Pros: Free refills [if you can find your server].
Cons: Listen, I only get 15 words to tell you how bad it is ...
Oh, how I loathe Olive Garden, but much like a crack addict twitching on the corner, I find myself returning time after time ? usually under extreme protest. You see, I have some real issues with a place that promotes itself as a family establishment, with good food and a great atmosphere. Uhhhhh have you been to one of the newly remodeled locations? Can you say tacky? Lights strung up all over the place, obnoxious ?paintings? on the walls and please, for the love of whatever god you worship, please don?t get me started on the marinara sauce [can you believe they charge you for this is you order it on the side?]. Sorry, the Olive Garden decor looks like it came right out of the Sanford & Son front yard. Cue Sanford & Son intro music
The Good Old Days
I can remember visiting the States and falling in love ? absolute love ? with Olive Garden. The Tour of Italy was astonishing. Sausage, lasagna, and spaghetti -more carbohydrates on one plate that most people ingest in a 48-hour time span. But as usual ? they had a good thing and threw it out the window [it is still on the menu in some areas but the portions are smaller and the items have changed]. When we finally settled in San Diego, my first mission was to locate the closest Olive Garden and make a beeline to the front door. The closest location is the Sports Arena facility. Nice landscaping, widely spaced tables and awesome service. At the time they were running an ?all you can eat? [I believe it is called the Bottomless Bowl but I could be wrong] special on a majority of the spaghetti and fettuccini menu items. If memory serves me, it was about $6.95 per person ? and trust me ? after the third or fourth time we hit the place in the span of two week ? I am sure they were re-thinking that promotion.
Yes, the creamy sauce of the fettuccini Alfredo, scraping the sides of the bowl with the breadsticks and smiling as the server asked up if we wanted another helping. But all too soon the promotion stopped and I was left helpless at the table, flopping my head from side to side, wondering what I wanted ? and more to the point ? what was going to fill me up. I had to learn the hard way and maybe, just maybe, I can save a few hungry souls from entering the wicked garden and getting ripped off.
And Since I Mentioned Breadsticks?.
Is it just me or do they bring you less and less breadsticks each time you ask for them? Your initial order [depending on the number of people eating] is five but when you ask for more, they bring you four, ask for a few more baskets and the number drops to three. Please, I have enough of a complex; tell me this has happened to someone else. Lie to me if you have to.
In defense of Olive Garden, they do have some wonderful breadsticks ? however if you don?t get them fresh from the kitchen or they?ve been sitting for too long ? you?ll find the edges are hard. Not hard like Oh, it?s not that bad, I can still gnaw through them kind of hard?. This is the kind of hard that makes your gums bleed. Something so hard that if you tried to pass it off on your dog ? chances are he?d be leaving you a nice surprise in your shoe the next morning.
Freak, Cut To The Chase
Ok, here it is, bottom line time. No restaurant is in business to lose money. Simple fact. So they do what they can to keep overhead down, profits up and keep the stupid return customers happy and ?make nice nice? with the consumers that pay their bills. If you think you are getting the same meal you ordered three years ago ? guess again.
Take a nice hard look at the plates, wide rims, neutral colors and not very deep. This is all to give you the illusion that you are getting a full, huge bowl of pasta ? when in truth you are getting two ounces less per serving ? at a higher price ? served in a huge bowl. Ever see those huge latte cups that ? when full ? could put out a small household fire? Same principal, different effect. Give them a bowl with a wider rim, a little bit shallower and slap on some Italian name. Boom, you just got spanked and didn?t even feel it.
Oh wait, come a little closer dear consumer. Freak has so many little details to share with you. Ever wonder how they make all that spaghetti, fettuccini and angel haired pasta? Well, here?s a hint. Huge pot of water, huge strainer, huge amount of pasta. If you really think they are back there making each order one by one, well, meet me after the review and I?ll tell you hot to get rich stuffing envelopes in your spare time out of the comfort of your own home, with no money up front.
