Endless appetizers, bottomless fries and other very filling promotions

UntitledIt’s the age-old question: How many loaded potato skins CAN you eat?

If you have $10 and a flexible attitude about calories, you can find out.

TGI Fridays, which has a Wichita restaurant at 2441 N. Maize Road, is offering “endless appetizers” until Aug. 24. Customers pay $10 and can get all the refills they can stomach of garlic and basil bruschetta, Mozzarella sticks, boneless buffalo wings, Tuscan spinach dip, crispy green bean fries and pan-seared pot stickers. (Be warned: If you start with potato skins you must stick with potato skins. No traveling through the menu allowed.)

I do love boneless wings, but all-you-can-eat deals and buffets are something I generally try to avoid. I always have a nagging feeling that I should eat more because, you know, I CAN. But if I do, I’m sorry for hours, maybe days. Bottomless steak fries at Red Robin? Unlimited soup, salad and bread sticks at Olive Garden? Sounds delicious. But really, I shouldn’t.

If only Red Lobster would revive its all-you-can-eat crab legs promotion, I’d make an exception. But I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.

The life of a small town food critic

Two "long, warm breadsticks"

Oh, dear.

I just read today’s AP story about Marilyn Hagerty, the 85-year-old North Dakota food critic whose review of the local Olive Garden has made her an Internet sensation, and not necessarily in a good way.

The review, which characterizes the Italian chain as the finest dining ever to hit the greater Dakotas, is no-nonsense and amusing. Hagerty prides herself on resisting the lemonade suggested by the waitress and ordering water instead. She’s quite complimentary of the two “long, warm breadsticks” she sampled and calls the new OG the “largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks.”

I get why it’s funny, obviously, and I realize that the hubbub as much about the earnest 85-year-old reviewer as it is about the restaurant she’s reviewing. But this issue touches a bit of a nerve with me.

Several years ago, I came across a blog written by a smug New York Citian. It was dedicated to finding restaurant reviews written in small towns and ridiculing them for their unsophisticated simplicity. I found a review authored by a former Eagle colleague on the blog, and I was steaming mad.

Wichita isn’t New York City. And neither is Grand Forks, N.D. The arrival of Olive Garden IS big news in cities with smaller populations, no matter how much those of us who consider ourselves foodies would prefer to pretend it isn’t. Just look at the lines of people waiting nightly for tables at Wichita’s Olive Gardens. Year after year, those lines never get any shorter. Even sophisticated Midwestern diners enjoy an occasional meal at Olive Garden and Texas Roadhouse and Chili’s, where the food is consistent and the price is right. With some exceptions, those who pretend they don’t are… pretending.

Sometimes I’m self-conscious reviewing chains and places that are less than gourmet, but I consider it a part of the job. Diners and restaurants in Wichita get more sophisticated all the time. Many of us would prefer to dine local, and we have more fabulous places to dine local every day. But Wichita’s dining public is still a long way from being above wondering how the new Cheddar’s is and whether we’ll ever get a Joe’s Crab Shack or Cheesecake Factory… or another Olive Garden.

We are who we are. And I’m fine with that.

Derby’s Olive Garden opens Monday

Maybe, just maybe, this will cut down on the eternal lines at the Wichita Olive Gardens.

Who am I kidding? No it won’t.

Derby’s new Olive Garden will open at 4 p.m. Monday at 1718 N. Rock Road.  It will serve dinner only during its first week and will be open from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Jan. 12 and from 4 to 11 p.m. Jan. 13. Daily lunch service starts on Jan. 14.

For more information, call 316-788-1501.

Gluten-free dining

pfchangslogo I received an e-mail today from a reader named Deanna, whose young grandson has just been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, an inherited autoimmune disease in which the lining of the small intestine is damanged from eating gluten and other proteins found in grains. People with that disease must have gluten-free diets, and Deanna was wondering which local restaurants serve gluten-free meals.

She found a few options at Bonefish Grill, and I already knew that P.F. Chang’s had a gluten-free menu. A quick Google search turned up a list of several more restaurants that maintain gluten-free menus. Among them: Chili’s, Carrabba’s, Outback Steakhouse, On The Border and Ted’s Montana Grill.

Hope that helps, Deanna.

*UPDATE* : Thanks to an alert reader, I can add two more names to the gluten-free menu list: Carlos O’Kelly’s and Olive Garden.