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Help, being forced to go to Olive Garden.

O.K., here is the story. My wife and I are meeting some good friends from out of town for dinner. We asked them where they would like to go. Out of the hundreds of nice places within a twenty minute driving distance they decided on Olive Garden. I am not knocking the place. The first and last time I ate there, I was twenty something and did not know anything about the place. I did not enjoy any of the food. I am the type of person that says, " I would rather spend an extra five to fifteen dollars on something that I enjoy." So, if going to Olive Garden, What is the best thing on the menu? Please don't say salad.

Thank You


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  1. i do not eat at olive garden, but if forced, i would eat at home first and then eat the salad.

    1. I'm sorry. I have been in this position myself. There really is no good answer. The soup was awful, very over salted, but the salad was not as bad. For a main, I would go as simple as possible; spaghetti with red sauce. If it is inedible, at least you haven't paid a lot.

      1. It's a place I haven't been for many years, and wouldn't be my choice, but my feeling is that friendships are more important than the choice of restaurant. I'm sure there is something on the menu worth eating a little bit of for the sake of good company with old friends. Do they serve wine? That will help get through it.

        1 Reply
        1. re: GH1618

          LOL my former boss went to OG, looked at the wine list and said, "Thank God for liquor!"

        2. Not a place I frequent, and not something I usually order, but chicken parm is pretty hard to screw up. What ever you don't eat you can bring home for the kids or dog as both will usually eat it. .

          2 Replies
          1. re: Tom34

            I'd agree with chicken or eggplant parm. The salad depends on location, I think...I've had it where it included brownish bits of iceberg lettuce so it's not an unqualified success.

            1. re: Tom34

              Having actually ordered their Chicken Parm, I can tell you....

              It may be hard to screw up Chix Parm, but it ain't impossible. Olive Garden managed to do it.

              To the OP: My sympathies. Go with spaghetti and red sauce-- best answer. Take Tums.

            2. I just checked the menu for South Bay Plaza. I would have scampi appetizer and grilled salmon for the main course. Or shrimp parmesan if not having shrimp appetizers. And plent of pinot grigio.

              Steak Toscano if you eat beef.

              1. now now not all is bad... some of the basic itilian "depression foods" eg chicken parm arn't bad.
                have a couple of Sambucas and maybe a limoncello and be happy

                1. Was in that situation last year in Memphis! After the salad, I had a basic pasta (herbed olive oil + Italian sausage, I believe) with extra grated cheese (yes, the pasta was overcooked). The food server tried to stop grating twice before I thought it had been "drenched" enough -- I made it through the salad also with lots of extra grated cheese & dressing on the side -- remembering, after all, the point of the evening was catching with folks I hadn't seend for a couple year -- NOT the food.

                  I did leave the very earnest wait staff a bonus b/c the crew was accommodating on these points plus others during the evening.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Stephanie Wong

                    LOL! When my hubby and I are at places where they grind the parm we say"don't stop until the boss is about to fire you"

                    1. re: dianne0712

                      Why do you all need *so much* cheese? Wouldn't you be tasting *only* the cheese?

                        1. re: jmcarthur8

                          Heh. Perhaps so for Stephanie (from her wording) but I wondered more about dianne's reasons as it sounded more like she would do that anywhere.

                          1. re: huiray

                            Once while my son was adding shredded Parmigiano to his spaghetti, his dad told him that was *enough*. My sons and I looked at one another, and being total cheese hounds, asked Dad, 'why? is there a rule?'.
                            Even on an excellent pasta dish, some of us, huiray, think the cheese is an integral component of the dish. :-) We can't help ourselves.

                    1. Can't say I've ever had a bad meal there, though every meal was unmemorable. I usually go with lasagna.

                      1. You'll survive just fine.

                        We all know it's not really Italian food and we all also know it's not the world's best or tastiest food but - come on - you are unlikely to die from eating it.

                        1. In regards to what would be best, I think it would be related to what bothers you more. In general fried food I find to be harder to mess up (if calories aren't an issue). So eggplant or chicken parmesan would be ways to go, also items like fried shrimp, fried mushrooms, fried zucchini. Deep frying food - as long as it's not soggy or cold - is pretty difficult to mess up.

                          If you're not fussy about poorly cooked pasta, then a simple pasta dish would be cheaper and less chance of them messing up a protein. Personally, other than fried shrimp, I'd stay away from all seafood.

                          1. Stick with red sauces and things like Chicken/Eggplant Parm or the Lasagna. Stuff from the "Classic" menu seems to be better quality because there's more turnaround. Though honestly, some of the best meals I've had there were when I just had an appetizer (like the bruschetta or a flatbread), the breadsticks, and salad.

                            1. Their short ribs and risotto are quite good.

                              1. Grab a bread stick and head to the bar, which still serves real alcohol....

                                1. I've eaten there three times. Once every ten years when someone insists on going. Each time it's been just as bad as I remembered the first time. I just pick something cheap and deal with it. At least my four-year-old son likes it.

