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MSP - need to be rid of Olive Garden memory

My wife and I went to Olive Garden last night (her idea not mine) and I ordered the spaghetti and meatballs figuring they couldn't screw that up too badly... I was wrong! The pasta was gummy and overcooked and the sauce was just blah. Guess I should have expected that. Anyway, I'd like to rid myself of that memory by consuming some dynamite spaghetti and meatballs. I'm pretty much willing to drive anywhere in the twin cities metro area to rid myself of that awful taste. Where can I go to restore a fond memory of one of my fav comfort foods?!?!? Thanks in advance!

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  1. My favorite is Dulono's, but that's just me. I doubt many would agree, but it is 1000 times better than Olive Garden. The sauce is sweet, the meatballs are big, the pasta is a little mushy, but they deliver!!!

    1. Broders should be able to take care of this little problem, don't you think?

      Broders' Southside Pasta Bar
      5000 Penn Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55419

      2 Replies
      1. re: KTFoley

        My vote's al Vento-5001 34th Av. S.

        1. re: KTFoley

          I second Broders'. Otherwise, Buon Giorno Market http://www.buongiornoitalia.biz/ has amazing meatballs and noodles that you can pick-up and make at home.

          I'm so sorry about the Olive Garden. Maybe if you had gone there with the people on the commercial, you would have had a better experience? They look so happy...???

        2. The thing about the Twin Cities is that very few Italians moved to the region, so the main category of food we lack is Italian. Good luck finding anything. Broders is pretty good but I think it`s overhyped. Much much better than OG though.

          3 Replies
          1. re: tasmonia

            I can tell you a lot of Italians did move to Union City NJ & King of Prussia Pennsylvania, and the options aren't any better there. They certainly don't have anything as good as Broders. If immigration had anything to do with it, we'd have a lot more Nord and Sved places around here. Granted we have Ikea now, but...yeah.

            1. re: tasmonia

              Actually, a few Italians came to St. Paul as the first settlers of what was called the "Upper Levee"...it's a floodplain west of downtown on the river banks which became known as "Little Italy" (emphasis on little)...http://communityreporter.com/id13.html

              They eventually moved up on to W 7th (Mancini's, Cossetta's) and the area North and East of the Capitol (Buon Giorno was there before moving to Lilydale, Yarusso's on Payne Ave


              I'd recommend Yarusso's for real homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs...and it's even better in the summer when you can drink Peronis and play Bocce on the patio.

              1. re: masterA

                I suspect the Dari-ette was closed for the season in January 2008, when the OP wrote his or her post. The opening of the Dari-ette is always one of my favorite signs that spring has arrived. Their "Italian" sandwiches are crave-worthy. With a side of spaghetti, of course.


            2. Broder's is nice and light portions w.fancy flavors. If you want down-home family style italian truely huge homemade meatballs.. nothing better than Yarusso Bros on 7th & Payne in St Paul. Order the dinner for 2 and you'll be eating it for several days afterwards... or share it with 4 folks and you'll be happy you saved room for dessert. Honestly the most economical $18 (total price combined for 2 people you get a huge salad, cheesebread, and the hugest plate of pasta - think buca size but better) you'll ever enjoy :)

              1 Reply
              1. re: reannd

                I have gone to Yarusso's twice and was not impressed either time. Once it was on a really bad date-but the food was still kind of blah.

              2. Another Broders rec. I'd stay away from pasta a Buca and Cosettas for the same overcooked texture. Not much a St. Paul eater, but the eastsiders always seem to have some good Italian spots to name.

                1. I was dragged to the Olive Garden in Edina/Bloomington a few months ago (work lunch, couldn't politely refuse). Wow. I was expecting mediocre food, but I was astounded at how bad it was. I had soup (minestrone) and breadsticks. The soup was bland, too salty, and had very mushy pasta. The breadsticks were too soft, too salty, and had some weird greasy stuff on top that I presume was supposed to be butter but didn't taste like it. The salad was edible, but the greens were soggy and tasted like they were from a bag packed in a far-away city. I wish we had gone to Byerly's salad bar instead. In fact, we could have done better buying canned soup and bagged salad at any grocery store.

