“Q Did y’all ever run out of breadsticks? If so what happened?”
April 19, 2017 9:56 PM   Subscribe

@JoeWadlington: I went on a date last night and the guy meekly shared that he used to be THE GENERAL MANAGER FOR THE TIMES SQUARE OLIVE GARDEN. Clearly, he'd seen some shit. So the next hour and a half was me asking questions. I tried to do y'all right. (The thread continues for many tweets, and can be read here as a Twitter Moment.)
Randall Coburn at The A.V. Club.: “Former manager of the Times Square Olive Garden shares harrowing war stories”
posted by Going To Maine (132 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
"You may be surprised, but yes, Olive Garden running out of breadsticks is worse than a knife fight." must be the truest thing anyone has ever tweeted. And I, in fact, am not surprised in the slightest.
posted by zachlipton at 9:59 PM on April 19 [27 favorites]


I kinda thought that was some pretty weak ass snark. It sounds to me like managing an Olive Garden in Times Square is probably like managing any food establishment in Times Square. A business being full of tourists, doing the tourist thing. Up to and including getting into fights.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:07 PM on April 19 [11 favorites]


That Tour of Italy could feed a family of four: cheap at twice the price!
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:08 PM on April 19 [4 favorites]


I kinda thought that was some pretty weak ass snark.

I mean, it’s no “I Am A Host at The Olive Garden”, but could it have been?
posted by Going To Maine at 10:14 PM on April 19 [14 favorites]


That is some A+++ patter.
posted by gwint at 10:20 PM on April 19




I have never eaten at an Olive Garden and now I really want to. Everyone is always on about those damn breadsticks, and now that I know running short of them is worse than a knife fight I must taste the forbidden fruit.
posted by supercrayon at 10:44 PM on April 19 [12 favorites]


I don't think of it as snark. I can legitimately believe that from a manager's perspective, the amount of trouble caused by two customers threatening each other with knives is less than the amount of trouble caused by an entire three-story "largest Olive Garden in the world" full of customers losing their minds at the lack of breadsticks.
posted by zachlipton at 10:46 PM on April 19 [40 favorites]


All I know is that if I ever go to an Olive Garden it's going to damn well be in Ohio!
posted by mazola at 10:48 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


I cannot express how angry it makes me that someone would visit New York City, one of the greatest places in the world to eat, and choose Olive Garden.

That said, this is primo.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:03 PM on April 19 [28 favorites]


A few years ago I was in a small town in Ohio, visiting my branch bank there. I struck up a conversation with the manager, who was on her way to move to Atlanta. She must have been in her mid-to-late twenties. She was explaining that she had never really spent any amount of time in any city of size. And then she brought up her most memorable restaurant experience of her life - driving about forty-five minutes to the closest city of any size and eating at an Olive Garden.

I remember the snark that was going through my mind at the time, about the deep pity I felt for that being her most memorable eating out experience. And I shoved all of those emotions down, and had a poker face reaction to her Olive Garden story (which was essentially 'I went to an Olive Garden'). I'm glad I did, because if I had snarked about the whole thing I imagine her impression would have been 'wow, people that are 'worldly' are pretty dickish', and I don't want to be that guy.

Don't get me wrong, I *can* be that guy, I *have* been that guy, but I don't want to be that guy.

I guess what I'm saying is that I hope that tourists visiting the Olive Garden in NYC enjoy their time, and have a great dinner.*

* I spent a summer in NYC a few years ago (and made it to a meetup!), and had a rule 'I will never eat in a chain or a franchise as long as I'm in NYC'. I didn't follow that rule completely, but I largely did, and had great inexpensive culinary adventures while in the city.
posted by el io at 11:08 PM on April 19 [52 favorites]


The breadsticks aren't even good though!
posted by corb at 11:23 PM on April 19 [15 favorites]


It's the Empire State Building of Olive Gardens!
posted by dirigibleman at 11:25 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


Seriously, the love for the breadsticks baffles me. They literally just taste like baked frozen bread dough.

The salads, on the other hand...
posted by dirigibleman at 11:26 PM on April 19 [2 favorites]


Haven't been in many years, but I remember the soup being not bad, either.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:27 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]


Statistically, a three-story Olive Garden is the most likely Olive Garden to have a knife fight break out.
posted by rhizome at 11:34 PM on April 19 [22 favorites]


I cannot express how angry it makes me that someone would visit New York City, one of the greatest places in the world to eat, and choose Olive Garden.

So I live in NYC and every once in a while I get a geniuine, non-snarky craving to try out one these chains. But then I look at the prices and they are CRAZY! I just looked, and it's $27.29 for the Herb Grilled Salmon at the Times Square Olive Garden vs. $17.79 in Peoria!
posted by lalex at 11:37 PM on April 19 [12 favorites]


If they have a two hour wait all the time, maybe they should be charging even more?
posted by zachlipton at 11:44 PM on April 19 [4 favorites]


So this guy met the manager of an olive garden, tweeted about it, AV club read the tweets and wrote about it, people on metafilter read the article and commented on it and I read the comments. I am like six degrees of separation from this story.

On topic, I don't think I have ever been to an olive garden in my life. I think my wife would probably like it (she has a thing for American casual restaurants, and I think olive garden fits the bill), but I don't think we will be in America any time soon. Still, I dutifully read every Olive Garden thread and imagine what must be the best/worst restaurant ever based on the comments here.
posted by Literaryhero at 11:49 PM on April 19 [9 favorites]


The breadsticks are super salty. I don't get the breadstick love. Pretty much any grocery store has a bag of take and bake breadsticks in their bakery that are better.

Olive Garden is great if you want that soup and salad lunch for $8, though.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:58 PM on April 19 [3 favorites]


That Tour of Italy could feed a family of four: cheap at twice the price!
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit


Are you from some magical (Scandinavian?) land where toilet paper is free?
posted by Anoplura at 12:06 AM on April 20 [7 favorites]


Along the lines of expeditions into the unknown via Olive Garden, when I lived in Pittsburgh and worked at the Carnegie Library, one of my co-workers was a library lifer, an African-American woman who'd been working there since she was sixteen or something like that. She'd been there so long that she got something like eight weeks of vacation a year, and used it to go to all sorts of exotic places; she'd been to Brazil and South Africa and a whole host of other countries that, to me, as an eighteen-year-old who'd never left the country, sounded impossibly mysterious and faraway. Here was a Black woman from a working class family who'd put herself through college while working at the library and raising a couple kids. She wore these exquisitely tailored suits that, I eventually realized, she'd made herself, and was now putting herself through library school.

But truth be told, I didn't like her that much. She was stuffy and boring, always skiving off work, or passing me (the clerk) the public-facing duties so she could do things like write papers for her college-aged daughter. Also I envied all the adventures she and her family went on with those two months of paid vacation, while I was busy putting myself through school while working at the library. The irony was lost on me, and so was any thoughtful analysis of class or race, much less how hard she must've had to work to get to a life of annual international travel. I was a twit back then, and hopefully I've improved in the past couple decades.

But the thing that so, so rankled me was that she'd come back from, like, Mozambique and show off pictures of her and her whole family eating at McDonalds. And it wasn't just Mozambique--it was everywhere. All they seemed to do on vacation was eat at McDonalds in France and England and Egypt. At the time I didn't think 'Good for them!' because the jealousy monster was dancing with its hairy green feet right in front of me, but truly, McDonalds and Olive Garden are the familiar exotic to so many people--a navigable luxury in a world of luxuries that are often inaccessible or incomprehensible.

As a kid who grew up wearing those nameless Kmart shoes that still stank of molded rubber, I envied the kids who wore Keds--not because Keds were so cool in and of themselves, but because if Keds offered some symbolic barometer of one's potential social positioning, those no-name Kmart shoes were a marker of my no social position at all. It's not that the Kmart shoes were bad per se, but I was poor and nerdy and dreamt of being able to partake in something recognizable and agreed-upon by others as fashionable and maybe even middle class. (Which I was way too ragamuffin to pass as, even if I'd had actual Keds.) If Olive Garden is anything, it's recognizable. So is Starbucks. And I think to a lot of people for whom those class markers are mostly out of reach, just being able to participate in a recognizable form of middle class consumption every once in a while is such a luxury.

