"I wondered how much straight Galliano would deliver me to a merciful death."
April 6, 2011 11:28 PM   Subscribe

Acclaimed food and music critic Jonathan Gold was hungry for some Italian. He decided to go to The Olive Garden.
posted by bardic (183 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
SPOILER: He didn't like it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:34 PM on April 6, 2011 [22 favorites]


Good grief! Those prices at the end of the review! I mean, I don't really go to chain restaurants much, and it's probably been a solid decade since I last really paid attention to The Olive Garden. But my memories of them as an $8-12/plate restaurant are obviously completely outdated at this point.

I'd probably eat there again at the prices in my memory sometime. But not at the $13-21/plate price point. Not EVER worth that money.
posted by hippybear at 11:40 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


They weren't, though — they just weren't. Nor was the moment when the waiter filled the tiny wine glass to the rim and said "That'll do ya''; nor the chef's excited tales of the Culinary Institute of Tuscany, nor Anne's delight at my abject misery.

They weren't what? "just as good"? "something of a local fixation"? Which one weren't they?

I also can't make anything of the "nor" sentences. Either I need some coffee, or he is a bad writer.
posted by vidur at 11:44 PM on April 6, 2011 [12 favorites]


I found the snark of this review woefully undercooked, its descriptions of chain dining—oh! how I struggle to hold a straight face with that word!—nothing short of played out, and more than once I found myself daydreaming of elitism that wasn't as weak as an Olive Garden cappucino.
posted by Mikey-San at 11:44 PM on April 6, 2011 [48 favorites]


I seem to recall previous cases of high end food critics going to Olive Garden and writing about it. I haven't read this one, but not that long ago (50 years?), Italian food was the Chinese takeout of today, there were no fancy Italian restaurants, it was cheap food in all sense of the word. Olive Garden continues that tradition, it's probably more the historic norm than the authentic Italian of Gold's world.
posted by stbalbach at 11:46 PM on April 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


Olive Garden does not "continue the tradition" of Italian-American food, but I will not argue with you personally, I will wait for some actual NYers to show up and do my dirty work for me.
posted by mek at 11:55 PM on April 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


Victor Lewis Smith reviewed several chain restaurants, including Little Chef, Betty's Tearooms and the Harry Ramsden's franchise at Glasgow airport as well as posher restaurants like L'Enclume.

(You can probably skip the first couple of paragraphs, as he likes to start with a bad joke)

(He's also a TV producer, TV critic, occasional radio personality, inspiration to Chris Morris and the creator of the only prank call I ever really liked)
posted by Grangousier at 11:56 PM on April 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


He should have gone to Sbarro instead.
posted by emd3737 at 12:01 AM on April 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


I was hoping for a real review, not several paragraphs of pointless word padding. Who the hell cares about his noodle fixation? What does it have to do with anything?
posted by spiderskull at 12:02 AM on April 7, 2011 [17 favorites]


Olive Garden is sort of responsible for my personal metamorphosis into a foodie.

When I was in high school I thought taking a girl to Olive Garden was a pretty fine thing (the girls usually did too). A few years later I was working at a university registration office and we had this one academic advisor who was a class act. A love of fine things. One time he told me about his favorite Italian restaurant, this little place next to an an art-house theater downtown. I decided to go and try it for myself. What a revelation! The menu and the prices were quite similar to Olive Garden, but the food couldn't be more different. It was colorful! The portions were smaller, yet still satisfying. And the flavors, good heavens the flavors!

Shortly after going there I went with my family to the Olive Garden for the last time. I ordered the Chicken Marsala. It looked like they had dumped a can of mushroom gravy on top of a boiled chicken breast. The breadsticks were starchy affairs laden with garlic salt and some oily substance meant to resemble butter. Everything was brown, white or orange.

It was that final trip to Olive Garden when I realized something: if I'm going to give up my hard-earned for some dinner, it might as well be worth it.

So I went back to the good place. I started reading restaurant reviews. I made friends with chefs and asked them for recommendations of places to eat. I started cooking for myself, buying cookbooks and expensive cookware. I became obsessed with food. I won a chili contest at work (hottest with best flavor). I've become known throwing awesome food-themed parties. Friends and family defer to my mastery of culinary knowledge.

It's a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because my wife likes to bake and I like to cook and together we make wonderful meals. It's a curse because sometimes I'm a little too snobbish, though I try to hold my tongue for the sake of not being the irritating bloke who refuses to eat at Carl's Jr (I swear their food actually smells of fresh garbage). I bite my cheek and smile when my mother-in-law presents a a beef roast that is no longer beef and was never actually roasted. I live every day with knowledge that is both enlightening and crippling, and it all depends on who's doing the cooking.

And really, I owe it all to Olive Garden.
posted by jnrussell at 12:04 AM on April 7, 2011 [93 favorites]


Jonathan Gold is a food critic who reviews places you might actually want to eat at. Or not. From the New Yorker 2009
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:10 AM on April 7, 2011


Italian food was the Chinese takeout of today, there were no fancy Italian restaurants, it was cheap food in all sense of the word.

But it was prepared relatively freshly instead of being Sysco meal-in-a-bag or being cooked 1000+ miles away from your table. Also, there wasn't a food chemist trying to play tricks with your palate. Not that there's anything wrong with food chemistry when it isn't a failure.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:11 AM on April 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


I feel like the interesting take on the snarky lowbrow food review should be making an attempt to find a good meal hidden amongst the junk.
posted by billyfleetwood at 12:30 AM on April 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


What a ridiculous excuse for a review. I want my two minutes back.
posted by Justinian at 12:50 AM on April 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


If you take a shine to this sort of gonzo snobbery, see almost anything Joe Queenan ever wrote. Whilst even more snobbish, he at least seems to realize how ridiculous he is. A revelation clearly in Mr. Gold's future.
posted by umberto at 12:51 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


My google-fu is failing me for this, but at some point in the last few years I read an article which was about 3 famous gourmet chefs from Italy visiting an Olive Garden and reviewing the dishes. They hated most of it but there was one or two things they thought were quite authentic and good.
posted by Bwithh at 12:52 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stay tuned for my big MMA fight against my two year old son.

SPOILER: kid can't fight for shit, I'm awesome, everybody look at me
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:58 AM on April 7, 2011 [57 favorites]


Is this something I'd need to have heard of Olive Garden to find amusing?

From down under, it just read as "critic goes to restaurant; doesn't find it very good"
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:07 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, it was just that bad of an article. That's how it read from up over too.
posted by zephyr_words at 1:10 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


If that's the best thing in this week's edition of the L.A. Weekly, then it's not inaccurate to call it "the Olive Garden of Weekly Newspapers".
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:25 AM on April 7, 2011


From down under, it just read as "critic goes to restaurant; doesn't find it very good"

Think "critic visits Sizzler; pretends to ponder why it doesn't have any Michelin stars".
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:30 AM on April 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


For those who may not know much about Jonathan Gold, he's known for reviewing all kinds of restaurants, taco stands, etc--not just the fancy joints.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:03 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Guy had, like, one paragraph about the food, half of which was vaguely positive.

It's like he's left writing his actual article as an exercise to the reader.
posted by effugas at 2:18 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Growing up in Jersey I scoffed at Olive Garden, thinking it was a place for morons that value brand names over authenticity. There was an snobbish attitude in my hometown that anything that wasn't either a brand name or from a chain was hokey, low class, and suspect. People would make a point to shop at payless over the independent shoe store, go to blimpie over the local sub shop, etc. A pizza hut is coming, and it will undoubtedly take out one of the more venerable pizzerias in town.

Then I moved to Oregon, where people think Italian food means putting pine nuts into anemic portions of whole wheat spaghetti with tomato sauce. I tried Italian all over town, and was disappointed all over town.

So I went to Olive Garden.

And it was better than 90% of the Italian I have had in Oregon.

While it might not touch the worst I've had in New Jersey, it's like the fake food on Camazotz, and sometimes you need to lie to yourself.

suck it, food snobs.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 2:35 AM on April 7, 2011 [18 favorites]


"Words for once fail me"

but, not really, and not soon enough.

They are called "critics" for a reason, and they typically strive to live up to that word.

He comes across as an obnoxious ass, my guess is that the primary ingredient that ruined that dinner was his presence.
posted by tomswift at 2:37 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is such a shame. I usually look forward to reading Gold's reviews in the Weekly.
Like a lot of seasoned food critics Gold can sometimes seem a little jaded. But he is not a stereotypical food critic in that he isn't really big on (as, on preview, mandymanwasregistered says) the "fancy joints." Gold's favorites are usually cheap, interesting quick fare. He does the legwork to find the good, small places- like when he ate at every restaurant on Pico, which is a looong, varied street- and I've almost always enjoyed his recommendations.
While he is famous for his endorsements of off-the-grid taquerias, noodle shops, Korean BBQ places and whatnot, even his negative reviews don't feel malicious or lazy and are usually multilayered and evenhanded. He has a knack for finding the good, the allure in almost anything and is capable of writing a fun and witty article about.
This was not one of those articles. Reading this dour, humorless piece was like seeing your favorite uncle get drunk at a wedding and hit on your date.
posted by joechip at 2:44 AM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was once so offended by what the Olive Garden served me, I did something horrible. Not going to jail horrible, but I would be known as "THAT guy".

And just to let you know how fancy I'm not, I love cheap ramen like nobody's business. Also, I use Wendy's frosties as a condiment for dipping my fries.

Yes, it was THAT offensive. No, they never found out it was me. And yes, I "liberated" several people from working there who refused to deal with the aftermath of what I did by quitting.

I don't know if I regret it...because I can't pass by one of those restaurants without thinking "OH...don't even think about serving me; I will make you re-evaluate life choices if you ever do."
posted by hal_c_on at 2:46 AM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


ate at every restaurant on Pico,

Speaking of...there is a Tommy's on Pico and Lincoln. Its open 24 hours a day. Many a time, I landed there at 3am...having to wait 30 minutes while they clean the grills to get my dose of grease on grease. My tastes aren't rich...but Olive Garden metaphorically kicked me in the nuts, called my mom a whore, and spat in my eye when it served me.

I will *never* forget olive garden. You motherfuckers better watch your back.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:51 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Me and Mrs salmacis found ourselves in Bakersfield, CA a couple of years ago. We didn't know the city and it was too late to go exploring, so we just drove to an Olive Garden that was advertised in the motel. I thought, how bad can it be? It's Italian, you can't mess up Italian too badly.

When we got there, it was absolutely heaving. Like it was the only restaurant in the entire city. I thought, this place is popular, it must be good here! But we didn't know where else to go, so we decided to wait.

I probably don't need to describe the food, other than to say it was the single worst Italian "restaurant" I've ever been to. I don't know what Olive Garden thinks Italian food is like, but I've been to Italy as well, and I know full well it's not anything like that! (As an aside I was in a bus going down the Strip at Las Vegas, and just as we passed the Venetian, a loud American woman behind me exclaimed, "That's just like Venice, but I hear that it's better than the real thing because it's cleaner!" I had to literally bite my fist to stop laughing.)

Still, it was a chain, and I suppose it would have been foolish to expect anything better. But I'm still wondering about the baffling popularity of the place. Is Bakersfield just a dead zone for decent restaurants?
posted by salmacis at 3:10 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Last year, we went to a nearby Olive Garden on a lark. It stopped being funny pretty quickly.
posted by Gilbert at 3:30 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here in flyover land, in the small towns far outside the big cities, Olive Garden is quite often the restaurant you go to for that special meal...A family celebration, to impress a date, etc. I'm not even sure people in the towns think of Olive Garden as an "Italian" restaurant, so much as just the fine-dining spot in the area. For "Italian", you'd go to Fazolis.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:44 AM on April 7, 2011


I loved Fazoli's... not that I think it's fine Italian or anything but it was a nice change from fast food sandwiches when I needed to get something quick. We don't have them where I live now and I miss it.

