Things I’ve learned as a longtime professional food writer include:
▪ Avoid all steaks at the dollar store.
▪ Never buy $1 discounted, gas-station sushi.
▪ Always be skeptical of dollar cocktails.
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With that in mind, I convinced a gaggle of journalists and a few spouses to test that third rule at a Pierce County Applebee’s Grill + Bar following the chain restaurant’s debut of $1 Long Island Iced Teas Dec. 1.
The cocktail recipe, according to Applebee’s, includes vodka, rum, gin, tequila, triple sec and sweet and sour mix with a splash of cola.
It’s worth noting Applebee’s uses the initials “LIT” to describe the drink.
What could go wrong?
I can confirm no strings came attached to the dollar offer. Just as the restaurant offered in its October Dollarita promotion, the Long Island Iced Teas were $1 with no other purchase necessary and available anytime for diners 21 and older at participating locations through Dec. 31.
Only one member of our party ordered a second one — she’s a glutton for punishment — and it also was only $1.
The no-strings offer is good through the end of the year.
Some have said the dollar promotion is an effort to get bodies in the seats of the struggling chain. I’ll buy that. It was packed on our visit and I’m guessing the 10 or so early 20-somethings out front weren’t waiting a half hour for steak or double-glazed baby back ribs.
Our decidedly more, ahem, experienced group was after that sweet, cheap booze with the caveat of evaluating the drinks for value and enjoyment.
Were they drinkable? Yes, in the same way that you thought your dorm room spodie punch bowl was “drinkable.”
Applebee’s dollar version of a Long Island Iced Tea tasted a little like Mountain Dew mixed with ginger ale, Crystal Light and rocket fuel.
To be fair, that’s typically what one tastes like to me at most restaurants that serve the cocktail, which I suspect was invented as a frat-guy dare.
I sucked mine down in a few minutes. That’s because the glass looked more ice than booze, but what’d you expect for a dollar? That answer should be, “Not much of anything.”
What was worth far more than sucking down a dollar cocktail was the commentary from friends.
“It tastes like Zima with no fizz,” said City Hall reporter Candice Ruud, who was in elementary school when I got my first food-writing gig. I was super impressed she even knew about Zima.
“I have never had a Long Island Iced Tea, and I am pretty sure that's still true,” said business reporter Kate Martin, who was doubtful it actually contained booze.
It did. That booze was just masked beneath what the rest of us described as a “cheap Moscow mule, weird ginger ale and a Freckled Lemonade.”
Final thought: A dollar cocktail deserves its rightful place in the food universe: It’s a solid food dare among friends.
DOLLAR EATS WITHOUT REGRET
As a hired belly who is tasked with previewing Pierce County restaurants for you readers, I do happen to know where to go for dollar eats that won’t fill you with regret.
Northwest Lumpia serves dollar lumpia from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays for $1 each, with discounts for buying in bulk. They offer about two dozen flavors, but not every flavor is available daily (1607 Center St., Tacoma; 253-341-0234).
Marvel Foods has $1.49 piroshki in multiple flavors at the Russian grocery store and deli in Parkland (301 133rd St S, Tacoma; 253-537-1008).
Friendly Foods, the Russian grocery store and deli in Tacoma, also has piroshki, belashy and chebureki starting around $1.29 to $1.49 each (3612 Center St., Tacoma; 253-752-5649).
Brewers Row in the Proctor neighborhood sells its fried-to-order churros for $1 each. They come with a chewy texture and a crunchy coating of cinnamon sugar (3205 N. 26th St., Tacoma; 253-327-1757).
El Borracho has tacos for $1.10 each during happy hour 4-7 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily at the Sixth Avenue restaurant. (2717 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-314-5286; 21 and older only).
Pierce County Applebee’s locations: Tacoma, Puyallup, Lakewood, University Place, Bonney Lake, Gig Harbor.