Even though Bon Jovi hails proudly from New Jersey, the veteran rockers are as Middle American as baseball, Applebee's and county fairs.

In fact, Bon Jovi is the Applebee's of rock 'n' roll. The comparisons were obvious Wednesday night at the band's sold-out concert at Xcel Energy Center in front of an announced crowd of 18,000.

Popularity: Applebee's is America's top sit-down restaurant and Bon Jovi is America's top rock band. The 27-year-old quartet is the only U.S. group to play two nights at the X this year and the only American band to headline in stadiums this summer.

Comfort food: You know what Applebee's serves, and Bon Jovi offers a familiar menu of 1980s and '90s good-time, meat-and-potatoes rock 'n' roll with a little seasoning of country, Broadway and blue-eyed soul.

Always something new on the menu: That's true at your neighborhood bar and grill and Bon Jovi served up some new numbers from 2009's "The Circle" that featured new flavors. "When We Were Beautiful" resonated like a big U2 ballad, and "Superman Tonight" sounded more like Coldplay than Jersey rock.

Friendly service: You can always count on the wait staff at Applebee's and you can always count on Jon Bon Jovi to be your charming best friend for the night. He accepted a personalized Vikings T-shirt from a fan and wore it for the last half of the two-hour-plus show. He strolled through the crowd, holding up a mic for fans to sing along. And he also gave a cryptic, inside-joke shout-out to Prince, recalling an encounter they'd had 20-some years ago.

Pick A Pair:. You know how Applebee's lets you select two items of your choice for one price? Well, Bon Jovi on Wednesday picked a few numbers for just the lead singer and lead guitarist Richie Sambora to do in an acoustic format. And their passionate, soulful "I'll Be There for You" was a highlight.

Big-budgets: Applebee's pours a ton of money into advertising, while Bon Jovi splurges on live video screens, which fascinatingly changed configurations on almost every song.

Give a local shout-out: Every Applebee's honors area high schools. Bon Jovi had Twin Cities bands -- Select Three (Wednesday) and Fourforty (Thursday) -- open the X shows.

Savvy business operators: Applebee's invariably has specials, promotions and other ways of hooking you. Jon Bon Jovi is an actor, philanthropist, political activist and businessman extraordinaire. His band offers inexpensive entry prices ($29.50) but then knows how to lure the well-heeled with up-close tickets for, gulp, $502 and $352.

Free dessert: Sometimes that's the deal at Applebee's and on Wednesday, Jon Bon Jovi called for a little fun in the middle of "Bad Medicine" so the band broke into the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues" and then gave two extra reprises of the "Bad Medicine" chorus. That helped the meal go down.

But there are at least two differences between these institutions.

Under 550 calories: Applebee's has a special low-cal section on the menu, but, with Bon Jovi, nothing's under 550 calories. Their songs are too cheesy. Too many tunes are full-bore, fist-pumping anthems with supersized choruses.

Repeat business: Would you eat at Applebee's two nights in a row? Bon Jovi promises to change the 23-song menu, er, set list, on Thursday, but you know it'll still be good-time music. And if it's as good as Wednesday, you'll be there for Bon Jovi.

For a set list, go to www.startribune.com/artcetera. Jon Bream • 612-673-1719