                                  1. My parents like Olive Garden and it is probably better than the local Italian restaurants (one of which used to proudly proclaim on its menu that one of the appetizers, the mozzarella logs I think, were made by Armour). When I have eaten there with them, my most likely order is the steak Gorgonzola-alfredo.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: FoodPopulist

                                      "Armour Mozzarella Logs"?? That sounds scary.

                                    2. I love the:

                                      Fried Lasagna Appetizer

                                      Chicken Parmesan

                                      Chocolate Tuxedo Cake

                                      No, it's not fine dining, but it's certainly not the bottom of the barrel.

                                      22 Replies
                                      1. re: olyolyy

                                        The last time I was there after a 10+ yr absence, I just stuck to the bare basics: garlic breadsticks and salad. Also ordered minestrone soup that I dumped about 10 packs of crushed red pepper in.

                                        Oh yea, and wine. A bottle is a nice start.

                                        1. re: olyolyy

                                          Actually, that's too easy, but I'll take the bait. What's worse (except perhaps Red Lobster)?

                                          1. re: Clams047

                                            Golden Corral
                                            Cracker Barrel

                                            As olyolyy says, Olive Garden isn't fabulous by any stretch, but it's miles better than many chains out there. It's easy for people in large cities with excellent Italian restaurants to pish-tosh Olive Garden, but in places without family Italian spots, it's a pretty decent alternative.

                                            1. re: Boston_Otter

                                              Regarding Cracker Barrel - see this: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/cracker...

                                              Heh, that pesky "general dining public"... ;-)

                                              1. re: huiray

                                                I see that stuff every once in awhile, and it always baffles me. I've never really had a terrible meal there, but nothing really worthwhile... yet it's always packed. Maybe there's something The Public is getting there that I haven't ordered that'll show me the true wonder of Cracker Barrel :)

                                                1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                  I was once passing through the Hilton in downtown Louisville, KY - and I asked the desk clerk for a recommendation for a nice Sunday brunch. He effusively recommended a place to me, declaring it the bestest place he had eaten at - and after I deciphered his blubbering comments and directions realized he was directing me to the Cracker Barrel near the airport, which I had happened to have eaten at the previous night for lack of anything else "nearby" to the place/hotel I crashed at (tired, hungry and worn out) and which still had a room very late at night. :-)

                                                  1. re: huiray

                                                    Ick for Cracker Barrel. I was forced to go there once on a Sunday morning during a long trip through TN as we were starved and it was right off the highway. The place was PACKED with people coming from church. It was meh, edible but salty, and I hated having to walk through the gift shop to get to the restaurant. It seemed like a poorly Disneyfied pastiche of a small town restaurant.

                                                    1. re: Kat

                                                      So...I wonder what it is that makes it the #1 family-dining place for ordinary folks? (see my post above: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8704...) Is it just what M-o-f said below? (But then what about folks like that hotel desk clerk who babbled about how delicious and wonderful the food was...)

                                                      1. re: Kat

                                                        It's easy to see why CB isn't for you. Folks that say "pastiche" don' go there.

                                                        1. re: grampart

                                                          Hey! I know the word pastiche, and yet I love Cracker Barrel. Granted, there aren't any in So. Cal, but when we travel, it's my #1 choice of off-the-freeway restaurants. But for me, it has great nostalgia appeal--granny was a true pioneer lady and her house had all that old-timey stuff (crapola) all over. Food certainly isn't gourmet (or healthy), but also rings the nostaliga bell for country ham, sawmill gravy, fried okra, etc. I find a few goodies in the shopping area, too. Different strokes.

                                                          1. re: pine time

                                                            @pine: The last two times I went, my eggs were all runny, my bacon was burnt, and my gravy was all full of flour lumps. No good. I hear that the country fried steak is the thing to get -- I love country cookin', so I'll give that a shot (along with fried okra) sometime.

                                                            1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                              Have never eaten breakfast at Cracker Barrel but always enjoy the chicken fried steak or chicken fried chicken. My wife and my late mother prefer(ed) the chicken and dumplings.

                                                              For sides I generally go with pinto beans and coleslaw. Quite pleasant for my wife on long road trips. : )

                                                              1. re: kengk

                                                                I tend to not order what I cook at home, so seldom order eggs. Love the chicken & dumplings (I love the doughy, ooey-gooey kind--mine end up fluffly pillows, dang it), and those pintos in the pewter bowls are fine with crumbled up cornbread. Just need a glass of buttermilk to crumble more cornbread in and you're all set. Love C.B. for road trips!

                                                    2. re: huiray

                                                      Actually, I used to live in Middle TN (about 20 mi from Lebanon, TN where Cracker Barrel is based), and up until a couple of years ago, at least in that area the Craker Barrels served very tasty food. Heavy, unhealthy, unimaginative? Yep. And that was okay. A while back, even local in Mid-TN, the quality suddenly dropped tremendously. Why? Beats me. But it sure did make me sad!

                                                    3. re: Boston_Otter

                                                      Except of McDonalds (was last there about a year ago), you did hit upon a list of places I have avoided for 10+ years, but I'd still choose any of those over OG (My last - hopefully my very last OG visit was about four years ago - it was as bad for me as it's ever been - bread sticks, soups and all). It's success has always baffled me.

