My friend Franklin has a secret.
Franklin's really fussy about fresh seafood, but he has this thing for Red Lobster, though he won't admit that to just everyone. You see, Red Lobster is considered very lowbrow among the foodie set. And that's exactly the reason I like it. Admittedly, I don't eat at Red Lobster restaurants very often because there's almost always a long wait for a table and the joint's typically loaded with screaming kids; I do have my limits. And despite the perception that the chain is the seafood version of a Ponderosa Steakhouse or a Golden Corral, it's better than that -- and pricier. Not at the price point of the Bristol Seafood Grill, of course, but you get the idea. In this economy, price points are pretty potent persuaders.
OK, so here's the other secret: Franklin watches a lot of TV and gets really turned on by the alluring commercials for Red Lobster's annual Lobsterfest -- which runs, roughly, from mid-February to April 15 -- because there are, he insists, some really good deals to be had. Lobster is not cheap.
He offered to take me to see the glory that is Lobsterfest before time ran out on the deal. I was game. I like lobster, although I'll confess my own snobbishness here: I never would have considered ordering it at Red Lobster, even if it is the namesake dish.
What I didn't know, until we were seated at a tiny table at the constantly busy location in Overland Park, is that different restaurants in the chain have different Lobsterfest menus. Or so we were told. I went online to the very efficient Red Lobster website and checked a half dozen or so cities, large and small, and the same menu popped up. It's a good menu: there's nothing over $27, including "The Ultimate Feast," a split Maine lobster tail, steamed crab legs, shrimp scampi and "Walt's Favorite Shrimp." And all the lobster dinners include salads, a potato, and those irresistible, airy cheddar biscuits which -- another confession here -- I like better than the sugary clumps served at the Bristol.
Franklin ordered the "Wood-Fired Surf & Turf," described on the menu as "two petite Maine lobster tails and a lightly seasoned center-cut sirloin." He raved about the dish, although I have seen prawns bigger than those "petite" lobster tails. And I watched him cut into the sirloin and it obviously wasn't that tender. But I was his guest, so I kept my trap shut.
I didn't see anything on the Lobsterfest menu that sounded all that fabulous (except the lobster pizza, which is an appetizer), so I settled on the "Rock Island Tilapia" -- a nice hunk of flaky tilapia baked in a surprisingly good butter sauce with a crab stuffing and "topped with langostino lobster meat." It was very rich, but emotionally satisfying. And at $18 bucks, including salad, baked potato and biscuits, it was an exceptional deal.
I'm not sure I would ever order it again, but I'll give a solid thumbs-up to Lobsterfest as a recession-relieving dining experience. Franklin walked out of the restaurant feeling like Diamond Jim Brady.
Just don't tell anyone about it.