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Carrabba's Italian Grill, A Florida-Based Chain


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I love good rustic fare.

Apparently this chain, owned by Outback Steak House, has decided to open an outlet in Reston.

Meet those authentic Italian guys Johnny and Damian. Johnny's grandmother's mother (and grandmother's mother-in-law) were both born in Italy in the 19th century. Johnny says he enjoys the rigatoni campagnolo, while Damian prefers the spaghetti and meatballs, though he astutely points out that "Italian food is much more varied than the spaghetti and red sauce that has come to represent Italian food in America."

Transportation Options to Carrabba's

The preferred method is the ancient horse-drawn cart, but given the restaurant's modern twist on a traditional theme, arriving on a real Bianchi Italian racing bike is always a propos.

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I actually liked their show, but then I don't find the accent jarring. :lol: Seemed like a pretty decent how-to-cook-Italian-at-home show, certainly better than the Muppet Food Network has doing their Italian show.

The first episode I saw was the one featuring Damian's mom - you look at her, she's the archetypal wee Sicilian grandma, until she opens her mouth and the Hill Country accent comes out. Very funny.

We've eaten at the Reston Carrabba's once and haven't been back. If you have to have chain Italian, Maggiano's is better. San Vito in Herndon (haven't been to the Ashburn one yet) is way better than either.

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ohhh, I love the hippy gormet...He's brilliant!  I think it's a great filler.  way low budget but funny

He bugs the shit out of me, but then I have a low tolerance for hippies.

Never been to Carraba's. I would never take my kids to Olive Garden. The lowest we will stoop is Macaroni Grill or Maggianos. Carraba's sounds about on par with those two.

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Two questions:

1. Anybody know what Rocks was drinking this morning when he started this thread?

2. Anybody willing to admitt they have eaten there? I had a roomate who used to drive 30 mintues into the burbs to eat here and loved it. Sigh.

I used to eat there many moons ago....before I knew better. This was in Columbia, MD when I lived there with my wife. But Columbia is a vast wasteland when it comes to good eats. Chains chains and more chains. After discovering the now long-gone Piccolo's, we always wondered why all of the chain Italian places always had 30, 45, 60 minute waits (out the door mind you with those lovely vibrating pager thingies) when Piccolo's was so much better for not much more money with better service and no wait. Sadly, Piccolo's is defunctr and in it's place? Yup, a Three Brothers Italian Restaurant (another (albeit local) chain).

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Carabba's is far superior to San Vito's which I don't like at all. This does not mean that it is good; rather, that for a national chain with moderately priced food it's not as bad as one would expect. (I really don't understand anyone who likes San Vito's; the one in Franklin Farm was terrible on my only visit. The ambience felt like Denny's with more subdued lighting and an Italian menu. A lot of booths, though!)

Carrab's has potential, at least in certain locations. I've been to Centreville twice and swore never to go back. It made Olive Garden look like Maestro-it was THAT bad. But a half dozen trips to the Reston location and two or three in Houston (where this started) and, for certain dishes, I really like this place for what it is. No, it's not Maestro nor Roberto nor even Amicci's in Little Italy but for what it is it's fairly good. Specifically, Pollo Santi Maria (chicken with goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, butter and....) is excellent. My wife likes their version of bisteca Fiorentina which has little in common with what is found in Florence but, overall, is rather flavorful and, I think, better than Outback (which owns this place). Decent vegetables, decent soup and a lot of butter and olive oil on most everything: how can one go wrong with so many calories and so much fat?

Still, much better than Olive Garden, the Macaroni Grill or San Vito's in my opinion. Plus, people, we're talking $15 entrees here. Not $25, not $30 nor $40 or more. For the price, Carrabba's is worth it.

Edited by Joe H
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Never been to Carraba's. I would never take my kids to Olive Garden. The lowest we will stoop is Macaroni Grill or Maggianos. Carraba's sounds about on par with those two.
I take my kids to Carraba's in Germantown all the time. They have bar seats in front of the cooking area and the girls love to sit there and watch them cook the pasta. They also always give the kids a swatch of pizza dough to play with while they are waiting for their food. My kids are usually good but busy kids are good kids :)

There are a few entrees that are pretty good. The prices are reasonable. The servers are young, but they are usually enthusiastic and trained well.