                  I, too, am amazed that people eat here. But then, I'm always amazed at what people put up with in terms of chain restaurants. Clearly, it's not about eating decent food.


                  P.S. I recommend Al Vento, Broder's Pasta Bar, or even Cossetta's cafeteria-line pasta to get the taste of Olive Garden out of your mouth.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: AnneInMpls

                    Some more places links.

                    Cossetta Italian Market
                    211 7th St W, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                    Al Vento
                    5001 34th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55417

                    Broders Cucina Italiana
                    2308 W 50th St, Minneapolis, MN 55410

                    I Nonni
                    981 sibley memorial hwy, Lilydale, MN 55118

                  2. I'm a Broder's fan and my fanaticism is fanned (sorry) by the fact that it's close to home. It's worth noting that there are really two Broder's. There's the Pasta Bar, which is fancier and the Cucina Italiana across the street (which is more like a take-out deli although there are several tables). If you're looking for the red sauce experience, you may find it more easily at the Cucina.

                    I will also say that many of the pasta dishes at D'Amico Cucina are pretty good too. I'd choose them any day over an Olive Garden.

                    1. If you're just looking for pasta, red sauce, and meatballs or sausage, St. Paul has quite a few places that specialize in that.

                      My favorite - Mama's just reopened on Saturday after being closed for almost a year! They're at the corner of Front and Rice in St. Paul.

                      They have pizza, pasta, tomato sauce, meatballs, and sausage. Pretty much everything on the menu is a variation of those things, and can be had with a TON of cheese melted on top. It is one of my top guilty pleasures.

                      They also have a couple of nice little touches, they'll offer you a bib when you sit down, and a miniature ice cream cone when you're done.

                      I haven't been back since they reopened, but hopefully the quarter operated TVs are still in the booths.

                      Mama's Pizza
                      961 Rice St, Saint Paul, MN 55117

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Danny

                        Quick followup on Mama's...

                        We went last night, and there was a line out the door. The place broke out in applauds when channel 5's evening news ran a story about the restaurant reopening.

                        They did a really nice job on the remodeling. There are still booths with TVs, but with a modern twist. Beyond that, the place looks great - a nice mix of old and new.

                        Thankfully, and perhaps most importantly, the food was the same as it always was. As TDQ mentioned elsewhere in this thread, There's just something comforting about the St. Paul Eye-talian joints.

                        1. re: Danny

                          Thank you for the update. Sounds like my kind of place. I can't wait to check it out!


                      2. You should check out Itailiani's on Lake St in the old Lake Street Garage space. It is the best mom and pop cheap wine Italian place in town. I'm going there tonight with six friends that drop everything to go any night it's brought up.


                        1. When I was doing low carb (more or less) a while ago, I used to get the meatballs at D'Amico and Sons and thought they were really tasty. I'm guessing they can do the noodles too :)

                          1. For non-fancy spaghetti and MBs, you could check out Pizza Luce. I like their meatballs. Nice and soft. Sometimes they are a little spicy hot for me, but usually not.

                            1. I do love Broder's Pasta Bar. They have good value wines and their pastas really are quite nice. I've never been too impressed with their appetizers and risotti, though.

                              1. Sorry to interrupt, folks, but in order to keep the Midwest board narrowly focused, we ask that you start a new thread on the chains board to discuss the Olive Garden if you wish to continue that part of the discussion. Please keep your replies in this thread to local alternatives to the Olive Garden, rather than Olive Garden itself.

                                Thank you!

