You might think Applebee's has absolutely no place in a blog about barbecue. That's because it doesn't. Nothing on their menu is remotely close to barbecue, and anything they call "bbq" is most likely covered in a much-too-sweet sauce. But I do have a story about Applebee's.
Years ago, my friend Tom and I drove around the country together for 5 weeks. Before the trip started we came up with several ground rules: when given the choice we would always visit a less well-known city (e.g. instead of going to Chicago, we took a car ferry across Lake Michigan to Green Bay and ate lunch at a sports bar across from Lambeau Field), we would drink local beers whenever we could, try to go to more minor league baseball games than major league, and would not eat at chain restaurants (except Subway for lunches on the road.)
We'd spent a long day in Memphis, visiting Mud Island, seeing the Civil Rights Museum in the former hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, and visiting Graceland. After showering back at the hotel we decided we wanted to go to Corky's BBQ for dinner. We thought we knew where it was. We did not. We drove around for a long time and eventually we were starving. Finally we saw an Applebees and said "screw it, let's just eat there."
It was horrible. I had some kind of Asian chicken salad that made me sick to my stomach. We would have been better off just going to AMPM and eating mystery meat hot dogs.
Recently, when I saw Applebee's came out with some pulled pork sliders, I remembered this night and our aborted attempt at barbecue. I realized I had not been to an Applebee's since then. I have never much cared for it. I'm not crazy about chains to begin with, and Applebee's has always seemed to me like Chili's with worse food. But I figured I would give the pulled pork sliders a try.
They were actually very good. They were not barbecue at all. The pork was most likely cooked in an oven. But it was still very tasty. There was no fat in the pork, the sauce wasn't sweet, and the buns were the nice, soft buns I love with sliders. I don't anticipate ever eating at Applebee's again, but I'm glad I got a little of the taste of that Memphis Applebee's out of my mind.
By the way, three years after that trip to Memphis, I was back again for the Memphis in May barbecue festival and my friend Hatcher and I went to Corky's. It was disappointing. It was 100 times better than Applebee's, but nowhere near as good as Rendezvous or Jim Neely's Interstate.