And yeah, where I'm from in Ohio Olive Garden is considered a "nice" place. The few independent fine dining places are considered "fancy" and most folks are lucky if they see the inside of Skyway East more than once or twice in a lifetime. I got to go once when my company paid for it. Them escar-gots are right tasty. :)
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:15 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think I've eaten at Olive Garden maybe four times. Once was in Corpus Christi, Texas in an area where there were only fast food joints and taquerias that we weren't trusting of. We got two orders of parmesan encrusted tilapia on a bed of satisfactory angel hair, took it to go, and had a lovely picnic on the beach on Padre Island. So, even though we haven't been back to Olive Garden since (2005), we have fond memories of the place.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:15 AM on April 7, 2011


So much pathetic class-anxiety in the mockery of Olive Garden and Applebees. Comedians and screenwriters are terrified that they'll be mistaken for the mid-level office worker types who go to Olive Garden, or the working class thirty-somethings who go to Applebees. "Please, please, don't think I'm one of them!" Food critics like Gold know it's okay to do super low-level slumming at taco stands and souvlaki parlours, but it's social suicide to appear enjoy something that these foolish Lower Middle Class people think of as fine dining. That's too close for comfort.
posted by Faze at 4:17 AM on April 7, 2011 [71 favorites]


The last paragraph of the Little Chef review Grangousier linked to is just beautiful...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 4:36 AM on April 7, 2011


This wagon-circling around Olive Garden is actually quite touching!
posted by Pants McCracky at 4:48 AM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm no big fan of Olive Garden, as I was once the victim of an alfredo sauce gone bad there, but I'm even less of a fan of authenticity snobs. Authenticity is indefinable, because cultures aren't static. Some old lady in the countryside of France catching a rabbit with her bare hands, boiling it with some greens growing next to the woodshed is just as authentic as some clam joint in Paris. It makes me nuts when some snob starts carping about "they don't eat pizza in Italy!" when presented with a menu at an Italian place. The owner's father was in Italy during the war, was fed some delicious food that he'd never had, he brought that back and built a restaurant to give the people back home a taste of what he loved. Maybe he got it a little wrong, but it is no less authentic than the owner of some restaurant in Rome who got his grandmother's recipes just a little bit wrong.

Betty_effn_White makes a good point. Most places in the world have really shitty food. When there are four restaurants in your small town, and one of them is a cracker barrel and the other two are hamburger/porkchop/salisbury steak joints, Olive Garden is a goddamn delight.

Some of us are lucky to live in cities and towns with some kind of immigrant history, and fortunate enough that some of those immigrants opened restaurants, and that one or two of *them* are any good at making food. The rest of us love the idea that we can see a sign on the side of the road and know we are going to get something adequate.
posted by gjc at 4:55 AM on April 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


If you push that perceptive further jnrussell, you might arrive at the Cthulhu Mythos for Foodies.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:56 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


My dislike of Olive Garden has nothing to do with class or elitism, but with the travesty of a bowl of supposed pasta e fagioli they insulted me with there one day. And there is certainly noting elitist about pastafazoool.
posted by tommyD at 4:59 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


While it might not touch the worst I've had in New Jersey, it's like the fake food on Camazotz, and sometimes you need to lie to yourself.

You bring up an interesting point. When I lived in Southern VA, even the good and "fancy" Italian restaurants were generally godawful unless the owners and chefs were directly imported from NY, NJ, or Italy (there was one place I knew of like this, it was a bit of a dive, and it eventually burned down).

The others were just weird, and a bit too southern for my taste. Way too salty for my taste, and bacon does not belong in Italian cuisine, period.

On the other hand, the Olive Garden at least attempted to emulate a decent italian restaurant (even if the decor always seemed a bit baffling -- the real Italy does not, and has never looked like the Italy that most Americans (including the Olive Garden's architects) seem to imagine). In any event, in the context of the Southern Food Desert, The Olive Garden is a surprisingly decent place, and Carraba's is even legitimately good. (Maybe this is why the tolerability of Sbarro's actually increases as you move further and further away from NYC)

This might have something to do with the fact that I cannot for the life of me recall the location of a single Olive Garden in New Jersey, despite living there for 20+ years.

So, yeah...The Olive Garden is bad. Except for in the places where everyplace else is worse.
posted by schmod at 5:07 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


salmacis: "Is Bakersfield just a dead zone for decent restaurants?"

Actually, there are some excellent restaurants and eateries in Bakersfield but as you admitted, you "didn't know the city and it was too late to go exploring, so we just drove to an Olive Garden that was advertised in the motel."

Motels obviously carry advertisement geared for the people that stay in those type of establishments.
posted by ruelle at 5:10 AM on April 7, 2011


...but I'm even less of a fan of authenticity snobs.

Oh, I agree completely. Authenticity snobbery always strikes me as expecting food to exist as a museum piece. That said, what OG does to the dishes they call authentic is often a travesty. The last time I went to an OG, I ordered a simple pasta pomodoro. What I got was two pounds of angel-hair with a 20oz can of diced tomatoes unceremoniously dumped on top, and not so much as a hint of garlic, basil, or olive oil. It's like they weren't even trying.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:17 AM on April 7, 2011


Do they still do all you can eat salad and breadsticks? Cause that makes it worth going to.
posted by empath at 5:30 AM on April 7, 2011


But I'm still wondering about the baffling popularity of the place.

unlimited salad & breadsticks
posted by msconduct at 5:31 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


these foolish Lower Middle Class people think of as fine dining

Please don't insult the palates of the Lower Middle Class. Enjoying good food, and expecting value for your dollar is not elitist, and crosses class lines just fine. The inexplicable triumph of mediocrity in food seems to me to affect the elites as much as the hoi polloi.

Was anyone else pleasantly surprised by how good Buca di Beppo is? For a place with intentionally kitschy decor and grossly over-sized portions, it kicks ass.

As for Olive Garden, I'd be less embarrassed to take a date to Burger King.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:33 AM on April 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


I was once so offended by what the Olive Garden served me, I did something horrible. Not going to jail horrible, but I would be known as "THAT guy".

For Christ's sake, don't be a tease.

-----

Is Bakersfield just a dead zone for decent restaurants?

I've never been, but a number of people have described it as a dead zone, period. Well, there is one exception - supposedly years ago (maybe still now?) there was a kick ass gun shop run by some biker. The only other attraction (?) is its proximity to Oildale, which an ex-con from Cali once described as a good place for someone to find out if they are as tough as they might think.

-----

Authenticity is indefinable, because cultures aren't static.

It may be undefinable, but we all intuitively understand the usage here - quality food of a given style. Mosca's in New Orleans is "authentic" enough to be a favorite of the New Orleans mafia for decades and they serve Creole-Italian.
posted by BigSky at 5:38 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Back in the dark days of the mid-90s, when my husband and I lived in the wasteland known as Kankakee, Illinois, we would drive 20 miles and wait in line to get into the Olive Garden. Because everything else was worse. One time we went there to celebrate when my husband got a raise. Since we were celebrating, he decided to order a cognac after dinner. The cognac he'd spotted at the bar was quite decent, but they obviously didn't serve it very often. The bartender knew that it was supposed to be served in a snifter, so he got down the snifter and filled it up to the top. For that alone I still have a soft spot for the Olive Garden, even though I haven't eaten there in over a decade.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:40 AM on April 7, 2011 [18 favorites]


Sorry, folks, but a bit of a derail here... this has triggered some wonderful memories.

I grew up in Jackson, Michigan (many, many years ago). My dad, who died when I was only 6 months old, was good friends with Joe Mannoia. Joe had opened an Italian eatery in Jackson in the early 40's. It was located only a few blocks from my home (before my mother moved after my dad's accident) My mother continued to go to Mannoia's and I have very fond memories of the place.

It was small, and located in what was becoming the center of the African American community in Jackson, just south of the downtown area. The restaurant had maybe 15 tables (Joe later added a small room that held another ten or so). The inside walls and beams were hung with wicker Chianti bottles and strings of garlic. The tables were covered with red and white checkered tablecloths, always a bottle of Chianti in the middle of the table, along with a container of parmesan cheese and a candle. Lighting was dim and Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra were frequently playing on speakers fed from a turntable in the kitchen, it was always a comfortable place.

The only people that worked at the establishment were Joe, his wife, and two daughters.

I know why my mother always wanted to take us to Mannoia's, it was because Joe treated her like a queen. My mother had never completed high school, and, at the time, worked as a clerk at the local bank (eventually rising to a position that would have been a VP position, had she not been a woman, but that's another story), and struggled to raise three kids (and put them all through college) as a single mother in the 50's. Joe bestowed honor on her from the minute she walked in the door.

As soon as we were seated, he would come out of the kitchen, always wearing a white apron, typically splattered with sauce and smelling of garlic, and a tall chef's hat. Weighing at probably 250 pounds, with a dark mustache and a beaming smile, Joe's accented greeting to her was full of admiration, respect, a little flirtatious (even though his wife was typically with him). My mother would beam, something I didn't see her do often.

Joe would spend five or ten minutes talking to us, catching up, before taking our order.

The food was fantastic. I can still picture the antipasta plate, I could make a meal of that alone. The garlic bread was golden and crisp, pizzas were perfect. Joe taught me how to hold a piece of pizza (folded a bit lengthwise so it didn't spill all over the place). When I reached about 8 years old, Joe told my mother to stop cutting my spaghetti, and taught me how to roll it onto my fork.

I spent most of my childhood knowing that Mannoia's was probably the best restaurant in town, possibly the best in the state.

After most meals Joe's wife, a beautiful woman, would bring the bill out on a small tray (although I can remember many when the bill never arrived at the table at all). My mother would get out her purse, count out the cash, and hand the tray and money back to me. I would then proudly walk into the small kitchen to pay the tab.

Why was I proud? Because I got to enter the kitchen where the magic happened. I got to see the tall pots bubbling with sauce or steaming with pasta, the ovens with beautifully designed pizzas baking.

When I became a teenager and began to date, I would always take a girl to Mannoia's before we did anything else. I would walk in, a skinny, nerdy kid with limited social skills, and Joe would come out of the kitchen, treat me like a major personage, and treat my date like a princess.

I miss Joe, and I miss finding restaurants like that, they are few and far between.
posted by tomswift at 5:42 AM on April 7, 2011 [154 favorites]


I think this was not supposed to be a review so much as Mr. Gold lamenting an April Fools prank gone awry.
posted by TedW at 6:07 AM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


You mean pretentious Internet-foodies sneer down at Olive Garden and don't go there?

Well shit, I know where all my meals will be from now on. MORE BREADSTICKS PLEASE!
posted by Legomancer at 6:12 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree that the easy and lazy criticisms of Olive Garden have a lot of class anxiety or distaste in them.

I mean, I eat all the time at taco trucks, street food, cheap ass stuff that makes me happy. And I eat quite often at expensive places that source their sustainable food locally, have big-name chefs, etc. And it's still fun to sometimes eat at a place like Olive Garden. It's what it is, and isn't pretending to be something else. The people eating there are genuinely enjoying themselves and are having fun. The waiters are astoundingly incompetent in terms of knowing anything about food, but are always nice local kids working their way through school and are trying hard.

In other words, it's just a different experience than you get at the tiny taqueria or pho place where you chat with the owner's daughter, or the fancy-pants place where everyone eating there uses the word "foody" non-ironically. People eat there knowingly, both for the food (which is carefully calibrated to their market) and for the comfort of eating in a place where they feel entitled and welcomed.

There are easy LULZ to be had, but those seem like really cheap laughs to me.
posted by Forktine at 6:12 AM on April 7, 2011 [15 favorites]


For Christ's sake, don't be a tease.

Hear, hear.

As to the review - it's useless as a straight review and not funny enough to pass for the humor column.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:17 AM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not a big fan of Olive Garden but it's edible. I think the really telling problem with Olive Garden isn't so much that it's bland and boring (although it is) because Chain restaurants seem to specialize in bland and boring, it's that the price point is oddly far to high for the quality of the meal that you are getting.

I kinda sits in the weird price zone between cheap but decent Mom and Pop restaurant and the actual upscale Italian restaurants. Many of the dishes hover around the $15-$20 mark which is kinda strange considering many of the ingredients seem to be more appropriate for a $8-$10 dollar entree. You could go to an non-chain "upscale" Italian restaurant and pay $15 to $25 an entree and generally get much better food (better quality ingredients, etc).

I suspect what a lot of people do is the following, go and fill up on unlimited breadsticks and salad and take home most of your entree for a second meal. If you divide the $15 price point into 2 $7.50 meals it's much more reasonable.

In the end though I feel like I'm getting mediocre Sysco food with a big markup to pay for marketing costs. Olive Garden does better than many chains at concealing that a lot of their stuff is pre-prepped but not enough to make me feel they aren't picking my pocket each time I get the bill for a meal.