                                                      For the record, there's really nothing "Italian" about OG, except they do serve pasta. Great marketing for those who have no clue.

                                                      1. re: Clams047

                                                        Ok, that's where I'm going to call utter BS, frankly.

                                                        Folks have a wide range of experiences at OG, from "hey, not bad" to "holy ugh" depending on the location, the time of day, the company, etc. I've had awful experiences and perfectly fine meals there, but I've also had awful experiences and perfectly fine meals in Boston's North End (the Italian district) and NYC's Little Italy.

                                                        In any case, OG is absolutely Italian. Yes, they have lots of Americanized dishes -- steak, "peachy chicken", artichoke dip -- but the majority of their menu is as Italian as the "high class" Italian restaurants in the North End, or my Italian grandmother's kitchen, for that matter. It might not be top-tier Italian, but for the most part, it's not fake Italian food.

                                                        1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                          OK - I'll grant you they have a lot of "Italian" knockoffs (by name), but the quality tends to differ greatly from what I have had both in Italy as well as the US (admittedly primarily NJ, NY, CT, RI, but also in VA, NC, TN & FL). Been to OG perhaps four, possibly five times over the past twenty years. Never had a meal (or tasted tested anything off a spouse's plate) that I'd reorder. Never again. I've found even their basic soup, salad & bread sticks to have been consistently terrible (items many seem to brag about), never mind the soggy pasta, library paste alfredo sauces, red sauces that might be a step up from a ketchup-based sauce, etc.

                                                    4. re: Clams047

                                                      Olive Garden is #6 on Restaurant News survey of "Top 10 casual-dining chains".
                                                      [Red Lobster is #8. Top pick? Bonefish Grill. These are apparently picks/votes by consumers - y'know, the general USAmerican dining public, not Chowhounders. :-) ]


                                                      1. re: huiray

                                                        If choosing a chain, which I would not usually, I would go with Bonefish for sure. They don't overcook their salmon, the 'sashimi' is very good and we actually really like their house salad. Our local one has a great staff as well.

                                                        1. re: mojoeater

                                                          Good food,but they can barely wait to seat you,throw the food at you,and then push you out so they get get the next customers in. That has been our experience every time we have gone there. We have been still eating the salads when they appear with the entree which we have made them take back. Keep telling them we don't have tickets to anything so please don't rush us...never matters!

                                                          1. re: Mother of four

                                                            That has never been our experience at the local one.

                                                  2. Well, they do make a few nice soups. I would load up on their "bottomless soup" and bread, the former pretty decent, the latter fairly harmless. Good luck!

                                                    1. The Olive Garden? Oh the horror! Come on people, any Chowhound worthy of the name should be able to find something that their tastebuds can handle. I swear, sometimes I think this site should have been called Chowsnobs. jmho

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: grampart

                                                        Yes, they probably could, but the choice isn't theirs.

                                                        1. I'm not a Olive Garden hater like so many here and have actually had a few good chain italiain meals there. This is my strategy for eating there.

                                                          Do not order any pasta dish - their homemade pasta isn't very good

                                                          Do not order any dish with a white cream sauce - they are yucky.

                                                          Their breadsticks are pretty pathetic also - surprising to see 'foodies' say they are good.

                                                          There seafood and other protein items are generally okay as are their Panini's and salads.

                                                          12 Replies
                                                          1. re: RetiredChef

                                                            Their homemade pasta isn't very good, their white cream sauce is yucky and their bread is pathetic......your pretty forgiving for still going there or the competition is nonexistent.

                                                            1. re: Tom34

                                                              I’ve been there about 6-8 times total, all because other people have wanted to go. I don’t like to yuk other people’s yums especially since most of my friends/associates consider me an ‘authority’ on food.

                                                              Bread in most restaurants is pathetic OG joins the pack. When have you had a pasta cooked consistently al dente at any chain restaurant - OG actually does a good job on the cooking, I just don’t like the pasta dough they use and that’s a personal taste issue. And most chain restaurants use frozen/stabilized cream sauce bases for their white sauces - again OG is just following the pack.

                                                              That being said I have had much worse meals at red/white italian american restaurants throughout the US. And as I pointed out if I dine with my guidelines in mind I usually get a decent meal of OG. The bottom line is you can do a lot worse than OG and you can do better, at the right place, so the OG hate seems unjustified in my opinion.

                                                              1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                Yeah, the hate does seem a little extreme. I know that many folks on this site regularly eat the best of the best and OG is a big step down for them. In all fairness, OG menu prices with coupons and various promotions are also a big step down from the $$$ at most premium restaurants.

                                                                I am fortunate that our friends, one of which speaks fluent Italian, are big food folks and we live across the river from South Philadelphia (Little Italy) where wild caught seafood, milk fed veal, perfectly cooked homemade pasta and mobsters are not hard to find. Chains like OG are kind of a "rare" last minute thing for us. When running late we would rather have bar food like buffalo wings & spicy fries or hand tossed pizza. (hardly high end, LOL).