I should probably reread this before I hit post, because it's late and I'm afraid my logic is a little obscured or unhinged by sleepiness, but zzzzzzz.
posted by tapir-whorf at 12:23 AM on April 20 [54 favorites]


I cannot express how angry it makes me that someone would visit New York City, one of the greatest places in the world to eat, and choose Olive Garden.

Change Olive Garden to McDonald's, and you have the European city-centre experience. A lot of tourists eat in places that feel familiar, however infuriating that is.
posted by mushhushshu at 12:43 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


" $17.79 in Peoria"

Can confirm, although I've only been there once. I had unlimited soup, salad, and bread sticks, it was pretty good salad. But my personal sit-down chain restaurant picks are Chili's and Ruby Tuesday -- I think everyone got a couple go-to chains for when local places are closed or you're traveling or you just want some goddamned mozz sticks -- so I never really think, "eh, I feel like Olive Garden." Went with a friend for whom OG is the default chain. I had no complaints. Of course it's been six years and I haven't been back, so ...

My kids are becoming obsessed with Olive Garden as a lot of their classmates go there for special meals and my kids keep hearing about the bread sticks. I am amused by it. I have no objection to taking them but we never seem to get around to it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:45 AM on April 20 [4 favorites]


Change Olive Garden to McDonald's, and you have the European city-centre experience. A lot of tourists eat in places that feel familiar, however infuriating that is.

Sometimes you are tired, or you are broke, or you are tired and broke, and it is cheap and easy to eat at McDonalds. Hell, sometimes you just want to eat at McDonalds.
posted by Literaryhero at 1:15 AM on April 20 [24 favorites]


McDonalds is actually very helpful for culture shock. I walked over a mile once to get to a McDonalds in a country not my own because the experience was going to be familiar and that was what I needed more than anything right then. I don't even like McDonalds, but I was on a whirlwind tour, ten countries in ten days, and I had seen so many museums my brain was leaking out my ears, and I needed something where the language barrier wouldn't matter and I wouldn't have to assimilate any new data for half an hour. I still didn't like the food, but I got what I was really paying for.

You know, I bet the same is true for some of the people who hit up Olive Garden in Times Square. They've been out doing exhausting tourist things they never usually do all day, it's nice to have something the same as back home, even if the prices are literally doubled. I hope it helps them as much as the at that time only McDonalds in Tallinn helped me.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 2:06 AM on April 20 [61 favorites]


Also people have kids getting hungry and cranky, and eating somewhere where they are going to be happy is probably more important to them than appeasing food snobs.
posted by thelonius at 2:12 AM on April 20 [28 favorites]


I've got a weird thing about trying recognisable brands in other countries. I try to drink a Guinness in as many countries as I can, and i've had McDonalds in quite a few different places. The interesting thing is that the food is familiar, but almost always different.

For example; Guinness in Africa is brewed sweeter and more gloopy than in Europe, more like a milk stout, which is more popular there. It's interesting to compare the differences.

Don't get me wrong; I will eat the shit outta local cuisine most days and nights, but it's nice to do the comparing.

It does strike me that to most of the tourists in New York, Olive Garden represents a very American experience. When they go home to Scarborough and tell their mate that they ate at Olive Garden, their friend might possibly know the name and be interested. I confess to visiting Taco Bell when I visited Austin for this exact same reason. Before you get all up in my face, I was also taken to a whole bunch of far better local eateries too. I just had to do it once though.
posted by trif at 3:01 AM on April 20 [17 favorites]


I ate at McDonald's and KFC and Vie de France--all very popular with the locals, too--while living in China in the 90s. I was home sick, culture shocked, and even though I like Chinese food, sometimes you want to not eat Chinese food, you know?
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:58 AM on April 20 [6 favorites]


I was a host at the first Olive Garden in New England when it opened and it was an absolute madhouse for months. 4 hour waits at times, and this was in the days before those little buzzy coasters, so you had to wait in or near the lobby for four hours.

The breadsticks have gotten appreciably worse since the early 90s when I worked there. Less buttery, less garlicky, less doughy. You can have as many breadsticks as you like, but the rule is (or was, at least) that you never bring more to a table than the number of people at the table +1.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:02 AM on April 20 [4 favorites]


I go to Seoul every other year or so, every trip vowing that I'm going to sample a couple of the American chains there. Because by reputation the food is the same only in certain ways. The menu is a little different and the foods are a little different, whether because the food laws lead to different sourcing and preparation for the ingredients, or to appease local tastes, or whatnot. For example, the KFC's in Seoul serve beer. Because in South Korea, when you have fried chicken you have beer. There, this is as obvious as having french fries with your hamburger would be to an American.

Almost every trip, I end up not eating at an American chain, because most times when I stray towards a U.S. shop I start doing the following mental math: I'm only here for about a week and a half, which means 10 lunches and 10 dinners; any one of those 20 meals I have at this near approximation of something I can get at home is one less meal of something that's unavailable at home. So how important is this hamburger to me now?

Last year though, I got breakfast at McDonalds because a local wanted to eat there. The sausage mcmuffin was pretty good, tasted more of pork than of artificial flavoring. I'd have it again.
posted by ardgedee at 4:12 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


I cannot express how angry it makes me that someone would visit New York City, one of the greatest places in the world to eat, and choose Olive Garden.

A few months after I moved to NYC from Dallas in 2001, we flew my South Dakota mom in to visit. At one point we went past the now-closed Olive Garden at 22nd and 6th and my mom said "oh, are we going to eat there?" We laughed and said hell no, we'll be going to a great real Italian restaurant. And later on the trip we did go to some fantastic place which I can't remember. And my mom proceeded to complain about the portion size.

And relatedly, I was in a Olive Garden commercial that ran through the mid to late aughts. It was the typical commercial, three couples having a grand time laughing and eating at Olive Garden. (They even call the genre "Bite and Smile.") The two dishes we were eating were some sausage pasta and a shrimp dish. When they were setting us up, they asked which we preferred and I said while I wasn't allergic to shrimp (which was a requirement for be cast) I really didn't like it so could I have the sausage. Which I got. Then in one of the first shots the director called out to one of the actresses "Feed Chris a bite from your plate." So she did. It was shrimp. And the director and ad folks loved it. So every reset and new camera angle for the next 8 hours came the call "Now feed Chris." I must've ate about 50 shrimp that day.*

On the plus side, it was a SAG national network commercial that ran 5 years so my suffering was well-compensated.


* They do have spit buckets next to each actor out of the shot so you don't have to swallow everything, but in long takes that only helps with the last bite.
posted by chris24 at 4:27 AM on April 20 [50 favorites]


Seriously, the love for the breadsticks baffles me. They literally just taste like baked frozen bread dough.

the thing you have to understand is, for a notable percentage of humanity, nothing tastes better than "free"
posted by murphy slaw at 4:28 AM on April 20 [24 favorites]


I mean, the only Fuddrucker's I've ever been to was in Cairo, Egypt.

A few years ago I was working at an event on Navy Pier and we had a couple hours to kill so decided to eat at Margaritaville. The server came up to our table and asked where we were visiting from and I went full-on indignant teenager like, "We're NOT tourists, we LIVE here!" Because somehow that made it better? Sigh. The tower of nachos wasn't even that good, for the record.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 4:48 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


One of the main reasons tourists in the Times Square area eat at Olive Garden is because that entire area of the city has been turned into a gigantic tourist-focused strip mall full of mega-chains and flagship "experience" stores for brands such as Lego and Hershey. If you're at 42nd and Broadway you have to make some effort to eat at a real restaurant.
posted by slkinsey at 4:49 AM on April 20 [14 favorites]


I love eating foreign food but I maintain that if you have a McDonald's item that's not on the menu in your home country, it counts as local cuisine.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:56 AM on April 20 [42 favorites]


I've got a weird thing about trying recognisable brands in other countries.

