Disclaimer: Lazy Lightning received an invitation for two guests to attend a new menu tasting at T.G.I. Friday’s in Bloomington. Everything except alcoholic beverages were included and thus please do take whatever you read below with as much salt as you feel is required from this government mandated disclaimer.
On March 6th, I had the privilege of representing Lazy Lightning at a food-tasting event at T.G.I. Friday’s. Held at the Normandale Avenue location in Bloomington, the evening was billed as a free taste of fresh new menu items.
I arrived a few minutes before the starting time of 6pm, anxious to see what the night would hold. I was led to a grouping of tables in the back corner that was ultimately filled with 10 women, 2 husbands, and one small child. Their intended demographic was clear, and I found myself wondering how Bill garnered an invite.
The manager, who was incredibly gracious, and two servers were on hand to explain the various items as they came out. In addition, one marketing type guy hung around, presumably to monitor our reactions and politely ask us to refrain from photography. This was met with a mix of shock and disdain among the group, and while some snuck a photo or two, I’m too interested in future free food opportunities to risk getting blacklisted for a few pictures.
Over the next three hours, we were served small portions of 15 new items. The items arrived as they typically would, with small plates passed around for sharing. We generally received 2 full sized portions, with the burgers and sandwiches cut into quarters. The beverage of the evening was their new Peach Sweet Tea, which I found to be fairly refreshing. Alcohol was served for an additional charge, with two new martinis on special. I refrained, wanting to keep my wits about me as I carefully tried most, though not all, of the food items.
I hadn’t been to a TGI Friday’s in some time. I don’t recall disliking their food then, it just never made it onto my list of frequented restaurants. Here’s what I learned on this visit: 1) The atmosphere was updated, as promised in the email invite, and a brief tour after dinner revealed a more grown-up restaurant than I remembered. I was impressed. 2) The food, with more misses and almosts than hits, seemed to revolve around one ingredient: jalapenos. Good thing I’m a fan, as they showed up in two appetizers, both burgers, and two sandwiches.
- Warm Pretzels with Beer Cheese Dipping Sauce ($6.89): Though somewhat doughy on the inside, these were wonderfully salted and crispy on the outside. I found myself missing them as the evening went on and would definitely order again. The cheese was a bit sour, but it was my first experience with beer cheese, so perhaps that was to be expected.
Spicy Beer Cheese Burger ($9.79): I didn’t taste the beer cheese on this one, but it was a great burger nonetheless. The spice came from fresh jalapenos on bottom and fried jalapenos on top, and it did not disappoint.
Knife-and-Fork Caesar Salad ($9.89): I’m a fan of Caesar salads, and I found this one to be a unique take on the classic dish. I’m not sure I need my lettuce to be in pieces that large, but I survived. The dressing was key for me, a creamy and tangy delight.
- Sizzling Chimichurri & Fries ($13.89): Confession – I have no idea what a chimichurri is. Still don’t. This was a slab of beef (always appreciated) with a green, pesto looking sauce on top. The sauce was a little strong, but it was a decent entrée. The fries seemed an odd paring.
Ahi Tuna with Avocado Crisps ($10.19): I wanted to love this. It was gorgeous on the plate. In fact, almost everything served on this night was beautifully presented. The crisps were crispy, the tuna was tasty, but the bland avocado topping took an unfortunate center stage. Used in excess, it overpowered the appetizer.
Ultimate Grilled Cheese & Ham Sandwich with Tomato Soup Dunk ($8.69): I was excited by the description, but was instantly worried when the sandwich was delivered. Described by the waiter as “hippie bread,” the overly grainy / nut filled bread was overwhelming. Too bad, since the ham and cheese were pretty good.
Cinnamon-Apple Spiced Crumble ($6.49): We were all delighted to get dessert, since it was not on the tasting menu we were provided. This one was served in a still warm, small skillet. The apples were just tender enough, and the overall flavor was really good. Unfortunately, the crumbles should have been called crunchies. I feared for my teeth at times.
- Heavenly Hummus Dip ($7.89): Least aptly named dish of the evening. Others raved, but I found the odd combination of plain hummus, yogurt, and vegetable topping to be odd.
Thai Steak Salad ($11.99): Very pretty to look at, but the ginger was overpowering. That could just be a personal distaste, as most people at the table seemed to love this one.
Victory Garden Pasta ($8.99): The delicious goat cheese sprinkled on top was not enough to save this otherwise very boring pasta dish.
Brownie Obsession ($5.69): I love chocolate. I love brownies. This should have been a win. Somehow though, it proved that you can have too much of a good thing. Possibly the sweetest thing I’ve ever had in my mouth, and not in a good way. Once I made it through the toppings, the brownie itself seemed to be okay, but by then I just wanted it to be over.
When was the last time you headed over to a T.G.I. Friday’s? Have you tried any of their new menu items? Do you plan to do so now that you’ve heard more? Which sounds most or least appealing to you? Are you surprised at the number of dishes including jalapenos? Do you find menu items that are ‘spiced up’ in this way to be more or less appealing to you? Do you believe that these changes are due to people’s ever increasing knowledge of food through social media and the web? Whatever you have to say about T.G.I. Friday’s new menu offerings go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear what you have to say.