“I have not had one meal that was not just perfect”
November 11, 2014 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Alan Martin—"winner" of a pass that permits him to eat as much Olive Garden as he wishes in a 7 week time period—speaks out.

How have you gone about approaching the menu? Do you have a favorite item?
"I love spaghetti and I thought that I was going to be able to eat spaghetti every day, but it has not worked out that way. There are 150 combinations that can be used on the Olive Garden Never-Ending Pasta Pass and I started to try all these different combinations—chicken parmesan and fettuccini mushroom Alfredo, and there’s a mushroom garlic Alfredo. There’s like “three meat” which has salami and sausage in it and that’s very spicy. So I’m trying all these different things and they’re all great. You know, Olive Garden’s got pretty good food.

I’ve eaten 100 meals now and the consistency of the quality of food is fantastic. I have not had one meal that was not just perfect. And in the second or third week I got into the soups and I was mad at myself for not trying those sooner. Chicken gnocchi soup, pasta fagioli soup—those are my two favorites. I enjoyed those immensely.

So do I have a favorite? Spaghetti and meatballs is my favorite. I don’t order it every time. You know, it just depends. It just depends on what kind of mood I’m in!"

Olive Garden Previously: "massive quantities of barely edible fried items"
posted by standardasparagus (155 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Olive blue?
The mefi modern theme?
posted by Valued Customer at 10:05 AM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


I got such a nice feeling from reading that interview! Somehow I don't think that was Salon's intention in writing this up, but he just seems like such an extremely sincere, genial guy. I would like to read more interviews with him about other random topics.

I love giving the food to the homeless man! Delightful!
“Get that Olive Garden bag. It’s got soup, spaghetti and meatballs, everything you need to have a great meal.” And he was so happy, and he took it and he went over and sat out in the woods and started eating that Olive Garden meal.
posted by something something at 10:08 AM on November 11, 2014 [35 favorites]


Hey, if you like that sort of thing, that's the sort of thing you'd like.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:08 AM on November 11, 2014 [20 favorites]


Knowing what we know about nutrition, this is a self-correcting problem.
posted by delfin at 10:11 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


It was surprisingly nice to read an interview with someone who was just sincerely happy about something. I really enjoyed that.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:12 AM on November 11, 2014 [117 favorites]


Maybe I don't know the source well enough to know how we were meant to read this, but honestly he does seem like a pretty likeable, straightforward guy. I enjoyed reading this, and not at all in a mean way.
posted by ominous_paws at 10:15 AM on November 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


He's like the Mr. Rogers of American chain restaurant consumers.
posted by Nelson at 10:18 AM on November 11, 2014 [11 favorites]


This interview has been lightly edited.

The whole time, I couldn't shake the feeling that this is Onion-style satire poking fun at one of the winners of the promotion. I guess I'm still not convinced that it isn't.
posted by jbickers at 10:18 AM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


blue olives?
posted by infini at 10:20 AM on November 11, 2014


I think this man is post-ironic. It's kind of hard to wrap your head around.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 10:20 AM on November 11, 2014 [13 favorites]


The comments on the article (and elsewhere) are not nearly as kind as those I see here so far (mostly... I think?). This man and his treatment in the popular press would be a good accompaniment to that chav piece yesterday, especially the comments that address the tendency for middle class people to self-segregate their perceptions of one another into deserving and undeserving, or worthy/unworthy, or taste-making/tasteless, categories.

De gustibus non est disputandum.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:20 AM on November 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


Goddammit, good for him.
posted by aramaic at 10:21 AM on November 11, 2014 [8 favorites]


I think this man is post-ironic. It's kind of hard to wrap your head around.

He's a pastor of a church in Burlington, NC. I've got family there, and I have to say, he's not post-ironic, he's a-ironic.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:21 AM on November 11, 2014 [37 favorites]


It's so dry that it's impossible to call in the abstract. I mean I think they at very least presenting this as a Heartwarming Oddball story maybe? But there's nothing in the text per se to suggest they're really poking fun at him, unless whatever you bring to it makes it feel obvious to you that they're mocking him.
posted by ominous_paws at 10:21 AM on November 11, 2014


I think we're just a bit dead inside.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:22 AM on November 11, 2014 [22 favorites]


I really want a huge pile of pasta now.
posted by ominous_paws at 10:23 AM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


I like how we all seem to be confused by and uncomfortable with sincerity.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:23 AM on November 11, 2014 [250 favorites]


I feel like on the whole I can cook s better dinner than your average Olive Garden. But if I was trying to feed a family of four on a minister's salary, I'd be all about saving $1,500 on my yearly grocery bill fo' sho'. More power to him.
posted by Diablevert at 10:24 AM on November 11, 2014 [11 favorites]




Pb: I'm English, I don't even understand what the alternative state would be.
posted by ominous_paws at 10:27 AM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


The whole time, I couldn't shake the feeling that this is Onion-style satire poking fun at one of the winners of the promotion. I guess I'm still not convinced that it isn't.

Referring to Salon or the winner? Salon of course has a level of superiority to maintain, which is one reason I don't go there unless directed, but if anyone finds it hard to believe that the gentleman himself is anything other than what he presents himself as being, well, y'all really need to expand your circle of acquaintances.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:30 AM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


As it happens I also can eat at Olive Garden as much as I want for free.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:32 AM on November 11, 2014 [31 favorites]


That was a big event for me. It was one of my goals. I’m at about $1,600 in value and I’ve got four more days to try to get another couple hundred dollars out of the Olive Garden. Right now, I would really love to get to $1,800. If I could say I collected $1,800 in Olive Garden meals, that is big. I don’t know what city you’re in or anything, but in rural North Carolina, that’s a big deal.

Dude doesn't have that much money, does this, saves money. He also gives some food to a homeless guy. I really have no problem with this. If it's between being "ironic" and just being honest about wanting to save some money, I prefer the guy who just wants to save some money.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:32 AM on November 11, 2014 [29 favorites]


I do not wish ill upon the customer himself; he seems like a perfectly nice fellow with plausible reasoning for turning himself into a carbohydrate containment unit.

I just fear that the poor man may die of bland.
posted by delfin at 10:34 AM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I love food and cooking -- 360 days out of the year I enjoy cooking and eating intricate Indian food, silky omelets, fancy cheeses, and delicate, complex soups. But damn it, there's something incredibly comforting about Olive Garden. Yeah, it's not the most healthy or sophisticated -- but it tastes good. They give you a piece of cake on your birthday. You get nice big breadsticks, a hell of a lot of pasta, and some crunchy salad no matter what. There are families all around you enjoying their simple but hearty meal. There's something so nice about that, which this interview gets at.

Yeah, I won't necessarily be proud of eating at Olive Garden, but I'll be damned if I don't enjoy it in the moment.
posted by krakus at 10:36 AM on November 11, 2014 [19 favorites]


This man is an american Dad hero. And I salute him.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:39 AM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


Consider a breadstick greater than which no other can be conceived
posted by thelonius at 10:40 AM on November 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


AHAHAHAHA SOMEBODY LIKES A THING

WHAT A DOUBLE-DINGDONG-BOOBERINO
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:42 AM on November 11, 2014 [59 favorites]


I'm a lifelong resident of a suburb to the suburbs of Chicago (DeKalb, IL) and the locals have been absolutely clamoring for our city to have an Olive Garden for years on end. A deal was struck a few years ago, but fell through.

I've only been to an Olive Garden once, maybe twice-- because usually there's more interesting and unique food to be found when I venture into the suburbs/Chicago. That said, I remember really, REALLY liking the salad dressing, and have been craving it ever since I last had it, maybe 10 years ago. I guess the moral of the story is that if your town doesn't even have an Olive Garden, the status quo looks pretty damn tasty.
posted by Perko at 10:44 AM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I had a sandwich one day.

This man is very easy to relate to.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 10:44 AM on November 11, 2014 [14 favorites]


Wouldn't you get sick eating two meals a day at Olive Garden? Leaving all else aside, I feel sick if I have to have two [vegan, relatively wholesome but not, like, miso and massaged kale] restaurant meals in a day, and I can't imagine eating that much Olive Garden over that long a period.

Frankly, I have never been the type to turn down the occasional plate of really fatty, salty, carby restaurant food, but jeez....this guy should see if he can get into competitive eating somehow.
posted by Frowner at 10:45 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


You don't have to finish every portion, and, er, maybe this is a great time to get seriously into distance running?
posted by ominous_paws at 10:48 AM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]



Wouldn't you get sick eating two meals a day at Olive Garden?

Not necessarily. Like he said, he didn't eat the whole meal each time, and there are some semi-healthy things at Olive Garden, or things that can be made semi-healthy (not putting on dressing, etc).
posted by bearette at 10:48 AM on November 11, 2014


Zuppa Toscana with breadsticks. There's only ever one reason to walk into an Olive Garden without feeling as if you have somehow failed at life, but goddamn if they don't consistently make the best fucking sausage/potatoes/kale soup ever. I'd kill to be able to get it somewhere else.
posted by Ryvar at 10:48 AM on November 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


I guess I need to give the 'ol Olive Garden another go.
The only time i went there was in Gainesville, FL back in 2004.
The pasta was overcooked and the sauce was salty.

Then I saw this huge bug walking across the floor (no one else saw it)

So I vowed never to give the OG my business again. Cause I was grossed out by the food and the bug.

Maybe it's time to rethink this decision.
I hear mostly good things about this place on the blue.

Also, I'm in the mood for some meatballs now.
posted by bitteroldman at 10:48 AM on November 11, 2014


He certainly loves The Olive Garden, bless him.

It seems like, with this interview, they have gotten at least $1,800 worth of sincere, earnest publicity out of this lovely fellow. They should hook him up for way longer than seven weeks - this sort of warm fuzzy is a treasure beyond price, especially to a brand that would do well to focus on comfort and family.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:51 AM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


pofffin boffin: I like how we all seem to be confused by and uncomfortable with sincerity.