Communities that have a good non-chain option should probably support those restaurants, people in communities without anything other than a Olive Garden, you have my sympathy.
posted by vuron at 6:26 AM on April 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


funny, here in manhattan the good italian restaurants i've been to lately are run by argentinians. "little italy" is a myth these days. used to actually exist when i got here 20 years ago, but now it's been swallowed up by chinatown.

and the thing is, what italian restaurants remain in "little italy", new yorkers consider them on the par with olive garden. just for tourists who dont know any better.

right now, the best pizza, and by best i mean mindblowingly good pizza, that i can find here in NYC is not ARTICHOKE, which has become a quick hit with the under 30 crowd foodies who think of the place as the brownstone equivalent of eating at a taco truck. it may be because they're the only ones making GLUTEN-FREE PIZZA in NYC, but if you can get your ass to MOZZARELLIs on 23rd between Lexington & Park Avenue (yes, they are steps away from Shake Shack), i highly recommend you order 3 or 4 slices of their GF pizza. you will thank me for it. it's just THAT amazing.

as to full restaurants, i havent been to an italian restaurant in years. i used to go to carmela's in the west village (west 4th street). ran by one of the last nyc italian families. all pasta made on premises. this was in the 80-90s. dont know what happened to them.

many good old italian family restaurants in manhattan disappears as a lot of their rent-stabilized commercial leases (the so-called "100yr leases") came up for renewal. that's when all the counter diners with $3 breakfasts also disappeared. by 1999 all of the working-class food landscape in NYC was killed by the renewal of those leases.

that's why nowadays you have to go to brooklyn to find a decent italian family restaurant and those are far and few between.

the last "authentic" italian restaurant that i went to here in the east village was owned by an israeli friend. his business partner is italian-argentinian and she also would make DAILY her pasta. they had to close for the same exact reasons as each and every small-biz restaurant in nyc : landlord wanted something like $5K a week on rent. the place didnt even hold 10 tables.
posted by liza at 6:42 AM on April 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


In Calgary the Olive Garden is usually lined up outside the building and there really isn't a lack of good restaurants in any part of the city. There is however, a lack of general awareness of these restaurants.

Every single new community is built around a strip mall that contains one of 2 smaller grocery chains, a bank and a franchised pub. The foods not bad but once you start hitting that $15-19 mark, you're better off elsewhere.
posted by jeffmik at 7:02 AM on April 7, 2011


it's useless as a straight review and not funny enough to pass for the humor column

This is my problem with it. When you think about the idea of going to a place as an April Fool's prank and that's your mindset from when you enter, you can't then turn around and try to sound all poignant-puppy-hearted about the fact that you didn't like it. I'm not in any way suggesting that he would have liked The Olive Garden if he'd given it a chance, but you can't have it both ways. If you're going to have fun with it, it needs to be more fun, and if you're going to give a straight review, you can't spend the first several paragraphs explaining that, of course, you only walked through the doors of The Olive Garden as a hilarious joke on mankind.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:03 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Either Anne Fishbein is a terrible photographer, or she's deliberately trying to make that food look even worse than it is.
posted by The Dutchman at 7:12 AM on April 7, 2011


Is there no one here that ever ate at the original Olive Garden in Winter Park, Fla?. It got its start back in the 80s, and my God it was astounding. Eat until your eyes bulged insanely, unbelievably, delectably delicious stuff. And then they expanded locally and it was still very, very good. And then they sold out for a national expansion and was still better than almost any chain restaurant.

Then I stopped in one day years later and wondered, "What's that smell? Are they frying everything here now?" At that point a small part of me wept for what had at one time been one of the best restaurants—bar none—I had ever eaten at. I had it only once or twice after that, and each time it made me want to cry for the restaurant it had once been.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 7:17 AM on April 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Sounds like his dining partner, who cheerfully went along with the joke, would have written a far more entertaining review than this one.
posted by zsazsa at 7:18 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think this was not supposed to be a review so much as Mr. Gold lamenting an April Fools prank gone awry.

Yes, but people find it so much more entertaining to rage against the elitist elitism of the elites which, as any network TV news reader can tell you, is one of the forces destroying America the Free.
posted by aught at 7:20 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pretty sure the earlier article people are asking about upthread is this one, where Marcella Hazan delivers a tough but thoughtful critique of OG.
posted by escabeche at 7:26 AM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Food critics who can write well are the exception, not the rule. Same ol'.

I think the "class anxiety" comment is interesting. On one hand, I'll compare Michelin stars with anybody in this thread and while Olive Garden isn't commendable, it's perfectly fine and every few weeks I'll trade between it and Bertucci's for "quick, cheap, good." On the other hand, at least here in Greater Boston, my objection to Olive Garden would be that you can usually get better Italian food from a mom-&-pop restaurant within a reasonable distance of any Olive Garden for comparable price (and on weekends, with a shorter wait).

It's like Subway. I don't understand people around here who go to Subway, or D'Angelo's. Every town within 20 miles has at least two mom-&-pop sub shops. I've tried most of them. Almost invariably, the food is better than Subway and costs the same. I wonder how much of the chains' popularity is due to the fact that they can afford television commercials, and Mom & Pop can't.

Anyway. I'll also allow that Olive Garden's quality may vary geographically. It's pretty good around here, but maybe other locations are far worse. Not to get all class-y with a comparison, but I know that Craftsteak NYC was the best steakhouse experience I have ever had, while Craftsteak Las Vegas (several years later) was the worst.
posted by cribcage at 7:26 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suspect what a lot of people do is the following, go and fill up on unlimited breadsticks and salad and take home most of your entree for a second meal.

This is what my coworkers do. Go for lunch, order only unlimited soup and breadsticks. Just before you're ready to leave ask for a refill. Ask for a take home box. Voila, lunch for the rest of the week.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:28 AM on April 7, 2011


soup, salad and breadsticks, without the salad it's not lunch
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:30 AM on April 7, 2011


I can't think of a really good Italian restaurant - only Long Island and New Jersey pizza places. Oh. no, wait - Borrelli's in Uniondale (not a chain) is pretty good, entree-wise, but you go there for the pizza, which in eye-rolling goodness is equivalent to Umberto's in New Hyde Park.
Italian food is easy to cook and realy inexpensive to prepare yourself. Thirty years ago, my late aunt showed be the basics, and going out for Italian hasn't been on the itinerary since. I've eaten at the chains (once at an OG) and, if I were a food critic, I'd know better to leave them alone. Chain restaurants seem built for Macon Leary in Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist...not so much for quality as familiarity, no matter which town.
posted by nj_subgenius at 7:32 AM on April 7, 2011


Hey, tomswift, I'm from Jackson county! So is my husband. We lived in downtown Jackson after we got married.

It was a dark, dark era. The Olive Garden was literally the only Italian restaurant in town. (Bella Notte is "Mediterranean cuisine", which I guess means Pilsbury baguettes and mashed potatoes.) And even though there was a great Mexican grocery, the only Mexican restaurant was Taco Bell. We went all the way to Adrian to eat at El Chapulin (which is not authentic Mexican, it's a Chicano restaurant, but delicious and scratched the itch, nonetheless).

Before the massive wave of Latino immigration, Adrian had the second or third largest Mexican American/Chicano population east of the Mississippi. My dad grew up in Lenewee county, worked with a lot of migrant workers on his granparents' farm, and spent a good amount of time in Mexico, so he developed tastes that he passed on to me. Our neighbor was a nice Italian girl from the U.P. by way of Detroit, and she made food that was just unreal- an anitpasti salad that was all I asked for for my birthday one year, tiramisu that was not from a box, hand stuffed ravioli, and a couple dishes I've never had anywhere else, things called pepperoni rolls and inside out lasagna.

My husband is now a professional baker, during our Jackson years he was the chef at the country club, and he was a butcher before that. He is a third generation foodie and a born snob.

So, yeah, the Olive Garden and Taco Bell just weren't going to cut it. We moved.

The thing about Olive Garden is that it's so comparable to Fazoli's that the price disparity is ridiculous. The major difference is the architecture. Same with Red Lobster- it's basically Long John Silver's or Captain D's with cheddar biscuits (made from Jiffy mix) and decent salads. Outback's Bloomin' Onion is uncut onion rings served with Burger King zesty sauce. Applebee's is nothing but salty chicken and mac n' cheese (and some pretty good salads), which you can get across the street at KFC. Which, I think, is why these restaurants get beat up on so bad- it's not the price so much as the value.

I worked at this place, which won all sorts of acclaim. It is probably the loveliest independent restaurant I've ever been in. The stalls in the bathrooms are cherry. None of the chairs are held together with screws, nails, or glue. There is a massive saltwater fish tank. The bar is beautiful, and so are the bartenders. The management was awful, as a consequence the service was so-so, and the food was, too. I have heard many people sigh and say, "People who love Daryl's don't know what good food is." The bread is just pizza dough, from a box. The salad dressings are terrible. The chicken is just breaded stuff from Sysco that's dropped in a fryer. But the setting is opulent and the drinks so strong that people pay their prices- check average is over $25 per head, if not the highest in town, damn close- and feel special and important. It's not about the food. This is a formula that corporate restaurants have perfected.
posted by Leta at 7:37 AM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'll also allow that Olive Garden's quality may vary geographically.

That is actually done intentionally. I have a friend who was once a manager at an Olive Garden and he said that many of the items varied by region of the country; for example, the tomato sauce might be sweeter in one place and more garlicky in another, according to what upper management thought the local populace liked (presumably via marketing surveys).

Pretty sure the earlier article people are asking about upthread is this one, where Marcella Hazan delivers a tough but thoughtful critique of OG.

I remember that article and couldn't find it, but I thought of it when I saw those comments. Since reading it, Zuppa Toscana has been one of my go-to options when I eat at an Olive Garden.
posted by TedW at 7:38 AM on April 7, 2011


tomswift, what a wonderful, wonderful memory - i'm so thankful you shared it with us. it made my heart swell three sizes!
posted by PepperMax at 7:40 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


salmacis: "Is Bakersfield just a dead zone for decent restaurants?"
Jonathan Gold has a some dining recommendations for when in Bakersfield, looks like there is a substantial Basque population there, and those local joints are good eating.
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 7:44 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ha! I went to Olive Garden two weeks ago! Let me set the stage.

My wife and kid had been sick with the Portuguese Screaming Digestion Rot for a week previous, and finally they were doing better. I asked my wife what she thought she could eat, and she was ready to stop eating the toast and try real food. Moreover, I had just realized that I had $75 worth of Red Lobster gift cards, saved up from the last three years of birthday cards from my grandmother, and DID YOU KNOW?? you can use Red Lobster gift cards at the Olive Garden?

So she told me she thought it was as good a time as any to try some chicken parmigiana from the OG, and for free, and for takeout. So I saddled up my four year old and we went. I navigated the parking lot chock full of minivans and extended cab pickup trucks, then sauntered past the just-graduated frat and sorority crowd in the waiting room. As I was waiting for my order, I saw a harried couple sitting at a bar table with a small child, and plainly overheard what the wife was saying. "Look, I know it's crap. But I also know that he (pointing at the child) will eat it, that it will be the same food whether I'm eating it here or in Sarasota, and that I can get a goddamn glass of wine. So I'm NOT going to apologize for it." I think it is the most defensive tone I have ever heard. And I laughed to myself, because I think that's why anyone goes to the Olive Garden.

Anyway, the food was worth every dime. The noodles were rubbery, the salad was uninspiring, and the chicken was about twice as salty as it needed to be. On the other hand, my family needed some extra electrolytes, my four year old ate the HELL out of everything (which is unusual for any meal, really) and I even got leftovers out of it. So here's to you, Olive Garden! At least I don't have to be embarrassed for my entire country when I see your commercials, which is more than I can say for the Outhouse Steakback.
posted by norm at 8:07 AM on April 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I was once so offended by what the Olive Garden served me, I did something horrible. Not going to jail horrible, but I would be known as "THAT guy".

ffs, hal_c_on, if you're going to tell a story, tell the story. Don't coyly hint at it and wait for people to beg you to explain whatever the hell you're talking about.
posted by ook at 8:17 AM on April 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


I suspect what a lot of people do is the following, go and fill up on unlimited breadsticks and salad and take home most of your entree for a second meal.

