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Chili's makes carryout guilt-free

The Tyrone area grill offers its regular menu (which includes low-fat offerings) and a special entrance to takeout customers.

By KATHY SAUNDERS, Times Correspondent

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 8, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- I confess, I can hardly resist those special takeout signs at popular chain restaurants. Give me a front parking space and a way to avoid waiting in line to be seated, and I am there.

As soon as I noticed the large "To Go" sign outside the Chili's Grill & Bar near Tyrone Square Mall, I couldn't wait to put the staff to the test.

I stopped by on a recent Saturday afternoon to get a carryout menu, available on a wall just inside the front door.

The menu is designed as an order form for dinner, allowing customers to just check the boxes next to the items wanted. Simple instructions describe how to order steaks and burgers from medium to well done. When the order is complete, you can call it in or fax it directly to the takeout counter.

The menu I picked up had a space for the restaurant's phone and fax numbers, but the numbers were not included. After a quick flip through the phone book, I called.

I was craving one of the restaurant's "Big Mouth Burgers," but I opted for a healthier choice from the "Guiltless Grill." I ordered the Guiltless Chicken Platter ($6.99) with grilled chicken breast, rice, corn on the cob and steamed vegetables.

The chicken breast was about the size of the restaurant's Texas-size hamburgers and grilled with a nice herb flavor. The dinner included a hefty serving of rice mixed with pimentos and corn. The steamed vegetables were summer squash, zucchini and peppers, coated with melted parmesan cheese. Corn on the cob came on the side. I was perfectly happy with the dinner and I especially enjoyed the vegetables; they were large and firm, not overcooked.

According to the menu, I consumed nine grams of fat, for which I felt perfectly guiltless. The other guilt-free dinner selections include a chicken sandwich ($6.29) and a chicken salad ($5.99) with black beans, corn, green onions and fat-free Ranch dressing.

My husband wanted the grilled baby back ribs ($10.99) served with cinnamon apples, homestyle fries and a dinner Caesar salad on the side.

When he brought the food home, instead of a full rack of ribs, double-basted with barbecue sauce, we got a Caesar salad with chicken strips.

Disappointed, we checked our bill and realized that we we charged $6.79 for a grilled chicken Caesar salad rather than the ribs. Because I placed the order, my husband didn't know what the bill was supposed to be. He also didn't check the order before he left the restaurant, a mistake we have made in the past and shouldn't have made again.

Luckily, the salad was delightful. The dressing was creamy and Chili's gave us enough to cover the extra-large salad. The Romaine lettuce was fresh and crispy and garnished with loads of big, crunchy croutons. The chicken was fresh and plentiful as well. We decided we were happy with both healthier selections that night, even though we were planning on the rib feast.

Another splurge did make it home though. We ordered tostada chips and salsa ($1.49) as an appetizer. The chips came in a large paper bag and lasted for two days. The salsa came in a separate container that was handed to my husband on his way out the door. Afraid that it would spill in his freshly detailed car, he asked for a bag for that as well.

The takeout system was easy to use and quick. Parking was simple and a special "To Go" door is well-marked at the east side of the restaurant. It's nice to have a separate entrance and not have to wait at the bar for an order to be packed.

The carryout menu offers all of Chili's specialties, including classic chicken or steak fajitas ($8.99 for one or $16.99 for two) served with warm tortillas, guacamole, pico de gallo, cheese and sour cream.

Chili's steaks, including an eight-ounce filet ($13.99) or an eight-ounce sirloin ($9.99) are served with a choice of Caesar salad, house salad or soup. Along with the baby back ribs, the Chili's grill offers Margarita Blackened Tuna ($7.99), described as a grilled "line-caught" tuna steak served on a crispy corn tostada.

A list of Chili's Favorites includes grilled chicken pasta (6.99), farm-raised fried catfish ($7.49), and chicken quesadillas ($6.49). Sandwiches are also available.

The takeout menu did not offer any desserts, but it did have a long list of dinners for children 12 and younger that included and "I-Scream Float" ($1.99) and a "Chock-A-Lot Shake" ($2.29).

Chili's Grill & Bar

  • 6798 Crosswinds Drive, St. Petersburg
  • (727) 345-6057
  • Fax: (727) 345-6514
  • Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; takeout hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
  • Consumers: Two adults
  • What we got: Tostada chips with salsa, Caesar salad with grilled chicken breast, a chicken platter with grilled chicken breast, rice, corn on the cob and steamed vegetables with parmesan cheese
  • What it cost: $16.34
  • Time it took: 15 minutes
  • Pay with: Cash and major credit cards

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