It's like the 21st century version of Candid Camera. Here's a perfect set up, a guy who likes $UNHIP_THING and talking about a "contest" where he pays $100 for unlimited UNHIP_PASTA. We're all waiting for Alan Funt in a Guy Fawkes mask to begin LOLing in our general direction.
posted by dr_dank at 10:51 AM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


I just fear that the poor man may die of bland.

Yeah, I'm perfectly comfortable with the idea that he's sincere. My only opinion is that his interest in food appears to stop at "adequate fodder" - just like millions of others who keep restaurant chains like Olive Garden, Red Lobster, etc. in business. Fine, let 'em eat breadsticks, I'm happy staying home and cooking for my own taste buds.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:53 AM on November 11, 2014


And then there's this guy, whose take is, "The worst part was the pasta and how bad I felt after eating it so much."

So there's that.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:56 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't you get sick eating two meals a day at Olive Garden? Leaving all else aside, I feel sick if I have to have two [vegan, relatively wholesome but not, like, miso and massaged kale] restaurant meals in a day

I think you're a massive outlier on the sensitive stomach scale.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:00 AM on November 11, 2014 [27 favorites]


So we're all talking about the same thing here, a guy says he likes eating food and people are all "SOMEBODY IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET" at him?

I mean, if you're going to mock Olive Garden, do it for their "When you're here, you're Family" ads, because to me they always imply that if I eat a never-ending soup and salad lunch, I can order somebody killed.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:02 AM on November 11, 2014 [40 favorites]


It's a little known fact, but besides its use as a class signifier, food is also necessary to provide the body with enough energy and nutrients to sustain life.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 11:03 AM on November 11, 2014 [143 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with Olive Garden per se, at least flavor wise, when the food is cooked according to recipe. It's just not great. Perfectly adequate, which is what chain restaurants do. The food won't offend anybody or light anybody's world on fire, but it also doesn't make you want to retch like some of the worse local places do.

Not everybody is a foodie, after all. Hell, not everybody even likes significant seasoning all up in their face. I happen to disagree, but I know many people who grew up on stuff out of the Campbell's recipe book who feel that way. They are perfectly nice people, for the most part, and most of them will probably outlive me.

And before about 2003, Red Lobster had flavor. And was about the only way to get seafood in much of the country. Not that people should really expect seafood a thousand miles from the nearest ocean.
posted by wierdo at 11:07 AM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with Olive Garden per se, at least flavor wise,

I think that depends on what your tolerance for over-salted food is. If you eat mainly prepared food, it's going to be much higher.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:10 AM on November 11, 2014


I think you're a massive outlier on the sensitive stomach scale.

This tends to change with age. Sort of like how a hangover at the age of 23 isn't as debilitating as a hangover at the age of 43.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:10 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


On one hand, I find the guys enthusiasm and sincerity really heartwarming. On the other, man, that much Olive Garden really can't be good for you.

Salon of course has a level of superiority to maintain
My guess is that Salon went in for the LOL CHAIN RESTAURANT and came out with the feel-good PR puff piece.

Wouldn't you get sick eating two meals a day at Olive Garden?
It probably would make me sick. But I work with a bunch of people who go for lunch at Red Lobster/Roadhouse/Skyline Chili/Mexican food every single day. I could see any of them do seven weeks of Olive Garden with aplomb.
posted by slogger at 11:11 AM on November 11, 2014


Wouldn't you get sick eating two meals a day at Olive Garden? Leaving all else aside, I feel sick if I have to have two [vegan, relatively wholesome but not, like, miso and massaged kale] restaurant meals in a day

I think you're a massive outlier on the sensitive stomach scale.

I'm pretty sure that was satire.
posted by indubitable at 11:13 AM on November 11, 2014


Eh. I'm originally from one of those places where Olive Garden really is about as nice as it gets, and everything else is a chain as well, so it's not any worse than the rest of them. The locals like it; the food is mediocre and unchallenging, but it's not as bad as its reputation would suggest.

I'm glad this guy is enjoying it so much; the crowds at OG would suggest he's far from alone in his appreciation.
posted by skybluepink at 11:14 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


...they always imply that if I eat a never-ending soup and salad lunch, I can order somebody killed.

"When you're here, you're Family...and it would be a real shame if you ever forget that. Capisce?"
posted by malocchio at 11:15 AM on November 11, 2014 [9 favorites]


My Irish Catholic grandmother, who I adored, married a first-generation Italian-American guy, traveled in Europe for the Army after WWII, and spent the rest of her life in and around New York City, and she swore--SWORE--Olive Garden was the best Italian food you could get on this earth. We were baffled, but she would fight you on this. I think the last time I was in a Olive Garden, in fact, was for the lunch we threw her friends after her funeral.

I can't say I share her affinity, but godspeed, Olive Garden Guy, my grandma was good people and she would have happily broken bread(sticks) with you.
posted by jameaterblues at 11:15 AM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


DOUBLE-DINGDONG-BOOBERINO

Sure, post that after I've already paid my $5 and locked myself into a username.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:16 AM on November 11, 2014 [43 favorites]


Some people are food-as-fuel people instead of food-as-fetish people. I am one of those and am often confounded by what I perceive as inane pickiness over something you're going to poop out much of later, so I try not to involve myself in foodie conversations generally. I like this guy and hate artisanal anything. Different strokes. I am amazed at the generally benign reaction to this here.
posted by umberto at 11:22 AM on November 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


I love giving the food to the homeless man! Delightful!
“Get that Olive Garden bag. It’s got soup, spaghetti and meatballs, everything you need to have a great meal.” And he was so happy, and he took it and he went over and sat out in the woods and started eating that Olive Garden meal.


I figured that the homeless guy, upon realizing he had been reduced to eating Olive Garden food would have realized that he had finally hit rock bottom, and resolved to turn his life around.
posted by Teppy at 11:26 AM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


the crowds at OG would suggest he's far from alone in his appreciation.

There is tons of red-sauce Italian around here, ranging from godawful to mediocre, and plenty of more upscale Italian, too, some of which is just as bad as the red-sauce joints, some of which is actually pretty good. Point being, there's no dearth of non-chain Italian available for every price point and taste.

My wife's uncle gave us Olive Garden gift cards for Christmas two years running, and we decided to spend them on some takeout appetizers for a Christmas party. The food was fine--hard to screw up fried cheese, really--but the parking lot and lobby on a Saturday evening were like a war zone. People go absolutely apeshit for Olive Garden.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:26 AM on November 11, 2014


I’m at about $1,600 in value and I’ve got four more days to try to get another couple hundred dollars out of the Olive Garden.

I hope he's tipping the staff according to the menu value of his meals, otherwise he's depriving them of something that's also a big deal in rural NC.
posted by holgate at 11:29 AM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Oh, I totally thought the story would be about Matt, who's a recent college grad working for AmeriCorps. He's actually eligible for federal food assistance and will be using those benefits post Pass, I believe. I haven't read all the blog entries but he seemed like a good dude.
posted by kmz at 11:34 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love this guy! If he's eating a couple portions of this food every day though, he's getting into the neighborhood of Supersize Me. I've had the chicken marsala at Olive Garden and am amazed to see the nutritional content listed as "only" 910 calories and 1,690 mg of sodium. I would bet money that the plate I was served had twice that.
posted by BibiRose at 11:35 AM on November 11, 2014


I figured that the homeless guy, upon realizing he had been reduced to eating Olive Garden food would have realized that he had finally hit rock bottom, and resolved to turn his life around.

I think this kind of reaction is really unhelpful. I mean, I get it, hahaha you don't like Olive Garden and you think eating it is a sign that you have "hit rock bottom" but seriously, it's something a lot of people like. We get the same conversation about McDonald's and KFC and Taco Bell and the thing is that lots of people enjoy eating in these places! I like eating in some of them! This guy is homeless, I don't think that getting a free meal with lots of fats and starches is anything close to a personal low.

I'm sorry if this seems unnecessarily harsh for what might be intended as a throwaway joke, but there always feels like an undercurrent of meanness and classism to these jokes. We get it, you don't like Olive Garden and you think liking it is a sign of some sort of moral failing, but really really a lot of people DO like this kind of food and the kneejerk jokes/I would never eat there/I get sick just looking at a Taco Bell comments are tedious and actually super judgmental and unkind even if they're not intended that way. For a lot of people, going to Olive Garden is a big deal and it feels like a special treat to them, and being a jerk about that is really mean.

I get that you might just feel like you're making a joke, but you're actually telling a very large number of people that they are wrong to enjoy the things they like and that they are stupid and gross and these kinds of jokes and comments really, REALLY rub me the wrong way whenever they are made.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:36 AM on November 11, 2014 [155 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that was satire.

Nope. But you learn something new every day - I really, truly had no idea that there are people for whom two restaurant meals* in a day is completely digesible. I'm not a thin person and I'm no moderate eater when faced with home-cooked food, but even in my young day, one US restaurant meal per day was about all I could handle. (Strangely, when I worked in Shanghai, two restaurant meals was fine - but I think that's because one of them was usually soup and in any case there were a lot fewer preservatives and less fat.)

I really would assume that all the grease and salt and the lack of fiber in Olive Garden food would have made almost anyone sick after a couple of meals....but I see now that I am wrong.

*Let's exclude things that are not totally unlike homemade food - ie, two basically wholesome restaurant salads, or two moderately sized sandwiches with average amounts of cheese/meat/vegetables/mayo/etc; for this purpose "restaurant meal" signifies something meaningfully larger, saltier and fattier than you'd get at home, probably with sides. So if you had, say, a Denny's breakfast with hash browns and pancakes plus an Olive Garden dinner with breadsticks, pasta and salad plus a brown bag lunch, let's say.
posted by Frowner at 11:37 AM on November 11, 2014


(I just want to add - given the way that the conversation has gone - that I have no personal objection to Olive Garden or big restaurant meals full of fat and grease, and indeed, I like a big restaurant meal full of fat and grease now and again. I just literally did not think that an average person could eat a bunch of them in a row and not feel sick.)
posted by Frowner at 11:40 AM on November 11, 2014


It's not the idea of Olive Garden per se that strikes me - I'm sure it's totally fine and serviceable - it's that it took him two or three weeks to even try the soup.

