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The Olive Garden - Food Even The Hungry Masses Can Dislike With Over 800 Global Locations


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I have never been to Carraba's and after reading this thread will ikely never go, but I have a funny Olive Garden story. Every year for Christmas my aunt, whom I adore, gives me an Olive Garden gift card (which I don't). My family lost our home in a fire last year, and even my Calphalon and Le Creuset cookware was destroyed - but what survived? You got it - those 3 Olive Garden gift cards were still clinging to the kitchen bulletin board. After that, my kids decided we had no choice but to use them. We ordered many different things to try, none of which we can recall, handed the 3 cards to the waitress, and she returned and announced that we still had $42 remaining. Anyone want a smoky $42 Olive Garden gift card? We continue to seek good, classic Italian cooking in the close-in Virginia suburbs.

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Frankly, I could not make it past this line. There might be something redeeming in this article, but I doubt it.
It's funny. The GM in the article is genuinely enthused about what he's doing, and I'm sure the residents of Sioux Falls are genuinely looking forward to what they genuinely feel is a fine dining experience. The snob in me finds it adorably quaint. I'm sure somewhere out there in the Universe, some extraterrestrial from a fine dining planet feels the same way when he reads posts on this board about Cathal Armstrong's next project. "Haha! Those fools really think that Restaurant Eve is a fine dining experience! Silly humans! They should try eating at Qwyxdlkmrf's."

For some, it's all they have and all they know. Me, I'm looking forward to my UFO abduction and subsequent naked force feeding at Qwyxdlkmrf's sister restaurant: Ray's the Wookiee.

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Being from Iowa (though admittedly, far away from Souix City), I can attest that you really can occasionally find the fine restaurant among the chains. I was visiting earlier this week and had a fantastic Walleye Amandine with orzo and braised asparagus.

But I also remember when the small town I am from got their first sit-down chain restaurant - an Applebee's. When the only other options are McDonald's and BK, you learn to appreciate the virtues of the Bee. While I haven't eaten at an Applebee's in years, I have to say I do occasionally still enjoy the over-dressed salad and breadsticks for a lunch at OG.

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I have never been to Carraba's and after reading this thread will ikely never go, but I have a funny Olive Garden story. Every year for Christmas my aunt, whom I adore, gives me an Olive Garden gift card (which I don't). My family lost our home in a fire last year, and even my Calphalon and Le Creuset cookware was destroyed - but what survived? You got it - those 3 Olive Garden gift cards were still clinging to the kitchen bulletin board. After that, my kids decided we had no choice but to use them. We ordered many different things to try, none of which we can recall, handed the 3 cards to the waitress, and she returned and announced that we still had $42 remaining. Anyone want a smoky $42 Olive Garden gift card? We continue to seek good, classic Italian cooking in the close-in Virginia suburbs.

If it is still available I am sure I could find a use for it.

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Good for her. This didn't blow up into the meme it has because people hate Olive Garden. That's been done plenty of times before. People are using it as a chance to snark on middle America. I wouldn't have blamed her if she told the Voice reporter to cram it with a Tour of Italy.

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Good for her. This didn't blow up into the meme it has because people hate Olive Garden. That's been done plenty of times before. People are using it as a chance to snark on middle America. I wouldn't have blamed her if she told the Voice reporter to cram it with a Tour of Italy.

Agreed.

I loved her review. Why can't all restaurant reviews be as matter-of-fact?

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Yep, it's very sweet. For most of the '70s and '80s I lived in a little town in rural Ohio with a population of about 15,000. The most popular restaurant was "Bland's Family Restaurant." I was (am) a wise guy, so I thought that the name was hilarious. Who would want to eat bland food? I should have been less judgmental.

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This explains how I can sit in a restaurant in Italy eating what I swear, for all the world, is frozen food. While the American at the table next to me moans as they chew.

In truth in thirty years of heavy travel around the U. S. there are countless smaller cities and towns where Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Outback are benchmarks. I can imagine when any of them first opened lines would form out the door.

In high school decades and decades ago a candidate for Montgomery Blair's Student Council campaigned that if elected his father would open Silver Spring's first McDonald's.