Yup. That was my standard operating procedure for a long time. Recently, however, I went to an Olive Garden for the first time in several years, and it seems like they've become wise to that scheme. They bring like three breadsticks at a time and only fill the salad bowl halfway, and you have to flag down the waitress f you want more.
posted by rifflesby at 8:27 AM on April 7, 2011


Wow, I think almost everyone here is right, which is damned rare for me.

Right now I live in a Midwestern food wasteland, and Olive Garden is occasionally one of the better options depending on location, time, and how hungry the toddler is. It still sucks, and it's still not really worth the money in terms of my own enjoyment of the food, but life is about compromises.

Must go read Gold on Bakersfield. There did used to be a good chili cheeseburger joint there, but I doubt it's still operational.
posted by PsychoTherapist at 8:28 AM on April 7, 2011


This article actually made me want to eat at an Olive Garden, and like it.
posted by brain_drain at 8:30 AM on April 7, 2011


I "liberated" several people from working there who refused to deal with the aftermath of what I did by quitting.

I am reading this sentence over and over, my unimpressed eyes narrowing more and more each time.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:32 AM on April 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


I like Gold, because he helps me find good food at great prices in my own neighborhood. You know, the not so good neighborhood. But that was a bad article.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:34 AM on April 7, 2011


Had Olive Garden for dinner last night. It was tasty and I enjoyed it.

As one of the millions who don't live in big urban centers, who doesn't share the sidewalk with the descendants of Italian immigrants who yearned to reproduce the culinary traditions of the ancestral home in a local restaurant, I appreciate the place.

Olive Garden is a success because a good majority of the country falls into the same category as myself, they've never had the opportunity to have an authentic Italian feast laid out before them and to be told, "Here, this is how it's done, this is how it's supposed to taste!"

For now, I'm satisfied to feel that going there represents a good, nice meal. It offers something to many communities that isn't otherwise available, and allows some folks to entertain the idea that they're doing something special for a change.

Were the world filled with people who have all had the privilege to dine upon the finest prepared Italian, then perhaps, Olive Garden should be dismissed, mocked, and made fodder of every foodie and amateur alike. However, that isn't how the world is, or at least, very large swathes of it. Until then, I'll suffer the commercials I find awful, but will look forward to my next opportunity to drop by and grab a bite to eat.
posted by Atreides at 8:38 AM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


"soup, salad and breadsticks" - yup. It's all pretty salty, but I am fond of that Zuppa Toscana...I actually figured out how to make something similar at home, which was the first time I ever cooked kale. :)

For me it's one of those "work lunch" places; I don't think I've been there any time in the last decade when it wasn't an outing with co-workers.

And yeah, I think he's just mad that the photographer got there first and he actually had to go through with what was supposed to be an April Fool's Day prank.

First time I ever went to Olive Garden was at the old Pasadena mall, IIRC one of the first Olive Gardens in So Cal, when I was in high school. I loved those breadsticks.
posted by epersonae at 8:39 AM on April 7, 2011


What, no GregNog comment yet?
posted by domo at 8:40 AM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've been to places where an Olive Garden was probably the healthiest, freshest dining option around. Particularly for lunch if the options are O.G. or some sort of deep-fried fast food, you can do a lot worse than their soup/salad/breadsticks combo.

I don't think I'd ever order pasta there and I'd be wary of even the cream-based soups, but the broth soups are generally nontoxic if a bit salty and the salads are fine. And that's no mean feat, given that there are vasts swaths of the country where ordering a "salad" will get you a few sad wilted pieces of brown iceberg lettuce and a roughly equivalent amount of gloppy mayonnaise-based dressing.*

I've seen their pizzas coming out of the kitchen and they didn't look half bad, either. I'm sure they're not great, but again, everything is relative to where you are. Make your selections carefully and I suspect you can probably get something that won't make you deathly ill and might not even raise your life insurance premiums all that much.

Is the Olive Garden ever going to hold its own against actual Italian restaurants making their food with fresh ingredients? No, of course not. But in a lot of places it doesn't have to.

* Actually I have a rule that if I walk into a place at the peak of the lunch or dinner hour and I can't see anyone eating a salad, I won't order one. A few too many fuzzy carrots have convinced me that sometimes the nutritional damage of the fried-food platter is outweighed by the implicit guarantee that everything on it will be taken directly from a freezer and dropped into a fryer, with limited opportunity for food-safety fuckups in the interim.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:44 AM on April 7, 2011


Wow, Olive Garden sure has changed.

When I was younger, it was a decent place to get a filling chain meal for a reasonable price. Not the greatest food, no, but if you were a teenager on a budget, you could do worse.

I've not been in one in years, so it's interesting that they've apparently gone "upscale". $15 for an entree? I wonder what that translates to in Oregon?

It must be working out for them though, the parking lot in the one near my mall is always packed.
posted by madajb at 8:46 AM on April 7, 2011


(What is lasagna fritta? Apparently rolled lasagna sliced into thick discs, crisped in trans-fat-free boiling oil and served with a marinara dipping sauce. Words for once fail me.)

I haven't eaten at an Olive Garden for years -- a memorable alfredo sauce made mostly of flour, salt and Elmer's Glue was pretty much the last straw -- but I have to say that sounds pretty good, in a stoner-snack kind of way. I like greasy fried things dipped in marinara sauce. His description is unclear: is it just the lasagna noodle, or some sort of roll-up with the meat and cheese and etc inside?

Was anyone else pleasantly surprised by how good Buca di Beppo is? For a place with intentionally kitschy decor and grossly over-sized portions, it kicks ass.

Yes! Ate there fairly regularly for at least a year before even noticing the place was a chain. I even ended up adopting one of their simpler dishes as one of my standby recipes at home (green beans steamed in lemon juice and too much garlic.)

(And, yes, the discovery that it was a chain restaurant and not a local place did sap some of the enjoyment from it. I am a snob. But we still went, because it was tasty and very inexpensive once you factored in the leftovers.)
posted by ook at 8:47 AM on April 7, 2011


On a side note, one of my lottery dreams is to completely pack a NY Italian restaraunt, truck it across the country, and drop it into a vacant strip mall near me. Such it the Italian food wasteland I live in.*

But, from what people are saying up thread, they've all gone the way of the dodo anyway, so there's another childhood memory gone.

*Probably the kind of thinking that got us Olive Garden in the first place, I know...
posted by madajb at 8:51 AM on April 7, 2011


Recently, however, I went to an Olive Garden for the first time in several years, and it seems like they've become wise to that scheme. They bring like three breadsticks at a time and only fill the salad bowl halfway, and you have to flag down the waitress f you want more.

Red Robin takes the same strategy with their unlimited fries.
The baskets get progressively less and less full.

To their credit though, they'll never cut you off, even when they know everyone at the table is digging in.
posted by madajb at 8:54 AM on April 7, 2011


At least I don't have to be embarrassed for my entire country when I see your commercials, which is more than I can say for the Outhouse Steakback.

As an Australian-American, I get to be embarrassed for two countries when I see Outback Steakhouse commercials.
posted by COBRA! at 8:54 AM on April 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


What's upsetting - not merely upsetting, but blood-vessel-popping-rage-inducing - about Applebees, Olive Garden, TGI Fridays and similar chains isn't some worry that I'll be mistaken for some middle class shlub, but the fact that I am charged a lot for bad food. Meat boiled to a crisp, sauces that are basically water with food coloring and loads of salt in everything to mask the lack of flavors and terrible quality of the ingredients.

But its not just the lack of quality. I don't froth at the mouth at crap like those places because I'm a quality snob. I'll happily eat at McDonalds, Pizza Hut (Pan Pizza and wings only, avoid any dipping sauces), In N Out, or any number of decidedly unsnobby places because the stuff tastes good for the price I am paying. I grew up in Southern California, and I have a saying about the legions of Chinese food places along the 60 between LA and the 57: "If you see a bunch of Chinese people lined up outside a restaurant, you know one of two things: its cheap and good, or its cheap." Price matters a ton when we're talking about food, especially restaurant food. Olive Garden tastes fine at $9, but at $25 its a crime, especially to those middle class folks who work hard for their money and are probably blowing their only night out of the week on tomato sauce worse than what you can find in a $4 dollar jar at Costco. Giving me an "unlimited" amount to eat is just adding insult to injury.
posted by shen1138 at 8:55 AM on April 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


I also think Olive Garden is a very safe choice for families and family events where not everyone shares the same taste in food.

I don't know how many times I've been stuck going with mediocre Italian because x doesn't like Asian, and y won't eat red meat, and z dislikes "Country Classics".

Places like Olive Garden and Macaroni Grill (which I find to be better quality and actually cheaper per person) offer Americanized Italian food that most people are passingly familiar with and feel okay eating.

Thus Dad can get a steak or short ribs or whatever, Mom can get Chicken with Alfredo Sauce and Prosciutto, the Vegetarian can get some sort of overpriced veggie pasta offering and the young kids can pig out on the staple food of finicky eaters in the US: cheap carbs and cheesy protein. Sure it's a bit fancier than craft macaroni and cheese but it fills the same function.

Throw in free salad which is crappy iceberg, some red onions, tomatoes, olives, croutons and pepperocinos which would cost you $1.99 at a different chain and I can see why.

It serves alcohol which is a big plus and actually has a selection other than crappy house wine which can make a family meal out more tolerable for some. And at the end you get a couple of slices of their 4.99 premade Sysco desserts and everyone goes home happy.

Yes the cost per diner is high but pasta dishes are easy to split so you don't have to get a seperate kids meal and the free salad and breadsticks allows you to get food to the kids in an expedient manner (waiting 20 minutes for entrees can be disasterous). Yes it's overpriced, yes it has too much salt and it's generally overcooked but if you have 4-5 family members its a decent option.

I still boggle at the cost as I routinely see families of 4-5 go in there and get 4+ entrees and drinks and dessert. Even if everyone is going with the cheaper options for entrees you are still talking a check hovering around the $80-$100 range before tip and not including alcohol. Furthermore the place is always turning over tables pretty rapidly.

Safe and Predictable + Family Friendly + Moderately Decent Price Point seemed to be magic formula for Casual Dining chains but while I see many casual dining chains being forced out of the market others like Applebees and Olive Garden seem to be trucking away.
posted by vuron at 8:55 AM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've not been in one in years, so it's interesting that they've apparently gone "upscale". $15 for an entree? I wonder what that translates to in Oregon?

Keep in mind inflation. That $15 entree today would have only been a bit over nine bucks back in 1990, and that's using the CPI figures which are generally assumed to underestimate inflation as felt by regular people.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:55 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


So much pathetic class-anxiety in the mockery of Olive Garden and Applebees. Comedians and screenwriters are terrified that they'll be mistaken for the mid-level office worker types who go to Olive Garden, or the working class thirty-somethings who go to Applebees.

Speaking as a working class thirty-something, you're full of shit.

I love that saying to us working class folks, "You don't have to spend your meager paycheck on overpriced shitty food. For the same amount of money, or less you could be getting something good," is apparently classist. Apparently the non-classist thing to do would be to encourage working class folks to throw as much money as possible away on worthless bland shit day after day.

Eh. I guess it's the same way the Republican party is the party of the working class, minorities, women, and fiscal responsibility.
posted by Myca at 8:55 AM on April 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


All I know about Olive Garden comes from unfortunate holiday work lunches. Call me a food snob, but penne with vodka sauce is not supposed to taste like spaghetti-o's. Why is good italian food so hard to find?
posted by Space Kitty at 8:59 AM on April 7, 2011


Keep in mind inflation. That $15 entree today would have only been a bit over nine bucks back in 1990, and that's using the CPI figures which are generally assumed to underestimate inflation as felt by regular people.

I don't rightly recall what I paid back then, but when I was a teen, my budget was 2 people - drinks, dinner and dessert for under $20.
posted by madajb at 9:02 AM on April 7, 2011


Leta... Daryls wasn't there when I was a kid, but is a block away from the bank my mother worked at (now comerica, used to be National Bank of Jackson)... I caddied at the country club for a few years, had my first date with a girl there as well (and I wonder where Holly Hunt is nowdays :-) ....
posted by tomswift at 9:03 AM on April 7, 2011


Is Bakersfield just a dead zone for decent restaurants?

Not if you like Basque food.