So I'm not the only one. I probably wouldn't go to an olive garden, but McDonald's? I ALWAYS try McDonald's once when I'm in another country. 7-11 too, where relevant, I'll at least go in and see what it smells like. McDonald's in particular always has some amusing twist on local somethingorother. I feel oddly compelled to experiment with it.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 4:57 AM on April 20 [11 favorites]


that entire area of the city has been turned into a gigantic tourist-focused strip mall full of mega-chains and flagship "experience" stores for brands such as Lego and Hershey

brb, starting a Lifestyle Brand that's a chain of dingy porno theaters just so i can open a flagship in times square
posted by murphy slaw at 5:14 AM on April 20 [20 favorites]


One thing most American chains do that make me eat there when traveling: clean and available bathrooms. Quirky local places, especially abroad, not so much.
posted by emjaybee at 5:25 AM on April 20 [9 favorites]


McDonalds is actually very helpful for culture shock.

It's a tangent, but you just reminded me that about a month after I moved to the UK, I went to see a movie for similar culture-shock reasons--the theater down the street was showing the Simpsons movie, and I just wanted to see something familiar with some American accents for a while. It was actually pretty comforting.

Also, for the record, I was the only person in the entire theater who laughed at the following line from Ned Flanders:

"Look at that, you can see the four states that border Springfield: Ohio, Nevada, Maine, and Kentucky!"
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:27 AM on April 20 [15 favorites]


that entire area of the city has been turned into a gigantic tourist-focused strip mall full of mega-chains and flagship "experience" stores for brands such as Lego and Hershey

I formulated this hypothesis years ago. The entire US evolves into Route 17 in northern NJ.
posted by mikelieman at 5:27 AM on April 20 [6 favorites]


When I was little I loved Olive Garden because you could get cheesecake. In the suburbs in the eighties on a budget, Olive Garden offered a lot more than most of the other options.

When I lived in Shanghai, I ate at KFC sorta regularly because sometimes, when you're experiencing a lot of new stuff, you want a familiar meal, also they had better chicken than in the US.

When I was in Boston for several days all by myself, I traveled all over that great big city and only lost my footing on a completely packed subway car once. I also ate lunch at museum restaurants or else got deli sandwiches (fancy, fancy deli sandwiches; wish I had one now), because I could not handle dealing with finding a sit-down restaurant in a strange city when I was already traveling all over the place on my own and having a good time but also kind of stressed.

It surprises me not at all that someone from Not New York, particularly someone from a place without a lot of restaurant options, would eat at a familiar restaurant in New York.

What is more, if you want to meet up with a MPLS mefite and want to go to Olive Garden, I will go to Olive Garden with you.

To top that off, I bet if you dropped even a very cosmopolitan, witty, sophisticated New Yorker into a situation that was genuinely new to them and genuinely exciting but still somewhat stressful - so no fair sending them to, like, Boston - they might gravitate, part of the time, toward the familiar.

Also, I hope this guy got his date's permission. I would feel sort of dumb if I had a date that didn't go anywhere with someone and it just got turned into "lol I had this hilarious experience".
posted by Frowner at 5:29 AM on April 20 [24 favorites]


brb, starting a Lifestyle Brand that's a chain of dingy porno theaters just so i can open a flagship in times square

The NYC NPR affiliate had a brief story this morning about the new pedestrian plaza in Times Square and, as is customary whenever they mention Times Square, they played a sound bite of "Anthony from Queens" talking about how it used to be seedy, and now it's not. Every. Single. Time.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:29 AM on April 20 [5 favorites]


In honor of 420 day maybe try the lasagna, baked, with your breadsticks.

Although these folks might recommend something with a few more herbs.
posted by SteveInMaine at 5:33 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


In honor of 420 day maybe try the lasagna, baked, with your breadsticks.

Actually, I'm planning on Halal Chicken over Rice with either bolani a skewer of kabab koobideh at Not A Chain.
posted by mikelieman at 5:51 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


For example; Guinness in Africa is brewed sweeter and more gloopy than in Europe, more like a milk stout, which is more popular there. It's interesting to compare the differences.

Interestingly you can buy specially imported "Nigerian Guinness" quite widely in London, I assume because we have a large enough population who have migrated from West Africa to the UK but still prefer to drink Guinness that's familiar to them rather than the standard version brewed in the UK. I'd love to know if you can easily buy it in Ireland.
posted by *becca* at 5:51 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


One thing most American chains do that make me eat there when traveling: clean and available bathrooms. Quirky local places, especially abroad, not so much.

Oh, COME ON. The nearest American fast food joint to me right now is the Burger King in the train station. The toilets there are horrendous.
posted by trif at 5:53 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


emjaybee: "One thing most American chains do that make me eat there when traveling: clean and available bathrooms."

I've been to about 35 countries, in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, and by far the absolute worst bathroom in my entire life was the McDonald's at the end of Haight St. near the park in San Francisco. Needles, piss, vomit, shit, semen, pieces of dirty magazines made dirtier by more vomit, semen and shit.

I've been to literal shitholes* in the Bolivian highlands that were much cleaner (and safer) than that particular American chain restaurant.

* As in a hole in the dirt with a rope nearby so you don't fall into the hole, which is a real possibility, given the size of the hole and the mud around it, and you don't want to think about what's mixed in with the dirt to make the mud.
posted by signal at 5:58 AM on April 20 [10 favorites]


I think maybe the Nigerian Guinness is the stuff I drank in Southern Africa. Pretty good, but a bit sweet and too much treacle to properly enjoy in the heat.
posted by trif at 6:02 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


One thing most American chains do that make me eat there when traveling: clean and available bathrooms. Quirky local places, especially abroad, not so much.

Oh, COME ON. ...

...by far the absolute worst bathroom in my entire life...


Before we devolve into Tales Of Horrible Bathrooms, maybe take a look at the "most" and "not so much" in emjaybee's comment and resist the urge to Wellactually it.
posted by Etrigan at 6:05 AM on April 20 [23 favorites]


Oh, COME ON. The nearest American fast food joint to me right now is the Burger King in the train station. The toilets there are horrendous.

Ok but when you are in the UK and you have to go and everything is closed except McDonald's?*

But yes sometimes it's more "available" than "clean."

*One time in some place in the UK (maybe Salisbury? Yorkshire? I can't remember) the husband was in dire straits (no American/other chain options in sight) and there was a little local restaurant we were passing. He just ran in to the back and used their toilets, all the while the doorman/waiter was shouting "Sir? SIR! You can't do that!!" I was mortified but also filled with a certain amount of glee. I just shrugged at the guy, all "My wacky husband! What can I do?"

In all seriousness, I have eaten many McDonald's hamburgers for this exact reason.

One nice thing about Texas is that there are several big chains that run tourist-focused truck stops with very fancy bathrooms and will also sell you snacks and hideous knicknacks once your immediate needs are taken care of. You can spend your money on sour gummi worms, Texas-shaped ashtrays or novelty shot glasses instead of a crappy burger, if you want.
posted by emjaybee at 6:08 AM on April 20 [7 favorites]


I've been to literal shitholes* in the Bolivian highlands that were much cleaner (and safer) than that particular American chain restaurant.

American Chain Restaurants: Optimized for not giving you food poisoning. Cholera from the toilets, not so much.
posted by mikelieman at 6:09 AM on April 20


One nice thing about Texas is that there are several big chains that run tourist-focused truck stops

Flying-J and Truckstops of America... I mean TRAVELCENTERS...

