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So I have to go to Olive Garden

  • c

I hate to ask about a Dreaded Chain, but I have to go to an Olive Garden to meet some members of my guy's family (This is their choice and it would be inappropriate for me to try to recommend a different place).

I've never been to an OG before, but from things I've read here, I gather that I am not in for a culinary delight. Without getting into anything about chains per se, can anyone recommend something from their menu that won't be too disappointing?

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  1. soup, salad, and breadsticks are (usually) palatable - you can always claim you're eating light due to the heat. og isn't horrid, it's just americanized - too much cheese, too much fat & salt, run o' the mill ingredients (fried calimari would probably be a culinary stretch for them). it's no gastronmic delight, but you'll at least get enough to eat.

    1. I feel your pain.. i have to eat at the olive garden once of twice a year. it is my grandmother's favorite place.

      the olive garden isn't that bad... it just really isn't very good. especially for the price... but if someone else is picking up the tab, at least you can say you didnt' have to pay for the meal.

      FWIW... avoid the pasta... it is usually gummy, sauces bland and gloppy... particularly their "endless pasta" option. however, the last time I went there I ordered one of their "heart healthy" chicken/orreciette pasta (sp?) w/ oregano/parmesan sauce. it wasn't great, but wasn't too bad either. it was tossed with a variety of veggies which weren't mushy, but I suspect had been flash frozen previously.

      most of the chicken dishes are o.k. just avoid the ones that are covered in cheese. the cheese congeals rather quickly. I really hate their marinara sauce.. it is too sweet and bland. I'd stick with a salad if one appeals to you.. or the my personal standby of soup, salad and breadsticks. the soups are too salty, the breadsticks clearly frozen dough, dressing tastes bottled. but it is a passable lunch or dinner. the portions are huge, it is a good excuse to beg off dessert. none of which are worth the calories to eat.

      good luck!

      1. Soup, salad and breadsticks.

        The fried calamari doesn't totally suck.

        Avoid anything with pasta in it.

        1. Their version of the cappelini pomodoro isn't half bad. I mean - even they can't ruin pasta with tomatoes, garlic and basil. I'd go for that - it's a safe bet.

          And, they do have good desserts. I recall the white chocolate raspberry cheesecake being really good.

          1. The sausage and peppers rustica wasn't all that bad the last time I went. Avoid the ravioli and any thin pasta like capellini (they overcook it).

            You can see their menus online - it changes regionally.

            1. Safety Salad.

              Safety Salad is the answer to all such questions. OG? Outback? Applebees? icky diner next to your office? a bar when your friends want to eat there too? Rib joint when you're on a diet?

              You name it, the green salad w/ grilled chicken is on 95% of US menus. (dressing on the side) It may not be good, but it stands a good chance of being edible. And you will not waste too many calories that could be allocated to better food later.

              1 Reply
              1. re: danna

                so true. I eat at my desk waaayyy too often, but never seem to find time to bring anything, and sometimes have noon meetings where people work and eat...but the lunch place downstairs is really awful: except for the 'chicken cesar salad': definitely edible, the dressing comes on the side, and I just save my calories for dinner....

              2. Just pray to god that it isn't someone's birthday.

                Once through "OH!! Happy Happy Happy!!! Olive Garden BIRTHDAY! HAPPY OLIVE GARDEN BIRTHDAY!!" sung by the clapping waitstaff of the WHOLE god-awful place, is enough to drive you to drink.

                Which, when you mention it, may be the best way to get through the meal - drunk.

                2 Replies
                1. re: ladeeda

                  It could be worse.....friend just told me that her daughter in law requested her birthday dinner at Joe's Crab Shack. Seems birthday girl was made to put on a cocconut bra, a plastic grass skirt and had to hulu thorough the birthday song. God what an embarasmment but D-I-L loved it apparently.

                  1. re: ladeeda

                    What happened to the "From the pasta we make to the lasagna we bake" song?

                    Your best bet is the soup (pasta e fagioli - reheats well at home, too), salad, and breadsticks. Your next best bet is the chicken scampi. It's the only entree i don't mind - PLUS, I actually got 3 (or was it 4?) days of leftovers out of it after I brought it home.

                  2. What everybody else said about the pasta ....

                    Plus keep repeating, "It could have been Hometown Buffet.... It could have been Hometown Buffet...." & have another glass of wine.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Mr Grub

                      BUT Home Town is great if you just want to eat salad - about 39 different choices for the $7 or so. Skip everything else.

