"Don't Go There"
Last night we went to OREGANO'S - in Tucson, Az. with another couple.
Because this place is always crowded, and, because it was something like 112 degrees out, and, because there was a crowd patiently waiting to get in at an ungodly early hour, we thought it fun to find out what all the fuss was about.
The fuss was about NOTHING!!!! Ghastly pizza, boring meatballs, okay salad, and, just okay dessert - we never did find out why so many people were waiting to get in this restaurant - you can be sure we won't do it again.
You just once again validated my theory that crowds of people waiting to get into some place does not necessarily mean the restaurant is any good. In Boulder, there's always a line waiting to get into Pasta Jay's which serves cardboard pasta drenched in not-good-as bottled tomato sauce. But at least you can always count on the table next to you having at least one screaming brat throwing their bread on their parents! The other place in Boulder that usually has a long wait is the Cheesecake Factory. Need I say more?
Mutt - I wasn't checking out chowhound.com when this thread started, but I am always surprised at the same thing. Pasta Jay's pasta often comes served as if it were an individual casserole -- and I'm not referring to lasagna and manicotti, but to shell pastas, etc., that come in a baking dish, drowning it that undistinguished sauce, covered with cheese and baked. We always pass it by en route to someplace else and are amazed that people are willing to wait there.
I've been to the Cheesecake Factory once for someone's birthday dinner (that I had nothing to do with arranging). I can't remember what I ate. When Sean Kelly was about to transform Clair de Lune into something less formal, one of the Denver restaurant writers lamented something to the effect that "there are more people in line for the men's room at Olive Garden than there are at Clair de Lune on a weeknight." That wonderful Denver chef was in the kitchen every night, cooking up a storm for patrons that too often viewed it as a special-occasion place and just didn't enable him to keep it open.
I never quite understood why people would wait for over an hour to eat the pizza at Oregano's-it's just not that great. However, they do have a few pretty good salads, and their Pizzookie is out of this world! (Or, at least, me and everyone I've ever met who's tried it seems to think so) But it's just not worth the wait for the pizza-which requires a long wait once you've finally sat at the table anyway.
We went once! I guess the crowds prove the fact that there are plenty of people who like large portions of very fatty, not very flavorful food. Fat can really make up for a lot!
P.S. The pizza crust is like paper, only not as crisp.
While I have had some decent chow at Oregano's, I simply cannot justify the wait. In the summer, I simply refuse to consider it because it is unbearable to stand outside in 116F heat (like yesterday or Friday) for Italian food.
What I really have never understood is Oregano's aversion to space in its restaurants. When the East Camelback Road location opened in Phoenix, I was very surprised as how poorly they used the space and wished they added more table to accomodate their guests. Then, they expanded to the Shea and Scottsdale Road location overtaking an old Chuckbox. Again, the space was rather small and the seating meager.
I can understand the marketing ploy of drumming up interest because so many people are standing outside waiting for a table, but I have heard more than enough acquaintences write off Oregano's because they simply refuse to wait and hour or more for "decent" Italian food.
re: Seth Chadwick
I live around the corner from the Oregano's on Camelback, and every Friday and Saturday night I know to expect overflow parking from the restaurant to invade our neighborhood, and cause ridiculous congestion in a quiet residential area. Ergo, the primary reason I will not patronize the place. Every Oregano's I know of has the same dynamic (which I consider to be insensitive to the needs of the local residents, a la having a big box store nearby). However, I have not heard any other complaints regarding the overflow parking, or whether they are in violation of zoning or other ordinances.
With that said, I am relieved to hear from folks that I am not missing anything. I would hate to stand on principle if the food is to die for! I second (and third) the observation that heavy business is a reliable indicator of food quality. Again, from reading the posts I am relieved it is not just Phoenix that suffers from this oddity.
Firenza, I agree. I think their thin crust is pretty good. I refuse to wait more than 10 minutes or so.
They do have good salads...the Vino Bambino is my fave. A wine marinated chicken on greens with pasta corkscrews, lots of veggies and the dressing is yum!
I like the staff & casual vibe. But I wouldn't go there for pizza (some other dishes are decent) and would also avoid the place when it's likely crammed with families/teens - especially since they have about 8 parking spaces in the Old Town location! Summer Sunday lunch - yes. Fall Friday night - no.
I prefer ultra thin crust myself.
I really enjoy their Oregano's Favorite salad.
They do have great waitstaff too. Some other places around town should take a few cues from them.
But the wait - we're lucky to live close enough to one of their restaurants so that we can do take out. I can't deal with waits anymore.
You will wait an hour and a half at Red Lobster, Applebee's and Macaroni Grill. Need I say more?
Mid-town Tucson Oregano's alternatives:
Rocco's on Broadway -- looks like a dive but serves good, honest Italian. It's a fun place, too.
Vero Amore on N. Swan -- authentic Neapolitan-style pizza, homemade mozzarella. Very light and elegant.
Z's on 6th St. -- a college joint with classic, massive pies. Jersey Joe's, just down the block, is also good, but tiny.
I have had very, very limited exposure to Oregano's - one take out from the Scottsdale shop. My comments are all positive. The pizza was ready and waiting for me at the appropriate time, and was delicious. IIRC it was gorgonzola and sun-dried tomato with pepperoni, thin-crust - maybe artichoke hearts. Regardless, I hurried it over to my wife's hostpial room at the Greenbaum and ate half of it that night. Even re-heated for the next day's lunch, it held up as being very good.
Place was crowded and rather noisy, but then I was doing take out. Have never tried anything else on their menu, so I cannot comment there.
I will also second the idea noted elsewhere that crowds to not indicate the worth of a restaurant. One perfect example was the addition of a Layfayette, LA restaurant to the metro-New Orleans dining scene some years ago. They were always filled to overflowing. The expansive parking lot was filled with folk parking on the shoulder of most near-by streets. Walk-in waits were into the hours, and reservations were weeks out. However, they had the poorest seafood (their specialty) in all of New Orleans, at least of all the restaurants that I experienced. Not just mediocre but downright poor. Yet, they were always filled and this wasn't really in a "tourist" area. How? I have never figured it out. And, the original location in Layfayette was very good each time that I dined there.