Also I've eaten some of the best Italian food of my life in Bakersfield - but it cost about three times as much as the OG.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:04 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Then I moved to Oregon, where people think Italian food means putting pine nuts into anemic portions of whole wheat spaghetti with tomato sauce. I tried Italian all over town, and was disappointed all over town.

I live in Portland, and concur. It's pretty sad when I, a Puerto Rican, can make better Italian food than any Italian joint in town.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:09 AM on April 7, 2011


1. Go to New Jersey
2. Look for police cars in the parking lot
3. Nom nom nom FTW
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:21 AM on April 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


I was once so offended by what the Olive Garden served me, I did something horrible. Not going to jail horrible, but I would be known as "THAT guy"
Yes, it was THAT offensive. No, they never found out it was me. And yes, I "liberated" several people from working there who refused to deal with the aftermath of what I did by quitting..


ffs, hal_c_on, if you're going to tell a story, tell the story. Don't coyly hint at it and wait for people to beg you to explain whatever the hell you're talking about.


I just assumed that he smeared his poo all over the bathroom walls. Happens more than you want to think it does.
posted by newpotato at 9:30 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Authentic food is food made by people who know and love food, and which tastes delicious.
posted by everichon at 9:32 AM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would also like to report that the lasagna rollata al forno was just as good as the remarkably similar lasagna cupcakes from Silver Lake caterers Heirloom L.A., which are something of a local fixation. They weren't, though — they just weren't.

I've had those lasagna cupcakes, and mentioning them in the same article as Olive Garden is just cruel.
posted by malocchio at 9:36 AM on April 7, 2011


I just can't wait till he reviews McDonald's. He'll have to bring his own booze.
posted by alicesshoe at 9:43 AM on April 7, 2011


Authentic food is food made by people who know and love food, and which tastes delicious.

See, I can't find any dictionary that has that as a definition of "authentic". Perhaps you were looking for "good"?

Authentic food is food that is the same as it is when prepared by the people in the region it purports to be from, which could be wonderful or completely nasty.

And it's nice to be backed up by Hazan on the zuppa toscana thing.
posted by darksasami at 9:46 AM on April 7, 2011


I used to work at an Olive Garden.

In Albuquerque.

If there's a bigger server's nightmare than their endless-refills soup-and-salad lunches, I've never heard about it.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:03 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm the dining editor for the alt-weekly in a large Midwest city, and I don't believe you Olive Garden defenders.

I don't believe that it's the only dining option you have. I've discovered homemade food in odd places - like small town gas stations - that's surprisingly delicious. Somewhere in your town, there's a diner where there's a blue plate special. Find it and support it. It won't be more expensive than the OG. Maybe they only serve breakfast now, but if lots of their regulars start asking them to open for dinner on weekends, they just might.

You don't have to be a locavore, a gourmet, a foodie. Read the paper, or local blogs, or just ask around. There's somewhere that serves a meal that wasn't trucked in from a corporate factory. If not, then you live in a great location to start a restaurant. Customers will pound down your door.

If your kids will only eat food at OG, ask yourself why and then fix that.

Every dollar you spend on food is like a vote. What are you voting for? Be thoughtful. Yes, people who work at OG deserve to make a living, but if you support locally owned places, they'll eventually have more jobs available. Local stores sell to local restaurants. Local folks clean them, wash their linens, sell them flowers for the tables. Local artists show their art on the walls. Local musicians play there. Make this happen, and the benefits for your community are endless.
posted by tizzie at 10:14 AM on April 7, 2011 [28 favorites]


Tables during workday lunches at least seem to turnover pretty often. Sunday after church lunches and big group get togethers must be horrible though

I imagine big parties where everyone gets Soup, Salad and Breadsticks and water, asks for separate checks, tips the minimum and camps at a table (or group of tables) to be a form of torture for most waitstaff.

Lost cost items and free refills + most of your allocated tables not turning over rapidly means you are doing a lot of work for not a ton of reward. Even with a automatic gratuity added in to the check big groups like that have to kill your take home for the day.
posted by vuron at 10:16 AM on April 7, 2011


Perhaps you were looking for "good"?

This was my point--that "authenticity" doesn't mean much, especially beside more important matters of NOM.
posted by everichon at 10:21 AM on April 7, 2011


Years ago, my now ex-wife and I were waiting to eat - it was kind of late - outside a tiny little hole in the wall trattoria in Boston. Across the street, a kid, maybe thirteen, was idly entertaining himself playing with a butterfly knife, swinging it open and closed. A waitress came out and yelled at him to go home to his mother, and he quickly scurried away.

We knew we were at the right place before we had ever taken a bite. There's more to food than the food itself. There's provenance.

0h, and the food was really good, by the way
posted by Xoebe at 10:22 AM on April 7, 2011


tomswift, Daryl's is the building that used to house Gilbert's, before it moved out to the highway location of doom.
posted by Leta at 10:25 AM on April 7, 2011


I've had those lasagna cupcakes, and mentioning them in the same article as Olive Garden is just cruel.

I don't get it. Are they actual lasagna in cupcake form or do they just look like lasagna?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 10:27 AM on April 7, 2011


If you're ever in the metro Detroit area and have a hankerin' for good Italian, give Salvatore Scallopini a try. Delicious, from the Caesar salad to the pasta to the tiramisu. I remember dining there once in the late 1980s and a pretentious Yuppie (suspenders, yellow power tie and everything) was with a date at the adjacent table. It sounded like their first date, as he was doing his best to impress. The waiter brought a bottle of wine and poured Yuppie a sample for his approval. Yup sipped it and complained that it wasn't chilled. The waiter explained that red wine is traditionally served at room temperature. Yup then quickly backpedaled and told his date, "Oh, that's right - last time I had this was when I was in Rome, where they don't have central heating and room temperature is about 10 degrees colder than it is here."
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:31 AM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


They're like little individual lasagnas.
Considering what a, er, memorable character J. Gold is (I know him irl), this is probably one of the last places on earth he won't be recognized. I like that the photographer ate her lunch without angst.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:32 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love that saying to us working class folks, "You don't have to spend your meager paycheck on overpriced shitty food. For the same amount of money, or less you could be getting something good," is apparently classist. Apparently the non-classist thing to do would be to encourage working class folks to throw as much money as possible away on worthless bland shit day after day.

I don't think this is what Faze was saying (though they're welcome to correct me if I'm misinterpreting). I'm not sure anyone is arguing that Olive Garden has the best/healthiest/most lovingly prepared Italian food in the country or that it is a good thing (economically, spiritually) to be dumping money into a national chain when you might just as easily support a smaller, local establishment.

But I do think Faze makes an excellent point about what kind of slumming is okay among certain classes of people. It's entirely socially acceptable to be the adventurous eater/neighborhood explorer bravely planting your flag (something something colonialism, something something foursquare) in an undiscovered "authentic" "ethnic" hole-in-the-wall restaurant. In fact, it's enviable. It's also separate from going to McDonald's or a traditional fast food joint, because there are very few people under any illusion that a Big Mac might be good food. But I suspect that a lot of people who go to Olive Garden DO think it's a nice place to eat (I can attest to the astounding wait times on Friday and Saturday nights at suburban Olive Gardens and similar restaurants) and DO think they're eating relatively nice Italian food, for lack of exposure to alternatives. And there's a fear among a lot of people (people who maybe can't quite otherwise distinguish themselves with more traditional class signifiers) that they might be mistaken for those (misguided, ignorant, declasse) people if they were to eat there, nevermind take a date.

It's the same way that certain people "totally love dive bars" but actually love the approximation of a dive bar. Low lights, country music on the jukebox (though nothing recorded after 1978, god forbid), cheap whiskey and a particular kind of wall kitsch, ignoring the fact that it's a brand-new bar in a fashionable part of town. They wouldn't be caught dead in a similarly-sized sports bar or hokey Irish pub (much less a no-kidding local shit hole, which tend to be actually very depressing), despite providing essentially the same service without all the attendant romanticism. This is because it hits too close to home. They know "the type of person" who hangs out there and they would not like to be confused with them.

It's possible I'm projecting. I just think that despite what you might expect, in a lot suburban and rural parts of America it feels much more dire for some people to aggressively assert their cultivation and taste than in larger cities, in part because there are fewer ways to do so. So, you know, eat well. No one should begrudge you that, but don't misunderstand: Much of the derision heaped on the Olive Garden has to do with it being a very specific kind of low-brow that is hard to co-opt.
posted by StopMakingSense at 10:42 AM on April 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


ffs, hal_c_on, if you're going to tell a story, tell the story. Don't coyly hint at it and wait for people to beg you to explain whatever the hell you're talking about.

Sorry, this was my bad. I shouldnt have built it up this way. I already have kinda a bad rap here...publishing these details would put me on multiple lists.

I just assumed that he smeared his poo all over the bathroom walls. Happens more than you want to think it does.

Im a bit more creative and sanitary than that...but i like how you go straight to the poops.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:45 AM on April 7, 2011


I've discovered homemade food in odd places - like small town gas stations - that's surprisingly delicious.

Yeah, I've had wonderful food from counters in the back of random gas stations and convenience stores in tiny towns. Also from nondescript storefronts in faded strip malls. Those are the places I'd turn to before a chain that orders its meals from a distributor that does everything but plate them before they're reheated.

The worst meal I've had in years was at a Legal Seafood in the Philadelphia airport. I once dated a guy whose family was from Boston and would complain about the lack of Legal Seafood restaurants on the West Coast. So I thought, how bad could it be? They have beer, it's packed... Holy crap, it was godawful. Granted, airport, but my expectations were fairly low because of that already. I couldn't believe people regularly eat the food there, at the prices they charge, and call it good.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:46 AM on April 7, 2011


If there's a bigger server's nightmare than their endless-refills soup-and-salad lunches, I've never heard about it.

Reavers.

A bunch of Reavers show up at your establishment, it ain't the soup, salad, and breadsticks they plan on eatin'.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:50 AM on April 7, 2011 [15 favorites]


I think that their Alfredo sauce recipe is a remarkably elegant formulation, proof that you don't need any fancy-shmancy numbers to crack the code of human desire. It can be done using just the numerals 1 and 2.

Ingredients:
1 pint heavy cream
1 stick butter
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Cooking Directions:
In a saucepan combine butter, heavy cream, and cream cheese. Simmer this
until all is melted, and mixed well. Add the Parmesan cheese and Garlic
powder. Simmer this for 15 to 20 minutes on low. You may wish to season
with a little salt and pepper.

posted by StickyCarpet at 10:57 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


If your town is large enough to keep an Olive Garden afloat, sure as hell it must have other restaurants, one of which is going to provide good food at good prices.

How OG has managed to attract repeat customers is something I will never understand.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:04 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Who has two thumbs and got engaged at The Olive Garden?

This girl (points at self with said thumbs).

Still married - going on 8 years :)
posted by morganannie at 11:07 AM on April 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think that their Alfredo sauce recipe is a remarkably elegant formulation, proof that you don't need any fancy-shmancy numbers to crack the code of human desire. It can be done using just the numerals 1 and 2.

But the thing is, their Alfredo is bad. Bland and totally unsatisfactory. I don't think food needs to be fancy to be delicious, but theirs just isn't.

But hey, eating their Alfredo sauce encouraged me to discover more delicious recipes I can make at home!
posted by too bad you're not me at 11:08 AM on April 7, 2011


How can something which is nothing but a melted conglomeration of heavy cream, butter, and cheese be bland? That's unpossible.
posted by Justinian at 11:17 AM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


(I'd like to put in a good word for Outback Steakhouse -- not the food, but the company. I worked as a server at an Outback-owned spin-off restaurant, and I have to say that for a Big Ugly Corporate Chain Restaurant, they do a remarkable job of limiting turnover in a business notorious for throwing people away. The general manager of the place I worked started as a dishwasher at age 17 and worked his way up. Unlike a lot of places, Outback actually invests in their people, provides opportunities for advancement, fosters a team atmosphere that works, and genuinely promotes based on merit and hard work. The food is mostly overpriced crap, but as chains go they're one of the better ones to work for.)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:19 AM on April 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's what is so utterly disappointing about it. It's a simple sauce--how could they fuck it up?

But they did, oh, they did.
posted by too bad you're not me at 11:20 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


cream cheese?!