                                1. No one's mention Campiello! I second D'Amico and particularly Border's.

                                  Campiello [Closing June 20, 2008]
                                  1320 W Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55408

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: pgokey

                                    Wow, I guess this post stuck a nerve! that's some kind of record for number of responses so fast right? Anyway, I second Mama's on Rice st. I love Yarusso's too but the sauce is a little St Paul-centric; i.e you either love it or hate it. I'm in the love it camp. On sundays it's all-u-can-eat (all-u-care-to eat? the more PC version though I don't know if that applies to spaghetti and meatballs, I seem to always eat more than i care to eat before I realize it..) And right next store to Yarusso's is Morelli's market. Their sauce is my favorite i think. It comes in a jar there so you have to make your own spaghetti. They have their meatballs in the freezer section. I prefer Yarusso's meatballs though so it's complicated.

                                    I grew up on the Eastside so I actually had spaghetti and meatballs at the Morelli's and the Mancini's (i got a really bad perm at the Mancini's too but that's probably off topic..) I wish I could have appreciated it more at the time, but I was in grade school and I was probably looking forward to the Spumoni more than anything...

                                    1. re: cherrylime

                                      on the love it/hate it "st paul red sauce." i hate it. unfortunately for me, dh loves it, so about once a year he manages to convince me to try yarusso's again, and i gamely peruse the menu for something that doesn't taste like the dreaded "st paul red sauce." i am disappointed every time-- i don't like yarusso's sweet "white" pasta sauce either, the soups are wretched and taste like watered down, unseasoned canned soup, the salads are boring iceberg and sad pink tomato with a sysco pump-top italian dressing. do any hounds have some advice on a yarusso's menu option for a "st paul red sauce" hater?

                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                        i don't love the red sauce, but i don't hate it either. i get the pasta supreme which is loaded w.veggies to overcome the sauce.

                                        i enjoy the pasta salad w.the extra veggies & fresh-ish meat, too. it's greasy, but w.the pasta salad it's much easier to avoid the grease than green salad.

                                        friday has a baked fish fry.. never tried it myself

                                        1. re: reannd

                                          How would you all characterize the red sauce at Yarussos and at Mama's? Spicy? Hot? Sweet? And what about the meatballs? Spicy? Soft?

                                          Would love to know more.

                                          1. re: karykat

                                            Sauce at Yarusso's.. hm. Almost sour, some strong spice of somekind.. maybe big oregano? Really thick, though.

                                            Meatballs at Yarusso's. Tender and HUGE. Think tennis ball. I don't eat much ground beef or sausage, but what I remember about these is that they were pepper-y.. like black pepper? I only had a small bite, though.

                                            No idea 'bout mama's.

                                            1. re: reannd

                                              Believe it or not (and this won't do much for the love it/hate it thing) The secret ingredient in Yarusso's sauce is nutmeg. Weird huh? I'm not going to do any convincing. I'm sure my Yarusso's affinity has something to do w/nostalgia. I actually like their "Italian salad" I haven't experienced the tomato deal and that's one of my pet peeves
                                              (why even put a freakin' tomato in the salad if it's hard as a rock and whitish? )

                                              I would characterize Mama's sauce as more NYC (or even Providence!) style. Though I understand that that's a huge generalization. It tastes like what i imagine the Soprano's sauce to be and like many east coast red sauces i've had.

                                              My husband doesn't like red sauce at all ever (he even prefers white pizza, although he will have a red sauce that I make from tomatoes in our garden for about 2 weeks in August. what a snob!) I literally have to drag him to Yarusso's. He usually gets the Hot Dago w/no sauce. But really I can't get him to go. I go with my mom or my brother (who suffer from the same affliction that I do..)

                                              Yarusso's meat balls are..hmm.. I'd say a little sweet probably a mixture of beef, pork and veal. I really like em but again there's some intangible thing that I suspect has something to do with childhood. I think they're less weird ( i.e. more accessible to those outside 651) than the sauce. Mama's are a little spicier and not as huge. Maybe more raquet ball than tennis ball...

                                              1. re: cherrylime

                                                the meatballs at yarusso's are good, i'll give 'em that. there should be some sort of architechtural prize just for them: impossibly huge and impossibly soft-- as in "lying awake at night wondering how yarusso's meatballs are built" impossibly huge & soft.