FWIW, the Loves' "Morning Blend" coffee is awesome.
posted by mikelieman at 6:10 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


This is a great opportunity for me to recommend that everyone reading this thread listen to The Doughboys podcast, in which comedians Nick Wiger and Mike Mitchell (and guests) rate and review American chain restaurants. It's hilarious, informative, surprisingly insightful sometimes, and if you're anything like me it will often cause you to crave food that you in no way actually want to eat. Their episode on Olive Garden, with guest Christine Nangle, was great.
posted by saladin at 6:20 AM on April 20 [11 favorites]


Nigerian Guinness is 7.5% as opposed to half that for the ordinary stuff. It's not just Expats that like it.
posted by glasseyes at 6:21 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


We've had more than one discussion on the blue about people with sensory processing disorders and, in particular, quote-endquote picky eaters. I could quite imagine that someone would go to a chain restaurant in Manhattan or elsewhere simply because they'd know that it would have the foods that they can tolerate, without some regional variation that would render it unpalatable to them (encrusting the breadsticks in pesto or something). Other food restrictions apply; I'm doing low carb these days and am therefore not terribly into McDonald's, but I know that if push comes to shove I can probably find one relatively close by and get a salad with grilled chicken that I can eat. It's a damn dirty shame if someone goes to a town stuffed with Italian restaurants and resorts to OG, but I could still understand it, under some circumstances.

Also, speaking about regional differences in chains, I'm surprised that no one has cited this yet.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:22 AM on April 20 [5 favorites]


...Oh, there was a knife fight.
Q: Tell me everything.
A: Two women...


That made me think it could have been Beatrix Kiddo and Oren Ishii, which probably would have been even worse than running out of breadsticks.
posted by TedW at 6:24 AM on April 20 [5 favorites]


That made me think it could have been Beatrix Kiddo and Oren Ishii, which probably would have been even worse than running out of breadsticks.

Yeah, but then the breadsticks would have been made of knives anyway.
posted by Etrigan at 6:29 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


Went to Mexico for our honeymoon. My husband just had to eat at Outback, then had the nerve to comment about how much more expensive it was.
posted by jenny76 at 6:29 AM on April 20 [5 favorites]


We ate at McDonald's twice on our once in a life trip to Paris. Yes, I know, le horror - but my brother's autistic and has food sensitivities and man did he deserve it.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 6:50 AM on April 20 [5 favorites]


Coincidentally, I was just at an Olive Garden on Sunday. My mother had just returned to town by air, nobody wanted to cook Easter dinner, and they were open, so why not. The food is fine. Our server was great.

But if you *are* going to go to an OG, get the shrimp scampi fritta. I haven't had the spicy, but the classic has an amazing bite of lemon and garlic. It's really damn good--I've paid more money, at fancier places, for much worse seafood dishes than that one.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:52 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


McDonalds is actually very helpful for culture shock.

QFT. Also, frankly...they're a huge global brand for a reason?

One of my really Easily Angering things is that various relatives get extremely sniffy about the fact that there's a McDonalds in every city centre in the UK. Now, there's definitely something to be discussed about the sameness of said city centres (generally loudly and at length if you're me), but frankly, they're not there for the tourists, and I'm glad of it. I lived a huge chunk of my adult life in Cardiff, and that place was for me, not my visiting parents. And I (along with most of the city's, or at least the university's population) LOVED to get drunk and go to McDonalds at 2 am. In a land without diners, it is a perfect Drunk Food. And it's not for tourists who are deeply shocked and saddened that it's not some quaint little place full of, I dunno, bara brith and sheep and women wearing top hats or whatever. It's for us, because we live there, and we like getting drunk and eating greasy terrible burgers.

So I guess I'm willing to just sigh and let this one go. Times Square is clearly for tourists, and if this is what they want, all right then.
posted by kalimac at 6:55 AM on April 20 [10 favorites]


the McDonald's at the end of Haight St.

Signal is correct about this one. Been there, seen that. And with the crowds that will be descending on Hippie Hill today and leaving with the munchies...
The mind reels.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 7:04 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


I was going to say, it's families traveling together that end up at these places. I've never been to OG and we rarely do fast food, but when Gramma's just never going to do Vietnamese food and uncle Harry doesn't consider it a meal without a slab of meat and you're in an unfamiliar environment, you gravitate to the lowest common denominator. As awful as the idea of McDonald's in Paris and Olive Garden in Times Square feel to our sophisticated urban sensibilities, families traveling together is a good thing.

Case in point. We just got back from Iceland and 99% of what we ate was freshly caught or slaughtered or harvested by the local family whose business we were patronizing. But we were on a long drive and it was lunch time and the kids were cranky and we spotted a Subway by the highway in Selfoss and I'll bet that's the meal the kids remember most. Sandwiches were about 20 bucks for rubbery lunch meat flown in from the states. My wife and I grabbed sausages from the stand across the street.

I'll bet most of the tourists at the Times Square OG also ventured into an authentic NY pizzeria or had a bagel somewhere during their visit and for that one meal they just didn't want to hear someone complaining about something unfamiliar.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:08 AM on April 20 [9 favorites]


We were in Rouen, France, in January, and needed to use the restroom. So we went to McDonalds. The Old Town center was largely deserted on this cold, rainy Sunday. Where was everybody? In the local two-story McDonald's! We got food in five minutes (try that in a quaint café!) and it was bright and warm. No chain-food hate from me. Although there are better restaurants in America, some of them pretty fast, if speed is an issue, which it is sometimes in this workaholic country.
posted by kozad at 7:20 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Look, if you have to go to Olive Garden for any reason, a not-too-bad-option is the choose your own pasta with rigatoni and asiago garlic alfredo. If you don't add meat it's less than $10 and you can do a lot worse at better Italian eateries than that for the price. Add in the salad and yes, breadsticks, and dollar for dollar it's a pretty good deal.
posted by splen at 7:22 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


FWIW I didn't think the original twitter stream was so much snark as it was a fascinating look into what must be one of the most intense and surreal restaurant management positions that exist.
posted by quaking fajita at 7:29 AM on April 20 [10 favorites]


Wife and I went to Scotland and the North last year, and we ate at many UK chains but no American ones. I can't recall the names off the top of my head, but there was a fish and chips chain that was very tasty and cheap l but big enough to print chips wrappers with faux-newspaper for that early 20th century touch (real indie chip shops use food-grade newsprint now). There was also a pub-n-grub chain that named all their locations something different but furnished them all the same inside, and that food and beer was smashing too. It was a bit like visiting bizarro NoCal, really.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:37 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


One nice thing about Texas is that there are several big chains...

Buc-ees! We always stop at the one in Madisonville when going to Houston to visit my grandmother. The women's bathroom is like Shangri-La.
posted by orrnyereg at 7:41 AM on April 20 [4 favorites]


Can confirm, although I've only been there once.

I thought of Peoria because of you and was hoping you'd confirm!
posted by lalex at 7:42 AM on April 20


Many, many years ago I was working in a hip hop studio based out of Queens. My boss had some success as a producer after connecting with Teddy Riley and flashed his cash. Since I was young, I was taking cues from him on what was fancy - like his white Mercedes (legit) and the Times Square Olive Garden (not legit.)

So I'm at a house party and this beautiful Swedish au pair asks me (!!) for my number. This was unprecedented. I followed up the next day and we agreed to spend the day together in Manhattan. Where did I take her? Why, the Olive Garden, of course! When we get there, it turns out that the bartender is an old pal of mine from high school, and I chat him up for like 10 minutes while my date sits alone at the table. We then eat our meal of breadsticks and soup and go on our way.

She suggests we go check out the Scandanavia House. Once we arrive, she proceeds to find one of her friends and talk to her in Swedish while I sit around feeling bored and rejected. Eventually I get annoyed and decide to leave. She says goodbye to her friend and comes with me. We walk to a subway station to part ways and I give her a bar of fancy soap from my sister's bath & body store that I've been carrying around with me all day. She takes it, gives me a really weird look, and leaves.