He lost. McDonald's opened anyway.

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My only problem with the piece is the editing. The syntax is a bit rambly, and I don't think that a first-person-heavy style is appropriate for a food review. Beyond that, if the editor of the Grand Forks Herald thinks that spending XXX column-inches on a review of the Olive Garden is a useful use of his/her paper's resources, who am I to judge?

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I have never eaten at any Olive Garden or Carraba's and doubt I ever will. Living and cooking on the Eastern shore of maryland now, we have NO dining choices that truly aren't crap. It's unfortunate that the most recently hyped opening is a Golden Corral! This proves, "if you build it they will come"....

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I had lunch at an Olive Garden yesterday, as it seemed the best of the nearby options. They're good at what they do. They met our needs, at least, on this particular occasion. The restaurant was very busy, though we were there at peak lunch time. We had to wait at least 15 minutes for a table and there were plenty of other people waiting.

This was only the second time I've eaten at an Olive Garden and it was much better than the previous occasion (for a dinner), when they didn't have my first or second choices available, service was scattered, and it was kind of a madhouse. That was at a different location, though relatively nearby.

Yesterday the five of us dining concluded that the food was not bad. I take that back: the breadsticks were bad--way too doughy and salty. I had the $6.95 unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks. I ate half of a breadstick and gave up but had two bowls of soup (Zuppa Toscana Spicy sausage, russet potatoes and cavolo greens in a creamy broth). Each one seemed to be more like a half of bowl of soup, but that was fine. According to the menu, each serving was 170 calories. My half a breadstick clocked 70 calories. I forget what the salad calorie count was, but since it was served from a communal bowl, I don't know how a customer would measure a serving. There were peperoncinis in the salad, which I normally like, but they were very hard to eat from a salad plate without picking them up in my fingers. Otherwise the salad was perfectly adequate, with a nonoffensive Italian dressing.

I liked the soup. The sausage was slightly spicy bulk sausage in fairly small chunks and the potatoes had been sliced irregularly rather than cubed, giving the soup a rustic appeal that I'm sure their testing department worked hard at achieving. It had a nice balance, without too much salt or excessive richness.

My husband also had the soup ($4.95 a la carte) and enjoyed it but didn't think the sausage was spicy at all. He proclaimed his Four Cheese Calzone Handmade with ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan and fontina cheese, Italian herbs and marinara. Served with a side of marinara. (6.95) okay if completely unexceptional. Other than the soup, the greatest satisfaction expressed seemed to be with the Ravioli di Portobello Portobello mushroom-filled ravioli in a creamy smoked cheese and sun-dried tomato sauce (9.50). Also ordered: Chicken Parmigiana Parmesan-breaded chicken breast, fried and topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. Served with spaghetti (9.95); and, Grilled Sausage & Peppers Rustica Italian sausage, bell peppers and fresh mozzarella with penne in a zesty marinara sauce (9.95), which was completely devoured but without comment.

Service was excellent. Olive Garden trains their staff well. No one tried to take away our plates while we were still eating! (That's got to be particularly tricky to finesse when you've got unlimited refills on some things.) The offers of freshly grated cheese did begin to grate (ha!) just a bit. They were offering to put it on everything that came out to the table. I'm sure they would have put some in my iced tea if I'd asked :P . Oh, the iced tea wasn't that good, but they do offer both unsweetened and sweetened. I didn't ask the person who got sweetened iced tea how his was, but my unsweetened tea was rather bland, as though the ratio of tea to water was off.

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I was forced to go to Olive Garden in Tysons as a guest of some people who didn't know any better.

What a godawful experience. The service was laughably horrible, the climate of the dining room was almost criminal -- hot and humid, so much so that I pointed out to waitress at one point that the cold wine bottle she was pouring from was dripping with condensation -- and the food was forgettable. Every wretched experience imaginable was experienced tonight. Nightmarish.

I wanted to order something that could not be 'fouled' up. I went with the tossed salad topped with antipasti and the flatbread Margherita. Both were seriously flawed. The salad was clearly scooped out of a bag, an the antipasti was as interesting as anything you can scrape together from Walmart. The flatbread was miserable. I even ate some of both because I was hungry and didn't want to offend my host. I am not feeling well as of this writing.