                                                dh has the nostalgia thing too, that's the problem. i do like "nyc style" red sauce, so maybe my strategy for the next time he suggests yarussos should be to counter with mama's. . . yes, that's it! ***evil laugh***

                                        2. re: soupkitten

                                          Oh no! I'm going to have to run afoul of soupkitten! I love St. Paul "eye-talian" red sauce. It's just so St. Paul'ish and tomato-y. I imagine somebody's Italian granny going nuts canning up that sauce at the height of summer's bounty. I haven't been to Yarusso's yet...but, I too need to get my eye-talian red sauce fix about once a year. I usually go to the Dari-ette Drive-in (open summers only) in St. Paul for a hot dago sandwich, which, of course, is buried in that red sauce. Sometimes we make it an all drive-in evening and motor over to Vali-hi to see a move after eating our dagos (in our cars) at the Dari-ette. (If you haven't tried spaghetti as a movie snack, well, you just haven't lived.) Dari-ette sells their sauce in buckets to go, too. There's a wonderful post about it, I'll see if I can find it for you.

                                          (Actually, it's cherrylime's post about their spaghetti sides, which is so true http://www.chowhound.com/topics/36079...

                                          The other place I love to go for my fix (yeah, yeah, revoke my chow creds) is Little Oven on Minnehaha in St. Paul. Again, just unabashed drenching of mountains of pasta in eye-talian red sauce and, of course, a pile of cheese. They have a baked pasta dish I love. It's served with a buttery, crusty slice of garlic bread. Add a glass of house red wine and I'm good. It's a bit of a dive, but I love the neighborhoody atmosphere of the place (there's always a wait on Fri and Sat nights) and--only in St. Paul--their all you can eat pasta option where they bring you a portion are larger than you could ever imagine eating in one sitting, even in your most gluttonous dreams, even if you split it with your sweetie, and then the gal comes by and asks if you want MORE. (I've found this makes quite an impression on out-of-town guests.) If I hadn't temporarily sworn off white pasta and cheese, I'd go there this weekend. It's a pretty good, warm rib-sticking meal for when the temps are hovering in the single digits.

                                          There was a wonderful exhibit at the MN History Center about a year ago called "Open House: If These Walls Could Talk"--don't know if it's still there, but if you're going to see MN150, have a peek at the House if you can. They picked a random house on St. Paul's East Side and traced the history of all the families who had lived there, starting with the German immigrants who built it through the Italians, African-Americans, and now, the Hmong who live there today.

                                          My favorite part of the exhibit was the kitchen, where they talking about Italians making their own sausage, plucking chickens (200!) for wedding receptions, baking bread in the giant community wood-fired oven (which, if I recall, was at the brewery? or am I getting that confused? something was at the brewery because that's where many of the people in the neighborhood worked) , and fermenting their own wine in the basement. They also talked about what they grew in their gardens (clearly, tomatoes and grapes!). It's pretty fascinating if you're a chowhound lookie-lou like me.


                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            The "If these walls can talk' exhibit IS still at the History Center. I saw it some time ago and thought it was just great. Next time I'm there will take a closer look at the kitchen. I had my 12 year old nephew with me when I went to see the exhibit, and to my surprise (!) he was very absorbed by the exhibit.

                                            What about the Savoy's spaghetti. I've never had it. How does it compare to Mama's and Yarusso's and others?

                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                              I just found out recently that the Little Oven is owned by the Morellis.(as in Morelli's market ) I can't believe I didn't know it before . It does make sense though because the sauce they sell at Morelli's is my favorite and I love the Little Oven's too. They also sell frozen pizzas at Morelli's that are completely amazing just like Little Oven..!

                                      2. Dari-ette. Damn near cried eating their rigatoni in my car, it was so good in that most basic, most unpretentious, most Paremesan cheese from a tiny envelope way.