                      1. re: Zoe

                        Hey ... Hometown buffet does a fine kielbasa and saurkraut one day a week. Well, at least it is fine in this kielbasa deprived area.

                        As far as Olive garden, Someone else mentioned the sausages. I thik they do a better job on those meaty types of dishes. That taste of Italy wasn't bad. I'd skip the chicken marsala though.

                        1. re: rworange

                          Hometown Buffet has its points. Where else can I eat twelve pounds of bacon on a Sunday morning? Plus all that orange juice, to stay healthy.

                      2. re: Mr Grub

                        I take Hometown Buffet over Olive Garden any day! Not everything is good, but there are some good stuff. It's not fancy and it doesn't pretend to be, just home cooking type food. Dollar for dollar, Hometown Buffet is a much better value, especially since some of the items are better than anything you can get at OG.

                      3. I like the eggplant parmesean. Also the breadsticks and salad are decent and are free refills!

                        1. m
                          Morton the Mousse

                          Eat before you go.

                          No, really, it works quite well. I do it all the time when dining with non-chow-ish relatives.

                          Have an early dinner. When you're at OG get something light to pick at and use the diet excuse.

                          Your palate will thank you.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: Morton the Mousse
                            Janet from Richmond

                            I disagree with this advice since it's the boyfriend's family. She will come across as 'difficult'. Take the path of least resistance is my advice. Get soup, salad and breadsticks or something else simple. But I have issues with people who cannot adapt for one evening.

                            1. re: Janet from Richmond
                              CatherineC in NYC

                              I can absolutely adapt. I was just hoping to benefit from Chowhoundly wisdom--if there is anything good on the menu, I know a fellow hound will have sussed it out. Why eat subpar pasta if, as many have noted, the salad and bread sticks aren't that bad?

                              I really appreciate everyone's advice. I'm nervous enough about meeting "the folks"--I don't want to be unable to eat my food without seeming like I hate the restaurant they chose.

                              1. re: CatherineC in NYC
                                Janet from Richmond

                                I wasn't refering to you. I took your post as trying to adapt to the given situation. I think the suggestion of eating dinner beforehand would make you seem difficult.

                                1. re: Janet from Richmond
                                  CatherineC in NYC

                                  Are you the same Janet who posted the recommendation for the Edible Garden just outside Richmond on the South board? I ate there when I was in Richmond 2 weeks ago and loved it, so thanks for the recommendation if that was indeed you.

                                  1. re: CatherineC in NYC
                                    Janet from Richmond

                                    Yes, that was me! I am glad you enjoyed it. I think it's a special little place.

                            2. re: Morton the Mousse

                              i have the exact opposite advice. don't eat anything all day and show up at the OG drooling ready to eat the head of the hostess. rip through a basket of breadstix, salad and eat the best/worst chicken marsala you ever had because you were nearly passing out due to hunger. parents love a healthy eater- especially when it's on their dime.

                              1. re: cal

                                Parents, sure, but not BF's parents. I can just imagine a deer in headlight look on their faces as they watch their future DIL who eats like she's just been released from prison.

                                My advice: Don't worry about it. Relax and enjoy the occasion, choose simple things from the menu.

                                My problem with OG actually has more to do with service than with the food.

                                1. re: cal

                                  That may the the surest way to make them think that Olive Garden is your favorite restaurant.

                                  1. re: cal

                                    I agree if you act too picky it will set the tone for the rest of the relationship.The soups are probably your best bet.

                                2. Just pretend you're eating Stouffer's in a pinch.

                                  1. Never been actually (or maybe once ages ago in college), but from their online menu it seems they offer a couple of grilled fish (sans pasta) options? I'd probably risk one of those and get a salad.

                                    1. Years ago they used to have a mushroom ravioli that was served in a smoked gouda type sauce. Wasn't bad. When really hungry was quite tasty. I haven't eaten there in probably five years but when I did, I hated their red sauce, but actually enjoyed some of their white sauces.

                                      My husband liked their chicken parm - you can't really go wrong with that, ya know?

                                      I personally HATE their salad dressing (it's just basic, bland, italian dressing), so if it were me I'd go for the soup. But the soup is quite filling.

                                      The breadsticks are OK, I prefer them with a side of some kind of sauce (like a boat of alfredo) but it's extremely fattening and probably horrible for you.

