T HE SIZZLING entrees won't be the only hot items at an Applebee's in Ridley Township on Saturday, when a couple of dozen folks mosey into the restaurant packing heat for a "meet-and-eat."

With a side of firearms - or rather, with firearms at their side - the gun owners plan to gather for a meal and share their "common interest" of openly carrying handguns in sidearm holsters, said organizer Mark Fiorino.

"Applebee's is a good place for it because I like their '2 for $20,' " he said.

No word on whether the 25 to 30 expected attendees will order the dessert shooters.

According to those who plan to attend, the event is as American as apple pie, but one anti-gun-violence advocate says it's just a chance for these firearm owners to upset the apple cart.

"You may have the right to open-carry, but the idea of amassing a militia to walk into Applebee's is crossing the line," said Max Nacheman, director of CeaseFirePA.

In Pennsylvania gun owners can openly carry a firearm nearly anywhere, except in courts, federal buildings, state parks, prisons, schools and airports. They need a permit only if they want to carry a concealed weapon - under their coat or in their car, for instance. (Philadelphia requires a permit for any handgun, open or concealed.)

Bob Dodge, 26, a Delaware County tattoo artist who carries his .45-caliber Glock in a holster on his hip every day, said that there are many benefits to open-carry.

"Tactically speaking, it's a lot more efficient way of self-defense because there's no chance of a wardrobe malfunction," he said. "Also, every now and then, somebody will make a comment and really, it's me and people of my ilk who use that as an opportunity to educate."

Dodge said that very few people know the law and that events like Saturday's help raise awareness.

Fiorino, 25, an information-technology specialist who openly carries his .40-caliber Glock daily, said that he's held similar events before, including at the Fox and the Hound, in King of Prussia.

"Events like these, while not directly aimed at the public, can be used to help raise awareness and make it slightly more common knowledge that it's OK as long as it's done responsibly," he said.

Raising awareness is important to Fiorino. In February 2011, a Philly cop encountered Fiorino on Frankford Avenue in Northeast Philly, pointed his gun at him and told him he couldn't openly carry his weapon in the city. Fiorino, who has a license to carry, protested and recorded the resulting 40-minute argument, which was uploaded to YouTube. He was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct but was acquitted in October in a nonjury trial. He filed a civil suit last month.

Knowing the backlash he's faced in the past, Fiorino said that he called the Applebee's, which is on MacDade Boulevard, and cleared the event with a manager.

"I did let them know this was an open-carry event. They said 'Well, you're not going to wave your guns around, are you?' " Fiorino said. "I told them that firearms do not come out of their holsters unless it's absolutely required."

The general manager of the Applebee's, who declined to provide his name, said that he wasn't aware of the event and that the restaurant was not sponsoring it. But when told that a bunch of gun owners would be gathering at the restaurant Saturday with firearms on their hips, he said, "If they come in, we'll treat them as guests."

Ridley Township Sgt. Charles Palo said that while openly carrying is within a citizen's rights, it can be alarming.

"This isn't Wyoming, this isn't Oklahoma," he said. "People aren't used to seeing people walking around with guns exposed."

Fiorino believes that the fear of guns is a product of ignorance.

"Someone who is frightened at the mere sight of a gun is someone who needs to learn a little bit more about them," he said. "I understand seeing a group of people with firearms might scare someone who knows little about the topic, but it's a great opportunity to ask questions."

Fiorino, who used a forum on the website for the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association to coordinate the meet-up, said on the forum that he's shooting for getting to the restaurant about 5:30 p.m.

One commenter going by the name "Leo" said that he was boycotting the event because it's at "Crapplebee's."

"You OCers [open-carriers] may be all high stakes when it comes to your civil rights," he wrote, "but you really need to up the culinary ante."

Contact Stephanie Farr at 215-854-4225 or farrs@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @FarFarrAway. Read her blog, "Daily Delco" at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/delco.