For the longest time I thought my major mistake was taking her to the Olive Garden. Ladies: this is how very, very stupid men are.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:49 AM on April 20 [17 favorites]


The breadsticks are super salty. I don't get the breadstick love.

If you had to wait two hours for a table, you'd eat the freaking napkins if nothing else was in front of you.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:51 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I think there's a ton of "let's just get to the familiar" when you're in a crazy place like NYC, especially for the first time. There's a lot of worry over money (things are expensive there) and getting places (the subway can be confusing) and deciding if something is good or not, especially if you don't know someone who can say, "This is my favorite place, and I know you don't like Italian food that's super-fancy" or whatever, so you're potentially looking at a terrible experience for a lot of money when you're just plain worn out by the day. So yeah, hitting up something you've been to at the mall in your home town can give you a little infusion of, "Okay, I know this, I'm good" to keep up with your trip.
posted by xingcat at 8:03 AM on April 20 [5 favorites]


I love eating foreign food but I maintain that if you have a McDonald's item that's not on the menu in your home country, it counts as local cuisine.

When we went to Norway last summer, we got to Trondheim around midnight, we were tired and hungry, it was somehow still light out, and we had to pick up the key to our AirBnB from the 7-11 around the corner. It turns out that 7-11 in Norway has very good sandwiches and pastries. And low-end restaurants in Norway are few and far between because labor costs are so high there. So we ate a lot of 7-11 sandwiches, which from what I understand is what Norwegians do.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:04 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


I live in Manhattan and was given a rather substantial OG gift card some years back and my wife and I went to the now-shuttered one on 6th Ave. and it was... fine. I work down the block from the Times Square one and still have money left on the card, so maybe someday...
posted by AJaffe at 8:11 AM on April 20


The one time I went to London was on business, maybe 2000 or 2001. I was up working late and needed a bite. There was a McDonald's just across the street from the hotel, so I walked over.

They cooked the burger right on the grill, and served it in the old styrofoam container, just like when I was a kid in 80s. It was fucking glorious.
posted by HighLife at 8:11 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


This reminds me of a heartrending twitter thread that touches on the class issues surrounding OG by Stephanie McKellop‏:

1- Y’all I am so middle class now that I eat this bird seed bread like every single day omg [picture of fancy seed bread]
2- This is a small thing and I joke, but at the same time, it is pretty significant for me and such an adventure.
3- My PhD stipend is more than my dad has ever made. I am eating different food (bird seed bread and also veggies that don't come from cans)
4- It's both amazing & heartbreaking in some ways. My dad doesn't understand. He was morally offended when I wanted to take him to olive garden
5- He said he would be damned before he spent $13 on a meal he'd shit out the next day. He was appalled that I would offer. He was hurt.
6- And before I came up here, Olive Garden was THE FANCIEST place, where I'd go on birthdays or maybe graduation.
7- People make fun of me for that now. The wealthy people I'm around now tease and my dad back home is mortified. I'm stuck in between.
8- So I joke about the bird seed bread but it really is a weird and radical experience for me, even though it is so mundane for most others.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:19 AM on April 20 [33 favorites]


On a 2 week trip wandering through Sweden several years ago we found ourselves at McDonald's more than once. Part of it was familiarity, part of it was "no, calling a hot dog a sausage and serving it with mashed potatoes and ketchup doesn't work as fast food, let's just go to fucking Mickie D's", the always clean restrooms, and by god, you could always rely on the Coca Cola being perfect and COLD.
posted by Ber at 8:20 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


what is all this terrible American food
posted by iffthen at 8:23 AM on April 20


They cooked the burger right on the grill, and served it in the old styrofoam container, just like when I was a kid in 80s. It was fucking glorious.

Probably not-very-interesting factoid, but 1985ish I worked at McDonalds cooking burgers on the grill. Putting it in the styrofoam was outside my job-description ( I was grill, she was front-counter and drive through. It was a love forbidden by corporate-rules ... )

But I digress.. And in the 90's I worked at the PTFE impregnated fiberglass manufacturer that supplied McDonalds newfangled burger-cooking-devices.

(sidenote: scrap PTFE coated fiberglass makes incredible sleds.. or so I have been told... )
posted by mikelieman at 8:23 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


McDonalds is actually very helpful for culture shock.

It's also very helpful for WiFi, and perhaps more importantly: clean and free bathrooms
posted by MengerSponge at 8:31 AM on April 20


So when Hubs and I started dating, I was astounded at how often he suggested getting a hamburger at McDonald's. Like, there's all these awesome restaurants here in Rome but he really loved those burgers. Six months in we went Stateside for my sister's wedding, landing first in my home town of Dallas. His first meal off the plane I took him to a proper burger joint and he hasn't really touched Micky D's ever since.

Like Olive Garden is some sloppy shorthand version of Italian, Micky D's is the same for burgers.
posted by romakimmy at 8:57 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


One of the things that has always alienated me slightly from most of my friends and "travel culture" in general (is that a thing? I'm not sure) is that I am totally the person who will, by default, walk up to a McDonald's in wherever-the-hell-I-am and order the usual. That's not to say I won't push myself; I didn't eat a whole lot of western food when I was in Japan and didn't stop at a McDonald's until I was at Narita waiting for the flight home. (P.S.: best McChicken sandwich I've ever had.)

But generally speaking, I don't think of myself as a super adventurous traveler. The idea of backpacking through countries doesn't exactly set my heart aflame. Weird food is not really my thing, I tend to like places that aren't grimy or outdoors-y (which rules out 75% of the world, really), and I'm paranoid about being taken advantage of as a naive tourist, which tends to rule out most of the remaining 25%.

Not being an adventurous traveler is basically the same as admitting you eat babies for lunch in some circles. Like, look at all the cultural experiences you're missing out on why would you do that to yourself you're literally doing it wrong. And you know what? Yeah, sure, you're probably right. But on some level, I don't go on vacation primarily to challenge myself; I go on vacation to relax and enjoy myself. Part of that means eating food that I'm comfortable with, and trying out new stuff only when I feel up to it. A little pushing outside your boundaries is obviously healthy, but let ME make that decision for myself.

So yeah. I can't hate on the people who go to Olive Garden on vacation. The family of four visiting New York City from some small midwestern town might be a distant tribe from urban professional me, but on this specific level they are my people and I am one of them.
posted by chrominance at 9:00 AM on April 20 [21 favorites]


One of the class factors in chain restaurants etc. is that if you are working or lower middle class, you are wary of wasting money on a restaurant meal you may not even like. You eat at restaurants rarely enough that you are not going to try a totally new cuisine or dish and shrug if you dropped $20 on something you barely ate. And if you are a white person from Whiteness Grove, going to a restaurant where you are worried you might be the only white person there is an actual fear, whether from old-fashioned racism or simply because you've never been the Other in your whole life and you feel weird about it. It's relatively easy to overcome if you're 18 and still adventurous. It's harder when you're 50 and are sort of ashamed at how sheltered you are.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:02 AM on April 20 [11 favorites]


I had long held some internal OG snark (I live in a big city, my family is Italian, we're kind of snarky, esp about food). But! a while ago I was in a small town for work & w/o Mr Moon on Valentine's day, and some of the people there took me to OG so that I wouldn't be alone (which was so nice), and actually I v much enjoyed it. There was a vegetarian soup! and the endless salad was awesome, and the server was super nice.

(there may be a larger point here about time spent in the small town undoing some of my prejudices but I'm not prepared to make it yet)
posted by n. moon at 9:04 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


I can attest that Heineken is very popular in Vietnam for those that can afford it and it tastes better there, just less of that watered down beer taste. When Vietnamese immigrants come here they buy that shit by the tons because it's super cheap here compared to there, and they think it tastes fine mostly because of the familiarity, but really it's because it's super cheap for something that was always a luxury.
posted by numaner at 9:27 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


So we've talked about familiarity and how that can be a calming influence in a stressful situation. And we've talked about the potentially clean bathrooms (jury's still out on that one).