That's how you fuck up alfredo sauce. Fucking hell.
posted by Space Kitty at 11:40 AM on April 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


How can something which is nothing but a melted conglomeration of heavy cream, butter, and cheese be bland?
With the exception of (good quality) Parmesan, those are bland ingredients - rich, but bland. Especially with cream cheese - how did that get in there?
posted by tizzie at 11:42 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm the dining editor for the alt-weekly in a large Midwest city, and I don't believe you Olive Garden defenders.

I don't believe that it's the only dining option you have. I've discovered homemade food in odd places - like small town gas stations - that's surprisingly delicious. Somewhere in your town, there's a diner where there's a blue plate special.


The problem is actually finding such places. I know they exist, but other than word-of-mouth or the occasional local newspaper review, it's hard to know which local eatery is an undiscovered gem and which is a "meh" kind of place that serves bland food. The way I ended up trying a lot of little restaurants that I wouldn't normally have given a second glance was when my brother worked as a stringer for a few years for one of those local community newspapers. Restaurants (and other businesses) paid $25 for a review that was actually an ad, but at least it gave some details about the menu and service. Anyway, he had to go in person to the restaurant to interview the owner, and I'd go with him. We'd order food (my brother was a stickler for "truth in advertising", he wanted to taste the stuff first, and heck, we were going to eat dinner somewhere anyway) and 99% of the time the owner would not only comp the bill, he'd also send out endless samples of menu items we hadn't ordered. A couple of those places had some extremely delicious food that we would have never known about had we not deliberately searched the place out. I do recommend checking the ads in your local weekly freebie newspapers and if there's a coupon for buy one/get one free meal or free appetizer or something at a restaurant you've never been to, clip the coupon and give the place a try.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:45 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


But I do think Faze makes an excellent point about what kind of slumming is okay among certain classes of people. It's entirely socially acceptable to be the adventurous eater/neighborhood explorer bravely planting your flag (something something colonialism, something something foursquare) in an undiscovered "authentic" "ethnic" hole-in-the-wall restaurant. In fact, it's enviable.

The fuck he makes an excellent point. Faze makes his usual point - check his posting history - which is that all criticisms of the American suburban model are ultimately a sort of self-conscious pretention and class snobbery with no basis in real fact or lived experience. Which is horseshit of a grade low enough not even Roy Rogers would serve it at the Interstate rest stop of Faze's fondest American daydream.

So fuck it all with the what-do-you-expect-from-a-stripmall crap. I'll defend the food snobbery as a kind of liberation. I grew up military, with a dad whose tastes were so Ottawa Valley working class blandified he claimed to dislike spaghetti bolognese until my midteens and still professes only a basic tolerance for pizza. And rice.

In time, though, we won him over, my mother and brother and I. We sought out hole-in-the-wall gyros joints, Chinese restaurants bereft of sweet-and-sour chicken balls, Italian places where they made their own noodles. Not because we wanted to feel better than the chain-restaurant masses but because the food tasted better. Because it was more worthy of our money and our time and those rare moments of dining out as a family. You eat three times a day minimum. There are few things you'll need to do as often. Why would you permit your default position in that equation be well that wasn't quite awful?

You know what I expect from even a stripmall? That often as not, out here on the Canadian prairie, maybe 30 years removed from a time when almost every restaurant was either a chain or a steakhouse or a "steak & pizza" house, that stripmall will contain a very good Vietnamese meal for ten bucks a person. That my daughter, now six, will think of pho as comfort food and neighbourhood, family-run eateries (which almost all Vietnamese joints are here in Calgary, even the ones in deepest suburbia) as familiar. That she will see bland Sysco fat-sugar-salt packets as alien and offputting. Not because I'm a snob but for the same reason I don't let her watch violent movies or play on the curb near fast-moving vehicles: because that stuff is bad for her. And me. And the planet.

The fact that it overlaps with a certain kind of food snobbery? The notion that caring deeply about the quality of your food, its origin and nutritional value is classism? So be it. I'm a classist snob, if that makes it easier for you to dismiss. Beats wallowing in twice-fried shit.
posted by gompa at 11:52 AM on April 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


I don't get it. Are they actual lasagna in cupcake form or do they just look like lasagna?

They're like little individual lasagnas.


Yeah, pretty much like that, though Heirloom tends to get a little fancier (I had the short rib and robiola). Maybe part of the appeal was the novelty factor, but they were definitely a hit.
posted by malocchio at 11:58 AM on April 7, 2011


Okay, time to spout off...

As far as the neato-torpedo local places, I remember a place in town called Big D's. Tiny little hole in the wall BBQ place with ribs to die for, delectable pulled sandwiches (pork and beef) complete with char, and some seriously respectable chicken, with the jovial owner chuckling about it being his daughter's college fund. I lost track of it after the fifth time he moved locations.

As far as good Italian? Well, back in my high school years, in Julian, California, you could always do worse than Romano's. When my girlfriend (whom I have reconnected with and am currently having as happy a relationship with as one can have half a continent away) was trapped in her parent's toy store, I would nip over to Romano's, get an order of their made-on-the-premise marinated artichoke hearts, then zoom by the flower store near her parent's store for a single red carnation, then off to deliver flower and treats (with added kisses) while ogling whatever knockoff Transformers her parents had laid in.
posted by Samizdata at 11:59 AM on April 7, 2011


Much of the derision heaped on the Olive Garden has to do with it being a very specific kind of low-brow that is hard to co-opt.

I'm with Goompa on this, StopMakingSense.

Look, man, my favorite new restaurant in my hometown is a burger joint in a 76 station. I ate at a burrito truck 3 times in the last 3 days. "Ironically slumming" I ain't.

But you know what both of those offer that Olive Garden doesn't? Good food at good prices.

The problem with making this a cultural thing is that it tells working class folks that in order to be, "true to their roots," or, "authentic," they ought to be getting ripped off. It says that anyone who wants something that tastes better or is cheaper than Olive Garden is an elitist jerk.

It's precisely the same mindset that's behind telling working class folks that their pay should be low, and their healthcare expensive, because to do otherwise would be getting above their station.

It's the same mindset that says, "vote for the reg'lr guy! At least he's not one of them intellectual elite eggheads."
posted by Myca at 12:10 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


But, from what people are saying up thread, they've all gone the way of the dodo anyway, so there's another childhood memory gone.

Just because they're not in Little Italy doesn't mean they've gone the way of the dodo. Ornella Trattoria in Astoria makes the best pastas I've had since Italy--for both traditionalists and the adventurous types. Plus? Pork night (which includes this dessert).
posted by zerbinetta at 12:27 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


She will see bland Sysco fat-sugar-salt packets as alien and offputting. Not because I'm a snob but for the same reason I don't let her watch violent movies or play on the curb near fast-moving vehicles: because that stuff is bad for her. And me. And the planet.

Good. I totally agree with you. Bad stuff is bad for you. Don't eat what you don't enjoy. Take initiative and explore better alternatives. I am not defending Olive Garden as a business or otherwise and choosing not to patronize it doesn't make you a snob. But it's disingenuous to ignore just how much snotty and yes, classist derision it (and more to the point, its customer base) receives and how fast people are to dissociate themselves with anything having to do with it. So much so that it's become a pretty lazy punchline at this point. I am not arguing from the stance of "if it's popular/if enough people like it, it must be good/worthwhile," I promise you. But I think it's important to recognize and parse how and why certain value judgements and popular perceptions relegate something to being so untouchably low-class. It sits in such a weird location between "upscale casual dining" and fast food, neither of which carry nearly the same amount of cultural baggage.

"Ironically slumming" I ain't.

It's not ironic slumming. It's VAUNTED slumming. Really, it's not slumming at all. It's something that exists within certain boundaries that are perfectly acceptable to an upper-middle class-ish outlook. I only mean to say just that there are experiences (possibly totally shitty ones) that exist outside that which are not redeemable in the same way. I don't think you (or even Jonathan Gold, really) are out looking for cool points. And I don't think Olive Garden is, uh, "authentic," nor would I encourage anyone from any walk of life to eat there as a way to prove that. But you can eat at the burger joint, the burrito truck or even (as I said before) the upscale casual restaurant or McDonald's and not receive a tenth of the scorn you would for eating at the Olive Garden. I'm just saying, you know, why is that? Everyone's point about price/quality is a good one, but I think there's more to it than that.

It's not unreasonable to say that while Olive Garden is not good (as a business model, for your health, for the highest quality food for your dollar), people also tend to pile on it for reasons that are in many ways about class.
posted by StopMakingSense at 12:46 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Leave it to me to live in the same apartment for 14 years, only to relocate to the West Coast less than two years before before Ornella Trattoria opens right around the corner, literally, from my building. Wile E. bakerina, Suuuuuuuper Geeeeeeeenius.

zerbinetta's right, though. Not quite right-around-the-corner, but less than two blocks away, Trattoria L'incontro makes beautiful food for both traditionalists and adventurous types, too.

(For people who live in or near the neighborhood, or who have friends who do, that same little corner of Astoria is also home to Cassinelli Food Products, where the pasta is so good that it would make you want to bring a cot into the factory, lie down and never leave.)
posted by bakerina at 12:54 PM on April 7, 2011


Maybe they only serve breakfast now, but if lots of their regulars start asking them to open for dinner on weekends, they just might.

There's a problem with the logic here. If "they only serve breakfast now" you can't eat dinner there now. Sure, ask them to have dinner. But in the meantime you'll have to eat somewhere else.
posted by Jahaza at 1:07 PM on April 7, 2011


For those New Yorkers looking for awesome Italian in the west village: Malatesta Trattoria and its recently-opened sister property, Malaparte. I could eat the meatballs from Malatesta like every day.

For those New Yorkers who have a friend who moved here from California and won't stop bitching about how crappy latin food is in NYC, take them to Red Hook this summer. This article is old, but you get the idea: http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2008/07/red-hook-vendors-soccer-tacos-guide-how-to-get-there-what-to-eat.html
posted by ben242 at 1:17 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


To all the people who think that it's just foodie or class snobbery that leads people to dump on Olive Garden: no. Leta is right; you're getting overcharged for mediocre (at best) food because the decor seems fancy if you take your glasses off. I'm not a foodie by any means (some days, I have Lean Cuisine for lunch and dinner), but OG is crap. I've eaten there twice. The second time was for a holiday luncheon and I got outvoted; the first time was a few years earlier on Christmas Eve. Some of the worst service any of us had ever gotten at a restaurant, and the food didn't make it worth it. We could have done better ourselves with supermarket pasta and bottled sauce.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:23 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


StopMakingSense: But you can eat at the burger joint, the burrito truck or even (as I said before) the upscale casual restaurant or McDonald's and not receive a tenth of the scorn you would for eating at the Olive Garden. I'm just saying, you know, why is that?

It's the pretension. That's why I'd rather get pasta from the local place that sells it by the quart and pick up a bottle of whatever red's cheapest and eat it at my kitchen table than eat at OG.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:27 PM on April 7, 2011


I just assumed that he smeared his poo all over the bathroom walls. Happens more than you want to think it does.

Im a bit more creative and sanitary than that...but i like how you go straight to the poops.


I assumed you sculpted three androgynous human figures from overcooked pasta and did a dramatic reenactment of The Human Centipede.
posted by elizardbits at 1:46 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


norm: The noodles were rubbery

Oh, thank you. Glad you liked them.
posted by Lleyam at 1:49 PM on April 7, 2011


Atreides: I'm satisfied to feel that going there represents a good, nice meal

You sure?
posted by Lleyam at 1:58 PM on April 7, 2011


Me no linky:

http://www.olivegarden.com/specials/
posted by Lleyam at 1:58 PM on April 7, 2011


Every dollar you spend on food is like a vote. What are you voting for? Be thoughtful. Yes, people who work at OG deserve to make a living, but if you support locally owned places, they'll eventually have more jobs available. Local stores sell to local restaurants. Local folks clean them, wash their linens, sell them flowers for the tables. Local artists show their art on the walls. Local musicians play there. Make this happen, and the benefits for your community are endless.

Yeah, no.

The big chains exert tremendous market pressure, drive down prices, and are able to operate on razor-thin profit margins (or even a loss), unlike the little guys.

This inspires a number of unsavory characteristics in local businesses.