May Darden enjoy its profits and continue to dish out indifferent corporate slop to the ignorant masses, and may their executives all enjoy extraordinary compensation, but please make them eat every meal at Olive Garden as their penance. Yuk.

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Tim Carman's assessment of Marilyn Hagerty--notorious for her much-talked-about review of Olive Garden--is a lovely, perceptive, and humbling piece. As a child of the Upper Midwest, this resonates with me, not least his closer: "I think we both admire (and, likely, loathe) Hagerty for her ability to appreciate what life places on her table, day after day after day, without complaint. This is a kind of grace that few of us will ever possess."

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Tim Carman's assessment of Marilyn Hagerty--notorious for her much-talked-about review of Olive Garden--is a lovely, perceptive, and humbling piece. As a child of the Upper Midwest, this resonates with me, not least his closer: "I think we both admire (and, likely, loathe) Hagerty for her ability to appreciate what life places on her table, day after day after day, without complaint. This is a kind of grace that few of us will ever possess."

I just saw this, went to the article, and X'd out immediately after reading the title. I was expelled before reading a single word of the piece - I neither love nor loathe Marilyn Hagerty (or what I know about her from reading her one, infamous review), so the title implies a false premise. Assuming this is what I think it's going to be - and I will read it either tonight or tomorrow - it has nothing to do with food. Or, if it does, I would suggest the audience extrapolate the concept towards a bigger picture. "But how can you know the concept if you haven't even read the piece, Don?" Ah, good point, though I can assure everyone that it would be almost impossible for me to loathe any 88-year-old woman who isn't an axe murderess.

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I just saw this, went to the article, and X'd out immediately after reading the title. I was expelled before reading a single word of the piece - I neither love nor loathe Marilyn Hagerty (or what I know about her from reading her one, infamous review), so the title implies a false premise. Assuming this is what I think it's going to be - and I will read it either tonight or tomorrow - it has nothing to do with food. Or, if it does, I would suggest the audience extrapolate the concept towards a bigger picture. "But how can you know the concept if you haven't even read the piece, Don?" Ah, good point, though I can assure everyone that it would be almost impossible for me to loathe any 88-year-old woman who isn't an axe murderess.

The title for the online article is entirely different--and, I agree, much lamer--from the print version ("She keeps it simple. And we eat it up."). And, yes, the article really has nothing to do with food per se, but with an approach/view of life grounded in gratitude. "Hagerty purposely chooses the community over the individual. She doesn't feel the need to be relevant in a culture that prizes celebrity. . . . [Her] critics, I suspect, don't understand the mentality of a certain generation of Midwesterners raised to be thankful for what they have, no matter how meager. They embrace life on its own terms, not on how they wish it to be." Yeah, that's something I recognize from the family I grew up with back in Iowa--and my own tendency to live apart from that attitude too often. And, Don, I think that valuing of community is precisely one of the reasons you created and maintain this site, and one of the reasons we are all grateful for you and what you do.

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I had never heard of the Pasta Pass before, but one of my husband's friends managed to buy one this year. He gloated about it on Facebook.

I feel very proud of my native state of Rhode Island, home to a sizeable Italian-American population and about a million independent Italian restaurants from mom and pop to fancy, that we only have one Olive Garden. To put this in perspective, Massachusetts has 18 Olive Gardens. Granted, the one Rhode Island Olive Garden is often packed (why??), but still.

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6 hours ago, dracisk said:

I had never heard of the Pasta Pass before, but one of my husband's friends managed to buy one this year. He gloated about it on Facebook.

I feel very proud of my native state of Rhode Island, home to a sizeable Italian-American population and about a million independent Italian restaurants from mom and pop to fancy, that we only have one Olive Garden. To put this in perspective, Massachusetts has 18 Olive Gardens. Granted, the one Rhode Island Olive Garden is often packed (why??), but still.

