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Carraba's

I'm almost embarrassed to be asking this, but here goes...

Is this place any good? I've never eaten chain Italian food that I would consider even remotely edible but for some inexplicable reason I love Carraba's commercials and have become intrigued. I'm sure I would hate the place but I need to hear that from some real CH's.

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  1. It's called advertising, don't get sucked in!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Carrabas, like most chains, tends to polarize Hounds. I like Carrabas a lot. I like the menu, the service, their salad, the bread and seasoned olive oil and the fried calamari. I think it's a step above most Italian chains, such as OG and MG.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Janet from Richmond

        Never too much garlic. their mussels are wonderful

        1. re: Janet from Richmond

          I agree wholly with Janet from Richmond, it is a reliable dinner out especially when traveling.

        2. Horrible, overly sauced, too much garlic Italian food!

          1 Reply
          1. re: Suzie

            There is no such thing as "too much garlic" in my humble opinion.

          2. I love Carraba's but I also LOVE lots of sauce and garlic. The mussel appetizer is wonderful and yummy to dip your bread in, the quail is delicious. I am a fellow Houstonian and started at the original Carraba's and watched it grow over the years and I still love it. When I go back to Houston I have to eat James Coney Island, Antone's, Texadelphia and Carraba's. It's worth a try for sure!

            1. I can only comment on the Bensalem PA location. The food is horrible, totlly oversalted, over cooked and as close to inedible as ny i hve eaten. I posted about this a few months ago sking if every Carrabas had the same menu.

              Personally I would grab a couple of double burgers at Wendy's or BK's instead of Carrabas.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jfood

                I find that their food can vary wildly from location to location. I like the one in my area, but haven't liked the two others where I've eaten. It's not authentic, but I like much of the menu, especially their pizzas, chicken marsala, and mussels in a white wine butter sauce. I think it is much more interesting from a culinary standpoint than most mom+pop Italian-American places. There are exceptions, though.

                I do think they are overpriced by about 20% though. Then again, every restaurant seems expensive now...

              2. I tried it for the first time this past weekend. Had the wood fired pepperoni pizza. I thought it was pretty good. Hubby got the filet and he thought it was good as well.

                1. yurk. I have this self-torture habit of re-trying things even after I've tried and rejected: Carrabas, okra, beets, California Tortilla to name a few. Each time I've come away from Carrabas with a "nice" salty oil slick in my mouth and a gurgly tummy. Not a nice ending to dinner. That said there's quite the line outside our local Carrabas so I guess they're pretty popular. Try it and see what you think, maybe your experience will be much better than mine!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: odkaty

                    You rejected okra? Certainly not the fried variety?

                  2. As far ash chain Italian goes, my opinion is that Carraba's does a fine job with the standard Italian-American dishes they serve? Will it rival your favorite neighborhood Italian joint? Probably not. However, I do think that many hounders get caught up in the pursuit of denouncing chains out of principle, even when the food might be as good or (don't kill me) better at a certain chain than at an independent restaurant.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: notgreg

                      I think they are very good for chain italian. Love their shrimp scampi...

                    2. I thought the one in Brick NJ was horrible

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: timmy

                        wrong Timmy, even the steaks are good, really good.

                        1. re: timmy

                          The one in Middletown, NJ isn't too bad.

                          1. re: timmy

                            I only ate there once cause my fish was bad, they offered to replace it but why send out spoiled food in the first place. I went home and made a sandwich! Brick location

                          2. their bread and olive oil is quite addictive, and i don't mind their spaghetti with meat sauce. it's really not THAT bad if you go in with an open mind and without high expecations.

                            1. What is that sauce they serve with the calamari?

                              1. i go just for the bread, dipping oil & fried calamari. the rest of it so, so. by the time we have finished the bread & calamari, my husband & i usually split an entree - the lobster raviolis and the mezzaluna are okay. is it great italian food - no, but for a chain, not too bad.

                                1. Carraba's is several cuts above most Italian chains like Johnny Carino's, Macaroni Grill, etc. I've only eaten at several locations in Houston,and maybe even the one that are now part of the chain are still a little better in Houston than they are elsewhere. I don't know.