                                                                The reason I said you are very forgiving is because most Chefs I know, especially the French ones, are hyper critical and would blow a cork at some of the examples of screwing up the basics like you pointed out. I guess with age (your retired) comes the wisdom that few things are as they should be and most people are not willing to pay for things to be as they expect them to be. Some folks have hit the nail on the head though that a few drinks and a lot of laughs with good friends are really what a night out is all about.

                                                                1. re: Tom34

                                                                  "Some folks have hit the nail on the head though that a few drinks and a lot of laughs with good friends are really what a night out is all about."

                                                                  Then why spend a night out with a mediocre menu (trying to be polite) in a noisy place that is primarily driven to turnover the crowd for an additional seating. Yet another reason to go elsewhere.

                                                                  1. re: Clams047

                                                                    Because the friends wanted to go to OG. One supposes the friends are not CHers like you but part of the general dining public that loves OG.

                                                                    1. re: huiray

                                                                      Its funny to look at contrasts. I have been to a very exclusive / secure / private 1500 home community in Key Largo called Ocean Reef Club. They have their own airport, PGA golf courses and about a dozen world class restaurants. Former presidents such as the Bushes & foreign dignitaries like Mikhail Gorbachev are regulars as are billionaires the likes of Bill Gates and entertainers like Jimmy Buffet. Anyway, there is a run down squatters bar several miles out on Card Sound Rd. called Alabama Jack's which is known for conch fritters. On certain nights, mixed in with the bikers and other characters who haven't seen a dentist in 30 yrs are folks from Ocean Reef Club and on certain nights they do clog dancing and there will be folks on the dance floor worth hundreds of millions of dollars (or more) clog dancing with folks well below the poverty line. My point is that I guess the white table cloths get boring after a while.

                                                                      1. re: Tom34

                                                                        High end places have nothing to do with it. Some of my favorite places to eat are places my wife will not set foot in because they look shady. The shady places usually have quality food at a reasonable price.

                                                                        1. re: josephlapusata

                                                                          My point was that they didn't come for the food. If they wanted good food they would have stayed in Ocean Reef and eaten the best ingredients money could buy & cooked by some of the best chefs in the world or they would jump on their private jets and fly to France. My point was that they came for the boisterous atmosphere where they could let their shirt tails show and have fun. I think in some respects many chains are marketed toward the same thing & many people like that. None of the chains would be my first choice, (and I have been critical of them on this site) but I would not make a friend(s) feel uncomfortable who recommended going to one "once and a while".

                                                                          I do agree though that a pitcher of beer and piping hot bar food in a place where nobody puts their napkin on their lap sometimes trumps a perfectly cooked cold water lobster tail. I have a picture of one of my daughters when she was an infant chomping away on a buffalo wing with only 2 front teeth. Some people were appalled that I brought her to such a place but life is an adventure. They have since moved on to blood rare fresh ground burgers & steak LOL!

                                                                    2. re: Clams047

                                                                      Well as I said, OG is not a regular for us. Another thing that always has to be considered is that not all of our friends are in the same financial situation as us and a chain is sometimes a good financial fit in that regard. That noisy background can also be a good to muffle our laughter if our group is large. I guess what I am trying to say is a lot depends on who your with, what atmosphere your looking for, what type of food your in the mood for and how heavy your wallet is at the time. As I said above, sometimes we are in the mood for good cheap bar food and other times 5 star dining. On some occasions when we are not in the mood for the drive/parking in Philadelphia we end up at a chain. For great aged steak its my house and the big green egg but thats a whole different story.

                                                                    3. re: Tom34

                                                                      >>> Some folks have hit the nail on the head though that a few drinks and a lot of laughs with good friends are really what a night out is all about.

                                                                      Exactly - food is/was my life but I've learned that people are more important.


                                                                    4. re: RetiredChef

                                                                      "The bottom line is you can do a lot worse than OG and you can do better, at the right place, so the OG hate seems unjustified in my opinion."

                                                                      RetiredChef, my drastic Olive Garden hate stems from when (while living in Middle TN, as I mentioned earlier in this thread) a little local Italian-American restaurant that served food that ranged from good to really, really good ended up shutting down about 6 months after the Olive Garden moved in half a mile away. The owners lost too much of their business to survive. I was brokenhearted because after growing up in Philadelphia, PA just finding that little place serving such good Italian-American food in Tennessee was an unexpected joy. I suspect that at least some others shared my experience of this, losing a beloved local independent restaurant to a chain. It breeds passionate hatred.

                                                                      1. re: StrandedYankee

                                                                        Many of those little South Philly Mom & Pop converted row house restaurants are still there and we are lucky enough to have Italian speaking friends who know the scene very well. Whats missing though is the Angelo Bruno charm from the old days and Frank Rizzo's 6'6" tough as nails Irish cops with their long batons. "YES SIR" were the only 2 words you said to them but you knew you were safe with them pounding the pavement.

