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What to Get at the Macaroni Grill?

I'm going to a dinner gathering (about 30-40 people) this week. The dinner is at the Macaroni Grill. I'm not a big fan of chains, so I don't know much about this place. Do they have any decent entrees that I can get there? I'm up for anything but shellfish. Thanks!

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  1. not very exciting, but I order the chicken, brocolli and spaghetti entree of the kids menu; perfect portions and yummy!

    1. There's one thing that I always get there, although it's been ages - and it might not appeal to you.

      It's an orzo salad that is chock full of fresh spinach, pine nuts, shaved parmesan, and grilled chicken (and it's thin strips of grilled-tasting chicken, rather than those big chunks you often get in a salad). It's tossed in some sort of vinaigrette. It's light and salad-y yet quite filling/satisfying.

      1 Reply
      1. You're pretty safe at the Macaroni Grill. It is more than a couple notches above Olive Garden. Everything I've ever had there has been pretty decent. It is definitely one of the better chains. Go with what looks tasty to you, and you'll probably be fine. For myself, I tend to avoid the "heavier" cheesy and creamy sauces when I go to those kinds of places, just because they tend to overdo it.

        1. Macaroni Grill is one of the better mid price chains..the olive oil/Rosemary bread that they they start you off with is very good....the salads are good and full of veggies/chicken/whatever you order...The pastas are well cooked and seasoned...it will not be the best meal of your life but you should be satisfied and will not go home hungry or broke

          1. My son loves Mac Grill. Last time he went with friends he enjoyed the tenderloin with smashed potatoes. He also said the specials tend to be good.

            1. I would look for any excuse not to go. Two steps down from Olive Garden in my estimation.

              1 Reply
              1. re: calabasas_trafalgar

                Agreed. The only thing I look for there is the exit. Olive Garden is better, in my experience, and cheaper.

              2. Macaroni Grill is not bad... Olive Garden, now that IS bad!!

                1 Reply
                1. re: floyd

                  Well that's like saying bone cancer isn't bad compared to lymphatic cancer. They're both nasty.

                  I recall having a macaroni in white sauce at Macaroni Grill. I figured they wouldn't mess up something that's in their name. Big mistake. It was like they served me salt with some noodles in it. Really, it tasted like a briny milkshake.

                2. if they still have it, get the hunk of chocolate cake for dessert. it's rich and dark and delicious (as far as chain baked desserts go) and they use mayo to make it and i loved it.

                  i was always a fan of carmela's chicken rigatoni (involves a marsala cream sauce), and the pasta milano was pretty good. i love cream sauces. :-D

                  1. just don't order anything "grilled." has that fake grilled taste.

                    for some reason, we always go there when i visit my (italian) family in florida. they love to order small and complain afterwards. ok. but i remember the simple pastas being fine. the bread is good and oo is good for this kind of place. usually i hate it, but like the fact that i'm out with my grandparents. they order salads and calamari. it's like, why go there in the first place? i guess just to be with the people you're out with. i'm sure we will go there over the holidays this year too.

                    (as far as we know there are no real restaurants, only chains in that area).

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: fara

                      I order anything with asiago sauce. Last time I went with the Sugo Bianco. However, they change their menus frequently possibly seasonally so you have to be flexible.
                      Also enjoy the tiramisu.

                    2. My in-laws love this place, and it is a step above most of the other chains they adore (although they revised their menu and opened a whole mess of new locations ca. 2 years or so ago, and things have gone downhill noticeably). I used to order a half order of the bibb lettuce / blue cheese salad (which occasionally came drowning in the balsamic dressing, so ask for it on the side!) and a mushroom calzone appetizer, but I don't think that appetizer is available anymore. (Nor is the panna cotta dessert, which was actually pretty awesome, r.i.p.) They have a make-your-own pasta that is fairly safe if you stick with the more basic / fresh ingredients.

                      1. Order the penne rustica (shrimp, chicken, proscuitto, parm cheese) or the pasta milano (sundried tomatos, m'rooms, roasted garlic cream sauce). The scaloppine is very good as well. The pizzas are so-so and the tiramisu is completely lackluster. Try the the dessert ravioli. It's yum!

                        15 Replies
                        1. re: sheilal

                          I second the penne rustica. Very creamy and filling though.

                          Do they still have singing servers? When I was in college in music school all my friends in the opera program worked there. I never saw it when I ate there but I've been told a tenor carrying a tray of water will break out in the occasional "O Solo Mio."

                          1. re: Covert Ops

                            They don't seem to... I was one of them, many years ago. :-P

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                              This was only about 5-6 years ago. Then again, it was in Miami, which has a large vocal program, and the MG was in an area where lots of students live.

                              1. re: Covert Ops

                                I used to be a singing hostess for them back in high school. I believe they ran into copyright issues and had to stop the singing staff. Sad, too...it was such a nice touch :-)

                                Penne rustica is good, but has shrimp in it...does that go against your no shellfish rule, hiddenboston?

                                1. re: Aloo0628

                                  Sadly, it does (unless my S.O. is dining with me, in which case I can put all the shrimp on her plate).

                                  1. re: Aloo0628

                                    Copyright issues? Because other restaurants have trademarked singing servers? I know it can't be the music, because most opera is public domain. . .

                                    And sorry, I had forgotten there was shrimp in penne rustica. (It's been several years.) Let's pretend I made that rec for anyone else curious about food at MG. ;-)

                                    1. re: Covert Ops

                                      I always liked the penne rustica and there was some kind of bowtie pasta dish with sun-dried tomatoes and chicken that I liked too.

                                      1. re: Covert Ops

                                        you'd be surprised what is and isn't actually in the public domain...

                                        for instance, 'o sole mio,' which is one of the pieces that was performed most often there, is now copyrighted and is protected til the year 2042: http://www.answers.com/topic/o-sole-m...