                                  But if you ever get a chance, come to Houston and eat at the original Carraba's on Kirby Drive, which is still owned by the family.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: zorra

                                    I agree on the Carraba's on Kirby. Remembering that experience, had us try one in Gainesvile a couple of years back. Wasn't Chef-Bo-Ardee but wasn't near what we remembered. For the life of me, I can never figure out why the one near where I work is jammed every weekend. There are better spots in the neighborhood.

                                  2. We won't be going again.

                                    Although the service was outstanding, we simply ordered capellini and meatballs...the sauce was scarce and didn't taste all that wonderful...the meatballs tasted like frozen one's.

                                    1. I like Carrabas. We have one in Wilmington, NC and have enjoyed both our visits. Absolutely hated Macaroni Grill at Mayfair. Didn't care for the atmosphere or the food. Was way too salty. Am curious to try Olive Garden which will be opening soon...right across the street from Carrabas.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Ando

                                        I too like Carrabas - ate there last night - my server was slightly overbearing - coming around every 5 mins or so asking if she could take a plate that was empty, how were things, can I get you something else, etc...Had the mezzaluna and the combo app - really enjoyed the little bowl with what seemed to be sauce and a goat cheese(?) - Would go there over Olive garden and Carino's

                                      2. No one has mentioned it, but the name of the place is Carrabba's Italian Grill, and "grill" is the operative word. I've never really tried their red sauce dishes; I can get that anywhere. However, the grilled chicken dishes are fantastic. Chicken Marsala, Chicken Bryan (with goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, and lemon butter sauce), and Pollo Rosa Maria (with fontina and prosciutto) are all great, and all are available as a Chicken Trio that's not on the menu. We've also had a nice, garlicky shrimp scampi appetizer, a good margarita pizza, and a decent minestrone. My wife loves the mussels.

                                        I seem to eat a lot of Italian food, and Carrabba's is the only chain Italian that I think is good.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Vladimir Estragon

                                          My son loves the place and gets the chicken marsala, Pollo Rosa Maria or the trio. I've had them, find them okay but not worth the price. I am able to pull these off at home with minimal effort at a fraction of the price. I was a little turned off at the fact that when they first opened they had waits of 2+ hours and even today they are packed. For the price I would rather go to a very nice upscale restaurant where everything wasn't mass produced and pay a little more for excellent food where there was more creativity. I cook a lot and prefer my own cooking to most restaurants but when I go out I want it to be exceptional.

                                          1. re: Vladimir Estragon

                                            I love Carrabba's. I always get the Pollo Rosa Maria with extra sauce and mushrooms......great bread....great desserts...large portions.

                                            1. re: southerngal

                                              We love Carrabbas too! We always get the Chicken Bryan or any chicken dish-if my husband gets one I have food envy and have to get it as well. The food is always consistantly great and service is great. They have great happy hour drink specials as well. We have tried these recipes at home-hard to duplicate-the mgr at ours told us their grill base is what they marinate their chicken in-they cook it all day. I know I can't really make that. It is what makes their grilled dishes sooo good. Either I don't have the patience or haven't found the right recipe. One of the few chains we will go to.

                                          2. I agree with Vlad (though I don't eat that much Italian). Carraba's is definitely a cut above the other chains. I think Johnny Carino's comes in 2nd, still well far ahead of OG and MG.

                                            1. I live in Charlotte, NC and LOVE carraba's. I have had about 2/3rd of what they have on their menu and I have been pleased with every entree so far. I love the fact that their staff is attentive and even the manager's will walk around and greet familiar faces etc. I can't brag on this place enough. If there is something you don't want on your food, they will make the effort to please you.

                                              1. We ate there last night. My daughter and I shared the special, pork chop marsala. It was very good, however the pork chop was just a tad over cooked, but the marsala helped it a lot. We asked for a side of extra and its good on its own. Basic choice of house, Italian or Caesar , we chose the Italian, didn't care for it, lack of flavor. Also choice of Spaghetti or capellini (which we chose) it was ok. Husband had the lasagna, said it was fine, but liked our local Italian place better. I will go once and a while because I like the marsala sauce.

                                                1. It is much better than a typical chain. They are owned by Outback Steakhouse, which I hate! They have a mussel & wine starter that is excellent, the salmon is also very good. Their bread and EVOO to start is very good and the salad that comes with the meal is also good. Basic food but good - large portions. The one I go to in Bonita Springs is always packed - so that is a down side. Try eating at their "counter" wear you get to see the chefs put on a show - usually no wait and its fun.