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I have been to the Reston one several times and always get the same thing ... a modified chicken trio where I will have the chicken w/ goat cheese described above, a piece of chicken grilled with olive oil and some garlic, and a piece of chicken marsala. The bread is ok. I like this better than Macaroni Grill, I refuse to touch olive garden (that tells you where this ranks vs. them), and San Vito in Ashburn is pure junk (better than olive garden, but not when the check comes considering what they charge for that stuff). This is as good as Maggianos, but doesn't offer the family style belly buster meal for parties of 4+.

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I take my kids to Carraba's in Germantown all the time. They have bar seats in front of the cooking area and the girls love to sit there and watch them cook the pasta. They also always give the kids a swatch of pizza dough to play with while they are waiting for their food. My kids are usually good but busy kids are good kids :)
Is this one of the places with longs waits? Do you get there right when they open? Macaroni Grill has a similar deal, so when the kids want spaghetti and I don't want to cook it we head there.

We tried a local Italian place last night here in Rockville, and honestly? It was bad. Macaroni Grill has better food, probably Carrabba's does too for the same price. I wish someone, anyone would open a decent red-sauce Italian anywhere near me.

We haven't bothered to try the Three Brothers now open across from Congressional Plaza. I used to order subs from their Hyattsville location long long ago (if it's the same owners). They did a competent meatball sandwich.

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Is this one of the places with longs waits? Do you get there right when they open? Macaroni Grill has a similar deal, so when the kids want spaghetti and I don't want to cook it we head there.
I've eaten at the Germantown location a few times with non-foodie friends. Agree with Joe H's post about the chicken. Pollo Rosa Maria has Fontina/mushrooms and the Chicken Bryan has goat cheese/sundried tomatoes. This is in a shopping area near a multiplex so the lines can be horrific. On the bright side, they have:
Call-Ahead Seating

Reduce your wait time with Call-Ahead Seating. Just call your neighborhood Carrabba's before you come in and we'll add your name to our waiting list. When your party arrives please let our hostesses know and we'll seat you as soon as possible

Area Locations
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There used to be one on Georgia Ave in Aspen Hill before they closed it because it didn't make enough profit (not that it wasn't making a profit, just not enough profit). We used to go on occasion because there were dishes that my wife liked. There would be a line out the door of the Outback next door, but we only had to wait about 10 minutes to get in Carrabbara's. It was an easy choice if you didn't want to drive as far as Rockville or DC. Actually the food was better than at many chains, not mom and pop good, but better than going to Olive Garden or TGIFriday's. Thankfully there are now quite a few good choices in the area that were not there 15 years ago.

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We tried a local Italian place last night here in Rockville, and honestly? It was bad. Macaroni Grill has better food, probably Carrabba's does too for the same price. I wish someone, anyone would open a decent red-sauce Italian anywhere near me.

Dish! Dish! Where did you go?

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Yes do say which place in Rockville you went to to get Italian. In my experience, there isn't much in Rockville in the Italian mode that is worth eating. Amalfi's is only OK though many like it. I suggest you go to Pasta Plus in Laurel like TJ said, or try Bella Nolte in Olney.

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Yes do say which place in Rockville you went to to get Italian. In my experience, there isn't much in Rockville in the Italian mode that is worth eating. Amalfi's is only OK though many like it. I suggest you go to Pasta Plus in Laurel like TJ said, or try Bella Nolte in Olney.
Yeah, there are some options further afield but with a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old, taking a 30 minute drive to dinner on a weeknight isn't always an option. I've had a suggestion of Mamma Lucia and might give them a try next time.
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We tried a local Italian place last night here in Rockville, and honestly? It was bad. Macaroni Grill has better food, probably Carrabba's does too for the same price. I wish someone, anyone would open a decent red-sauce Italian anywhere near me.
Paisano's?
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Paisano's?

We're getting a Paisano's in Chantilly soon -- in the new plaza being constructed just west of Chantilly Park Center on Route 50, where Picante!, Minerva, and Thai Basil are located.

Are you implying that Paisano's blows? Gee, what a suprise. :)

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We're getting a Paisano's in Chantilly soon -- in the new plaza being constructed just west of Chantilly Park Center on Route 50, where Picante!, Minerva, and Thai Basil are located.

