I didn't go to Maggianos because the restaurant looked particularly interesting, but because a friend has a regular gig there playing piano. Maggiano's describes themselves on their web page thus:
"Maggiano's Little Italy, invites you to take a step back in time and enjoy the nostalgic atmosphere reminiscent of pre-World War II Little Italy. Red-checked tablecloths, family portraits, leather banquettes and richly polished mahogany wood provide a warm ambiance and welcome you to an atmosphere where you will truly enjoy a unique dining experience."
I.e., it's not about the food; it's about the experience, and that tells you a lot about what you can expect. Someone once told me that the Olive Garden chain was created with a very specific idea in mind- to give middle-income diners the feeling of eating in a real Italian restaunt without actually encountering any unfamiliar flavors and textures. Anyone who's dined there can attest that they've certainly accomplished that. It's like Appleby's with a dish of olive oil.
Maggiano's is basically the same thing (indluding the dish of flavorless olive oil) with the addition of a large bar, and a decor that's less bargain-basement Trattoria, and more "Michael Corleone shoots Sollozzo and McCluskey." We sat at a small table in the bar and ordered a selection of dishes to pass, including an angel hair pasta with marinera sauce, calimari fritti and caesar salad. I asked what the difference was between the "Marinara sauce" and the "Pomodora sauce" listed as choices, as "marinara" simply means without meat, and "pomodoro" simply means tomato. The waitress informed me that the "Pomodoro sauce" was spicier, and given how bland the Marinara was, it might have been a better choice.
The calimari had a soft breading with no seasoning whatsoever- I didn't even taste salt and pepper. It was served with what I assumed was a spicy cocktail sauce but which turned out to be simply more of the Marinara. The angel hair pasta was seriously overcooked, but that's to be expected in a place that's cooking it in bulk and serving it on a production line. You can't do angel hair that way; it has to be cooked to order, and carefully. The salad was fine, from all accounts. Probably half the food was left over and taken home by one of us to feed a daughter who was out babysitting that night.
The bill for the three dishes, two draft beers and a soft drink was $40 (plus tip), and I suppose you can hardly complain at those prices, at least if you're just looking for fuel.
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Kid Friendliness: Yes
Vegetarian Friendly: No
Best Suited For: Kids and Families