It seems such a normal thing - and yet I know it's not. I took my folks to Montréal, and they're small-kind adventurous eaters (i.e. they'll eat what I cook provided I fess up to what's in it first), and the French style of starting with a soup course was exotic to them. My dad had never even had lentils before, and said it had been decades since he had had soup.

I know the article isn't satire. The majority of people I grew up with could be this guy.
posted by kanewai at 11:43 AM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is one of the things that really pissed me off when Marilyn Haggerty's review of the Grand Forks (ND) Olive Garden went viral a couple of years ago. You take an 88-year old woman from a rural state who's genuinely excited about a new restaurant in her town and then you take the absolute incredulity and mocking of the Internet and the combination is just toxic. Luckily, said 88-year old woman was a good sport about the whole experience and received benefit from it, but man that whole vibe was just so unpleasant.

Admittedly, I still can't believe that Marilyn liked Olive Garden better than the absolutely fantastic (and local!) Mama Maria's but whatever. The mocking was unkind and unbecoming.
posted by librarylis at 11:44 AM on November 11, 2014 [7 favorites]


And my wife, sometimes she eats the Olive Garden salads. She’s eaten Olive Garden salads for about the last six weeks, and she’s lost twelve pounds in six weeks eating the salads. She’s on a low-carb diet. So she’ll eat the salads and I’ll eat the pasta and we all sit down and eat our dinner like a normal family would in America

I couldn't help sadfacing at this a little bit. I hope, at least, that she really likes salads and doesn't care for pasta.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:51 AM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't know what this poor man did to deserve such punishment, but he is truly an American hero!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:54 AM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just literally did not think that an average person could eat a bunch of them in a row and not feel sick.

Dude, did you actually read the piece? Guy says a lot of the time he only has the soup and freezes the main course for later --- says he's got about 30 portions in the freezer, which is about a third of his total. Also says that a lot of the time he's getting gluten-free pasta and/or only eating the protein and toppings, and that he has lots of leftovers. Dude is not chowing down on two lbs of pasta a day.

Plus salt, fat, all that stuff's what you're used to more than anything. There's people who get mildly ill every time the have taco bell and people who eat the stuff every day and twice on Sundays. Or there was that cracked article a while back where that guy was saying how growing up on canned veg as a poor kid made fresh vegetables kind of revolting to him as an adult, even though now he could afford them. Diet's pure habit, I think there's few hard and fast rules about what humans can or can't handle. Some mother in Bhutan right now is rubbing her baby's gums with a pepper that'd make me turn purple and sweat like a buffalo.
posted by Diablevert at 11:54 AM on November 11, 2014 [12 favorites]


It's hard to beat Olive Garden for a quick lunch that you don't have to take to the table yourself. That said, I still can't imagine eating it every day or even two days in a row for that matter. So my hat's off to this gentleman for not only doing that, but enjoying it too.
posted by tommasz at 12:01 PM on November 11, 2014


I don't know what this poor man did to deserve such punishment, but he is truly an American hero!
posted by blue_beetle


That's odd; I expected you to say that since he's not paying for it he's the product being sold.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:26 PM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


The only time i went there was in Gainesville, FL back in 2004.
...
Then I saw this huge bug walking across the floor (no one else saw it)


HA! Bittteroldman, my sister's lived in FL for 30 years, and she says if you DON'T see at least one "palmetto bug" (read giant cockroach) in a restaurant then either the food's crap or your going to be poisoned from the overspray.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:27 PM on November 11, 2014 [12 favorites]


I was going to snark on some quotes from the article but I guess we're doing sincerity here today so I'll just note that "gluten free pasta" does not mean low calorie, or low fat, or full of fiber, or anything at all really, so when he cites that as a reason he's eating there 2-3 times a day and not gaining weight, it made me roll my eyes pretty damn hard.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:32 PM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


Long-awaited Olive Garden receives warm welcome (and you can see the review itself here).

I think Marilyn Hagerty and Alan Martin should get together for lunch or supper at Olive Garden.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:34 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I guess for me it's like when you work at a restaurant. The food may be decent, but after a while it's not nearly as appetizing (I can eat almonds and bananas every day but need variety in prepared food). And a lot of it has to do with how many restaurants depend on Sysco and don't source any of their food locally or even through another distributor. But, hey, I got nothing against people who like it.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:39 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I haven't eaten at Olive Garden since I was in high school (LITERALLY DECADES AGO), but if I won unlimited meals for seven weeks? Hell yes I'd eat all I could, and I'd love it. If nothing else I'd save a small fortune on groceries. "Free" is one of those things (like being on vacation) that magically improves the taste of food.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:41 PM on November 11, 2014 [25 favorites]


I've only been to Olive Garden once. I don't remember what I had but I don't remember it being bad. What I do remember is loving the bread sticks, but trying not to go too crazy with them. I remember thinking that I easily could have eaten twice as many bread sticks no problem. Afterwards I put my food into My Fitness Pal and I had eaten nearly 1,000 calories worth of just breadsticks. I couldn't believe it. I vowed never to return because I knew one of these days I'd eat like a pound of calories worth and I just couldn't handle that level of temptation.
posted by whoaali at 12:46 PM on November 11, 2014


Long-awaited Olive Garden receives warm welcome (and you can see the review itself here).

That was an especially timely FPP for me, because that week at work we had a big conference call with an big deal, expensive consultant. Said consultant happened to live in Grand Forks.

I completely won the small talk game that day.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 12:51 PM on November 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


The only thing I don't really like about Olive Garden is that it's a chain, and you can have the exact same Olive Garden experience just about anywhere in America. I have no problem with the food. I think the food is pretty good and reasonably priced. But Olive Garden makes me sad in the way I'm sad when I see small towns with Starbucks instead of local coffee shops, or shuttered storefronts on Main Street while 2 miles outside town there is a Wal-Mart Supercenter with a full parking lot, or how our shopping malls are now designed to mimic an outdoor, "downtown" shopping experience, but contain the same blend of stores you can find anywhere.

If I felt like restaurant chains like Olive Garden could happily co-exist in perpetuity with independently owned places, I'd be much happier about it, but I feel like Olive Garden is part of a trend I really dislike, in which regional America is slowly being pushed out of existence by a drab, one-size-fits-all corporate America. I'd vastly prefer an America with restaurants and businesses that might not quite have the same evenness of quality and value for one's money as Olive Garden, but at least differ from state to state.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:59 PM on November 11, 2014 [17 favorites]


This is one of the things that really pissed me off when Marilyn Haggerty's review of the Grand Forks (ND) Olive Garden went viral a couple of years ago. You take an 88-year old woman from a rural state who's genuinely excited about a new restaurant in her town and then you take the absolute incredulity and mocking of the Internet and the combination is just toxic.
posted by librarylis


Uhh I was pretty sure she wrote the review damning with faint praise as it were. Maybe I missed it but my understanding was that no one was mocking her. You seem to have a very different interpretation of that even than I did.
posted by Carillon at 1:09 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Pass the pasta faster, said the pastor.
posted by zamboni at 1:16 PM on November 11, 2014 [9 favorites]


I am a first-generation college student. I am from a lower-middle / working class family. Going to Olive Garden, Outback, or Red Lobster was a big deal growing up.

I have since gone to liberal arts college and grad school and now belong to the sort of academic/social class that most people do associate with Whole Foods and trying all sorts of ethnic restaurants. I have greatly enjoyed discovering Indian, and Afghani, and Thai, and Ethiopian food, all of which I only had for the first time in or after high school.

It's still shitty, though, to internalize, and hear from a lot of my peers, that my upbringing and my family is Lesser somehow because of their food choices. It's shitty to feel like I live in two worlds even in the kind of restaurants I would suggest going to with my friends or my family.

(It's not like I lived in the middle of nowhere - I lived 30 minutes from a major city with tons of ethnic food. But my parents never grew up with that food and we barely ever went to "the city". My exposure to ethnic food started with my friend's parents taking me along to go to ethnic restaurants. Her family was a "higher" educational/class background. And bless them for never making it a big deal that OMG, I'd never even had curry before. It probably would have left me clinging to meat n' potatoes even more if I'd felt ridiculed for never having certain things)
posted by nakedmolerats at 1:29 PM on November 11, 2014 [55 favorites]


For $100, I'd buy that deal and I'm not even a fan of OG. I'd be in there the times a day and stopping off at the nearest homeless guy on the way home. For a family on a limited income, this would be a godsend.
posted by arcticseal at 1:40 PM on November 11, 2014


I ate at an Olive Garden for what I realized was the first time over the summer, after six hours of driving, in the middle of Ohio. It was the first solid food I had eaten in days, due to wisdom tooth surgery, and it would remain the best meal I ate for days given that my vegetarian options from there to California* would be things like "fried zucchini slices" and "three inch wide salads." And you know what? It was perfectly fine. My pasta was whole wheat and the sauce had spices in it and look, it was better than literally 99% of the vegetarian pasta I've been served at weddings, galas, and school events. Frankly it was more healthy (giant salad!) and more tasty than some of what I've had at family American-Italian restaurants, if overpriced for what it was. I've lived in Italy. I like Italian food. I seriously don't get the hate for all of the OG's food. I'm glad this guy was so happy with his food.




*Due to time constraints of eating solely at truck stops, not because there isn't tasty food anywhere else!
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:42 PM on November 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


Some of the comments here seem kind of depressingly predictable, and I really appreciated Mrs. Pterodactyl's comment. "Adequate fodder"? This dude is being "punished"? Sniffing at places like Olive Garden feels sort of tired and uninteresting in much the same way that squawking "kill it with fire" at every spider picture on the internet does, with the added bonus of depressing levels of classism and punching down. There's nothing really remarkable about recognizing that Olive Garden isn't haute cuisine.

