Red Lobster: Valentine's Day lunch might net your just desserts

J. Wohletz
Dip is always better in a sourdough bread bowl.
It's a tricky time for plan-ahead, chain-dining daters. They have six weeks to figure out where to make Valentine's Day reservations, and despite the fact that dining out on February 14 is way more hassle than it's worth (big waits even with reservations, crowded dining rooms, flustered staff, long ticket times and artificially inflated prices on booze and dining packages), people still insist on doing it. But where?

Red Lobster, maybe? It's a solid, mid-range, mid-priced seafood place that's on a surprising number of foodies' guilty-pleasure lists. Besides, everybody knows that feeding your date lobster shows that you really care -- and where you go may determine what you get for dessert.

See also:
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-My top five full-service chain restaurant meals

J. Wohletz
Cheddar Bay biscuits...still a major draw.
The last time I'd had a meal at a Red Lobster, Bill Clinton was president and I could afford to suck down lobster tails like they were Arkansas crawdads. Not so much today, but I thought lunch there still looked like an appealing option because -- like so many prominent chain restaurants these days -- it offers cash-strapped diners deeply discounted offerings. There are the current $7.99 lunch specials, the lunchtime Quick Catches menu, and new Maine Stays entrees under $15, which come with a choice of salad and unlimited Cheddar Bay Biscuits, which everyone who has ever been to a Red Lobster knows is half the reason to eat there.

I was impressed with the variety of the less expensive entrees. The various sub-menus included choices ranging from shrimp tacos to seafood-stuffed flounder to classic fish & chips, all the way up to blue cheese sirloin and Chesapeake shrimp with crab. I was definitely interested in a couple of the "premium sides" (available for an upcharge) of Langostino lobster baked potato or mashed potatoes.

I ordered the Coastal Soup and Grilled Shrimp Salad and Sailor's Platter off the lunch menu -- with the lobster mashers upgrade -- and, as an afterthought, the Lobster-Artichoke-and-Seafood Dip off the Seaside Starters menu. I asked for the dip in a sourdough bread bowl so I could try and recapture the lobster fondue magic from Lobsterfests of long ago, and also because I recall the sourdough bread there as being above average.

J. Wohletz
The Langostino lobster mashed potatoes -- worth every penny.
Another plus with lunchtime dining is that the service is usually much better, with baskets of delicious cheese biscuits delivered like clockwork. After spending a lot of time in fast-casual places, I tend to forget how good the service can be in sit-down chain restaurants.

So far, so good for my recommendation of Red Lobster as an alternative to having non-cheap dates get cases of the angries at being taken to Chipotle for chips and guacamole, or having to spend rent money on a lobster cocktail and oysters at Elway's.

Bill Darden and Charley Woodsby gave restaurant-birth to the first Red Lobster in Lakeland, Florida, in 1968. By 1970 it had expanded to five locations, and was purchased by General Mills, leading to massive expansion in the 1980s. In 1995 Red Lobster, Olive Garden and its other sister chains were bought and turned into the publicly-traded corporation Darden Restaurants, Inc.

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