So, they mass cook the ?noodles? then what? Well, common sense would dictate that they are kept in am area that is enclosed, to try and keep some of the moisture in. I guess no one thought of that bright idea huh? No, the ?noodles? are flung all over the place and I would bet money that if you took a tour of the kitchen area you?d see dried pasta everywhere ? including the ceiling. No that?s not how they test it to see if it?s done ? they just have too much free time on their hands since 80% of the work is already done for them. Oops, did I say that out loud? You mean they don?t make the sauce there? Read on baby, read on.
One last thing about the ?noodles?; on more than one occasion I?ve been served dried out pasta. Not just a little ?chewy? but all out, yellow as the sun, dried out. When I asked for another plate of pasta I was either served attitude or served the same plate of pasta with some extra sauce dumped on it. It?s pretty obvious that quality control isn?t exactly taking a top priority here. Fast food restaurants have time limits on hamburgers, how hard is it to do the same with pasta? I guess the bottom line is either the managers are more concerned with the profit margins and making themselves look good to headquarters or they just don?t give a sh_it.. Either way, I refuse to eat another plate of pasta that has started to return to its dehydrated state.
A majority of the sauces arrive prepackaged ? the marinara, meat and Alfredo come either in plastic disposable bags [like a huge tomato Push-Up] or via large industrial sizes cans. Authentic Italian cuisine via aluminum - yeah that almost sounds appetizing. But this is done for a reason ? so that each location serves the same exact taste ? [did I actually say the word taste, maybe I was thinking tasteless] from Texas to Albuquerque ? every establishment should have the same set up ? from menu to desert, wine to appetizer. So, what?s wrong with this picture? Can you really have a fresh tossed salad if the lettuce has been sitting in a bag for two weeks? Then why are they serving canned sauce and calling labeling it ?homemade?? Maybe I am getting too ahead of myself here ? so stop me if I?m wrong [yeah right, try to stop me and I?ll break out the thesaurus on you] ? since when does something out of a can constitute as being homemade?
You can request your appetizer in one of two sizes ? and I will be honest here ? it?s been so long since I ordered an appetizer tray that I can?t recall the number of items or the prices ? however ? be prepared to sell a kidney or appendage if you desire an anorexic appetizer. The stuffed mushrooms are acceptable but can be overcooked and the stuffing falls out easily, the fried zucchini is so-so ? your standard flash frozen veggies [same story for the mozzarella sticks]. Don?t waste your money on the ?chicken fingers? ? you can get better ones at burger King or Arby?s. [And someone please tell me ? when did chickens grow fingers? They always looked like claws to me.] This brings us to the best and worst appetizer items ? ?toasted ravioli? and calamari [fancy name for squid]. The ?toasted ravioli? isn?t toasted ? it?s fried ? which shouldn?t really make a difference ? however ? if they are cooked for too long they dry out [the filling seeps out the sides when it gets too hot] however if they aren?t cooked long enough they get chewy. But on the occasion that you get them done just right ? they are lip smacking good [even if you only get three or four of them] Speaking of chewy, don?t was money on those facial exercisers ? just order some of Olive Gardens calamari. Better yet, stop by Long John Silvers and order a .99-cent side order of clams ? I dare you to do a blindfolded taste test and see if you can tell the difference.
All in all, the appetizers are below par for what a sit-down restaurant should be serving. And for the price, I say avoid it unless someone else is footing the bill and you don?t particularly care for them.
I have only experimented a few times with the Olive Garden menu ? and most of the time I was less than pleased with the portion sizes, presentation or overall taste. Now, some of you might be saying It?s a restaurant, they have portion control. Yes, this is true but there is no reason for the skimpy portions of pasta. If I can go to Von?s, Albertson?s or Ralph?s and buy a pound of spaghetti [not the cheap stuff either] for under $1.50 then why are they selling me a ? of a plate of pasta with canned sauce for $6.95?
Fettuccini with creamy Alfredo sauce, topped with a sliced chicken breast. Now, this used to be one of their best menu items [in my eyes that is] ? now the cream sauce is blank, watered down and lacking any kind of flavor. The chicken breasts used to taste grilled, now they taste pan-fried and do nothing to improve the ?taste? of the dish. Again, the portions are smaller [both pasta and chicken].