It's just occurred to me the glaring contradiction at the intersection of those two things is the weird-as-hell appliances that McDonalds puts in it's toilets! Soap/water/dryer all in the same wall-hole? There's some sort of technological uncanny valley response going on every time i'm in one of them.
posted by trif at 9:31 AM on April 20


The allure of the familiar is very, very powerful. I've been living outside of the States for over 18 years, and while I'm okay with all sorts of different food than I used to be, starting off the day with a non-US breakfast can mess with me. Something in me needs a breakfast that falls within the parameters of breakfast from when I was growing up (one exception, dim sum/yum cha). And that's probably where the vast majority of my McDonalds consumption comes from. In a hurry, on the way to work, and hey, two sausage muffins for ¥200. When I lived in China, even though I absolutely adored the food (easily the best year of food in my life) occasionally we would go to McDonald's or KFC because, well, it beckoned, even if there was better, crispier, tastier fried chicken around the corner, it just wasn't what my heart wanted at the moment.

Still, the hands down most abrupt, hey, I don't think this belongs here was the Kenny Roger's Roasters in an underground mall literally at the center of Xian, complete with mechanical bull, which we, as foreigners, were heavily encouraged to try.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:38 AM on April 20 [4 favorites]


I've got a weird thing about trying recognisable brands in other countries

Yes!

It's really quite interesting and I love it too -- but I'd like to suggest that a more flexible approach would be to pick a given food item or food style, and try that in as many places as possible. This is how I discovered that the rural Romanian version of pizza is just .... just beyond terrible (ketchup instead of tomato sauce, worse cheese and thick bun-style bread without much other innovation), while the rural Laotian version is fucking awesome (nifty local herbs [eg: fresh on the twig pepper], no cheese, bits of unidentifiable meat that was probably water buffalo, excellent wood-fired flatbread'ish crust).
posted by aramaic at 9:41 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


Still, the hands down most abrupt, hey, I don't think this belongs here was the Kenny Roger's Roasters in an underground mall literally at the center of Xian, complete with mechanical bull, which we, as foreigners, were heavily encouraged to try

YES! Grumpybearbride and I went to the Kenny Rogers Roasters in Singapore's Furama City Centre right before we left and it was amazing.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:47 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Just checking in from Actual Ohio, here. I grew up in NYC, and now I live in Cleveland, which is coincidentally where my mom grew up. My first Olive Garden visit was here, when my grandma was dying. I was about 16, and my dad took me to the Olive Garden so we could get out of the house and away from all the sadness (this sounds callous, but you hopefully know what I mean; neither of us were close to my mom's family so it was nice to get a breather.) Now, my dad lived in Milan for years, and he always knew the best Italian restaurant in any given New York neighborhood, and he probably knew the owner from way back in the day, and he, like KNEW Italian food. And he raised me, so I had a pretty sophisticated palate.

Turns out the Olive Garden in Strongsville was fine. It was totally great, under the circumstances. It wasn't Da Silvano, but they gave me a ridiculous cappuccino with Reddi-Whip on top. Also, when the guy came by with the dessert tray, my dad asked him as a joke if the chocolate cake was real, and the long-suffering server picked it up and tapped himself on the head with it to demonstrate that, no, it was 100% solid plastic.

Now I'm an adult, with kids of my own, and everything about me has matured, so obviously I prefer Chili's. But that probably-gone-now Olive Garden has a place in my heart.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:48 AM on April 20 [8 favorites]


My family went to Olive Garden a few months ago for lunch, and enjoyed ourselves. We live in a place (not Ohio but Ohio-adjacent) where you can have any kind of chain restaurant food you want (with the occasional quite-good ethnic restaurant thrown in--Ethiopian, Thai, Vietnamese—thanks to a large university that attracts a lot of international grad students), and we enjoyed our Olive Garden lunch. We had a wine we liked very much, since we have very unsophisticated palates. The thing Olive Garden does really well, though, is desserts. We have a fancy-schmancy upscale bakery here whose desserts look great but always disappoint, but the Olive Garden desserts really deliver. We have a half-formed plan to go to OG in the middle of the afternoon some time and just order all the desserts. This will be fun.

The idea of an Olive Garden that has run out of breadsticks is pretty terrifying, though. That's what people go there for! I would not like to be an Olive Garden staff member on that day.
posted by Orlop at 9:59 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


what is all this terrible American food
Kompressor crush American burger
posted by thelonius at 10:14 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I didn't actually eat a meal in my 12 hours overnight in New York in February, which may or may not have been a mistake - my stomach was pretty unsettled, so I had crackers and cake and coffee, which works for me. But I can confirm that as a Brit, I did go into the Pret a Manger leaving Penn Station, because that was definitely going to be the most likely place I could find something that'd trigger my appetite.

My biggest shame on this front, though, is when I needed a coffee in a station in Moscow, and the only place I could find was (low quality British chain which I never go to normally) Costa Coffee. It did the job, but at 250 rubles when there were 50 rubles to the pound, it was the priciest coffee I've ever had, I think.
posted by ambrosen at 10:23 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


One of the things that has always alienated me slightly from most of my friends and "travel culture" in general (is that a thing? I'm not sure) is that I am totally the person who will, by default, walk up to a McDonald's in wherever-the-hell-I-am and order the usual. That's not to say I won't push myself; I didn't eat a whole lot of western food when I was in Japan and didn't stop at a McDonald's until I was at Narita waiting for the flight home. (P.S.: best McChicken sandwich I've ever had.)

But generally speaking, I don't think of myself as a super adventurous traveler. The idea of backpacking through countries doesn't exactly set my heart aflame. Weird food is not really my thing, I tend to like places that aren't grimy or outdoors-y (which rules out 75% of the world, really), and I'm paranoid about being taken advantage of as a naive tourist, which tends to rule out most of the remaining 25%.


I'm with Chrominance. I freely admit I'm not the most adventuresome person in the world, but I still like to travel. And I've never been a very adventuresome eater. While there's some ways I'll go more out of my shell than other ways, I do like having a comfortable baseline - a hotel at a certain minimum standard, and the ability to find something that I'll eat at a reasonable price. Maybe it doesn't meet the travelers snob's definition of traveling, but that's their problem, not mine.

My first night in Athens? I was hungry, it was late, and I wanted food that I could interpret in a short period of time. We ended up at a Subway. It worked for what we needed at the time. The next day we did eat somewhere that was far more local, but that was when I had some more time to peruse some menus and look to find something that I'd find reasonable to eat.

Ironically, outside the US and Canada, I think I've only ever been to one McDonalds, and that was in Uruguay. And largely because we needed something to eat real quick, and had very little time to procure it, so that was about the only choice that was going to work.
posted by piper28 at 10:28 AM on April 20


I always joke that Indian restaurants are the high-brow McDonald's for us when we travel and tire of the local cuisine (North American large cities are spoiled for cuisine choice as well as cuisine ingredients for cooking, so it can be odd to eat the same style of food every day if you're not used to doing that at home) but there is pretty much always a reasonably good Indian restaurant in big cities elsewhere where the staff almost always speaks English and you know what everything on the menu is. Once in St Petersburg where the restaurants "ran out of food" (allegedly; I think it was communication problems), following a marathon or something there and where very few people seemed to speak much English, we were positively overjoyed to come across an Indian restaurant where they both spoke English and were happy to feed us.

That said, I usually get flack from my BF for wanting to go to McDonald's in some European countries (Spain, Finland) but I want to because they have gluten-free buns so I can have a cheeseburger, which I can't at home. Ditto Subway in the few(?) US states that have the gluten-free bun option available. In Spain I made the mistake of getting the potatoes (I think they're supposed to be like patatas bravas?) and they were bad; McDonald's french fries forever.
posted by urbanlenny at 10:46 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Count me as another frequent travel that has a guilty pleasure thing for McDonaldses abroad. Maybe we should form a club.