Alan Martin's un-self-conscious sincerity in this article makes him come across as likable in a way that I think demonstrates that classiness (unfortunate term, sorry) has pretty much nothing to do with whether you'd prefer Olive Garden's spaghetti and meatballs, or hand-crafted heirloom squash ravioli from That Tiny Little Restaurant Down the Street that Only You and 5 Other People Know About. I'd break breadsticks with this guy any day.
posted by DingoMutt at 1:44 PM on November 11, 2014 [9 favorites]


Also for what it's worth I know someone who eats kale now because it was in a chicken dish at Olive Garden, so there we go, the OG is making kale happen across America.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:45 PM on November 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


The town I grew up in (St. Cloud, MN) got a Ciatti's before it got an Olive Garden, but the two are basically the same in my eyes. When it first came, Ciatti's was one of the nicer fancy-dinner-date places in town, aside from like Anton's or D.B. Searle's, both of which were $$$ to Ciatti's $$. It was the first place I ever tried calamari and cannoli and I am still a huge fan of both.
posted by soelo at 1:47 PM on November 11, 2014


Beside the economics of chain restaurants (see MoonOrb's comment), my only problem with Olive Garden is the crowds. I've only been a couple of times to an OG, because invariably they are packed to the gills on any night that I want to go out to eat, with lines out the door and people waiting 45 minutes to an hour to eat there. The food is not stellar, but it's tasty (depending on your palate and preferences, I guess) and reasonably priced. And like nakedmolerats, I grew up as a picky eater on a fairly unadventurous diet, and as a result developed all sorts of social anxieties about food. So, yeah, I'd happily suggest an OG or something of the like to many people I know, except for fear of being laughed out of the room as a philistine.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:50 PM on November 11, 2014


(clarification: My experiences are like nakemolerats' in that I didn't grow up going out to all sorts of "exotic" restaurants but generally more simple, chain restaurants -- the other stuff is just me)
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:52 PM on November 11, 2014


"Adequate fodder"?

I felt like the food that restaurants such as OG served was "just okay" long before I learned what good food tasted like. I don't mean fancy entreés, just decent fresh non-pre-processed fare. My own family was very meat-and-potatoes, and canned overcooked mushy vegetables were all I knew until I met my eventual wife.

My "adequate fodder" comment was a neutral-worded personal opinion, not jumping on a snark bandwagon. Maybe I wasn't clear that I'm not sneering at people who like eating there, just that I'm aware they're a majority and that I'm not one of them.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:59 PM on November 11, 2014


Okay, confession time:

I am an unabashed foodie. Have been for years. We have an absolutely delightful restaurant scene where I'm at, with nationally acclaimed chefs. We've got fantastic upscale restaurants, fantastic holes-in-the-wall restaurants, wonderful chain groceries, and equally wonderful tiny little "ethnic" groceries. Just last night, I worked late so on my way home I stopped by a little Korean place not far from my house get some bi bim bap to go. I've even turned members of my family into minor foodies.

But dadgumit, sometimes nothing scratches that itch like a chain restaurant. Taco Bell and Steak 'n Shake are my go-to places for late-night cravings (those milkshakes, oh Lordy). I love Dairy Queen's shakes and that damned 1,250 calorie 6-pc chicken basket (which I only have about once a year, because oh Lordy). I like McDonald's salads! I like Wendy's baked potatoes, especially with their chili dumped on top! I like Burger King's fish sandwiches and onion rings! I even like the Prime Steak Double Burger at Rally's!

I do prefer to give my money to the local diners, holes-in-the-wall, and bistros because I feel like I'm getting a better bang for my buck. But there's no harm in admitting that sometimes? These places do what they do well. Their menu fits your mood, your at-the-moment craving, your ability to order online, your time frame, and your wallet.

So I say let this guy can rock on with his bad self! I'm glad he and his family enjoyed his $100 Olive Garden pass.
posted by magstheaxe at 2:01 PM on November 11, 2014 [15 favorites]


I love Olive Garden's salad and minestrone soup enough that I am way envious of this guy. Yay for him, and yay for him sharing his prize with others.
posted by Hermione Granger at 2:09 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


I like McDonald's salads!

I used to like them. Maybe Grant can explain why they stopped offering the Caesar salad. That was the good one.
posted by asperity at 2:24 PM on November 11, 2014


Is their a term similar to "Phyrric victory" but which refers to the devastating cost of the spoils rather than the quest?
posted by bz at 3:00 PM on November 11, 2014


Please think twice before using the term "ethnic food" to mean "regional food from areas where non-white people live." All food is ethnic food. The idea that Indian food is ethnic in a way that Italian food is not ethnic is rooted in racist ideas about ethnicity: white people are the default and different from the ethnic others.
posted by medusa at 3:22 PM on November 11, 2014 [11 favorites]


I can sort of relate to this guy.

After four years of collecting stickers on a card (I didn't go too often because they were only okay), I finally had the one-month pass for the local ramen shop chain. For each of the next 30 days, I'd get a discount equal to the standard ramen.

Luckily, I worked from home and lived about 10 minutes' walk from the place at the time, and it was February or something. Prime ramen season.

I only missed five or six days out of that month, and it was a pretty cheap month for lunches, but I have been back literally once, ever, since that month (and that was for their cold noodles in the summer).
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:22 PM on November 11, 2014


I work in a field where eating lunch from a restaurant -- or restaurant caliber catered food -- every day is normal. Because of this I rarely eat out for dinner, though there have definitely been nights I've picked up fast food or hit up a taco truck following a restaurant lunch, just because of time constraints. Tonight will probably even be one of those nights. It's... fine. I've put on weight since college because of this, and you definitely have to learn to make it work for you. But I'm not dead or anything.

I personally don't enjoy Olive Garden, but you know, more power to this guy if he does.

It's also interesting to me that it turns out one of these free Olive Garden meals ends up feeding a family of four.
posted by Sara C. at 3:24 PM on November 11, 2014


Oh man, Medusa, it's actually even worse than that here in Japan. "Ethnic" is used as a loan word to describe pretty much any non-first-world brown-people aesthetic for fashion (particularly South Asia and Latin America). It's like the loan word came with the culturally myopic assumptions already built in.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:25 PM on November 11, 2014


This man and his treatment in the popular press would be a good accompaniment to that chav piece yesterday, especially the comments that address the tendency for middle class people to self-segregate their perceptions of one another into deserving and undeserving, or worthy/unworthy, or taste-making/tasteless, categories.

Yes. Ms Pterodactyl said it well, but a lot of the snark here reads to me as not just mean-spirited, but also a very particular kind of intra-class boundary policing. It's great that you are this kind of middle class person instead of that kind, but it's totally possible to communicate that in a non-mean-spirited way.

Wouldn't you get sick eating two meals a day at Olive Garden? ... I like a big restaurant meal full of fat and grease now and again. I just literally did not think that an average person could eat a bunch of them in a row and not feel sick.

Do you only hang out with people very like yourself? Because there's nothing wrong with having a delicate stomach, but normal, regular, Metafilter-reading people routinely eat not just two but sometimes three restaurant meals in a day. I and all my coworkers did so on a work trip just the other week, and people pay quite a lot for exactly that kind of dining experience when they go to Vegas or stay at beach resorts in tropical places.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:32 PM on November 11, 2014


It's interesting that this reads like a pitch-perfect Onion piece. I think it's the pattern of sincere enjoyment of the common, spoken as if the experience is rare, which, when played for satire, reinforces that chains are so bland and evil, man.

I don't have much more to add other than the voice of sincerity is the vehicle of mockery for one's preference for the wrong food, which is an interesting creative choice, albeit a sad one. Articles like this remind me that NASCAR is the most popular sport in America, and I can puff up about the associated politics and what it all means... but it just reinforces that I'm out of touch with the mainstream, and some people love watching race cars drive fast. People like what they like, and that's cool.

I was so happy reading this because a man found something that makes him happy in so many ways, and he helped other people be happy too. That is rare.
posted by Turkey Glue at 3:46 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Normal, regular, Metafilter-reading people routinely eat not just two but sometimes three restaurant meals in a day. I and all my coworkers did so on a work trip just the other week

My experiences of this on work trips is that it starts out being "whooo yeah NEW RESTAURANT EVERY DAY" but after about five days it starts to transition to "oh god I wish I could stay home and make a sandwich."

I'm *not* delicate-stomached, but enough days in a row of only restaurant food and I become sated and sick of it; rich and salty and fatty and too much of it. There've been trips where I would almost kill for just a simple homemade salad.

(But yes, Alex's enthusiasm is very charming.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:52 PM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


The reason I disapprove of chain restaurants is the reason I disapprove of most big chains. They run family-owned restaurants out of business, which to me is especially heinous because opening a restaurant was one way that recent immigrants could actually leverage their foreign background to make a comfortable living. And the last time I did a roadtrip I do pretty regularly, all the little mom and pop diners there used to be along the highway had been replaced by Cracker Barrels and fast food places. And I mean ALL of them for hundreds of miles, along a stretch where you used to be able to get tamales and green chili at just about any exit.

I don't morally judge people who eat at chain restaurants or anything. I eat at chains sometimes too, and I mean Taco Bell and things like that. But I'm also not going to pretend that mass produced consumer products are just as good as anything else. They are not. I don't think it's a huge insult to point out that middle of the road inoffensive type of food you get in a national chain is generally bland and poor quality, and that people who think that is genuinely good food probably don't have very refined tastes. That doesn't mean that those people are bad, stupid, evil, or even unwise for appreciating it, or that people with more sophisticated tastes are better than them, though. Everyone has different things they understand and appreciate. Everyone is a snob of something and a goober of something else. It's not a moral judgment to acknowledge that people's opinions are weighted differently on different topics.

I like that guy. I don't think he's stupid or bad, and I think it's great that he won that pass and enjoyed it and had fun because he sounds like a really nice guy. I don't think his lack of culinary sophistication reflects on anything else about him as a person. He just doesn't know very much about food. I don't know very much about public speaking or raising a bunch of kids. (That was pretty much all I could glean from that article, but I'm sure he knows a lot about a lot of things I don't.)