Ok, if I even venture to Olive Garden again, I am taking a scale with me. If this thing is 16 ounces then I will buy wine for everyone in the place. Now, if they were to say someplace that this is the pre-cooked weight then I would have no trouble with the ?16 ounces? part ? but even at the website there?s no mention of it being a pre-cooked weight. The spices used on the steak might be too bold for some people so if you order this and aren?t a ?spicy? person, you might want to ask the server to cut back or completely eliminate the spices. Sometimes this isn?t an option if the meat has already been prepared, tenderized and seasoned. This is served with roasted potatoes and ? depending on who?s cooking ? could have the same spices at the T-Bone so be sure to ask / specify when you order.
Eggplant Parmigiana [that?s how they spell it]
This is a toss up ? I?ve had it taste perfect and I?ve had it taste like regurgitated dog food. When it?s good [crispy, freshly fried eggplant] it?s awesome but when it?s bad [soggy, overcooked and greasy] it is enough to make you want to puke just looking at it. The sauce does nothing to compliment it [when it?s good] ? if anything it offends the pallet.
Unless you are a big fan of eggplant ? I would have to say skip this entree ? don?t even get curious and ask the server if it?s good.
Since I haven?t really sampled many of the other dishes it isn?t fair for me to say ? one way or the other ? if they are any good. So, you are on your own if you go off the yellow brick road here readers.
Other Things to Know
The Damn Beepers
More annoying than hearing the server?s belt out yet another uninspired rendition of ?Happy Birthday? are the blinky beepers that you are given when there is a wait for a table. Now, you are first handed the blinky beeper and told that you can only go ?so far? away from the front door. I would think they would have little yellow safety lines around the parameter so you know where the safe zone is. To me the term ?Don?t go off the sidewalk? means that I can walk all the way to the corner and see what the card store has on sale and still be alerted to when a table is free. Not the case. Beware of the hostess named Helga. Yes, she may look cute with her Swiss Miss braids, but this banshee won?t be yodeling when your table is ready ? she?ll be butchering your name, at the top of her lungs. Even the most common named like Smith, Jones and Ross come out of her mouth with an accent.
While the concept of the blinky beepers is one that sounds good on the drawing board ? the real life result of such planning is less than effective. If you have small children, they will think it?s a toy, most use them as coasters and completely ignore the light or vibration [some still vibrate you know]. If they would have sprung a few more dollars they could have had a system with a wider range ? so everyone isn?t crowded in front of the doors like bewildered cattle. If you need comic relief, cruise past any Olive Garden on a Friday evening ? don?t go there to eat ? but stop somewhere and get take out. Position yourself on one of the concrete benches [yeah, who thought up THAT idea?] and chow on your food while the masses look on and slobber over your .99-cent Whopper. Drive them into a frenzy by randomly throwing french fries in the air or host your own ?Mini Survivor Show? and dare then to do things so they can have your half eaten burger or cold fries.
More than likely when you call you will be told that reservations are not need, nor are they accepted. Why is this? Are they too busy to write down a name and the number in the party? This is one thing that still baffles me about Olive Garden ? if I can call to see how long the wait is and they can give me a ballpark figure, why can?t they simply take my name and reserve a table for me three hours from now [I would have even been willing to reserve 24 hours in advance but Helga said ?Noogin-naggen? which I can only assume means ?no?]
Oh, do I even have to go through this? The kids menus is limited, standard stuff ? mac & cheese, chicken fingers [again with the poor chicken fingers], pasta and I am sure a few other items I forgot. To be honest, my brood do not care for any of the ?kids items? since the portions are geared for smaller kids. One plus is they have ?kiddie cups? with lids and all beverages [except milk I think] have free refills.
Kids get a paper menu / placemat / coloring sheet / map of Italy and a crayon. The crayons are non-toxic so if the little ones get hungry waiting for the food and start chomping on it ? there?s no reason to worry [just remember this if they have strange looking fecal matter a few hours later].
Booster seats and hi-chairs are available ? but use them with care. If you use a booster seat, have the child sit on the inside of a booth to avoid an accidental ?tip over? since the booths can be slippery. Check the hi-chairs and booster seats before you put your child into it ? you never know what might be lurking in the seams.