I've eaten at Olive Garden.  Not recently.  I'd eat there again.  I love Italian food.  It doesn't have to be perfect.  I grew up with it and love it.    Must admit though I'm impressed with Rhode Island:  a million or so Italian restaurants and only one Olive Garden.  Impressive work.

I'm from New Jersey.  We also have a million or so Italian restaurants.  I ate at my fair share, and when returning I eat at more.  I must report though that there are probably 15 or more Olive Gardens in Jersey.  Obviously  the state is not as exclusive nor has the high standards that exist in Rhode Island.

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3 hours ago, DaveO said:

a million or so Italian restaurants and only one Olive Garden

A million might be a slight exaggeration, but with all the Italian restaurants around there's really no reason to eat at Olive Garden. Even if a cheap independent place isn't that great, at least you're supporting a local business and the local place probably isn't worse than Olive Garden. I've eaten at Olive Garden, too (not in Rhode Island), and it's also been awhile for me. I really don't remember much about it. I ate at a Carrabba's in Maryland a few years ago and couldn't believe how expensive it was for the quality of the food we got.

3 hours ago, DaveO said:

Obviously  the state is not as exclusive nor has the high standards that exist in Rhode Island.

Obviously. ;-) There's also no Red Lobster in Rhode Island -- as it should be!!

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Besides the million or so independent Italian restaurants in both RI and NJ another similarity are far fewer but delightful old style Portuguese seafood restaurants.  I've dined at those in both states and had terrific and festive meals.

I was last in Jersey a few months ago with plans to eat at one, Seabra's Marisqueira in Newark for the first time in ages.  Plans changed. My taste buds and tummy were sorely disappointed.

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16 hours ago, Mark Slater said:

Fun article about Olive Garden on eater.com says the one thing you can't get at Olive Garden is........olives. 

Thanks for the tip-off. That whole series on the decline of middlebrow restaurants is fascinating (not to mention well-written).  Link here.

Not really a spoiler, but the writer says that they rarely have olives in anything on the menu because their marketing research shows that people don't like olives, and when there are dishes with them, they go unordered and drop off the menu.

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On 10/4/2017 at 12:35 PM, Kibbee Nayee said:

"Olive Garden" in Arabic is "hadiqat al zaytun" (حديقة الزيتون) which is only relevant because "Zaytinya" downtown derives its name from the Arabic word for olive (zaytun), which has absolutely nothing to do with this thread....

And the movie "Body of Lies" taught me that Incirlik means "Fig Orchard."

On a more serious note, I do have to give Dryden 'evil corporation' props - the only reason Olive Garden succeeds is *solely* because 99% of the US population has no goddamned clue what good pasta is or what it tastes like, and because cheap pasta has such good margins, none of their competitors (large or small) are in ANY hurry to teach them otherwise.

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On 10/4/2017 at 12:58 PM, Pat said:

Thanks for the tip-off. That whole series on the decline of middlebrow restaurants is fascinating (not to mention well-written).  Link here.

Agree it was a good and well-written article, but the author seems to focus more on the market disappearing for these restaurants than their dramatic decline in quality, which I would argue has had just as much of an impact.  A quick google search will reveal quite a few articles waxing nostalgic for the days when Pizza Hut used to be special - fresh ingredients, salad bar, pitchers of beer, friendly waiters, etc.  More recently the Pizza Hut CEO has said that the chain is focusing more on convenience than quality - recent takeout confirmed he achieved the goal.  I can remember when Red Lobster used to be not bad, when you would watch the fresh pasta being made at Olive Garden (still not great, but couldn't argue it wasn't fresh) and when you get the sense that the microwave wasn't the primary cooking tool at Applebee's.  Equity funds and the Jon Taffers of the world have sparked such a focus on profit over quality that they now have neither. 

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On 10/6/2017 at 10:54 AM, genericeric said:

 More recently the Pizza Hut CEO has said that the chain is focusing more on convenience than quality - recent takeout confirmed he achieved the goal.

No surprise there.

As a kid, I remember Pizza Hut being the ultimate...servers would come out with the pizza in the thick, cast iron pans, serve you our first piece, and it was crispy, buttery and delicious.

The last time I had it, it has slipped into Cici's territory...almost inedible. Sad.

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