                                                                2. I can't recommend anything in particular since there isn't one in our city, but I feel your pain. We have family who insist on chain eating. They have kids and want familiar items. The latest choice is Outback. While the food isn't great, we always enjoy time with them. So I suggest ordering something simple and just smile through it. Not every meal has to be great, even if you are a Chowhound :)

                                                                  1. I saw it mentioned at least once but I will second the braised short ribs are tolerable for sure. The short ribs themselves are tender and cooked propery...the sauce is ehhhh but not vulgar to the delicate meat at all. The "risotto" to me is a version of warm rice pudding with out the cinnamon but it's all tolerable. That's what I would go with and is always my stand by when forced to go there.

                                                                    1. I actually have to go fairly often because that's a "go-to" spot for office gatherings where I work. I totally agree that I would rather spend a little more $ and get better food, but the majority of our office group can agree to it and so I go. I know you said not salad, but in fact the soup, salad, breadstick combo is what I almost always get, with the minestrone soup. I don't eat the breadsticks at all (not horrible, but certainly not worth the calories) and eat the salty soup sparingly. Lately, though, I've ordered the lasagne. Pasta is certainly overcooked, but the overall taste is ok. They used to make canelloni that was actually pretty good, but I don't think it's on the menu anymore. They do serve wine, that will help.

                                                                      1. We meet friends there on occasion. They like it. One of the things I will eat is the Chicken Scampi. It's not too bad. Their alfredo sauce is a little too rich for my system so I don't eat anything with that.. The Bruschetta is good as well as a couple other of their apps. Of course, they do serve a steak with potatoes. You could always go that route.

                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                        1. re: boyzoma

                                                                          >>>One of the things I will eat is the Chicken Scampi. It's not too bad.<<<

                                                                          What in the world is "Chicken Scampi"? Is it chopped up chicken that is formed into the shape of a prawn?

                                                                          1. re: Fowler


                                                                            Yes, yes, we know "scampi" refers to a certain type of crustacean elsewhere than in the USA or in OliveGardenia.


                                                                            1. re: Fowler

                                                                              It's not chopped. It is more like Chicken Tenders on top. But other than that, the rest is like shrimp scampi.

                                                                          2. I just like food in general, I can't remember the last time I was unhappy with a meal in a restaurant of any type. I don't understand when people say the food is terrible, to me terrible means it makes you vomit. I can't see OG's food resulting in projectile vomiting. It may not be authentic Italian, how would I know, I've rarely ventured outside the state of Florida.

                                                                            1. I've had guests who requested OG as our eating out night, and I just smile and go along. Certainly not the best choice, but not the worst, either. The company is the best part of going out to OG. Have a goodly amount of wine and a big dessert to fill out the otherwise meh meal. Count your blessings that you have good friends. And make 'em killa Italian meal at home--maybe they'd rather eat at your house next time.

                                                                              1. Not a fan of the OG,but the risotto is not bad at all.

                                                                                1. I have a ton of allergies - the last time I went to Olive Garden the only thing that I could safely eat was the steak.

                                                                                  Wasn't bad, they cooked it properly, and it didn't kill me.

                                                                                  1. Ok, tomorrow is the big day. I thank you all for the information you provided. I did not intend for this to be a I hate OG thread. I just wanted to know what could be ordered and not completely disliked. We will enjoy the time with our friends. I think Chicken Parm will be the way to go. I just hate spending good money on bad food. Thank you all again. Joe

                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: josephlapusata

                                                                                      You'll have a good time. Read these tips on wine first, they'll help!

                                                                                      1. re: josephlapusata

                                                                                        Every OG thread is a hate OG thread, deserved or not. Over the years I've learned that it's most likely a regional thing. East coast/West Coast with a larger Italian American population, OG is panned simply because everyone remembers Mama's,the corner pizzeria/trattoria's cooking and rail against the chain. Middle America more times than not welcome OG because it's a change from local fare and accommodates larger groups with perceived good food and value.
                                                                                        In the end,if you leave smiling,sated and satisfied with the company if not the food ...It's all good.

                                                                                      2. The Bruschetta is actually really normal and totally fine. It is listed as an appetizer, but large enough for an entree. I like to get that, a salad and a big beer and call it a day.

                                                                                        1. I don't think you are being "forced" to go anywhere. You asked where your friends would like to eat. They may not even know the options (being from "out of town"). They may hope to keep the costs reasonable.

                                                                                          If you want to micro-manage the meal or host at the level where you feel comfortable, just pick the place and treat the friends. It seems they must like Italian, so you could have selected a local place that they might not know about and would meet your standards.

                                                                                          Given the title of your post, I doubt any suggestions would impress you, so I'd say to just go, smile, and enjoy the company of your friends.

                                                                                          17 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: CyndiA

                                                                                            Or don't like "Italian" as the case may be (if they liked Italian, they surely would not have picked OG)..

                                                                                            Could be worse (marginally), however. They could have picked Chucky Cheese.

                                                                                            1. re: Clams047

                                                                                              A more likely scenario is that his friends like Italian food quite a lot, which is why they want to go to OG -- since it's Italian -- but in his friends' neck of the woods, chains like OG, Carrabbas, and Macaroni Grill are the only representations of Italian food. Being from the midwest, myself, I know that that's often the case.