                                                  1. Just got back from a meal there. Usually get the chicken rosa maria, but tonight the garlicky shrimp scampi and the grilled salmon with grilled vegetables. Outstanding in every regard.

                                                    1. I actually like the crab cakes at Carraba's. They aren't bad for a chain.

                                                      1. The parking lot of the one by us (Melbourne, FL) is always crowded, so we thought we'd give it a try. Not impressed the first time, so we gave it a second chance thinking we hit it on an "off" night. We were wrong. Except for the salt, this is the blandest "Italian" food I've ever tasted.
                                                        If their grandmother ever cooked like this in Sicily, I don't think it was her decision to leave there & come to the States...I think she was voted off the island.

                                                        1. My SO loves it, I just think it's OK. I have only eaten there twice, and once was carry-out, but the pasta was overcooked both times which is a major pet peeve of mine. My SO loves the calamari and bread, there is nothing specifically I would recommend. I've never had anything bad per se, but I've never had anything that I found particularly enticing either.

                                                          1. Carrabas is good IF you have a dearth of good italian in your area. There are a few good italian joints where I am but most are super pricey and remain in the special occasion category for me. Carrabas is my choice when I crave italian and I'm too lazy to cook myself. I worked at Mac Shack as a poor college student and while I love the bread many dishes are pretty craptastic. Don't even get me started on OG....ick! But, Carrabas is consistent and the grilled dishes always please.

                                                            1. I absolutely refuse to eat at Carraba's. My son is in the Army and we travel to see him wherever he may be (stateside of course). The food choices near Army bases are usually quite limited. We have eaten in 3 Carraba's; Georgia, New Jersey and Colorado. Each one was awful. We tried different dishes including grilled items and the food was barely edible. We just got back from visiting him in North Carolina and ate at a local, non-chain, Italian restaurant which, I am sad to say, was even worse than a Carraba's.
                                                              Meagan

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: meagan

                                                                Were you in Fayetteville? I've never heard of anyone brag (no pun intended) about the food there. I live in the Triangle and we have a serious dearth of edible Italian food here. Hence my original post.

                                                                1. re: rockycat

                                                                  Did u go? Here's the reason u should go to Carabas. You can try the many crappy local Italian joints in your area to find the 1 or 2 jewels, or u can make it easy on yourself and eat at Carabas which will still beat all the other ones that arent the Jewels. Carabas IS the best of the Italian Chains.

                                                              2. the Johnny rocco salad is great! I love the parmesan dressing as well!

                                                                1. Depends on who does the cooking at each store,our Carrabas here in Altamonte Springs FL. is absolutely wonderful, i always try a places most basic item first,for instance in a new donut shop i try a plain glazed first,if it's good i go on with other flavors,as for our Carraba's their meat sauce(about as basic an item as i can find in an Italian eatery) is among the best i have had,and I've tried a bunch of sauces home made , store bought,and restaurant , it does slip from time to time but overall it's a good reasonably priced place to eat,oh and try the sausage and lentil soup...about the tastiest thing on the menu!.

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: jword2001

                                                                    This is an interesting post - Carraba's from good to awful. Consider this - As mentioned, Carraba's, Outback, Bonefish - all the same corporate underpinnings. Most are "owned" by some local person and thus run independently - yes, some are corporate but most are not. Secondly, the corporate philosphy is that you absolutely cannot go away unhappy. If it ain't right they will fix it. Oh, I suppose you COULD go away unhappy, but they have never questioned me if things don't go right. Also, for a lot of "smart" hounds, you will find stores where you will go back for the same thing - a lot of restaurants can't do everything great - but do have certain items they do well and you'd be smart to just keep going back for what those items only. For what they are, these three chains are pretty good but remember - if the one you ate at isn't then it is probably more the management than concept.

                                                                    1. re: jberryl

                                                                      I agree,the firts Carrabas i ate at in Aurora Co,years ago( then i believe it was called Johnny Carrabas),was awful ,and did not go back,i was dragged kicking and screaming into the one here in Altamonte...and have been back many times...it's great,i am told some of the others in the Orlando area arent very good.

                                                                  2. Don't waste your time and money. This place is overrated. I am a huge fan of garlic and their food had WAY TOO MUCH garlic in everything...salads, appetizers, entrees. I could barely eat my dinner & my stomach was upset afterwards. My boyfriend went with me, it was his first time there, and needless to say..he agreed with me..and we've never been back since. You're much better off looking for a REAL italian restaurant (not a chain) that knows how to make decent food.