Are you implying that Paisano's blows? Gee, what a suprise. :)

I don't know if that's the same family that's been running Paisano's in Rockville for decades, but I'd be interested to learn if it is. We've had decent luck there with carry-out pizza and calzones, but the rest of the menu is not worth the trouble.
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I don't know if that's the same family that's been running Paisano's in Rockville for decades, but I'd be interested to learn if it is. We've had decent luck there with carry-out pizza and calzones, but the rest of the menu is not worth the trouble.
I've only had one meal at paisano's in 20 years, The rest of my experiences were all beer-related- it was a popular Montgomery College hangout circa 1986-88
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for a national chain with moderately priced food it's not as bad as one would expect.

I went to the Reston Carrabba's Italian Grill last night, and I agree with this statement by Joe H.

Not only have I never been to a Carrabba's before, I literally cannot remember the last time I've been to a national chain (other than fast food places). Here's what I ordered:

Diet Coke ($2.45 with refills)

Moretti La Rosa ($4.78)

Margherita Pizza ($9.00)

Lasagne ($13.00)

Pollo Rosa Maria ($16.50 for a large; I'm pretty sure I ordered a small and was surprised at how big it was)

About the food, I don't feel like going into any great depth, so let me summarize: The Moretti was the only thing I could find to drink on a terrible beer and wine list (think Kendall-Jackson, etc.); The pizza had potential, because it's baked in a hot, wood-burning oven, but it was the worst Margherita I've had in memory, the mozzarella being low-quality, the crust partially burnt, cheap, crummy tomatoes, and the primary scent being something closer to baked parmesan - it was an ugly, heavy-handed pie. The lasagna was a large wedge, and reminded me of something you might buy (and reheat) in the frozen section of a Vace, Italian Store, etc., which is not a bad thing. This was coated with an enormous amount of bright-red, sweet-ish tomato sauce on all sides, and was not very appealing visually. Still, it was pretty good, and for $13 was worth the money and arguably a repeat. The Pollo Rosa Maria (chicken breast stuffed with fontina and proscuitto, in a white-wine-based mushroom sauce, served with garlic mashed potatoes) was the D.O.N. (dish of the night) by a country mile. It was a great dish, with the wood-burning grill imparting a compelling, smokey aroma to the chicken, the abundant portion of mushrooms complimenting the wood smoke, and the sauce very palatable. It would be very tough for me to come here again and not order this dish. Both entrees came with good (albeit carrot-driven) chopped salads with a hint of tarragon in the dressing. A basket of warm bread arrives early with pretty decent oil, to be poured over, and mixed in with, a little herbaceous crumble. The strengths here are the wood grill, the saucing, and the sense of abundance for not a lot of money.

But the biggest strength at the Reston Carrabba's was the service, which, while somewhat scripted (i.e., they're used to dealing with a certain type of diner), was also genuine, friendly, and well-organized. For example, a man at a table next to mine sent back not one, but two, bottles of wine. Not once was he questioned; to the contrary, the proprietor of the restaurant, Michael Warner (*), showed him a level of respect and deference that one would expect at Citronelle. It was a virtuoso display of how to make a customer happy. Likewise, our server, Lauren, was perky, friendly, and very customer-oriented. It's not surprising that when local chains seek to expand, they look to places like this from which to poach their service and managerial help.

(*) I was impressed enough by the general tenure of the FOH that after dinner, I asked to speak with a manager, and Michael Warner eventually came out to talk with me. "Usually when people ask for a manager, it's to complain about something," I said; "I just wanted to say how much I appreciated the way your dining room was run." I could tell that he was extremely busy, and had I known, I probably wouldn't have asked to speak with him, but it's something I wanted him to hear, for whatever it was worth.

I can't say I'll be rushing back here, because national chains just aren't my thing, but (obvious culinary faults and horrific corporate beverage program aside), it really wasn't that bad.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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The Pollo Rosa Maria (chicken breast stuffed with fontina and proscuitto, in a white-wine-based mushroom sauce, served with garlic mashed potatoes) was the D.O.N. (dish of the night) by a country mile. It was a great dish, with the wood-burning grill imparting a compelling, smokey aroma to the chicken, the abundant portion of mushrooms complimenting the wood smoke, and the sauce very palatable. It would be very tough for me to come here again and not order this dish.

I had this very same dish about a year ago at Carraba's in Reston and I agree. I also agree with the remarks about the how the front of the house was run. I probably go to a national chain for one not necessarily voluntarily reason or another about once out of about every 20-25 dining events. I would place Carraba's ahead of the local GAR chain for overall food, but that's not saying much.
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