BTW, I've been to Olive Garden, and I didn't think it was very good but I also didn't totally hate anything really except for the breadsticks so everybody fight me now!
posted by ernielundquist at 3:59 PM on November 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


Articles like this remind me that NASCAR is the most popular sport in America

I don't know. This doesn't feel like a "hurf durf the lower classes amirite" but just that there still exist people in the West in 2014 who are this sincere and easily pleased. Like, the dude is in awe of the fact that soup exists. He thinks Italian sausage is spicy/exotic/not something he is interested in trying again. It's not so much a culture wars thing as just how simple life still is for some people. It feels kind of perverse to make fun of this guy, even though he and I could not disagree more about anything, ever.
posted by Sara C. at 4:17 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sara C.: "This doesn't feel like a "hurf durf the lower classes amirite"

The article doesn't quite feel like that, or at last not necessarily, but some of the comments here certainly do.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:24 PM on November 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


Eh. Every time I find myself in an Olive Garden or Applebee's or Chili's or whatever (either because I'm traveling and am too tired to suss out an interesting local place, or because Family), I remind myself that this restaurant I'm in right now? This restaurant is someone's very favorite restaurant. And you know? *shrugs* That's okay. Good for them. Some of them would hate my own favorite restaurant, and that's okay too.

And good for this guy. He's got a great story about a really interesting six-week period in his life, and he's got some souvenir food in the freezer, and I think that's pretty cool.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:44 PM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


It seems like Olive Garden rolled the dice on 1000 people, and hit the jackpot with this guy. They should pay him for his outspoken enthusiasm for their product.
posted by graventy at 4:45 PM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


He seems kind of born to be an Olive Garden "influencer". Small town Protestant minister in the South. Likes simple food. Family oriented. Budget conscious. I mean honestly there's a very cynical part of me that thinks this is PR voodoo and they managed to get this dude to spout specific Olive Garden talking points, without somehow compromising his Just Folks/Aww Shucks vibe.
posted by Sara C. at 4:50 PM on November 11, 2014


Please think twice before using the term "ethnic food" to mean "regional food from areas where non-white people live." All food is ethnic food. The idea that Indian food is ethnic in a way that Italian food is not ethnic is rooted in racist ideas about ethnicity: white people are the default and different from the ethnic others.
posted by medusa at 6:22 PM on November 11


Oh, as a black foodie, I'm entirely aware of the connotations of the term "ethnic" when referring to restaurants and groceries as a group.

IRL, I use terms like "mexican grocery", "vietnamese grocery", and "halal grocery" when speaking about them individually. And I actually refer to our local Italian grocery as an "ethnic" grocery. But I use "ethnic groceries" , because to my knowledge there's no other term in wide use yet, and it's just too awkward to repeatedly say/write "groceries featuring regional food from areas where non-white people live."

Is there a better, agreed-upon term being used by foodies? "International groceries" was out there for a while, but the term sounded like all the groceries were handling duty-free goods, or something.
posted by magstheaxe at 5:01 PM on November 11, 2014 [21 favorites]


There was a Cracked article a while back entitled something like "How Growing Up Poor Affects Your Eating Habits." I can't claim I was poor poor, but growing up in rural America in the 70s certainly had its effect. Or more acutely, it was the food my parents put in front of me to eat. What's the opposite of a foodie? That's my parents, the opposite of foodies. Fried, starch, carbs, TV dinners, fast food, etc. That's what I grew up eating.

Olive Garden does not gross me out. It does not make me roll my eyes and make snide comments. Now that I'm older, though, my tastes have refined quite a bit since my youth, but I still have my redneck-lizard-brain love of all that grease and fat and starch. I've only eaten at OG a few times (many years ago), and all I remember was the side dish of wine-marinated mushrooms were fucking great.

As for this $100 promotion...it seems really good for the economics of it alone. A hundred bucks for upwards of 100+ meals? So that's like a dollar a meal. So goddamn cheap! So the the poor person in me says hell yes. Then again, it's all carbs and carbs and carbs. Pasta. Which is why OG is doing this promotion, it's cheap to make pasta. If it could be balanced with a LOT of veggies, it would be worth it but if it's just pasta...

Then again again, I'm in training for a half-marathon, and pasta and carbs is kinda sorta good for me, at least on days before I run. But then again, all that pasta would make me sick of pasta. I guess I'm pretty torn.
posted by zardoz at 5:05 PM on November 11, 2014


There's something oddly Biblical about a pastor starting with $100 and using it to feed a family of 4 (and a few homeless people) for 7 weeks, and still having leftovers in the freezer.
posted by drlith at 6:16 PM on November 11, 2014 [22 favorites]


It's still shitty, though, to internalize, and hear from a lot of my peers, that my upbringing and my family is Lesser somehow because of their food choices. It's shitty to feel like I live in two worlds even in the kind of restaurants I would suggest going to with my friends or my family.

Ready for some irony? I grew up in the Midwest, and we raised most of our own food. We'd buy a quarter cow at the fair, slaughter and freeze chickens in the summer, and eat veggies straight from the garden all summer, and their canned brethren all winter.

It was the ultimate "farm to table" organic ideal, yeah? And yet I bet those farmers wouldn't recognize anything at our expensive (and really good) farm-to-table restaurants in the city. A big night out was the local diner, Big Boy's, Denny's, or Chili's.

It's a strange disconnect. But let your peers sneer all they want. I can assure you the country people are capable of sneering right back.

With that: I really can't stand the big chains myself anymore, and it kills me when old friends visit Honolulu and want to go to fucking Red Lobster for fish. Though I guess OG is on the more palatable side of things.
posted by kanewai at 7:13 PM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


> My "adequate fodder" comment was a neutral-worded personal opinion

"Fodder" is used primarily as a term for animal feed. It isn't neutral.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:42 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Meh, fine, "vittles" then.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:51 PM on November 11, 2014


Uhh I was pretty sure she wrote the review damning with faint praise as it were. Maybe I missed it but my understanding was that no one was mocking her. You seem to have a very different interpretation of that even than I did.

Oh hey Carillon, we probably do have a different interpretation of the event. In my case, it was that I lived in Grand Forks at the time and people who knew that fact about me were super dismissive of Marilyn Hagerty in a grossly condescending kind of way--and expected me to chime in. Also I later checked in with a colleague and apparently Marilyn Hagerty was in fact genuinely impressed with Olive Garden (not just praising the decor or what have you). All in all, it was just a really weird event and showed an unpleasant side of people I barely knew.

In terms of this guy, I admit to having the same 'isn't he shilling for Olive Garden?' but as I kept reading I changed my mind. Dude just really likes OG.

It's been a long time since I last ate there (I'd genuinely rather eat local for the same price), but it's pretty good Italian food and clearly this pastor likes it so I hope Olive Garden *does* reward the guy with more free food. Clearly a match made in heaven. Er, so to speak.
posted by librarylis at 7:57 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


No, I take that back, "fodder" is what I meant - in the sense of "utilitarian foodstuffs meant for expedient refueling of the human body", as opposed to "a dining experience to fill the stomach AND delight the palate".
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:59 PM on November 11, 2014


I don't know, really? Olive Garden isn't what I'd pick given the many options that exist in my city (or even in my exurban hometown), but it's not really on the level of "utilitarian foodstuffs". It's got nothing on sad hospital cafeteria food, for example. Or Panda Express.
posted by Sara C. at 8:09 PM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Articles like this remind me that NASCAR is the most popular sport in America

It's football by a huge margin. Racing is fourth, it's about as niche as hockey.

If you meant by attendance, it's baseball.
posted by imabanana at 8:46 PM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


"But dadgumit, sometimes nothing scratches that itch like a chain restaurant."

I also get tired of hearing bitching about Olive Garden. Really, can't we all sometimes enjoy fast food or Olive Garden or that charming little whatever local place or the fucking French Laundry, all with one stomach?
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:17 PM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


sad hospital cafeteria food, for example. Or Panda Express.

Personally I wouldn't classify either of those as "food"....
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:42 PM on November 11, 2014


As seen on metafilter: "So Basic"
posted by anthill at 9:46 PM on November 11, 2014


Wow.

I live in Australia, where there is no Olive Garden. A hundred bucks gets you about 6 filling meals in my city if you're lucky, from anywhere that isn't the McDonalds drive-thru. Therefore, unless this Olive Garden food is literally, like, deep-fried wood-chips, I'd be grinning about this deal too.
posted by Salamander at 10:29 PM on November 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


Salamander: "deep-fried wood-chips"

Make those artisanal and local-sourced, and you've got the next hipster foodie fad.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:16 PM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I grew up on a farm, lowincomed conservatives with family values who didn't drink, didn't swear and with clean counters and Americana versions of the manger scenes, this guy sounds pretty much exactly like my pastor. I remember going out to eat with his family and my family for my dads birthday, every year, Dairy Queen's ice cream cake. I remember going to Taco Bell on Sunday after church because mom and dad would get to spend a little more time together before dad went out to the barn instead of mom just cooking, but even then it was a treat. (I remember when guacamole was a disgusting green slime. I literally didn't see an avocado until Australia, age 19.) We didn't have that much money.

Sometimes if we were lucky we'd go to Arbie's, if they had 5 for 5.
If we were really lucky we'd go to Red Lobster, usually if they had all you can eat shrimp.

I remember hanging out in Waffle House, the only place that didn't kick us out after 9.
I remember Steak n' Shake after dressing up with 15 people to watch Pirates of the Caribbean and paying with a chest of loot for both the movie and the meal.

I mean, sure, then I turned 18, worked and hitched my way across Europe, Asia and Australia in 9 months and my tastes changed. Then I moved to the West Coast and realized that people still ate food like in Redwall, but, when I went home and made my parents 8 course meals for Christmas they really couldn't tell the difference much. Soy-Caramelized Roasted Chestnuts didn't appeal to them. They prefer the restaurants, mostly because of thrift, but partially because that's just how food tastes to them.

