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What's safe at Johnny Carino's?

I know Johnny Carino's has not gotten good reviews on this board in the past, but I'm trying to be a good sport! I absolutely abhor Olive Garden, and am hoping that Johnny's will be a step up (crossing fingers and toes!) Any dishes that are particularly safe? (Please don't tell me to go somewhere else, like I said, I'm trying to be a sport!) If all else fails, they do have a wine that I love!

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  1. Lasagna
    Turtle Cheesecake

    NOTE: When the server tells you the day's "feature" this is not the same as the day's "special." A "feature" at Johnny Carino's is a regular menu item to which they wish to call your attention but is still at the standard price. I find this annoying. Probably just me being peckish.

    Having said that, I enjoy Johnny Carino's and I really avoid Olive Garden.

    1 Reply
    1. re: yayadave

      I second the lasagna. Was very good - though a very heavy version (my favorite kind). It is not exceptional italian but is miles above Olive Garden. I would definitely go if I was trying to be a sport!

    2. The chicken, gorgonzola, sun-dried tomato vinagrette salad is good (despite the fact that the description makes it sound like a total mishmash), but ask them to bring the vinagrette on the side, or they will completely drown that poor salad.

      If you want more than a salad, there's a penne dish with chicken and mushrooms in a cheese sauce that is a cut or two above Olive Garden...more in the Macaroni Grill ballpark. (which is about where I would rank Carino's anyway)

      1 Reply
      1. re: zorra

        The chicken,gorgonzola salad at Johnny Carino's in Piscatway NJ, is what I had for lunch today...Fresh ingredents,decent size,chilled, and not bad....

        1. re: River Rat

          I second the Spicy Chicken and SPrimp. I didn't not like their meat sauce. I do, however, like their Chili Soup, or whatever it is called.

        2. The minestrone is the only thing I've had from there that I really liked. Chicken parmigiana is a sizeable, decently cooked chicken cutlet, but the spaghetti and sauce that come with it are lackluster(better than Olive Garden's though.) Veal parmigiana wasn't good--it was like a few slices thinly sliced deli meat stuck together and breaded(with the same weak spaghetti & sauce as the chicken parm.) I've also had pasta with some flavorless Italian sausage there--not good at all. Pizza was edible but I wouldn't call it good.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Chimayo Joe

            Funny how the consistency of what you get at a chain isn't always there. The veal parmigiana I've had from our local Carino's wasn't very good, either, but it was definitely not "thinly sliced deli meat." Here the meat is really thick -- thicker than I like veal. Also had a pretty heavy breading.

          2. The restroom. This place is no better than Olive Garden or Macaroni Grill. If I had to pick I'd go with Olive Garden, it's safer.

            1. Spicey Shrimp and Chicken was the best of the pastas

              1. I can recommend the Cedar-Planked Salmon, and also the Halibut with Crab Sauce. The Snow Crab Ravioli with lemon sauce is good also. As you can see, I only eat seafood when I dine out.

                The sodium level in these dishes is a bit higher than I like, but at least it is not as astronomically high as the sodium level at Maggiano's. Overall, I think that it is a decent value, for a chain.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Ted in Central NJ

                  Update:

                  Apparently, the Halibut with Snow Crab Sauce is off the menu. The only seafood entrees that remain are the Cedar Planked Salmon, Garlic & Jalapeno Tilapia, Shrimp Scampi, and a dinner salad with Salmon.

                  I tried the Shrimp Scampi last night, and even after adding the garlic from our bread dipping oil, the dish was still too bland. I might order it again, but if I do, I will specify that I want it HEAVY on the garlic.

                  1. re: Ted in Central NJ

                    There is a new fish dish on Carino's menu, and I can report that it is pretty good. Fish Positano is pan-sauteed Tilapia fillets with garlic and olives, served over angel hair pasta. My only complaint with the dish, as with the Shrimp Scampi, was that there was not enough garlic.

                    However, my most significant observation about this dish is that it was NOT salty. Even with the presence of both green olives and black olives, the pasta actually needed a bit of salt added to it. But, of course, it is better to under-salt a dish rather than to follow the usual practice at chains of grossly over-salting dishes!

                2. The best part is the garlic crunchies that they serve with the bread. I think that the pasta dishes have too much pasta in relation to the other ingredients. I once got the gorgonzola chicken and was searching for chicken pieces among the tons of penne.

                  1. My parents took us there in Joplin at Christmas. I had that thing with the spaghetti and olives and stuff in the skillet (I think it's called timballo). Other than being about twice as much food as I could comfortably put away, it was pretty good. My parents had some crabmeat raviolis that they really liked. I tried a bite of my mom's and was impressed.

                    We had a waiter who was an absolutely brilliant bs artist, and really made us feel properly cared for, which probably helpted.

                    (Part of our enjoyment might well have been the fact that there aren't any decent Italian places within 100 miles of here, except Olive Garden in Sioux City, which we don't go to because it's too far. It may well have been that we were impressed mainly because I didn't have to cook it.)

                    1. Things that are good:
                      Chicken Gorgonzola Salad, Cedar Plank Salmon, Spicy Shrimp and Chicken, the new Dynamite Sticks, and the Bowtie Festival. The Italian Nachos are pretty cool too.
                      I also have not met a dessert there that I didn't like - awesome chocolate cake, tiramisu, turtle cheesecake, lemon cake... deliciousness.

                      1. The one thing I had that was REALLY good was the Bellini.... It's a total "girlie" drink, but they do a great one!

                        1. I love the Italian nachos, and the solo portion is huge. Sometimes, I just order this for my meal. If I do make it past the nachos, then I usually order the bowtie festival for my dinner with an Italian Margarita, of course!