                                                                                              Now, personally, I would've countered that with "Oh, you like Italian? There's this wonderful family Italian spot down the street...", but a lot of Midwesterners who're used to their chains are comfortable with what they know and really like the fact that they can get the same Fettucini Alfredo they enjoy at any OG in the country.

                                                                                              1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                                                                Don't forget Maggiano's. :-)

                                                                                                [The "original" one, at Grand & Clark in Chicago's River North, is usually packed to the rafters and frequently there are long lines waiting for tables at peak times. The scene on the street (Clark) outside the place is sometimes a zoo, with limos and cars and valets and mobs of folks all jammed into the space and severely disrupting traffic flow. Imagine that - in Chicago, one of the world's best cities for dining and food.]

                                                                                                1. re: huiray

                                                                                                  I don't want to seem like I'm bashing the entire North End of Boston, but I have to be honest -- I've eaten in several of the famous family-run spots there, and had lousy, overpriced food served by surly waiters in a rushed, crowded room.

                                                                                                  On the other hand, I've never really had a bad meal at Maggiano's. Yeah, it's a chain, but the food's very good, the servings are embarrassingly ample, the staff's always been prompt and friendly. It might not "represent local flavor", but I don't really have any complaints about the place :)

                                                                                                  1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                                                                    I've had some quibbles with the food at the Maggiano's in Indianapolis, but yes - on the whole Maggiano's is a pretty good place for what it serves – Italian-American food. The one in Chicago River North is pretty good. I've even read before of long-time Chowhounders recommending the place for a decent "Italian" meal for certain folks. :-)

                                                                                                    @ josephlapusata: There's a Maggiano's in Boston - where you appear to be based - hmm? Maybe for next time when your friends visit again?

                                                                                                    1. re: huiray

                                                                                                      Yes, to be clear, when I say "Italian", I mean Italian-American food... not authentic Tuscan specialties :)

                                                                                                2. re: Boston_Otter

                                                                                                  For chain Italian, I've found Carrabbas, Macaroni Grill & Burtucci's to be decent (not to be confused with fine dining Italian, but each to be far superior vs. OG). As I've mentioned elsewhere, about the only place I've found worse than OG is Chucky Cheese (but only marginally worse).

                                                                                                  I'd rather microwave a frozen grocer entree than ever go back to an OG (IMO, about the same quality, but cheaper via the grocer) .

                                                                                                  1. re: Clams047

                                                                                                    It's a shame that your OG experiences were so poor. That's very unusual.

                                                                                                    If everyone who went to OG was eating food that was on the level of TV dinners but five times the price, nobody would go there. Given the crowds... I think most people are getting much better food than that.

                                                                                                    1. re: Clams047

                                                                                                      Not big on chains but have been to Bertucci's for lunch and the rustic sandwich was actually pretty good and had that distinct fresh herb flavor. Was also at Maggiano's once for dinner with a group and we did family style. Some things were very good, others just fair. Portions however were reminiscent of 1980's diners where you got 2 meals for the price of one.

                                                                                                      1. re: Clams047

                                                                                                        I could have written this post save the CC bit having never been there.
                                                                                                        Carrabas and Macaroni Grille do a great job and although I have been in ten yers or so Bertucci's was a favorite hangout o my parents when I was in high school. OG on the other hand is probably my least favorite place. Had never been until college and at that time anything was better than the caf. The salad and soup have been the only halfway decent items. Those awful breadsticks taste like salt and should be avoided. Z

                                                                                                    2. re: Clams047

                                                                                                      Surprisingly, I found Chuck E. Cheese's wings to be quite good. The pizza, of course, is abysmal, but my 3 year old likes it. She's not quite a foodie, yet. (Though her favorite restaurant is Bertucci's, and she likes to eat fresh mango).

                                                                                                    3. re: CyndiA

                                                                                                      Hi CyndiA. I AM being forced to go here. I, do not want to go to Olive Garden but, I want to see my friends and catch up. We asked them where they wanted to go to be polite. They are also aware of options in the area. They lived in this area at one time. Keeping costs down was not an issue. If I were micro-managing things, I would have said no, we will go here. I was being a team player being FORCED to go some place I did not want to go. In order to see my friends, this was the place they chose. CyndiA I am sorry but, If I am spending hard earned money for a product, I expect it to be a good product. The title of my post is spot on. You are also correct in saying that suggestions would not impress me. I don't need to be impressed. I just would like food that is quality. CyndiA, I did enjoy the company of my friends,lots of smiles and laughs.The food as far as I am concerned is a reheated T.V. Dinner

                                                                                                      1. re: josephlapusata

                                                                                                        "The food as far as I am concerned is a reheated T.V. Dinner"

                                                                                                        As I said above, that's unusual. If everyone who ate at OG was being served TV dinners and paying $10-$12 an entree for it, they wouldn't be consistently busy and popular.

                                                                                                        1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                                                                          Let's see, Wonderbread is the most popular bread, Mcdonalds is the most popular fast food, Subway is the most popular sandwich shop. Keeping up the the Kardashians draws an unbelieveable market share.