                                      Good luck. It's not AWFUL but I'm sure you've had much much much better. Treat it as if you were going to a friends house that could make some basics but wasn't a gourmet chef.

                                      1. I really like the suggestion about "safety salad" [never called it that before but I love it!]. I would go for salad, dressing on the side and grilled chicken. I would not go for anything that might [in your personal nervous and humble opinion] be god awful and heres why:

                                        You have already said that you are nervous and don't want to be offensive and do want to make a good impression. Well, what if you order the fish or some creamy pasta thing and it comes out and try as you might, its god awful and try as you might, you just can't eat it. You find yourself with two options---you don't eat it, the parents think you think the food stinks and you make that less than stellar impression of being snooty that you were hoping to avoid OR you force it down and emake yourself sick from nerves. Not a pretty sight.

                                        Eat the safety salad, wave a breadstick, drink some wine, smile and relax.

                                        1. If his parents chose The Olive Garden, it is they who should worry about impressing you!

                                          1. The only thing that I actually LIKE on the Olive Garden menu is the Zuppa Toscana. It's a creamy sausage, potato and kale soup that's actually pretty good. I've actually downloaded the recipe and made it at home.

                                            I can't stand the breadsticks and the red sauce has a weird flavor, but an order of this soup and a simple salad (dressing on the side) would be good.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Nancy Berry

                                              I'm with you on this, the soup IS good. The ONLY times I go to OG now is when I want some soup. I order the soup, salad and breadsticks so I can get as much soup as I want. I can't stand the salad, too cold and not very good dressing. The breadsticks are ok. The price is reasonable enough to just have a few bowls of soup.

                                              1. re: anna

                                                Agree on the zuppa toscana soup. Salad is overdressed, soggy.

                                            2. Wait, are you dating *me*? :-)

                                              I avoided having to eat at the Olive Garden on my last trip home only because there was like a three-hour wait. And even then we almost stayed.

                                              1. I say draw a line with those potential in-laws from day one: bring along some take-out from your local gourmet bistro and then spend the evening making disparaging comments about Olive Garden.

                                                1. Chef Mary will watch over you...ENJOY....

                                                  1. Once I was taken by surprise to the Times Square OG with a man in a suit! That date got a 'D' for Disappointing.

                                                    There is nothing worse than machine made bread sticks with that margarine flavor and they're flavored with zombie herbs, aren't they --- or waiters asking you to sample the supermarket rose of the day.

                                                    It doesn't hurt to pop an herbal laxative before your meal. We don't want the OG screwing up our digestive clocks, would we?

                                                    1. I feel your pain :)
                                                      I avoid the salads at OG because they are drowning in oily salad dressing and I'm way to familiar with their massive salad bowl back kitchen.

                                                      My routine when faced with your dilemma (meeting friends, and they pick the place) is to order the appetizers. Eat small, share and enjoy the company :)

                                                      1. The minestrone soup is actually decent. It's not unique or original, but it's an alright recipe. You could always make a statement and just order the Children's Corn Dog. Then treat it as if it's a delicacy and eat it slowly, with a steak knife and a shrimp fork.

                                                        1. I'll agree with the Zuppa Toscana, salad, breadsticks and a side of alfredo for dipping. Tried the never ending pasta bowl years ago and couldn't find a single one of the options we tried to be even decent. Recently was asked to split a steak gorgonzola alfredo and was surprised to find that it was half way decent and do-able on those days I get pulled there for lunch.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: duckduck

                                                            I liked the steak gorgonzola alfredo myself, and you could choose how well you wanted you meat cooked. My daughter always gets the chicken alfredo and it is good, but don't let it get cold. There are plenty of things on the menu that don't have pasta, so you could get a steak. I really don't like the salad dressing myself and the breadsticks are just okay. Just don't go into this with a chip on your shoulder. You aren't paying so be gracious. It's not McDonalds, after all.

                                                            1. re: danhole

                                                              i think this post is a little humerous because this question is three years old. i know it was an honest mistake and honestly who really looks at the posting date everytime before you reply?? i just know I saw this thread years ago when i was about to dine at the olive garden and i was desperate for some suggestions. I am curious to know what happened between catherine in nyc and "the guy".

                                                              i think this thread is still useful for anyone who is going to dine at OG as it is full of good suggestions...