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Ginelle2

                                                                      At the risk of repeating myself, "too much garlic?" No such thing.

                                                                      1. re: grantham

                                                                        That's certainly one opinion. On the other hand, Marcella Hazan, who is to authentic Italian cooking here in the US as Julia Child was to French, was interviewed last week in the Boston Globe. An excerpt:

                                                                        Q: What is the biggest mistake we still make in cooking Italian food?
                                                                        A. Too much garlic! Too much ruins everything. We say in Italy that what you keep out is as important as what you put in.

                                                                        Too much garlic may be to your taste. But it's not Italian.

                                                                    2. Was very pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed my meal at the Carraba's in the Bell Towers in Fort Myers, Fla. Very costomer-friendly service trying very hard to please. I had a tasty and very generous entree of veal marsala (or maybe piccata) with a big mound of garlic mashed potatoes and extra sauce. Started with a bowl of good, vegetable-filled but overly salty chicken soup. Excellent value at well under $20. Now, I'd still choose a good family-run local place (Sasse's!) but I got picked up from the airport late and Carraba's was still serving.

                                                                      I can see the corporate influence also in Bonefish Grill -- accommodating service, good food cooked to order, excellent value.

                                                                      1. Terrible. We really try to frequent the local mom and pop joints around here, which are very good. Carraba's? We'll never go back.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: janbo19

                                                                          FYI - two of the locations in Houston (one of them on Woodway) is a mom and pop joint as it is still owned and operated by the Carabbas family. The food is excellent and the service is personable

                                                                        2. I was there this evening! We ordered the Johnny Rocco Salad (shrimp, scallops, ricotta salata w/ a vinagrette) and a grilled shrimp ceasar. It too 45 minutes to get out salads. The waiter told us that he forgot to put our order in, and then they made the salads wrong! Slightly odd to actually admit! haha. Finally a manager delivered our food and told us our entire meal was comped, icluding our wine! We were impressed with the recovery! The salads were actually quite good for a chain!

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Kam7185

                                                                            My favorite Carrabas is the original on Kirby in Houston, but Ive eaten at other locations in Clear Lake, Austin, Dallas and Florida. All were very good experiences, and I can rely on their Chicken Bryan to be the same (delicious) everywhere. The Mandola family (related) here in Houston also has several good restaurants so this blended family knows food!

                                                                            Sorry you had a less than satisfactory experience Kam ... please give them another chance.

                                                                            1. re: Cheflambo

                                                                              Chef- we will definitely be back! As aforementioned, the food was pretty good. were at Capital Grille last week, and I ordered practically the same thing (A grilled shrimp ceasar salad) Carabba's rendition was so much better- it was startling! Our only complaint was with the server, and that has never stopped us from returning to a restaurant before!

                                                                          2. I've eaten at two different Carrabba's in two different states a total of 4 times (twice each) and I think they're good for a chain. I prefer them over Macaroni Grill. You're not going to get haute cuisine at a chain, but you're also not going to pay $100 per person for dinner...

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: msfc

                                                                              Amen. I think Carrabba's is a great value. The food is fresh. I don't think you can go wrong with anything from the grill. The portions are large. I always have a carry-out...making two meals for the price of one. New Orleans doesn't have a Carrabba's. With all the great food here, we find ourselves driving to Baton Rouge to go to Carrabba's. It's worth the trip.

                                                                            2. Carrabba's is my entire extended family's favorite restaurant and we are not Italian! We celebrate everyone's birthday there. Bread with dipping oil, cesar salad, shrimp scampi, chicken bryan or steak marsala AMAZING!!!!! There menu did go up slighty in price and the portions slightly smaller and now, you have to pay $2.99 for a salad which used to be included. I think that is expensive with a meal purchase, most places are a more nominal fee but I guess inflation takes it's toll on everyone....Great restaurant though, highly recommend!

                                                                              1. Their lentil soup with Italian sausage is absolutely fantastic. A bowl of that with a couple of pieces of crusty bread and butter is a meal.

                                                                                1. The one in Brick NJ is really great. I have never had a bad meal there. The only thing thats awful are the crowds and the wait time. Plus they dont take reservations. Its the only chain I can honestly say I love and look forward going to when I am in NJ.