                                                                                                          Do you really think popularity has anything to do with quality?

                                                                                                          I chalk it up to highly effective marketing to the gullible.

                                                                                                          1. re: Clams047

                                                                                                            Wonder Bread, McDonalds, and Subway are also some of the least expensive bread, burgers, and sandwiches available. Olive Garden's a fairly pricey option, comparatively.

                                                                                                            And as Eric Schlosser points out in Fast Food Nation, if McDonalds' food tasted terrible, they certainly wouldn't sell billions every day.

                                                                                                            1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                                                                              "And as Eric Schlosser points out in Fast Food Nation, if McDonalds' food tasted terrible, they certainly wouldn't sell billions every day."

                                                                                                              Perhaps worthy of a different thread, but doesn't McDonalds typically rank last / near last in most every burger comparison? Personally, all I taste is the salt and perhaps the sharpness of their yellow mustard. Again, an excellent example of remarkable marketing. In their case, it's a great way to get children to eat - keep it bland and overload it with salt.

                                                                                                              1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                                                                                McDonalds: Years ago they at a minimum "finished" the 1/4 lb burgers on the flat top while you waited and they came out juicy and delicious (at least to a teenagers taste buds as I could eat 2 without batting an eye). Now it seems they are fully precooked & tossed in the microwave just prior to service and they are dry and nasty and not worth the calories IMHO. Fries are still a killer though!

                                                                                                      2. So Joe, how was the evening?...not just the food, the company? the service? What was good and what was not worth mentioning...

                                                                                                        I have been to OG once in my life...on a scale of 1 to 10...it was a 5 (because the company were dear friends).

                                                                                                        1. Ok, time to put this post to bed. We all met at Olive Garden around six for dinner. It was busy being a Saturday. The wait was about half an hour. Not out of line. We were seated and drink order was taken. Our waiter was very new and nervous. Drinks came and dinner order was taken. The women ordered shrimp and chicken carbonara. I ordered the chicken parm and my friend ordered The Tour Of Italy (chicken parm,lasagna and, alfredo). The family style salad with house dressing came out with bread sticks. The salad was very good except the the plates that came out with it were as hot as a plate coming out from under a broiler. Odd but like I said, the waiter was new. The bread sticks on the other hand were very bad. They were more like a soft heavily salted pretzel. The kind you get at a ball game. The meal soon came out after the salad was finished. Every thing looked good. The ladies said they actually liked the carbonara. A bit on the salty side but, they finished most of it. My friend ate his tour of Italy. He said it was ok. Now on to the chicken. I did eat it. Chicken was dry and very salty. The pasta was mush. The sauce was also not to my taste. It was bland but salty. Call me a food snob but, as far as I am concerned the food is just not good. To sum things up... The atmosphere is not bad. Bright, clean, well laid out. The staff is on the young side but they were in good spirits and they were trying. The drinks were good but, a bit pricey for not being in the city. Salad was good aside from the hot plates." Dread sticks" stay away from them. No one liked them. We did not have appetizers so I can not comment on them. Fifty percent of our party liked their meal. Twenty five percent said it was ok and I said not very good. The price of the food is on the high side. I say this because I could have had cooked to order hand breaded veal parm with salad, fresh baked bread, and a side of pasta with meat sauce from a local mom and pop establishment for the same price as the chicken parm. Taking all things into consideration; food, atmosphere, service and total experience, "THIS IS KILLING ME" I will have to give them three out of five stars. Olive Garden is not the place to go for quality food. It as a good place to go to meet up with some friends and have a good night. If forced to go again, I will just have drinks and a sald.

                                                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: josephlapusata

                                                                                                            Sounds like the Olive Garden is fine. If you want "quality" food, I wouldn't suggest going to a moderately priced chain. But for what it is, I don't see how you can complain.

                                                                                                            1. re: josephlapusata

                                                                                                              Thanks for the update. I think the breadsticks are horrible. Dry and awful and I don't get the love for them. I used to like that sausage and kale soup they had, but that was about it. I actually dont' mind mushy pasta (I grew up with it, so it's a nostalgia thing if I eat it) but all their sauces are just not to my liking. But I could struggle through if need be. That's high end for some of my friends, who are the type who think BW3 is a great restaurant.

                                                                                                              1. re: rockandroller1

                                                                                                                The breadsticks are good for sopping up liquids such as soup or the butter from the stuffed mushroom appetizer.

                                                                                                              2. re: josephlapusata

                                                                                                                And you said not to recommend the salad ;)

                                                                                                                I didn't want to be the naysayer about the chicken Parm and tour of Italy but they were pretty bad a few times that I went as well.

                                                                                                                1. re: melpy

                                                                                                                  Last time I was at an OG was for a funeral lunch (meeting the definition of "forced to go"!) and I got chicken parm. It was not bad. It might be one of those "location specific" things.

                                                                                                              3. This year we decided to get our season theater tickets for the Sunday matinee instead of Saturday evening. In Columbus, GA most all of the local places are closed on Sunday which leaves us with chains.