I mean, I got homesick yesterday and went to IHOP because I missed the way fake maple syrup on margarine tastes.
It may not be haut cuisine, but it is a part of my culture, and I suppose Midwestern US American culture writ large. It feels disingenuous to say otherwise. There is a really specific taste to food made in chain's and even in just the Midwest in general seemed to have the same flavor. I don't like it much nowadays, but I do get a hankering for it every now and then.

Any culture at all is important if you have attached meaningful experiences to it.
posted by burntbook at 12:41 AM on November 12, 2014 [10 favorites]


And lo, the new phrase "chainshame" was born.
posted by dr_dank at 4:49 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


This happened a while back but I was reminded of it when I read this (great) article and thread. I've never been to Olive Garden, but I expect it's not too different from Pizza Express - you know what you're getting.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:04 AM on November 12, 2014


Maybe my kids have nibbled me out of about five.
Oh God, I love this phrasing. It's like his children are adorable mice!
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:00 AM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


"Local Man Has Authentic Reaction to Inauthentic Italian Food, Confuses Internet"

I can't hate on people enjoying chain food, but I can blame advertisers and chain corporations for making me distrust the people, the food, and this story.
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:57 AM on November 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


Steak 'n Shake

yesss.......even better than Zesto's
posted by thelonius at 7:01 AM on November 12, 2014


So I guess if you think of food as fuel it's 'fodder' and you're little more than an animal; and if you're seeking to constantly 'delight your palate' you are superior in some way and not someone just masturbating their tastebuds constantly?

Your taste in stuff -be it movies, books, or food- imbue you with nothing more than opinions.
posted by umberto at 7:10 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I can't hate on people enjoying chain food, but I can blame advertisers and chain corporations for making me distrust the people, the food, and this story.

Yes. Seconded.

Look, I know I come across as a foodie snob if you look at some grumbling I've done about Olive Garden in the past. But my grumbling is more about the advertisers trying to sell it as something that it isn't, which is "authentic Italian cuisine" which would exactly match something you'd find in a little trattoria in Venice or something. Sell it for what it is, which is quick, cheap, fairly decent Italian-American food (and yes, there is a difference) which may not necessarily be the fine-dining-with-candlelight experience but is perfect if you want a quick cheap meal that's better than McDonald's.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:19 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


For those who wonder how someone can eat that food over and over without getting sick, I can attest that the ability to do it varies widely. I am in my forties now and feel overfull after a restaurant sandwich and fries, but here's my story from my twenties:

I had graduated from college and got a job as assistant manager at Little Caesar's pizza (yuck, right?) while I was playing in bands/had 3 roommates etc. I would go in in the morning and make the dough and make myself a small pizza to eat. At lunch I would make another pizza. When I got off work I would make a medium pizza and take that home with a giant soda and eat most of the pizza, sometimes the whole pizza. I did this 5 days a week for at least 4 months straight. 3 meals of Little Caesar's pretty much every day. I did not gain any weight, get sick or die. I have no idea how that's possible. I just remember that my roommates said my sweat smelled like pizza, but I was so excited by free food (and so poor) that I couldn't stop.

Also as a kid I was so picky I hated pizza until about age 12. Go figure.
posted by freecellwizard at 7:20 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Magstheaxe:

You've just made me miss Louisville tremendously. I left 3 years ago, after decades living in Louisville, and am now in the UK and can't wait to visit next month (and you should stop reading this now, and get thee to Vietnam Kitchen for some mock duck and beans, or to Flanagan's for a burger with beer cheese!). And I agree; some cravings can only be handled by a chain. When I moved to the middle of nowhere, I lost the ability to eat at an endless number of amazing non-chain places. For a while, I was very distraught, and could not please my palate. Then, after some time and some prodding by my less-picky SO, I (re)discovered the joys of chain restaurants. Mcdonald's breakfast at 5am when leaving for a long road trip? Nothing better. Cook Out fries at 2am while in grad school? Perfect! Shitty Subway sandwich when you're busy during lunch? Delicious!

When I didn't want to cook, and we needed a place to eat dinner and have some semblance of a nice--or even romantic--evening while living in Fucking Nowhere, Olive Garden was a godsend. Cloth napkins! Wine, or even sangria!! Before moving, I shunned places like Olive Garden, and made snide comments to myself about people who eat there. After some time with less options, though, I learned of its charms.

And now, living in England, I actually find myself missing Olive Garden. I envy this nice man, and his 7 weeks of simple carbohydrate bliss, with huge servings of salad.
posted by still bill at 8:40 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Also as a kid I was so picky I hated pizza until about age 12. Go figure.

I suddenly feel like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:11 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I like how we all seem to be confused by and uncomfortable with sincerity.

This comment made me think of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel The Idiot.
posted by WalkingAround at 9:36 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


So I guess if you think of food as fuel it's 'fodder' and you're little more than an animal; and if you're seeking to constantly 'delight your palate' you are superior in some way and not someone just masturbating their tastebuds constantly?

Sure, if you're bound and determined to twist/misinterpret my comments, in which case there's really nothing more I can say.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:46 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


ernielundquist: Maybe I've just lived and worked in unusual places all my life, but I have never been to a place where chain restaurants ran all the good local places out of business. Maybe they do have that effect at the highway exits, but venture into town a bit and any place with more than a thousand people has at least a couple of local places to grab a bite.
posted by wierdo at 9:56 AM on November 12, 2014


Look, I know I come across as a foodie snob if you look at some grumbling I've done about Olive Garden in the past. But my grumbling is more about the advertisers trying to sell it as something that it isn't, which is "authentic Italian cuisine" which would exactly match something you'd find in a little trattoria in Venice or something

I'm not at all a fan of the proliferation of chain restaurants, having less to do with the quality of the food as much as I don't like the homogenization of the overall consumer experience to where you could plop me in the middle of Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Seattle or Orlando and I would barely know where I was if not for the difference in weather, since it would be difficult for me to differentiate one Olive Garden, Applebees, Panda Express, Macaroni Grill, TGIFridays, Red Lobster, Chili's, Red Robin, etc. from another (not to mention all the non-food chains like Best Buy, Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, Petco, etc., which seem to be in every city in the country).

But in the interest of fairness, I think Olive Garden is oddly held up to more scrutiny than it deserves. I've watched my share of Olive Garden commercials and don't recall any which suggest that dinner at the Olive Garden is literally no different than eating dinner in the heart of Venice (maybe there's one I've missed?). While I try to patronize local establishments whenever possible, the fetishization of "mom and pops" with the idea that the food is somehow more "authentic" as a result of not coming from a chain is itself something of a fallacy. I live around the corner from a locally owned "hole in the wall" Mexican joint which I eat at frequently (probably part of the reason I've gained 20 pounds since I moved to this neighborhood), but I am under no illusion that the food I get there is somehow more representative of what the average family dinner in Mexico City is like than a chain like El Torito. My family eats frequently at the classic checkered table cloth Italian restaurant by us, and I feel good about myself for supporting a local business, but it would not surprise me at all to discover that many of their ingredients are supplied by the same Sysco truck who supplies the neighborhood Olive Garden.

Between this and the Taylor Swift thread, it is really interesting to me how so many people seem to define themselves by their tastes, and how important it is for some people to advertise that they know what the "right" and "wrong" food to eat, music to listen to is, to prove they aren't rubes.
posted by The Gooch at 10:35 AM on November 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


A Paul Fussell classic.

You can't say it because it doesn't exist but it shows its existence anyway yet isn't supposed to thus the contortions of surreality experienced in circumlocutory conversations such as these.
posted by infini at 11:04 AM on November 12, 2014


Another interview with a Pasta Pass alum, this time a recent graduate currently serving a year with Americorps' VISTA program. His numbers looked like this:
The pasta pass garnered me seven weeks of Olive Garden. I redeemed the pass at least 35 times. Monetarily speaking, I ordered over four times the value of the pass in that time. I don’t have an exact count due to leftovers and the like, which sometimes trickled into weekends, but I can say that approximately 70 meals were provided by Olive Garden in this span. That comes out to approximately $1.43 per meal—better than I would have done had I shopped for myself (without SNAP benefits, that is).
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:25 PM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've watched my share of Olive Garden commercials and don't recall any which suggest that dinner at the Olive Garden is literally no different than eating dinner in the heart of Venice (maybe there's one I've missed?).

There's one I saw that claimed one of their recipes was something developed at an actual castle in Tuscany or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:10 PM on November 12, 2014


wierdo: I've never lived or worked anywhere where chains put all the good local places out of business, either.

But for a lot of small towns situated along highways, a big part of their local economy it would seem comes from people stopping on their way to somewhere else. Once upon a time, the pattern, depending on size, would be that there'd be one locally owned place serving short order breakfasts, sandwiches, and some local cuisine, and if it was a little bigger, they'd maybe have a McDonald's or something for people who were just looking to throw something predictable into their bellies. And I know how to find local restaurants when I have the time and energy, but people with the time and energy to hunt down local businesses serving local cuisines make up a pretty tiny minority of those driving past those towns on the highway.

Which leads me to one of my other, overarching complaints, which is the creeping homogenization. Yes, there's always been a market for people who just want to put something in their bellies, especially with travelers, but there has also always been a market for regional cuisines and variety. And one of the great things for me about road trips is local foods. If I'm driving to New Mexico, I want green chili, not biscuits and gravy. Big chains go for the lowest common denominator* and appeal to the near universal flavor profiles of fatty, salty, and sweet. Almost everyone is OK with those, at least in a pinch. Once you get into other territories--bitter, spicy, pungent--your audience gets smaller. Those are learned preferences, and learned preferences are a big part of regional variations.

And those regional variations are awesome and amazing and worth preserving.

I mean, yes, there are and always have been people who were born and raised in areas where their regional cuisines are more closely aligned with the cuisines that have been appropriated for mass consumption, particularly in the midwest and southern regions, so for some subset of Americans, I guess those types of foods are simple working class food for simple working class families.