It's no secret that small "Mom & Pop" restaurants are notorious scofflaws. It's not at all uncommon for servers to be paid poverty-level wages under the table, have their tips garnished (and likewise not reported to the IRS), or otherwise be subjected to unsafe, illegal, or unsanitary working conditions. I also don't think it's any stretch of the imagination to say that servers at small restaurants collectively enjoy nearly the worst job security out of any established profession.

In a wealthy community, it's often not even possible to hire "local" servers, as it's simply not affordable for anybody to live in the city at those wages. This is doubly true for "the help."

Virtually every aspect of the business operates on a cash basis, from wages to the supply chain. Back when I was working as a driver in the supply chain, I was required to collect payment from our customers, and would end up carrying in excess of $10k cash by the end of the day. Some customers didn't want to write checks (ahem), and being a cutthroat and unstable industry, my employers were paranoid of accepting checks from anyone except for established customers. Similarly, the suppliers and distributors would give you better prices if you paid cash (virtually every customer has their own price schedule, making the business even more murky and convoluted). Hence, cash. Sidenote: After I quit, one of our warehouses got held up, two clerks were shot, and the thieves ran off with $15k in cash.

Obviously, we weren't the only supplier for many of our customers. However, we peddled cold cuts and preprocessed and pre-prepared Sysco-like crap to anyone who would buy it. Fancy restaurants and cheap restaurants alike. One of our customers didn't open til dinner, so we dropped our pre-seasoned roast beef off in an unrefrigerated bin out back at 7AM. The fanciest place I delivered to would buy several flats of Campbell's soup and gravy every week. On the other hand, there were a weird handful of places that prepared everything from scratch that you'd never expect -- I delivered to this one unnamed convenience store in Piscataway in a strip mall with a gas station that made awesome sandwiches and Italian catering from scratch. The "family owned" places were the worst, because each member of the family usually had a different idea about how to run the restaurant. We also caught these guys preparing spoiled ingredients on a somewhat regular basis.

I also came across a shocking number of bona fide neo-nazis during my experiences in the supply chain, but that's another story. "Local suppliers" were typically warehouses out in Newark. A few were independent, and a few were owned by megacorps. All of them were dirty, faceless buildings with sketchy workers (if anything, the megacorp places had cleaner warehouses, and seemed to pay their workers better). Our orders would be pulled and sit out on the (unrefrigerated) warehouse floor for 1-2 hours before we arrived. I was also technically a "local supplier," although I was really just a middle man who ferried things from a series of 5-10 warehouses to customers across the state. More and more restaurant owners are beginning to cut out the middleman, and drive their own vehicles to get supplies from places like the Restaurant Depot. Usually, these vehicles are unrefrigerated (although I was frequently instructed to turn off my truck's reefer unit to save on fuel, so I can't claim superiority there; are you noticing a theme here?).

Speaking of being a middleman, I technically "worked" for one supplier. However, every driver for that supplier was hired as an independent contractor so that the company wouldn't have to pay taxes on its workforce. The drivers loved this, given the apparently higher profit margin and wages that this could generate, even though they lost most of their pay to taxes and insurance (if they even were paying taxes or insuring themselves -- many didn't). This also created a weird and unhealthy work dynamic, where drivers competed for the most desirable customers on their route. Among other things, this is part of the reason why my route covered about 300 miles in a day.

I should add that not every single local business and restaurant was a corrupt institution that served rotten food and was run by nazis. I met a bunch of great chefs and owners, and ate at a bunch of great places. However, local business is not a panacea. If anything, the big chains are subject to far more oversight and scrutiny at every level of their operation. They pay taxes, give their employees insurance, and can afford to throw out a batch of rotten food. And there's a lot to be said for that.

When I buy from Target or Wal Mart, I know that I'm sending my money toward a vertically-integrated corporation that happens to support a number of homophobic and christianist causes. When I buy from Bob's Sub Shop, I honestly have no idea where that money's going.
posted by schmod at 2:00 PM on April 7, 2011 [23 favorites]


Kadin2048: there are vasts swaths of the country where ordering a "salad" will get you a few sad wilted pieces of brown iceberg lettuce and a roughly equivalent amount of gloppy mayonnaise-based dressing

And I get it in the neck for calling out my esteemed American compatriates and their views on out so-called poor British food :P
posted by Lleyam at 2:03 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


If your town is large enough to keep an Olive Garden afloat, sure as hell it must have other restaurants, one of which is going to provide good food at good prices.

And I suspect most people eating at Olive Garden know of these places. I don't think they're making an uninformed decision, which seems to be what you're suggesting. They may well know everyplace there is to eat within a 25 mile radius and still end up at O.G. if that's the only place that will make everyone happy (or at least equally unhappy) on that particular night. And that's how I think a lot of people end up there.

Sometimes people want soup, salad, and breadsticks.

Not that long ago I was on a business trip in a southern town in a region famous for its pork barbecue. (It's a small town so it'll remain nameless, but it was in Eastern NC, so definite barbecue country.) We were going to take the clients out to lunch but let them pick the place. More than one visitor dropped hints that we'd be very open to trying any sort of local place that they wanted to show off. But in the end they asked to go to a Big Chain Restaurant. Not because anyone on their side was unfamiliar with the local places or their reputation, or for that matter unfamiliar with the chains, but once you got together 6 or 7 people and started running through who'd gotten what the night before for dinner, who was planning on eating where later that night for lunch, who was vegetarian, who wanted a place where they could knock back three or four martinis in lieu of food, etc., there wasn't any other place that would satisfy all the requirements. And so we found ourselves at a faux-neighborhood restaurant actually discussing where the best local places to eat were. (And which we hit up, by ourselves, throughout the rest of the trip; all was not lost.)

That was a particularly clear example but I'm sure the similar process is why so many people end up at the O.G., Applebees, Romano's, Cheesecake Factory, etc., whether they're hashing out the decision in a conference room or in the back of the family car. It's very difficult for a local place, which typically concentrate on being really good at a particular cuisine or regional specialty, to compete with the breadth of the menu at the chains. And in the end, people tend to prefer to eat mediocre food together than eat better food separately (or with some people sulking because they didn't get what they want), and that's how the chains stay in business.

Chain restaurants exist for basically the same reasons that McDonalds and Burger King exist: they fill a particular niche. That niche is not high-quality or healthy food. (Although I'm not joking when I say that there are places where the Olive Garden may be the healthiest dining option around.)

It's interesting that people seem to find O.G. so much more objectionable than McD's, though. Is it just because McD's is (basically) unpretentious, while OG makes the terrible middle-class mistake of getting caught in some culinary social climbing? A lot of the hate seems to be directed not just at the mediocre food, which I admit is mediocre, but at the obviously aspirational character of the place which, although their reach definitely exceeds their grasp, is an attempt to reproduce an experience — the whole "Tuscan villa" motif — that most people won't ever experience authentically. (Perhaps can't experience authentically, because it may be entirely synthetic.) It seems, to be blunt, like they're being punished for forgetting — or worse, letting their patrons forget — that they're in, at best, a very much middle-class restaurant.

If we want to go after them for having crappy, industrially-produced food, by all means. But if so, they're no better and no worse than any of the other chain restaurants serving crappy, industrially-produced food, and that includes the other chains and McD's especially. (And again, I think within that context they're actually one of the better places to eat in terms of being able to get a salad that won't make you sick, etc.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:09 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


vuron: it's overpriced, yes it has too much salt and it's generally overcooked

Hmmm. Isn't over-salting a major worry? This is why kids are prepared to eat it, no? And pumping all that salt into kids ain't a great public health strategy, in my view.
posted by Lleyam at 2:13 PM on April 7, 2011


alicesshoe: I just can't wait till he reviews McDonald's.

I thought he was a restaurant reviewer, no...?
posted by Lleyam at 2:17 PM on April 7, 2011


@drgirlfriend Have you been to Built to Grill yet? It's a cart on 3rd and Washington and the best I've had so far. Unfortunately it closes at 5, and always has a bit of a line.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 2:20 PM on April 7, 2011


I was just lurking until I read hal_c_on's post and had to comment on how much it reads like a vague Facebook status update. "[John Doe] thinks things just are."
posted by monkeymadness at 2:26 PM on April 7, 2011


It's interesting that people seem to find O.G. so much more objectionable than McD's, though. Is it just because McD's is (basically) unpretentious, while OG makes the terrible middle-class mistake of getting caught in some culinary social climbing?

For me, it's because though the food is shitty either place, at Mc Donald's they don't charge you an arm and a leg for it. The food's about what you would expect for the price. It's much less of a rip-off.

Now, sure, if I know a town, I can probably tell you where to get much better food at the same price, but it's not crazy out of wack like The OG.
posted by Myca at 3:18 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


We were going to take the clients out to lunch but let them pick the place. More than one visitor dropped hints that we'd be very open to trying any sort of local place that they wanted to show off. But in the end they asked to go to a Big Chain Restaurant.

I used to travel for a living. With a pretty decent per diem, I'd often ask the local salespeople for recomendations, only to be invariably directed to an upscale chain.

Ater I got wise to this, I asked a couple of salespeople what the deal was.

They said that, almost without fail, when they directed someone to a local joint, they heard about it the next day, so they started defaulting to the nicer chains.

What that says about the palates of my coworkers, I don't know, but I do know that now I always ask for multiple recommendations now because hey, if I'm going to be served generic Sysco food, I want it to be reheated locally, with love.
posted by madajb at 4:17 PM on April 7, 2011


madajb: they heard about it the next day

What do you mean? The owner of the local place doesn't like out of towners?
posted by monkeymadness at 4:33 PM on April 7, 2011


Good lord, how can everybody have such strong goddamn opinions about THE OLIVE GARDEN
posted by tehloki at 5:00 PM on April 7, 2011


"Good lord, how can everybody have such strong goddamn opinions about THE OLIVE GARDEN"


This is metafilter, strong opinions are required.
posted by tomswift at 5:04 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


dude, I am an unabashed fast food/junk food aficianado, and even I think Olive Garden sucks. (I ate there twice, each time I got the runs. I had the canneloni. A few months later I found out that a co-workers wife worked ther as a waitress. "Don't ever eat that canneloni," she said "You don't wanna know."
posted by jonmc at 5:16 PM on April 7, 2011


It's interesting that people seem to find O.G. so much more objectionable than McD's, though. Is it just because McD's is (basically) unpretentious, while OG makes the terrible middle-class mistake of getting caught in some culinary social climbing?

For me it's because Fast Food and very, very low end burger/diner food is expected to be bland, salty, and greasy. For a mediocre sit down $10-$15 a plate place, I expect at least one jar/bag of spice mix to have been opened in the kitchen (the kitchen in the restaurant, not the one where they pre-prepped and froze the food). For $21 a plate I expect the sauces to be made on site. It's about expectation management.

I have plenty of co-workers who are of an economic class that they can afford to eat at the nicest restaurants in San Francisco regularly. They consistently pick bland fare that favors view, decor and speed of service over food quality. It makes me sad.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:18 PM on April 7, 2011


What do you mean? The owner of the local place doesn't like out of towners?

The visitors would complain.
The service wasn't right, or you couldn't get a SuperJumboBurger or "Don't you have a Cheesecake Factory in this town?"

Since I was in a different city, twice a week, I heard a lot of similar stories, which lead me to the conclusion that, regardless of middle-class aspirations, perceived value or any of that, some people just like Olive Garden.
posted by madajb at 5:23 PM on April 7, 2011


I'm originally from a not-too-small town (population of ~40,000) in PA. A couple of years ago, I was visiting my parents, sitting at the kitchen table and reading the local newspaper. Every year, they do a "Hometown Favorites" thing, and the issue of the paper I was reading had the results in it. The Olive Garden had won for "Best Ethnic Restaurant." I cracked up laughing, and when I read it to my dad, he said, "Oh yeah. Hong Kong Buffet won so many years in a row that they aren't eligible anymore." This is a story that I often tell people when they want to know about the town I grew up in.
posted by rebel_rebel at 5:36 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I assumed you sculpted three androgynous human figures from overcooked pasta and did a dramatic reenactment of The Human Centipede.
posted by elizardbits at 1:46 PM on April 7


Every so often, I see something that makes me go "holy shit, a real-life genius".

Hi elizardbits. I don't know if you're busy or not, but ummm I'm going to ummm...uhhh...the Olive Garden...hehe on Friday, and was wondering if you'd like to join me. HAHA! Yeah, its so stupid...my friends call it the OG. HAH!