A few years ago I was traveling through Japan with a friend who's a great guy but one of those folks who might be a little too hipstery-obsessed about local experiences. I did most of the planning so I went out of my way to look for fun and interesting local places for us to visit, and we saw a lot of great stuff and ate some amazing food. But when I had an early morning to myself in Osaka and found a McDonald's around the corner from the train station... yeah, sorry not sorry Alex.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 10:49 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


the McDonald's at the end of Haight St.

This was the McDonald's closest to my house as a kid. You know that supposed "live and let live" San Francisco attitude? You get it from growing up hanging out at the Stanyan St. McDonalds as a kid and ignoring a whole lot of shady stuff.
posted by zachlipton at 10:51 AM on April 20 [5 favorites]


This reminds me of a heartrending twitter thread that touches on the class issues surrounding OG by Stephanie McKellop‏:

While it's surely true that people don't want to leave their comfort zone when traveling, I think that those comments about the Times Square Olive Garden miss something important: there's more than one Olive Garden in Manhattan, and the wait time was over two hours. Now, I don't know when the manager was working at OG - if this was pre-smartphone days people probably aren't just googling up the next-closest OG as an alternative. But two hours -heck, even one hour- is a long time to wait for a familiar experience when similar familiar experiences can be had elsewhere. There are other dynamics at play.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:52 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


1adam12: "I cannot express how angry it makes me that someone would visit New York City, one of the greatest places in the world to eat, and choose Olive Garden."

ObTheOffice: Right here is my favorite New York pizza joint and I'm gonna go get me a New York slice!
posted by mhum at 10:56 AM on April 20 [5 favorites]


They closed the Olive Garden branches in Toronto many years ago because the chain wasn't making enough money off them. I must confess that I kind of liked the breadsticks, but it was a long time ago, when food was mostly just fuel for me.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 11:10 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


One of the main reasons tourists in the Times Square area eat at Olive Garden is because that entire area of the city has been turned into a gigantic tourist-focused strip mall full of mega-chains and flagship "experience" stores for brands such as Lego and Hershey. If you're at 42nd and Broadway you have to make some effort to eat at a real restaurant.

I miss Cafe Edison. It's not like it was that good, but it was actual food in a real restaurant in exactly the right location and not a corporate plastic creation.

I was in the neighborhood recently and walked by an alleged "British pub" called the Cock & Bull on 45th, and I had to stop and take a picture of their sign. They advertise "the best chicken pot pie I have ever eaten -- Yelp Review. They failed to specify whether the Yelp review was left by the chef's mother.

All that said, the Kellogg's pop-up in Times Square is a pretty amazing sugar delivery system.
posted by zachlipton at 11:17 AM on April 20


there's more than one Olive Garden in Manhattan

According to Olive Garden's web site, there are two. The other one is on 125th Street, a twenty-minute subway ride away.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:17 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


there's more than one Olive Garden in Manhattan

According to Olive Garden's web site, there are two. The other one is on 125th Street, a twenty-minute subway ride away.
[125th Street] is often considered to be the "Main Street" of Harlem, and is co-named Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
posted by Etrigan at 11:19 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I would feel sort of dumb if I had a date that didn't go anywhere with someone and it just got turned into "lol I had this hilarious experience".

Isn't that the consolation prize of bad dates, though? If you can't turn them into hilarious stories, what good are they?
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:20 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Snarking on people who just want cheap, quick, uncomplicated food that has been engineered to taste good is becoming really tiresome, IMO.
posted by delight at 11:41 AM on April 20 [7 favorites]


[125th Street] is often considered to be the "Main Street" of Harlem, and is co-named Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.

Well, yeah, but I wasn't going to come right out and say it.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:05 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Snarking on people who just want cheap, quick, uncomplicated food that has been engineered to taste good is becoming really tiresome, IMO.
IMO.
posted by fullerine at 1:03 PM on April 20 [7 favorites]


When my folks came to visit me in NYC from the Netherlands, a couple of years ago, they insisted on eating at a McDonald's one night, even though there's been one in their Dutch town for many years. To them, it was about the thrill of being at a real, American McDonald's.
posted by monospace at 1:05 PM on April 20 [2 favorites]


The airport is the best place for foreign McDonalds because your hands are tied anyway. My wife and I have been successful finding solace in Chinese restaurants in our more recent trips which adds extra levels to the familiar-but-foreign; not American Chinese but still my friend!
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:20 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


It's a damn dirty shame if someone goes to a town stuffed with Italian restaurants and resorts to OG

The thing is... my experience is that midrange red checkered tablecloth/family Italian restaurants in the US are often mediocre to bad. High end ones are often fabulous, but I used to go out to supposedly excellent old-line Italian restaurants in Baltimore, a place that has a history of good Italian food, and get soggy pasta and indifferent sauces, and often equally indifferent service. If you are going to get mediocre Italian food anyway, you might as well get it with infinite salad and breadsticks and efficient service.
posted by tavella at 2:52 PM on April 20 [7 favorites]


In the 1990s there may have been an excuse for this. But it's 2017, people have phones with Yelp or whatever on them, and most of the tourists we're talking about are American, understand how bills and tips and ordering works, and could find a place that would seat them faster, and cost them less, than OG. A lot faster and a lot less. It's the waste of the experience that hurts me, like when I see Chinese tourists in Rome piling into Chinese restaurants or Americans in Paris eating at McD's. Which I understand, I was in Paris with a 2-year-old and the joy at a bathroom and menu items she'd reliably eat was indescribable, but give us a break.

Hell, I have been asked by 100% random NYC tourists on the street where to eat, and have been so overjoyed and delighted that someone is finally making a choice to NOT do the chain that I not only made a recommendation, but personally walked them there and recommended specific things from the menu.
posted by 1adam12 at 3:22 PM on April 20 [3 favorites]


Not everyone wants to spend time trying to parse Yelp to tell if a restaurant is good or if the ratings are the product of sock puppets. Not everyone wants to spend an hour negotiating their way to a restaurant everyone can agree on.

I learned a long time ago not to get upset because other people are enjoying an experience, as long as it isn't hurting anyone else. What I think they should want is irrelevant.
posted by tavella at 3:46 PM on April 20 [14 favorites]


I have shared this sentiment before, but hopefully it bears repeating.

I am an insufferable food snob. I get the majority of my happiness from food. I plan all my travel around which restaurants I can get into. And I always try to go to McDonald's when I travel to a new country. I believe the fastest way to understand someone is by looking at their shoes, and the fastest way to understanding a new culture is by the local-only items at their McDonald's.

It's... like looking at a caricature. Exaggerated but interesting nonetheless.

A sampling:

Japan: Ebi fry (filet-o-shrimp)
India: McPaneer Royale
Chile: Cheese empanadas
Malaysia: Bubur Ayam (chicken congee)
Indonesia & Philippines: Fried chicken with spaghetti
Brazil: Pao de queijo (cheese bread)
Germany: McNurnburger (bratwurst sandwich)
Denmark: Tolberone McFlurry
France: Just a crazy ass McCafe with a billion beautiful pastries
Italy: Pizzarotto (calzone)
Spain: Gazpacho
Canada: Poutine
China: Taro pie
DE, FR, IT, ES, AT, CH: Beer
etc.

BTW speaking as an insufferable food snob, I don't care where other people eat? It doesn't affect my enjoyment of my own life... all it means is I might elect to do non-food activities with you, if we don't have that in common.
posted by danny the boy at 4:00 PM on April 20 [11 favorites]


And FYI danny the boy, Nova Scotia McDs have McLobsters in season.
posted by hydrobatidae at 4:32 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Yes! They are also served in McD's across New England. Fresh pineapple is a common side in Hawaii, but I'm not aware of any other regular regional-only menu items in the US. A few locations here in the bay area had Gilroy garlic fries as a test item for a little while.
posted by danny the boy at 4:52 PM on April 20


I have always referred to using the McDonald's restroom in a foreign country as "Visiting the American Embassy"
posted by MOWOG at 5:24 PM on April 20 [7 favorites]


When I drove a cab I'd pick people up at their hotel and they'd ask me to take them to OG or Red Lobster or Chili's or Ruth Chris and I'd turn around and ask them if they were fucking insane. You don't come to Asheville and eat on the strip by the mall with all the unadventurous trumpies from the county. I won't allow it. I could always find them something better and if I saw them later they'd thank me.