But not all working class people grew up in those regions and cultures. Wealthy hipster foodies didn't invent regional cuisines. Those were, and are, created by poor and working class people, and those are the types of people that most big chain restaurants are competing against and many here seem to be scoffing at. Not cooking school hipsters, but family restaurants with mom and dad cooking in the back.

This generic, bland amalgam of inoffensive food is not some sort of Simple Platonic American Cooking, because not everyone grew up as a white person in the southern or midwest states. Where I live, the poor and working classes eat chilaquiles or noodles for breakfast, and the assumption that non-midwestern style cuisines are exotic or some kind of hipster affectations is pretty xenophobic, and dismissive of a huge swath of US communities and cultures.

So am I a loathsome hipster foody because I'm white but didn't grow up on midwestern food, or just one or the other? Because I probably am kind of a foodie, but I developed my tastes by exploring and appreciating local, working class restaurants (AKA "holes in the wall," according to people who drive to get there), some of which specialized in things I didn't grow up eating as a kid. But even as a kid, while I grew up eating a fairly unimaginative American diet, I guess, it wasn't this giant slabs o' meat, cream sauces, cheese on everything version I see in many big chain restaurants. I honestly don't know where that specific cuisine came from, but I've only ever seen it in mid-to-upper middle class chain restaurants, not from any real working class cuisine I've seen anywhere I've lived.

Why is this being treated as though it's the default? Why is it worse to express distaste for that than it is to express distaste for other people's diets? (In a way, it almost seems like that particular variety of food is actually rooted in a distaste for other cuisines--like it's sort of like [ethnicity] food, but without the weird stuff.)

* I really don't like that analogy, but you know what I mean.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:11 PM on November 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


don't recall any which suggest that dinner at the Olive Garden is literally no different than eating dinner in the heart of Venice

They have this one long-running commercial where they posit some kind of Olive Garden Culinary Academy which is theoretically located in Tuscany. I mean the whole notion of that as a real thing is laughable, but it is a ridiculously implausible claim to authenticity that is easily debunked.
posted by Sara C. at 1:15 PM on November 12, 2014


Is this the thread where I admit I really really like Arby's? I don't understand all the jokes about Arby's on The Simpsons or The Daily Show. I'm really bummed the only convenient location in NYC closed down a few years ago. DAMN YOU JC PENNEY!

When I went on a roadtrip for my honeymoon, I made sure to eat at as many Arby's as possible, and godammit it was great.
posted by yeti at 1:56 PM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'll never understand MetaFilter's hate-on for Olive Garden. I rarely go there, or to chain restaurants in general – but as chain restaurants go, Olive Garden really isn't that bad.

(Then again, on the rare occasions that I do go, I usually stick to simple, cheap, un-fuckuppable things like salad, minestrone, and fettucine alfredo. I wouldn't be surprised if they do more poorly with dishes that require, like, very fresh ingredients or skilled kitchen staff. I probably wouldn't order seafood there.)

No, it's not "authentic" Italian (if that even means anything). No, it's not fine dining. It's just a restaurant. A cheesy, corporate restaurant, to be sure – but I don't get why it's singled out as a particularly egregious example of the genre.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:02 PM on November 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


Steak 'n Shake

yesss.......even better than Zesto's


They just opened a Steak n' Shake by my house in Santa Monica and I've eaten there twice (the second time because I had a thing for a free burger) and holy moly the burgers were so salty. I don't know if that's a regional taste that isn't translating well or a heavy hand at a new store in a new region, but it's too bad because I won't be going back.

Even without the salt issue I'm always going to be an In-N-Out devotee, but otherwise it would be a good deal for under $5. (The burger comes with very good, very skinny fries.)

I don't know from Zesto's so I can't compare.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:00 PM on November 12, 2014


A cheesy, corporate restaurant, to be sure

And it's the particular subject of the thread, so it's bound to be mentioned rather a lot.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:15 PM on November 12, 2014


I think escape from the potato planet's point was more about the pervasive anti-Olive Garden attitude that's common on MeFi, not so much about this particular thread. (And that attitude exists. I don't think it's realistic to pretend it doesn't.)
posted by Lexica at 8:52 PM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


While I try to patronize local establishments whenever possible, the fetishization of "mom and pops" with the idea that the food is somehow more "authentic" as a result of not coming from a chain is itself something of a fallacy.

It's interesting, because on the one hand there's the "OG is serviceable fodder" criticism, and on the other hand, the "OG is driving small-town mom-and-pop restaurants out of business." I mean, maybe it's different in other parts of the country, but I've eaten in a lot of small-town midwestern/southern/mid-Atlantic/Pennsyltucky restaurants over the decades, and they tend to serve extremely predictable, often mediocre renditions of comfort food, with your fried chicken and burgers being made up fresh but most everything else coming in frozen in bags or boxes or #10 cans, and offers precisely the same salt/fat/sweet palate that OG is getting trashed for. I don't feel any particular rancor toward small-town restaurants, but it's also pretty rare IMHO to find one that's offering up some sort of awesome "regional cuisine." I am reminded, here, of the sad experience of the Amish "all out can eat" smorgasbords where you wind up not eating all that much because there's only so much bog-standard meatloaf, mashed potatoes, iceberg lettuce and plain steamed green beans a person can take.
posted by drlith at 9:39 PM on November 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


ernielundquist:
Something my father and grandfather always talked about is the destruction of the local candy store, the local bank, and the local general store in the small town closest to were I grew up. They talked about how the community was destroyed and how all the small businesses closed down.

I just got to grow up in the tail end of it and the empty strip malls next to all the chain restaurants. A part of my development as an adolescent was hating on chains and the reason I moved to WA was literally 1) They had tree's, and 2) Coffee. Those two things equaled culture to me. I wanted what MFK Fischer talked about, what Walden referenced and some Jack London mixed in.

I don't think for me it's about saying that it isn't bad or good, but just acknowledging that to some people, it is truly meaningful and that it is local culture. Part of culture is how you pick and choose your historical autobiographical narratives, how you create your personal story. Even if it isn't the most ideal story, there are really good ways to help people see their personal stories in new ways, which changes what they are even able to perceive.

I honestly think that a lot of people in the Midwest do miss the way things used to be, which is why Fundamentalism is so popular, they just don't really see a way out, it's been too long since anyone but advertisers visited. I know I left for a reason, and I know people like me left for a reason. My parents love a lot of the idea's that I tell them, and they have been supporting more and more local businesses as they grow older.

It's a slow process for a lot of people to realize that their culture exists how it exists because of the depredations of late post-20th CE industrial culture and the propaganda of mainstream consumerism, because the other viable options take years and lots of human hours to develop.

The other side of this is actually hidden in an off hand comment of the pastor, the little ladies who fed him.
The huge all church potlucks are amazing leftovers of the culture that was, where people bring in some goshdarn fantastic food that is closer to my childhoods definition of regional cuisine, but its the kind of weird stuff that relies on Ritz Crackers or pretzels or Jell-o or ramen noodles used as a cold pasta salad. 15 flavors of pie that are all variations on milk, eggs and sugar, as well as the more traditional fruit pies.

It was all kind of a hodgepodge, and I didn't understand it very well for a long time. It was a confusing mix of fast tracked psychological manipulation from NY or the West Coast, thrown violently into a culture that never had the chance to recover.
On top of that there is the rest of the history of the region and the displacement/destruction of native populations of human's, plant's and animal's.

I think it's really easy for me to choose one history or culture to prove a point, but hard to acknowledge a whole lot of them that have really quite contradictory purchases on reality.
posted by burntbook at 10:02 PM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


burntbook also pinpoints one of my other beefs with Olive Garden (and Outback Steakhouse and Chili's and TGI Friday's and Applebee's) - the fact that the chains are crowding out the smaller businesses, or at least making them harder to start.

I'm not all grumbly about the chains because of foodieism, necessarily. In fact, let's take Olive Garden off the table entirely for a second and look at something different - diners. Honest-to-god diners. Those places are bloody godsends - perfect for if you just want something fast and cheap but still good, and some of them have a culture all their own. They're not fine-dining foodie-fancy, either - they're going for the same kind of "decent and casual" demographic that Olive Garden and Applebee's and such also try.

But they're also an endangered species, because it's just plain easier to start an Applebee's in your neighborhood than it is to open up something new on your own. You have a playbook already in place when it comes to what you serve, what the place looks like, how to run things, etc. - it's like paint-by-numbers restaurant ownership. Way easier than trying to hire a cook and work with them about what you serve and source the wholesale ingredients yourself - rather than tracking down the most cost-efficient source of ground beef or potatoes where you are, you just place your order with the home office and a refrigerated truck periodically brings you everything.

And the already-existing diners are also suffering, because they don't have the advertising behind them that the Applebee's has. All they have is the local advertising and word of mouth, and maybe foot traffic. People from out of town won't know that your burgers are actually better than Applebee's, but they know what an Applebee's is and so that's where they go instead because they've heard of Applebee's and not you and so you've lost out on business. If the Applebee's wasn't there, and it was another mom-and-pop diner like you that was your competition instead, you at least have the 50-50 chance of getting that business just from the coin-toss of "oh, well, hell, let's try this place since we're here."

And even though diners serve a lot of the same kind of all-American-feeling food - pork chops, sandwiches, burgers, casserole-type things - you also have room for regional variation, if the diner happens to be in a town where there's a really good chicken farm or something. Or if they're on the coast and have access to some really awesome fish, you'll see more fried fish and fried clams and chowders on the menu. Or if you're in the northern Midwest maybe you'll see a couple of Norwegian-influenced things, or in you're in the southwest you'll see burritos or nachos sneaking onto the menu. It's a chance for someone passing through to really get a sense that they are somewhere, rather than just being in this weird insular bubble. Whereas at Applebees - well, yeah, they may have quesadillas on the menu, sure. But they have them on the menu at every Applebee's, not just the one in Tucson.

