Applebee’s is carb-loading its menu with three brand-new pastas for just $11.99 per dish. Each one also comes with the chain’s signature garlic-butter breadsticks, so you can soak up all the extra sauce instead of just licking the plate clean.
Applebee’s chef Stephen Bulgarelli and his team stopped by The Daily Meal with stuffed rigatoni and tomato meat sauce, creamy penne pasta with sliced prime rib and Cajun pasta with blackened chicken so we could sample the new eats firsthand. Here are our thoughts:
Chef Bulgarelli’s Stuffed Rigatoni and Tomato Meat Sauce
This dish features rigatoni stuffed with ricotta and Romano cheeses and tossed in a tomato-basil ground beef sauce and topped with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, then baked and topped with parsley. The idea sounds nice, but this was our least favorite. One editor said it “kind of had the reheated taste of a lot of other Applebee’s dishes,” and it was a little bit dry. Disclaimer: This pasta had been sitting for an unknown amount of time during its travel to our offices, so that could have altered the quality.
Creamy Penne Pasta With Sliced Prime Rib
This pasta is combined with thin-sliced prime rib and tossed in a creamy Parmesan and mushroom sauce with sundried tomato. We really enjoyed the texture and flavor of the sauce on this one. One taste-tester even crowned it as the best sauce at Applebee’s ever. Our only complaint is that we couldn’t really tell the difference between the sliced prime rib and the mushrooms because they were similar in size, color and shape. One editor didn’t even know she was eating meat until after she’d finished, but she liked it nonetheless!
Cajun Pasta With Blackened Chicken or Shrimp
We got the blackened chicken version of this dish, with a Cajun sauce over penne pasta alongside peppers and sautéed mushrooms. This one was our favorite of the three, because the chicken was juicy and the pasta sauce had a nice zesty kick to it. It wasn’t too spicy, but overall it had great flavor.
We can’t forget about the breadsticks! One of our editors actually used to work at Applebee’s not too long ago, and at that time, the breadsticks were not up to par. They were small, dry and sad. The breadsticks that chef Bulgarelli brought us had undergone what the kids might call a "glow up.” They weren’t quite as airy and fluffy as we’d want them, but they had awesome flavor and were nowhere near as boring as they used to be.
All in all, we’re pretty impressed by Applebee’s new offerings. We just wish they had added another vegetarian option to the menu, because not everyone likes meat! Luckily, the chicken in the Cajun pasta was easy to pick around, but looking for mushrooms in the prime rib pasta was very similar to playing Minesweeper. Customers can likely request meatless versions of these dishes, though. If you don’t want to risk it to get the biscuit (or in this case, the breadstick), take a seat in one of America’s best vegan restaurants instead.
Food samples for review were provided by their producers at no cost to the writer.