                                                                                  1. Must be kismet - I got into a digression about Carrabas in a related discussion on another board, came out here to see what the scoop was on the chain and found that someone had just posted a comment that bumped this old thread up to the top of the list.

                                                                                    Anyway, I have to say I come down on the side of those who hate the place. OK, it's not nearly so bad as an Olive Garden, but still...

                                                                                    I'm in Boston, where there are none, but I report to an office in suburban Cincinnati and have to visit there a few times a year. There's a Carrabas there that's popular with my local colleagues, so occasionally I find myself dragged along, and try as I might I have almost never had a good meal in the place. Beyond the quality of the food itself, what bugs me is that their menu is not only not Italian, it's not even very Italian-American, it's more their own idiosyncratic take on what Italian-American might be if you ignore the standard red sauce dishes and get "creative" (except for their spaghetti and meatballs, which is practically inedible - and how hard is it to get spaghetti and meatballs right?)

                                                                                    Maybe I'm spoiled from having grown up in Boston where we have an abundance of good-to-great Italian (and Italian-American) restaurants, maybe I've spent too much time in Italy itself, but I just do not see the attraction.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: BobB

                                                                                      Bob B-There are none in Boston proper, but there is one on Rte 1 (northbound) in either Peabody or Danvers- right near the exit to rte 128. I think it is near a hotel. Never tried it, though- as you say, there are lots of other alternatives for Italian in the area. I did receivbe a GC for Carrabas once- but gave it to my neice.

                                                                                    2. We have dined at Carrabba's restaurants in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Denver, Colorado, and Tucson, Arizona, and think highly of the mussel appetizer, the marinara sauce, and most recently, the spidini di mare. Aside from Pappadeaux, it is our favorite chain.

                                                                                      1. I grew up in New York City and know what good Italian food is. The 2 Carraba's in Austin Texas, where I now live, serve consistently excellent food, significantly better then any other chain and better then most of the non-chain Italian restaurants available down here. If I lived in NY or another city with a huge 'Little Italy" section maybe I would not frequent them as often, but Iwould still go there for the great bread and for their version of a Peach Bellini and for 3 or 4 of the entrees that can't be beat ...and all of the friends that we have takne there over the years have been very impressed and have all returned.

                                                                                        1. My wife and I loved Carraba's -- and sadly they closed their Park Meadows location in the Denver area... Now the closest Carraba's is more than twice as far... Bummer.

                                                                                          1. The best chain that I've eaten at in the same price range is Bonefish Grill, a superior operation. But I enjoyed my one late dinner at the Carraba's in Ft. Myers when I had flown in late and they were still open. Good service, fine food, big portions, good flavors. No surprise when I found out that Carraba's, Bonefish Grill, and Roy's, a favorite upscale chain, all share similar management.

                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: nosh

                                                                                              nosh, i recall our prior conversation here on chow re sasse's. did i tell you about "fabio's"? go to hancock bridge parkway near orange grove blvd. in north fort myers , "ristorante fabio" for some very tasty, reasonably-priced italian food. family run, and i love the specials board options. (i'm from fort myers, and still have family there. i always visit fabio's....my husband loves the chicken livers with fettuccine special, and I love the stuffed pastas, or the rigatoni with fresh italian sausage and cherry peppers).

                                                                                              1. re: alkapal

                                                                                                thanks. i've already done this winter's visit, but my mom will be in ft. myers for more than another month so i'll pass it on.

                                                                                              2. re: nosh

                                                                                                alrighty-then! it is cash only, btw.

                                                                                              3. I've eaten there before, but last time was a little while back. I remember loving it tho. I did go to the one in Brick Nj as well. I liked the environment inside and the food was great. Great family restaurant!

                                                                                                1. carrabba's is a thumbs up for me. i'll go out of my way to eat there for the 2 items most often mentioned in this thread: the mussels are a crave for me with the anise flavor, and the calamari is very good. i order the mussels and a salad and am an appycamper. you can order a half order of mussels and add an order of linguine and dress is with the liquid and garlic from the bowl.

                                                                                                  1. The local restaurant critic summed it up perfectly in this week's review:

                                                                                                    "Yes, it’s a chain: one that employs Central New Yorkers, serves them what they want and does it well, and there’s no point in being too much the snob to be thankful for all three."