Because every franchise from a chain gets exactly the same thing across the board. Which maybe isn't always a good idea for that chain - I have to jump to shopping for a minute to make that point, though. I was in the K-Mart in New York City years ago, on some errand, and overheard the manager in the next aisle over grumbling with a member of their staff about how the main office had just shipped them a whole lot of decorative lawn flags which they had to put out on the shelves. "How many of these things do they think we're going to sell in New York City?" the manager grumbled. "We don't have lawns!....But we gotta put them out....just find a place for them, dammit." Chain stores have a lot less control over what they offer, so they can't really do anywhere near as much about it if they notice that the people in their community really tend to not dig the quesadillas all that much.

Also, the chain stores don't really give the chefs much of a chance to experiment and try something new, whereas the local diners definitely can. The short-order cook in the diner can try playing around with things - using sloppy joe meat as the base for a chili, for instance, to see how that works, or maybe overlapping the cheese for a burger onto the grill so some of the cheese fries up a little itself. And that's how if you're lucky you make the discoveries that put your store on the map and win you a following so loyal that total strangers from two completely different cities can bond over the fact that they both each happened to grow up near your diner and remember those cheeseburgers and get excited about "oh my god you're one of the only people I've ever met since I moved away who knows what I'm talking about!" (I submit myself and Zippy as one instance of that very thing happening right here on the blue.)

And so the only non-chain diners that open today are often hipster recreations that serve things like sunchoke soup or burgers at inflated prices or merguez sausages and pumpkin scones instead of the basic chicken noodle or lentil soup and a plain ol' burger and plain ol' sausage and biscuits. Merguez sausages are lovely and pumpkin scones sound delicious, but they also sound like something you've dressed up all fancy for rather than the "I just want to fucking eat without having to cook".

So basically my biggest beef about Olive Garden and Applebee's and such is that I really wish I knew what the person running the place could have come up with if he had tried to do things independently. I've already tried Applebee's, I wanna try eating at the diner that the guy running this one could have come up with on his own. Except now I won't ever get to because he opened up yet another Applebee's instead.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:57 AM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


But they're also an endangered species, because it's just plain easier to start an Applebee's in your neighborhood than it is to open up something new on your own. You have a playbook already in place when it comes to what you serve, what the place looks like, how to run things, etc. - it's like paint-by-numbers restaurant ownership.

I'm not sure that opening an Applebee's is really easier. It looks like the minimum cost to open an Applebee's is 2 million dollars, and can go as high as almost $7 million, the land cost being the biggest variable.

For many years my parents owned and worked at a little, independent mom & pop coffee shop (in a zip code they name tv shows after, even) and I promise you it did not require them to have access to that kind of money, either liquid or as a line of credit, even adjusted for inflation. (They rented their space, they did not own the property.)

I think it's very likely that what is happening is that already-rich people are investing or re-investing in the hospitality industry based on potential profit rather than a love of food (or even a combination of both) but that's a different (and in my opinion, even more serious) problem than people simply choosing "easier" options. If the average, passionate cook could come up with Applebee's money they'd open their little dream diner.

I really wish I knew what the person running the place could have come up with if he had tried to do things independently.

I totally sympathize with your lament, but I don't think the person running an Applebee's and the person who tries things independently are the same person.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:45 AM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'll never understand MetaFilter's hate-on for Olive Garden.

Was the post about Greg Nog's Olive Garden comics really seven years ago?
posted by zamboni at 8:18 AM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't think for me it's about saying that it isn't bad or good, but just acknowledging that to some people, it is truly meaningful and that it is local culture.

This.

A mom & pop restaurant shouldn't have to be better than any chain to get to survive. I fucking love greasy diners and I will pick that over Outback or TGIF every time. Even if the food is about the same. Even if there's a solid chance it's not cooked from scratch, or that everything came out of the same Cisco truck that stopped across town at the Applebee's twenty minutes later.

It's not about some aimless Food Network idea of X local dive being objectively better. It's about community, local culture, and supporting human beings over huge megacorps.

Also, I've been watching a ton of Twin Peaks lately, and one thing that interests me a lot about it is how people in 1990 talked about food. In a small town in Washington State in 1990, you can go to a greasy spoon diner and get a "damn fine cup of coffee". In 2014, I think we'd expect single origin artisanally farmed beans, some sort of specialty brewing method (espresso, pour over, whatever), steamed milk, etc. Because it's not enough to serve a good cup of coffee. If you don't serve a fucking orgasmic latte with a flower drawn with steamed milk on top, everybody's just going to Starbucks and it's your fault for not being the most perfect coffee that could ever exist.
posted by Sara C. at 9:59 AM on November 13, 2014


Well, I don't know enough to actually say, but I've always suspected that that particular type of corporate cuisine is modeled on the midwest.

My partner is from the midwest, and from what I've been able to suss out, his diet was largely reductive. It was much less about what he did eat growing up and more about what he didn't. One on of our first dates, I took him to a Korean restaurant, and many years later, he confessed that he was really nervous because a) he had never used chopsticks before, and he'd really only even had RICE maybe five times in his life. He was a champ, and I feel awful that I unknowingly put him through that. (But he fell immediately and deeply in love with kim chee, so we're good.)

And from what I've read, anyway, it seems like a trend for midwestern food to consist of something without something. Like that Indiana sugar pie or Pace extra mild salsa, which is primarily sold in the midwest. (Read the ingredients on that. No chiles, not even cilantro.) Which is fine, but that's not the default American diet at all, although it sometimes seems as though it's headed that direction. I live in Colorado, and here, if you have a diner serving breakfast and lunch, it is weird not to have green chili. People expect to be able to order a smothered burrito or huevos rancheros in a diner, and I have both witnessed and experienced confusion when it's not there. That is a fundamental part of the normal, simple, working class American diet in this part of the country. Most people aren't trying to be cool or edgy or impress anyone with their tolerance for spicy food when they eat that. That's something people here eat.

And there is definitely an undercurrent of xenophobia to it as well. Many years ago, there was an astonishingly racist radio ad for P. F. Chang's where the announcer said something like "Like Chinese food, but not Chinese restaurants?" over a background of clanking noises and vaguely Chinese sounding yelling, then went on to talk about how the waiters spoke English and they had tablecloths or something like that. And just in talking to people, I've seen the attitudes a lot too, that unfamiliar foods are weird, gross, and scary. When it came out once that I was making curry for dinner, my partner's sister acted like I said I was making salmonella worm boogers or something. Over such a common thing that normal people eat every day. Personally, I was more amused than offended, because I know she is just not used to it, but that attitude is offensive.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:12 AM on November 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


In honor of this discussion I had lunch at Olive Garden today (I've eaten there before, but it's been a couple of years). I went for the soup and salad, and both were good. The soup (I had the kale/potato/sausage one, whatever they call it) was actually really good -- I would have used more kale and better sausage, but if I had made it, I would have unhesitatingly served that soup to my friends. It was tasty and the ingredients were identifiable and had texture and flavor. A++, would happily eat again.

The salad was just ok -- nice dressing and good olives, but the veggies were just so-so, lettuce without much flavor and ditto the tomato, and the croutons weren't great at all. I'd rate it a B- or C+, ok for something low-key to eat before your real food comes but not nearly good enough to stand on its own. Probably there would be an uproar if they changed it, but my sense is that the salad is lagging way behind the rest of the menu at this point. The breadsticks were similarly so-so, warm and fresh but very little flavor or texture.

And the coffee was actually really nice, heads and shoulders above the burnt, tepid, and/or watery stuff you get at most chains I've eaten at recently.

The dishes arriving at the other tables looked fine (if clearly quite rich), and the people were clearly enjoying them. It was mostly a mix of couples having married-people-dates (mostly 35-60, at a guess) and young families with children. The waitstaff was cheerful and stayed mostly on message but weren't the super competent professionals you find at some fine dining places. It was like fine dining lite, with some of the trappings but lacking the quality of food and service (and high prices) that actual fine dining will get you; but in exchange it's accessible and no one will be made to feel dumb for not knowing how to pronounce something or have to worry about a horrifying surprise when the bill comes.

Compared to the hell that is Applebees or some of the other chains, I'd give Olive Garden a really high grade, and I'm not sure where (other than attempting to make a fine-grained class distinction) the disdain in this thread is coming from. It's clearly not as good as eating at family places in Italy or New York, but I'll bet at least 99 percent of the US doesn't have a non-chain local Italian place that is better than what Olive Garden is serving.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:25 PM on November 13, 2014 [8 favorites]


I don't know if many MeFites listen to the Sklar Brothers' podcasts on Earwolf, but their co-host (Daniel Van Kirk, who does a hilarious Mark Wahlberg impression) for the County episodes is a HUGE fan of Chili's. For the past week or so, they've been trying to get him a job as a spokesman for the chain by tweeting the hell out of them. It sounds like something might actually happen out of the deal, which is awesome.

(Now if only they could use their power to get the damn DVDs of Cheap Seats out for the holidays. Yeah, even the ones with the live audience. Just as long as there's the breaking stuff contest, I'm good.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:57 AM on November 14, 2014


And from what I've read, anyway, it seems like a trend for midwestern food to consist of something without something.

This is perfect description of a lot of the food I ate as a child growing up in the 70's and 80's in Los Angeles. Our family would refer to it as "Irish" - not corned beef and cabbage, but Irish spaghetti, Irish tacos, Irish chili - the same dish but with 90% of the spices removed. It's embarrassing to recall that I would put ketchup on my tacos back then.

I think that was pretty common for American families back then in much of the country, not just the Midwest. An endless expanse of meat loafs, pot roasts, and bland versions of other people's foods.
posted by InfidelZombie at 12:57 PM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


I drove past an Olive Garden this weekend and semi-seriously considered eating there.
posted by Sara C. at 2:24 PM on November 17, 2014


Over on Reddit there's an interesting takedown of Olive Garden viral marketing in response to a "feed the homeless" video making the rounds. No smoking gun but plenty of circumstantial evidence involving account histories, video quality, etc. Even if some aspect of these Olive Garden events are sincere, they are clearly being deliberately exploited and cycled into social media as advertisement.
posted by Nelson at 11:28 AM on November 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


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