So umm...(dry heave)...would you like to go with me, if you're not doing anything better. I mean, its so stupid, but you know...it could be fun.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:40 PM on April 7, 2011


Almost 20 years ago, in South Jersey, my high school boyfriend and I decided to take each other out for a nice meal. Neither one of us had a lot of money, so this was kind of a major deal.

I took us to the Olive Garden. It was the fanciest restaurant I knew of, though I think I'd only been there once.

He took me to "his favorite" local Italian deli. For lunch.

I was pissed. And hurt. I didn't try all that hard to hide it either.

But I realized just now, reading this thread, that his choice was more thoughtful and more personal. He was trying to share something he genuinely enjoyed, and I was responding to corporate marketing. Today I wouldn't hesitate to pick his place over mine.
posted by nev at 6:06 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Every year, they do a "Hometown Favorites" thing, and the issue of the paper I was reading had the results in it. The Olive Garden had won for "Best Ethnic Restaurant."

Outback Steakhouse often wins Best Steakhouse in my town.

It would be depressing if I hadn't long ago given up on ordering steak in this town. heh.
posted by madajb at 6:16 PM on April 7, 2011


1- If you are going to post a goddamned recipe, can you make it one that doesn't include garlic powder? Not that I have anything against it per se, but it is too easy to confuse with garlic salt.

2- Alfredo sauce isn't supposed to have cream cheese in it!

3- This is fucking KEY: "The problem is actually finding such places. I know they exist, but other than word-of-mouth or the occasional local newspaper review, it's hard to know which local eatery is an undiscovered gem and which is a "meh" kind of place that serves bland food."

Sometimes we just don't want to go on an adventure. We will never be in Albuquerque again, and we really need a heavy meal that we can be somewhat sure won't cause a miscarriage on the plane tomorrow morning.

For every great mom and pop sandwich shop, there are 10 others that will make your ass feel like a water balloon that won't break, or give you one of those "oh god, this swiss cheese has been sitting at room temperature for two weeks" headaches.
posted by gjc at 6:38 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


For a lot of people, in a lot of places, Olive Garden is a nice restaurant. Sometimes people want to go out to eat at a nice, sit-down place and the fact that there might be a greasy spoon or a gas station (!) with food that is "better" doesn't enter into the decision when what people are looking for the experience of dining out. It's not snotty to choose not to go to Olive Garden, but it might be the definition of snotty to consider saying you will have lunch there an April Fool's prank.
posted by moxiedoll at 6:49 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Perhaps next year they should go to McDonald's and stick his Pulitzer Prize in a Happy Meal. Me, I'd see Olive Garden as a bit of diversity in my small town. Breadsticks, soup and salad, you say?
posted by dragonplayer at 7:41 PM on April 7, 2011


I've actually been to this particular Olive Garden. And while I am definitely not one to disparage a chain or fast food restaurant out of hand, I can honestly say that my experience at this particular Olive Garden was one of the worst ever. Nothing big happened, just terrible food and terrible service. I also have passed by there numerous times over the last 4 years and the parking lot is almost always packed.
posted by buzzkillington at 9:59 PM on April 7, 2011


right now, the best pizza, and by best i mean mindblowingly good pizza, that i can find here in NYC is not ARTICHOKE ... but if you can get your ass to MOZZARELLIs on 23rd between Lexington & Park Avenue (yes, they are steps away from Shake Shack), i highly recommend you order 3 or 4 slices of their GF pizza. you will thank me for it. it's just THAT amazing.
YES! You are so right about this. I've gone directly from one to the other and there is no comparison. At three times the price per slice, Artichoke could not remotely compare to that little hole in the wall.
posted by bink at 11:58 PM on April 7, 2011



funny, here in manhattan the good italian restaurants i've been to lately are run by argentinians.


In the closest small city to us the best Italian restaurant is owned by Greeks. They food is amazing. Astounding. It is a small place in downtown and many nights it is empty, or close to it, at least in the public area, there are two private rooms, you drive 15 minutes to Olive Garden and it is always packed.

Don't get me wrong, I eat at OG a couple times a year with my husband, if you get their specials (ie, the things that are there for "limited" times only) they tend to taste better.

The one soup mentioned in this thread the zeppo, something or other, is actually pretty damn nice, but, it doesn't touch the simple chicken soup we can get at
Renato's. Man, now I want some gnocchi from there. Or their lamb chops, or just simply their spaghetti. So much yum.
posted by SuzySmith at 12:02 AM on April 8, 2011


I never went to the Olive Garden. I'm not trying to be a snob, but my Dad was a waiter and manager at some very nice local Italian restaurants. The idea of going there would be viewed as sacrilege in the family.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:22 AM on April 8, 2011


If I go to OG, I know I'm going to get salty, cheap, factory food. Yuck.

I always choose to risk getting good food from a non-chain restaurant.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:25 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The review, and the discussion, is about what one would expect from people who have never gone hungry.
posted by rhombus at 1:01 AM on April 8, 2011


Every time I see a thread on Mefi abt fast/chain food, I think "What the fuck do you guys eat?". I never cease to be amazed. And by "you guys" I mean Americans.
posted by awfurby at 2:43 AM on April 8, 2011


In the closest small city to us the best Italian restaurant is owned by Greeks.

That's true in my city too; these guys have been around over 60 years and I don't think the decor has been changed once; they still have a jukebox with individual coin-operated stations on each table and it is full of things like Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey; the most current music on there is probably The Ink Spots. Their food is good but not great for the most part (I have been to Italy and so have that as my frame of reference) and I tend to prefer the Greek menu items, but they are still way above Olive Garden. Walking in there really is like being transported back in time.
posted by TedW at 4:28 AM on April 8, 2011


The review, and the discussion, is about what one would expect from people who have never gone hungry

Pray enlighten us as to what people who have gone hungry would say about the OG.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:30 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is looking down on Olive Garden the same kind of imaginary classism that makes someone who rids a bicycle in a big city the out of touch one?
posted by Space Coyote at 5:23 AM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've actually been to this particular Olive Garden. And while I am definitely not one to disparage a chain or fast food restaurant out of hand, I can honestly say that my experience at this particular Olive Garden was one of the worst ever.

Yeah, clearly in addition to whatever the problems are with Olive Garden in general, there's something "off" with that particular Olive Garden. Cappucino with whipped cream instead of foamed milk. I've eaten at Olive Garden not a few times and that's never happened to me.
posted by Jahaza at 5:30 AM on April 8, 2011


The last time I was forced by a couple of coworkers to go to Olive Garden, I had spaghetti with tomato sauce. Turned out that the main seasoning in the tomato sauce was corn syrup, and they hadn't stinted on that. When I complained, my coworkers looked at me with surprise. They said they like it sweet like that. Give me a $1 McDonald's cheeseburger over that, please. It's not elitist to not want icky sweetness added to everything.

On the other hand, when my mom took me to a Red Lobster for lunch a couple weeks ago, the piece of fish they gave me was perfectly adequate. Not overdone, not underdone, just the right amount of breading, no sugar. Of course it had been frozen, but that's okay. She said that particular Red Lobster was better than most.
posted by Ery at 7:02 AM on April 8, 2011


Lleyam, yes, he calls himself a restaurant reviewer - I was poking fun. It was a boring and slack review of a chain specializing in salt, grease and pasta.

I prefer AA Gill, at least he's funny.
posted by alicesshoe at 7:26 AM on April 8, 2011


Turned out that the main seasoning in the tomato sauce was corn syrup

Oh, so it's soul food, if my experiences in Harlem are anything to go by:

"Hm, what an interesting take on dessert...I've never had a dessert made of chicken before..."

"That's your main course, sir"
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:04 AM on April 8, 2011


I've never had a dessert made of chicken before...

Although it is served as a main course or appetizer, a chicken b'stella would certainly qualify if you are ever in a Moroccan restaurant. Very delicious!
posted by TedW at 9:14 AM on April 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, no.

Last night I had lentils & rice and it was incredible and maybe .15 cents a serving. Having been poor and hungry it's even more insulting to try to sell me spaghetti-o's and charge me $15 a plate for the privilege.
posted by Space Kitty at 1:22 PM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like Olive Garden, and I don't get all the hate. Some of us don't *want* to scour dozens (or more?) of restaurants until we find the perfect one with the Absolute! Maximum! Value! for the dollar. It's comfort food, it's familiar, and that has a lot of value for me. I like eating the same foods over and over, I do not crave novelty. I don't get too wound up in the way the restaurant is decorated, I think it's nice but I'm not going there for "authenticity". I go there for the food, as terrible as some (most?) of you think it is.

My chicken dish costs $13.50 here and gives me at least two additional meals worth of food, after I have left the restaurant happily stuffed on salad, breadsticks, and an appetizer. Oh what a crime against humanity. Seriously?

There are plenty of reasons to look down on other people, and disliking them or thinking they are rubes or idiots or have bad taste or however you characterize your negative assessment because they eat at the Olive Garden seems like a really shitty thing to focus on.

Personally, I like to save my rage for people who lie, people who treat other people unkindly, people who are rude, people who are violent, you get the picture. People who demonstrably reduce the happiness of those around them, basically. Some dude eating at a restaurant I dislike just doesn't rise to the same sort of standard.
posted by marble at 3:59 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I sort of agree. I mean, some people also don't research how many megatexels per second their graphics processing units can push before purchase, nor the bus width, the speeds of both the core and and memory clocks, and so on. I've come to accept that this doesn't necessarily mean they are bad people. Similarly, some people don't need to find the best food at the best price. It takes all kinds.
posted by Justinian at 4:58 PM on April 9, 2011


Growing up in southern New Mexico, Olive Garden was one of the nicest places you could go - it was so nice that you had to drive for over an hour to El Paso just to eat there, and then you had to wait for almost half an hour just to get a table.

I have since grown up, moved to an urban centre in the Northeast, and become a food authenticity snob, but I still have fond memories of that place.
posted by pravit at 7:53 PM on April 9, 2011


There are plenty of reasons to look down on other people, and disliking them or thinking they are rubes or idiots or have bad taste or however you characterize your negative assessment because they eat at the Olive Garden seems like a really shitty thing to focus on.

I don't look down on people who enjoy things I don't like. It's subjective, and I'm sure I like quite a few things you don't, but I can't pretend I think Olive Garden has good food. I've eaten there, and I'm sure I'll be forced to eat there again (or another equally bad chain restaurant). When that happens, I'll either fast or feel like I just watched $20 taken out of my wallet, burned in front of me, and the smoke forced up my nose.

Why get wrapped up in deciding that my not liking what you like is a value judgment about you? It isn't. To trot out the mock-able defense, some of my best friends like Olive Garden.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:54 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't eat at Olive Garden or any other purportedly Italian establishment that mispronounces bruschetta.
posted by emelenjr at 10:54 AM on April 10, 2011


I wonder if the heatedness of feelings here are to do with the author's transgression of one of my mother's often cited rules, which she always said in Latin but the best English version I've heard is "Don't yuck someone else's yum." (Gustibus non est disputandum??)

It's one thing to not care for a particular place, or for a restaurant critic to give a restaurant a fair chance and then a critical or even negative review. But to go set it up as a joke to set out to 'yuck someone else's yum' - ie, not because there was an actual interest in a review of Olive Garden, but for the sake of laughing at how bad it is, well, I can see how that would come off as being in even poorer taste than the food.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:22 AM on April 10, 2011


If you didn't listen to Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me this weekend, you missed this tidbit:

Mr. GROSZ: But how do less desirable European cities cash in on tourist dollars? Well, the mayor Groningen, Holland has found the answer. Groningen is one of those unfortunate industrial towns that had its heyday after World War II but has been slowly decaying ever since. And last month, a Dutch newspaper dubbed it "the ugliest city in Holland."

So Mayor Jon Van Olmen(ph) decided to make it official. "We started advertising that Groningen really is the ugliest city in Holland," said Mayor Van Olmen, "and that people should come and see for themselves just how unattractive our town really is."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROSZ: The few intrepid residents who remained pitched in with the uglification efforts. They put avocado green wall-to-wall shag carpeting in public buildings. They made everyone in town wear light blue denim shirts and dark blue denim pants.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROSZ: All the men grew soul patches and mullets.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GROSZ: And just last week, they opened an Olive Garden franchise.

posted by TedW at 5:59 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


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