Chain Gang | Bennigan's a (mostly) pleasant surprise

Food's good, but presentation, cleanliness lacking

Posted: April 20, 2007

THE CHAIN GANG goes old school this week with a trip to Bennigan's, which has been around since some of us were in Gang Day Care.

We chose the Bennigan's out on Cottman Avenue, because we were told it had been renovated and wanted to see the new digs, but it looked exactly the same as our Northeast Gangsterette remembered it from a decade ago, except 10 years stickier.

Since Bennigan's is pushing a "Fajita Nation" concept (ironic, since we have National Guard troops on the borders trying to prevent a Fajita Nation), we ordered the Mixed Grill Fajitas ($13.99) as an appetizer so we could all gain national citizenship.

They were the weakest thing we had. The shrimp were small, dry and chewy, the chicken strips were also dry and chewy, and the steak was as tasteless as the fajita wrappers. As for spice, the only thing hot was the skillet.

Our other appetizers were better - the Cheeseburger Egg Rolls ($7.49) and the Caribbean Crab Cakes ($8.49) were both tasty, although the dipping sauces were overkill.

For main dishes the Guinness Grill Top Sirloin ($11.49) was a winner and the Guinness Grill Baby Back Ribs ($13.99) easily trumped similar dishes at Applebee's and Chili's. These ribs were good, meaty, tasty and nicely glazed.

The Flaherty Fish ($9.99), a pan-seared Tilapia with lemon butter, also was a pleasant surprise. The fish was moist, not overcooked and not smothered in goo.

A bigger surprise was the O'Connor Monte Christo ($7.99). It was such a surprise, we gasped when it arrived at the table, looking like a heaping plate of fish & chips. What it is, however, is a wheat bread sandwich of turkey, bacon, cheddar cheese and tomato, battered and deep fried. It had a nice crunch, even when a Gangster's wife was eating the humongous leftovers at home two hours later.

Side dishes were all good, especially the crisp green beans and lumpy mashed potatoes.

For dessert we mixed/matched the Chocolate Lava Cake and the Brownie Bottom Pie ($7.49 for the pair, a bargain). Neither stood out, but both fulfilled the need for warm chocolate goodness after an already stuffing meal.

Of course, we also had to try some of Bennigan's candy alcoholic beverages (their beer list is better than most chains) and liked the Peach Cooler ($6.50), although a second one tasted nothing like the first, and the frozen Bellini ($6.50), a peachy slurpee with a few drops of booze. Our one order of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay ($8.50) finished off their Chardonnay supply for the evening.

Overall, the food was reasonably priced and better than average but the presentation was nonexistent (dishes arrived as if the food had literally been thrown on the plate), and the Cottman location could use a good hosing down. Service was not brisk, but it was competent and friendly.

The chain truth

Chain: Bennigan's, 2231 Cottman Ave. Phone: 215-722-1907. Other area locations at 720 Baltimore Pike in Springfield (610-328-0612), 160 North Gulph Road in King of Prussia (610-337-0633), 1102 Route 73 in Mt. Laurel (856-235-4190), 2402 Easton Road in Willow Grove (215-674-8383), 678 Bethlehem Pike in Montgomeryville (215-412-7777), 1347 Wilmington Pike in West Chester (610-918-9944) and 2015 Concord Turnpike in Wilmington (302-652-8910).

Bennigan's, 2231 Cottman Ave. Phone: 215-722-1907. Other area locations at 720 Baltimore Pike in Springfield (610-328-0612), 160 North Gulph Road in King of Prussia (610-337-0633), 1102 Route 73 in Mt. Laurel (856-235-4190), 2402 Easton Road in Willow Grove (215-674-8383), 678 Bethlehem Pike in Montgomeryville (215-412-7777), 1347 Wilmington Pike in West Chester (610-918-9944) and 2015 Concord Turnpike in Wilmington (302-652-8910).

Reservations: Yes.

Parking: Free.

Price: Dinner for four with two appetizers, two desserts, five main dishes and seven drinks was a very reasonable $127.53 plus tip.

Portions: Plenty. That O'Connor Monte Christo can feed two normal eaters and two desserts are fine for four.

Overall grade: The food gets three links out of four but we have to knock off a half a link for the grimy feel, slap-dash presentation and uncomfortable benches.*

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