                                                                                                                So, this past Sunday we went to Carrabbas for lunch. It was the first time in at least twenty meals at Carrabbas that I thought the food was substandard. Maybe they have the second string in on Sundays?

                                                                                                                Anyways, back to the subject of the thread, the Olive Garden, about three buildings down, was absolutely slammed when we left at about 1.00 p.m. Going to try it next time, haven't eaten there in 5-6 years.

                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                1. re: kengk

                                                                                                                  Carrabas has changed the menu and I think they have missed the mark on what left and what stayed. Macaroni grill has gone more upscale IMO and has added some pricy entrees.

                                                                                                                2. not meaning to beat up on you, but the question really comes down to - 'forced to go' is a harsh term. "We asked them where they would like to go. Out of the hundreds of nice places within a twenty minute driving distance they decided on Olive Garden"

                                                                                                                  primarily it's your town and despite their knowledge of the area, they don't know the variables. so next time why not simply don't ask and suggest a specific place? (and I am OG tolerant, just not my first choice). you asked, they balked.

                                                                                                                  1. Wow ..much ado about a meal. I now understand..one meal at Olive Garden = Bataan Death March.

                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                    1. re: rochfood

                                                                                                                      "Bataan Death March" Very good!!!! On a less severe note, there wouldn't be a crumb left on that O.G. plate after a weekend with nothing but MRE's.

                                                                                                                    2. Ah, Olive Garden. Well, imagine having absolutely no food for days on end. In that case, OG will seem pretty good.

                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: Tripeler

                                                                                                                        Which is a scenario that no one who is participating in this thread will likely ever face.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Samalicious

                                                                                                                          If we keep up with the deficits & the world currency reserve becomes the Chinese Yuan, that may well become a very likely scenario!

                                                                                                                      2. There's a great dish of deep fried spaghetti with a steak on top drizzled with alfredo and 2 breadsticks that's pretty good.

                                                                                                                        I'm just kidding. Seriously though the pasta with marinara is good enough. It's like having overcooked pasta with a slightly better than average jarred sauce at home. It won't be great but you'll be ok.


                                                                                                                        7 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: JeremyEG

                                                                                                                          That actually sounds pretty good.

                                                                                                                          1. re: JeremyEG

                                                                                                                            Can I get it with a side of ketchup?

                                                                                                                            1. re: Clams047

                                                                                                                              Yes, the ketchup is the marinara. : )

                                                                                                                              1. re: Clams047

                                                                                                                                I hate to say this, but whenever my sister has alfredo at OG, she asks for a little bowl of ketchup, and stirs that in to 'cut the richness' , as she says. I once suggested marinara and got a big 'no' to that. I never tried it, so it may have been wonderful..I will never know.

                                                                                                                                1. re: jmcarthur8

                                                                                                                                  Why not, for the sake of research? You could just add more cheese ;-) if necessary. =)

                                                                                                                                  1. re: huiray

                                                                                                                                    Funny man ;-) . Love it!
                                                                                                                                    That ketchup thing just scares me....I don't think there's enough Parm in the world to cover up the flavor.
                                                                                                                                    Tell you what, you do the research and get back to me. =)

                                                                                                                              2. The customary advice is "leave the gun, take the cannoli".

                                                                                                                                1. i'm going there tomorrow for lunch to try their hamburger that was recently added to the lunch menu. :-)

                                                                                                                                  1. I've been in the position where my in-laws wanted to go to Olive Garden. From the three times I was there, the only thing I would order again is the tuscan soup -- it's a semi-creamy soup with italian sausage, potatoes and kale -- kind of like a caldo gallego. It was pretty tasty. It's labeled as spicy but I didn't find it spicy at all.

                                                                                                                                    And I know there are OG naysayers but it was so much better than this local family-run Italian restaurant I once had the displeasure of eating in. It was probably the most horrid food I've had (discounting the time I had a charred raw chicken leg at a festival). So I can definitely understand why Olive Garden is the best Italian restaurant around in some parts of the US. Lucky for me I live in a city where I've got tons of good Italian restaurants.

                                                                                                                                    1. Ha Ha ..first world problems.
                                                                                                                                      I'm sure people won't like that comment..I realize it's a chow site (Ive been here awhile) .and no one should have to like OG..blah blah blah..
                                                                                                                                      but I can't help thinking that when I read such a headline.

                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                      1. re: rochfood

                                                                                                                                        I guess that those of us that live near a big city that has a "Little Italy" section where small restaurants specialize in north / south and everything in between are spoiled.

                                                                                                                                      2. I'm sorry you had to go to olive garden with your dear friends. There's a solution to this sort of problem though - in the future, instead of asking them where they want to go, suggest three restaurants you would like to eat at. When you are the host, it's totally appropriate to guide out of town friends to the good places.

                                                                                                                                        It seems at least likely that they didn't know where to eat in your town, and just said "Olive Garden" because they were put on the spot and well, for whatever reason knew that there was one. Maybe felt constrained from demanding an expensive place. But probably just didn't have another suggestion handy.