I avoid chains because life is too short but every so often my little guy will turn to me after a movie at 2 am on a Friday night and say "Waffle House?" And we're off.

It's exciting. Everyone is drunk and there are fights and people to step over in the bathroom. I caught a hurled coffee cup once and people cheered. Boy loves it. I recommend the hash browns, smothered, covered, country and capped. This is the real USA. Why can't we export that?
posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:32 PM on April 20


danny the boy: "I'm not aware of any other regular regional-only menu items in the US"

Well, there's the McMuffin vs. Biscuit divide. And, for a long time, sweet tea was only available in McDonald's in the South (I'm guessing in areas lining up with their biscuit belt) but then they made it available nationally. I haven't been in one for years so I don't know if it's still available nationally, though.
posted by mhum at 5:59 PM on April 20


I avoid chains because life is too short but every so often my little guy will turn to me after a movie at 2 am on a Friday night and say "Waffle House?" And we're off.

IIRC, one late-night/early-morning after Xmas Jam, we ended up at that Waffle House, and the police officer hanging around gave us directions to Denny's. Moons-over-my-Hammy FTW!
posted by mikelieman at 6:13 PM on April 20


In the small town where I grew up, it was a big deal when the Olive Garden opened. It was a Fancy Restaurant, not fast food, or a diner, or a pizza place, or even a steakhouse because Fancy Italian Food is fancier than steak. And it is fancy compared to what else was available in town: Olive Garden is a sit-down restaurant with Italian words on the menu. It's an appealingly good value for families because of the salad and bread sticks. It's a special-occasion restaurant for many lower middle class families in rural areas.

And now I'm in a world where we're supposed to show off how superior we are that we would neeeeever eat at Olive Garden, especially in New York. Fuck that.

I have my upper middle class bona fides now, when I travel I enjoy searching out cool non chain restaurants and new types of food. But sometimes I go with the familiar choice, like I've been at a conference for 12 hours and I'm tired because I don't sleep that well last night and I've spent all day noticing the subtle sexist and racist little things that happen at the conference and I know that Qdoba will give me an acceptable burrito that I can take back to my hotel room and relax and eat while having a few precious moments away from thousands of goddamn people. If you don't like that, too bad.
posted by medusa at 6:36 PM on April 20 [14 favorites]


Regional McD? Australia with beet root, fried egg and pineapple. I stared at that menu in slack jawed awe. Yeah, the Sheraton Mirage had a great breakfast buffet but that burger was a revelation! I missed out on sausage sizzle experience, but that will be remedied in a few months. I dig the people I am with, the feelings of food under any circumstance. Heck, I would not sniffle at endless breadsticks and thou, man.
posted by jadepearl at 6:44 PM on April 20 [3 favorites]


As a suburban plebe, I am fine with Olive Garden and unashamed. Though I've had better breadsticks (prefer 'em crunchy). I was amused at how on Glee, the one restaurant in Lima, Ohio was called "Breadstix" and everyone swooned over eating there.

I've been to about 35 countries, in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, and by far the absolute worst bathroom in my entire life was the McDonald's at the end of Haight St. near the park in San Francisco.

Yeah, but that was San Francisco, which has a wide variety of not-so-sane people. There are reasons why bathrooms are (a) hard to find at all, (b) ONLY FOR PAYING CUSTOMERS, (c) small and behind locked doors that they have to give you a key for, pretty much everywhere in SF. (And why you can't count on clean/free restrooms there.) God forbid you have to suddenly go in that town and aren't in a restaurant already.

Don't go in BART bathrooms or elevators either, I swear I've seen what looked like murder scenes in their bathrooms, even in frigging Pleasanton.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:30 PM on April 20


This whole discussion reminds me of the time David Choe took Anthony Bourdain to the LA Koreatown Sizzler as an authentic cultural experience.

In fact, I think an entire show with famous foodie people going to the gross dining establishments of their youth and talking about how it shaped their relationship with food would be fascinating.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:13 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I'm realising I don't properly understand what an Olive Garden is, having never been to one. In the UK we have a chain of high brow Italians called Zizzi's. Is it like that? I think they do breadsticks too. I quite enjoy Zizzi's, but I know there's a level of excellence they will never achieve because their food is prepared to such strict guidelines.
posted by trif at 12:30 AM on April 21


Does Zizzi's specialize in pasta with cream sauce? OG is not high-brow, it's a focus-grouped caricature with a sophisticated refrigerated distribution network.
posted by rhizome at 3:30 AM on April 21


Q: Did they still have the knives?
A: No, he took them.
Q: Did he give them breadsticks?
A: What? No.
Q: Sorry.

posted by panama joe at 3:45 AM on April 21


Yeah, looking at Zizzi's menu online, it seems like it is aiming for a more creative and refined palate than Olive Garden. The Olive Garden menu features lots of fried things, lots of thick red sauces, lots of melted cheese, and literal piles of carbs. Very consistent comfort food, but it's really not aiming for culinary excellence.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:45 AM on April 21


Having eaten at both Zizzi's and OG I would put Zizzis higher on the totem pole of goodness than OG. OG is more of an American idea of an Italian restaurant, where Zizzi's is an Italian inspired restaurant. OG is more like an Italian restaurant version of a Wetherspoons, nothing too fancy and decent food as a good price but it is a bit pile it high and sell it cheap over anything even remotely authentic.

OG is decent food and certainly consistent, if at the expense of not actually being Italian other than the fact that the serve a lot of pasta.
posted by koolkat at 3:53 AM on April 21


I have a soft spot in my heart for OG.

Way back when ElderMonster was a wee tiny Monster, and we were broke AF, our wedding anniversary came around. We could afford a nice dinner out OR a babysitter and just drinks out. So we bundled up ElderMonster and went to OG.

He cheerfully waved a breadstick around and ate spaghetti and was generally charming. We mentioned that it was our anniversary, and our server grinned and asked if we might like a few minutes sans Monster. She picked him up, spoke to another server, then took him to an unoccupied table to point out the window at cars and people and the moon.

The other server appeared with 2 glasses of bubbly and tiramisu with two spoons, then went over to assist in Monster amusing.

OG is not the best Italian food. I rarely go there these days. But they really did treat us like family when they treated us to bubbly, dessert, and 15 minutes of quiet to toast another year together, and that's a lovely thing.
posted by MissySedai at 7:29 PM on April 21 [19 favorites]


2 OG Stories:

#1 I grew up in a town without an OG and drove one hour for our pre-prom dinner to the OG because that was "fancy" in our 18 year-old-eyes. We were definitely the only people in a tux and gown in the whole place. But we felt special and the food seemed grown-up to us.

#2 The town that I currently live in, and moved to 9 years ago has been desperate to get an OG. Whenever the topic of restaurants comes up, people moan and complain and yearn for an OG. Residents regularly drive one hour in either direction for the OG experience. Well....as of this spring, an OG is being built in our town and the excitement in the air is palpable. Just as when the Krispy Kreme opened, I anticipate people camping out, hours long lines, back ups off of the interstate and general madness surrounding the grand-opening. Mr. Jupiter and I have agreed that we will go for bread sticks, sometime around the 6 month mark-if the lines have died down.

With that in mind, I love trying new and interesting restaurants and cuisines, but at the same time can totally appreciate an endless salad and bread sticks lunch.
posted by JennyJupiter at 7:42 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


I not only made a recommendation, but personally walked them there and recommended specific things from the menu.

Was it Olive Garden?
posted by Literaryhero at 10:41 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


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