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Olive Garden--was shockingly impressed

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  • noya Jul 25, 2008 08:19 AM
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It's been over a decade since I dared walk into the Olive Garden--my husband and I rarely, rarely do chains. But, we found ourselves there last night, and I must say, we were both shocked by how much we liked the food. The low expectations were certainly a factor, but the minestrone soup, bottomless salad, and parmesan fish were definitely more than just passable. We might even go back.

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  1. I had the same experience a few months ago at an Olive Garden in Daytona. Like you, I had not been into one in at least a decade merely because I considered it mediocre at best. But, we were racing at the track and it was convenient. I had a pasta dish with some sort of fresh tomato sauce and was amazed at how fresh tasting it actually was. Also, got some free wine they were promoting and that wasn't half-bad either! (especially since it was free - ha!) Perhaps as you said, it was partly due to my low expectations, but I was really surprised.

    1. IMHO as far as chains go, OG is not THAT bad. Sure there are better Italian places, but for a quick meal that won't break the bank, it acceptable. The salad and breadsticks are always a selling point for me..

      2 Replies
      1. re: MattInNJ

        I never really understood all the OG bashing. I live in Ontario Canada and I would be real happy if this franchise came back here. I am stuck with horrible East Side Mario's, which is so much worse!!!

        1. re: callitasicit

          oh god yeah, ESM sucks!! But, I've had OG in port Huron, MI and it sucks too.

      2. Parmesan fish? I don't even want to know what that is.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

          it's hospitaliano

        2. Yes, for a chain Olive Garden does a good job. Of course, it's not like the ever tender Veal Parm, or overnight marinated calamari you'd get at a 'real' Italian restaurant, but OG's food is far from bland.

          The flavors are good, the food is usually served nice and hot. Not warm, but hot...which is important to me.

          Fried Calamari and Artichoke dip are two good apps, as are the stuffed mushrooms. I usually go for a simple cheese ravioli with meat sauce, extra melted cheese on top. Personal preference, I always ask for two extra cups of meat sauce on the side. If you like it saucy, then I suggest doing the same.

          Also, I don't order the whole meal upfront. IMO they bring each course out waaaay to fast and then I either have to stop my yummy appetizers early, OR accept lukewarm food.

          I only order main dishes when I'm halfway done with appetizers.

          Tiramisu is good for desert.

          1. I definitely enjoy their endless soup and salad lunch. It's a great deal, the salad is fresh, the soup is tasty, and there is plenty to fill you up. I also love those darn breadsticks:)

            3 Replies
            1. re: milkyway4679

              god, those breadsticks are nothing more than a paste of flour and water, loaded with garlic salt. They're absolutely horrid.

              1. re: Calipoutine

                mmm.. garlic salt.. ;-)

                Olive Garden in general is pretty horrid, but I guess if a person does not live near a city with a large Italian population they may consider it ok. I would rather do without, or make Italian food at home if Olive Garden was my alternative.

                1. re: swsidejim

                  I have lived near good Italian food (Boston's North End, Providence's Federal Hill for example), but I dont' really think of OG as "authentic" Italian food - just general food with an Italian slant. The pasta itself is definitely NOT like homemade or fresh, but the rest was not bad at all.

                  I rarely eat at chains, so WAS pleasantly surprised at OG's quality compared to when I'd had it 20 years ago.

            2. I'm not a huge Olive Garden fan either - but I do love their mushroom ravioli - its always perfect.

              1. I've been there a handful of times as it's a midway point to meet a friend for lunch - a couple of good meals, one so-so, one way too salty, as are the breadsticks - I now request that the server not bring them. I do like the dish with the short ribs - the meat is tasty and tender. If I recall correctly, it's with tortellini and tomato sauce. I read a few months ago - on this board, perhaps - that OG's entrees come from headquarters in boil-in bags. I received a giftcard and noticed that it was also usable at Red Lobster, Smoky Bones, and an unfamiliar name, Bahama-some-such. Always thought their commercials looked stylistically similar to Red Lobster.

                1. I agree, I went in the O.G here in Altamonte Springs , right after its re-do about a 1 1/2 years ago , and it was great, I love to see all the "foodies" stick their nose in the air about any chain....there is some really good decent priced food to be had there.