Most were clean but a few had wet floors [and we aren?t talking water people]. One had paper towels all over the place and for a second ? it looked like a post millennium party gone terribly wrong.
My Final Straw
Actually, I lied, this is a two-part story so now that you?ve started to read it ? you have to finish it. The brood and I spent the day spending my ex?s hard earned money and decided to swing by Olive Garden for some ?grindage? [you should remember that from the Pauly Shore reviews]. We sat down, ordered, ate and then it happened ? one of the little munchkins started squirming so that meant we all had to make our way to the bathroom. Since the brood are getting older they don?t want to use the women?s room ? so I had to ask several people if the men?s room had toilets, urinals or both. Since no one could give me and answer [which leads me to wonder where they do their business] I sent the oldest in first. He came back a few minutes later with clean hands and gave me the ?all clear? sign and I should send the rest of the wee-people in. All totaled ? about eight minutes of my life I?ll never get back? but that?s life with kids [and I wouldn?t have ti any other way].
So we make out way back to our table?. Uhhhh, where the hell are my breadsticks? Not a sign of our plates, half eaten meals or even our freshly refilled glasses of iced tea. Instead we are greeted with clean placemats, silverware wrapped in the customary red linen and not a sign of our ?to go? boxes. So, I stood there ? in shock ? looking around for my server. When I finally found her and told her what was going on ? she rudely said, ?We thought you skipped out on the check?. So, you hold my ?to go? boxes in some imaginary state of limo until I pay my tab?. yeah?[Dr Evil] ? right?. That almost makes sense. After about 15 minutes, I learn that my ?to go? boxes were pitched along with the order of food I placed for my brother. Now, I am expected to pay for this meal that I ordered and was sitting on the table when we left to go to the bathroom ? but not leave the restaurant with it.
After a long and heated discussion with the manager ? I was given another meal for my brother [not what I originally ordered either] and a $10.00 gift card. My son looked up at the manager and said, ?You made me miss the beginning of the Lego Tour at Toys R Us? and walked away. I never got an apology from the manager either ?.
Some friends coaxed me into going to Olive Garden and after a half hour of resistance- their whines and begging wore me down. Seriously folks, these chicks need to get jobs as interrogators ? they can wear even the hardest person down to a pathetic heap of quivering flesh ? in record time. So my friends ? who shall be called Airhead 1,2 and 3 from now on ? bait me into a ?night out with the girls?. After this evening I swore I would never once again complain about laundry and would welcome even the most menial household tasks with open arms.
Airhead 1, 2 and 3 are all single ? they drive expensive cars that daddy pays for, sit in air conditioned offices and order sushi for lunch. Yeah, and I let them talk me into another Olive Garden fiasco. Long story short ? our food was cold, the chicken was not cooked all the way and we never got our desserts but were charged for them. [I would have mentioned the desserts above but we didn?t get them and I?ve never tried them. Sorry, $4.25 for apiece of cake? it better be a big piece and served by a man-god dressed only in an apron].
The Bottom Line
Maybe I just have some incredibly bad luck with Olive Garden, and for those of you that love the place ? more power to ya! I am just not impressed with ?authentic Italian cuisine? that comes prepackaged. As far as prices are concerned, I would rather go to Applebee?s and spend the same amount of money and get a higher quality of food in a more relaxed environment.
While they do have a kids menu I can?t say that this place is entirely ?kid friendly? ? most people and a few servers will shoot you some dirty looks if your child isn?t on his or her best behavior [and lets face it ? kids can only tolerate so much ?quiet time? before they start to bound around like Mexican Jumping Beans].
Olive Garden might be a nice place for an anniversary party ? providing you set a budget and stick to it. Ask if they do private parties and tell them how much you are willing to spend. I can?t say that this is the place to hang out and meet people ? so this definitely isn?t a ?swinging singles? type place.
I hope my review hasn?t completely turned you off of Olive Garden, that wasn?t my intention ? I was aiming to relay my experiences and educate those who?ve never dined there. I?m not a food critic nor do I claim to be, I?m just a Freak that is still waiting for my dessert and a nice sized portion of pasta with some fresh breadsticks?. is that too much to ask for?
As always, thanks for the read!
^V^ Freak ^V^