the marinade to penetrate the chicken meat. We always grill this meal and put pineapple slices on the grill the last few min. Some folks put a slice of provolone on the last few min also. She could not remember if Steak & Ale used this technique. She was only 26 at the time. We are both a lot older now and some details escape us all to frequently. Hope this helps!

Veggie

August 13th, 2013
9:21 am

Baltisraul, your posts indicate that you’ve appointed yourself the offical arbiter/critic of what others post. Perhaps you should provide the list. Control freak much?

Baltisraul....

August 13th, 2013
9:35 am

Veggie, once again you get picked off 1st base. It was Steve that was setting the bar for us who like to post. Maybe one day you will get something correct. You seem to swing and miss way to often. Win if you can, lose if you must but always CONTROL. (J. Paul Getty)

Lizzy

August 13th, 2013
10:12 am

I love you Veggie – Balti is the Angel of Death blogger although I think he attempts to mean well so I thank you for calling him out. Sir John, you knew you’d take heat for the RL piece so kudos to you for putting it out there….variety makes the world go ’round so if it’s only about upscale eateries staleness starts seeping in. Ironically, RL’s biscuits seem to be the unifying factor; as always, I’m the odd one who doesn’t get the high level of enthusiasm although I won’t turn one down. RL started carrying oysters on the half shell for a reasonable price and was impressed with the quality although they’re not always available.

Baltisraul....

August 13th, 2013
10:20 am

Lizzy….I don’t mind being called out. It does add some flavor to this section. My wife thinks I’m an Angel and wishes me dead sometimes also .I can handle it and its more fun if you don’t take yourself to serious.

berry steve

August 13th, 2013
12:41 pm

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