                                        "happy birthday" is also copyrighted, which is why nowadays restaurants have their own weird cheesy song instead of singing the original version we know so well.

                                        also, just fyi, in case you're interested...copyrights and tms are completely different, and the terms are not interchangeable. "singing servers" cannot be cr-ed or tm-ed, but MIGHT potentially be patentable as part of a business model. but that would probably be difficult to do. i know you were just joking, but i thought you might want to know :-)

                                        1. re: Aloo0628

                                          That's interesting, I didn't know that about "O Sole Mio," but the reasoning behind it makes sense. It wouldn't have been a problem for my friends who worked there, though, because they had a depth of opera repertoire that I'm sure would have sufficed. So substitute "Largo al factotum" instead. :-P (Moot point, though, if no one sings there at all anymore. I think I'll ask on the Florida board.)

                                        2. re: Covert Ops

                                          Speaking as an ex-singing food dude, I can tell you that we rarely, if ever, got requests for opera.

                                          There's a reason I can't listen to Les Mis anymore. "On My Own" -- which is DEFINITELY copyrighted -- makes me want to kill myself.

                                      2. re: Covert Ops

                                        for some people, 5-6 *is* "many years ago". Sigh.

                                        1. re: PDXpat

                                          In my case, we're talking about longer ago than that, but yes, sigh.

                                      3. re: Das Ubergeek

                                        You're 30. It couldn't have been that long ago.

                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                          They sang to my son "Happy Birthday" in Italian back in August. So, yes, they still sing there.

                                    2. We did have our dinner there last night, with about 25 of us total. The wild mushroom ravioli was outstanding; the calamari was just ok; the Caesar salad was decent enough, and the chicken cannelloni was very good.

                                      All in all, a good experience there, although it won't make me forget about any of the great Italian restaurants in East Boston and the North End...

                                      Thanks to everyone for all the info!

                                      1. At chains you are hesistant about, go basic. I was there over the weekend- road trip not much else. I had just a special order of grilled shrimp, with nothing else. Good, better than most chains! I also reccommend the rosemary bread, order a side of Marsala sauce for dipping instead of the oil! It is divine!

                                          1. To the people who wrote with useful suggestions, thank you -- we go to MG once in a while from work for lunch because one of the bosses loves it.

                                            To the people who wrote "nothing" or "a cab to a better place", why did you bother replying? For that matter, why are you reading the Chains board?

                                            My own MG experience (I used to be a singing busboy when I was a younger man) is that it's reasonably OK, but generally saltier than it ought to be... thus, stay away from things that would be salty to start with.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                              Great post Ubergeek! It's obvious the original poster IS going so there's no point in the naysayers posting, or as you said, even reading the Chains board.

                                              I love the bread they give you almost immediatly, and the basic pastas in simple sauces are good too. Plus, being a child at heart, I like the crayons on the table to draw on the paper covering.



                                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                Yeah, you hit the nail on the head as far as things being salty there. I love salt, so I was pretty happy, but the chicken cannelloni was extremely salty, even for me.

                                                Thanks again to everyone for their suggestions. Now it's on to another Christmas party... :-)

                                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                  Took the words out of my mouth, Ubergeek! This entire forum is supposed to be for fun and happy pursuits of chow...why all the negativity, folks?

                                                  Ooo, and good call with the crayons, KOK!

                                                2. I've been to three different Macaroni Grills and the experiences were so spotty and different that I can't really draw any conclusions. At the one in my hometown, the food was bland and flavorless on more than one occasion, as if the cook knew how the dishes were supposed to look, but not how they were supposed to taste. OTOH, I would go back to the one in Fresno if I had to...it was at least as good as Olive Garden (I know...faint praise!).

                                                  With these experiences under my belt, if I had no choice but to eat at one, I agree with the 'go basic' recommendations. If your order of generic pasta is good, you're golden...and if it's bad, well, at least you didn't spend a lot of money on it.

                                                  FWIW, the variation in quality I've experienced at MG is greater than any other chain I've patronized.

                                                  1. If you have to go, get the orzo salad. That, and the rosemary focaccia, is the best thing they've got going.

                                                    1. We ate a number of times at the Little Rock MG. We loved the grilled pork chop and the salmon in lemon butter sauce. I seldom order pasta out.
                                                      What I don't like about the MG is the barn like interior and the whole noisy, pep squad mood.

                                                      By the way, I prefer MG many times over OG.

                                                      1. The Tuscan steak is pretty good.A lot of people seem to like the shrimp portofino.

                                                        1. The bread and a salad (no chicken!) .... That's all i have found there that I have liked. Everything else taste just too institutional.

                                                          I know they have their "chefs" there cooking the food out in the open, but i can only imagine that they have other "chefs" in the back opening the frozen meals and putting them in a microwave first....

                                                          The crayons are fun.....

                                                          1. Always make sure they put your dressing on the side or it is too much!


                                                            1. I don't frequent Macaroni Grill that much as it is not in my neigborhood, but as I recalled my last visit, the muchroom ravioli was the best dish (an appetizer) of our dinner (also recommended by hiddenboston above).

                                                              I had fish but it was overcooked and very tough. It could be just that dish or that particular MG but in general I found pasta there to be the safer bet. I will steer away from fish or beef which tend to be overdone.

                                                              1. We were passing through Bakersfield, CA this past week and stopped for dinner at the Macaroni Grill. Caesar salad and foccacia were good, as was the veal parm I ordered. The side of spagettini was a bit overcooked and needed a little help from salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil from the bottle on the table, but overall a pretty good meal. My mate really enjoyed his salmon.

                                                                1. "What to Get at the Macaroni Grill?"

                                                                  Is this a trick question? It's kiddie food.