Olive Garden vs. Authentic Italian Restaurants

I’m going to say someting that makes foodies drop their jaws…

I’ve eaten at Olive Garden many times and I’ve eaten at many authentic Italian restaurants, some very pricey. I really can’t tell the difference between the quality. I like them both. Yet I hear a lot of people complaining about Olive Garden being very inferior.

Am I missing something? What’s the difference in the quality of food?

Mind you, I’m only talking about the pasta dishes. Maybe that has something to do with it?

Well, that has a lot to do with it. A real Italian menu ought to include a lot of fish, beans, vegetables, and some meat in addition to pasta dishes. Pasta is just one course in an Italian dinner.

I was in Italy for a month doing an internship, in addition to having vacationed there twice. In the cafeteria of the institute where I interned, I don’t remember much pasta at all… just a vague idea that spaghetti carbonara was available, maybe. Salads, steamed vegetables, carpaccio, cutlets, mackerel, and lots of fruit were the memorable items.

For the really picky people (which I’m not) there are then all of the dishes that are American creations, sometimes involving combinations that give Italians the vapors. I’ve heard seafood + cheese is one such, but I can’t confirm it myself… in fact I’ve had seafood on top of pizza in Italy, and not in a tourist spot either.

Find an authentic Italian restaurant that sells a raw egg yolk carbonara with freshly made pasta. If you can find one, order it, enjoy it, and then go back to Olive Garden and try to find anything on the menu that compares to it.

Also, sardines and anchovies. Ah…the memories.

A “real authentic Italian restaurant”, in Italy, will not let you use ketchup, and if they see you try to bring a bottle of it into their restaurant, they will take it away from you.

A "real authentic Italian restaurant also will make fun of you and call you a** “Bambino” **if you drink milk with your meal.

I speak from personal experience.


Do they allow you to mix balsamic vinegar with olive oil and cracked pepper for bread-dipping? I was supremely annoyed a few months ago when I was at an alleged authentic Italian restaurant where the waiter refused to bring olive oil to the table with the bread basket.

Refusing to bring olive oil? The Italian place I go to has decanters of olive oil on every table. That’s like refusing to bring sugar for your tea. Milk for your coffee. Butter for your…

Indeed; it’s the norm in the neighborhood, family-owned Italian restaurants in the Chicago area. (Whether or not those actually resemble restaurants in Italy is another discussion entirely. :slight_smile: )

Pasta, it’s hard to screw up. It takes very little skill to make a perfectly decent plate of spaghetti. There’s some skill in making the sauce, of course, but a chain can make a bunch of that up in advance and send it to all their franchises. The same is not true, however, for (say) calamari, which is why I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t find it on the menu at Olive Garden.

Actually, calamari is on their dinner menu, as an appetizer. At least, it is when I look (their online menu customizes for your local area, which suggests that they tailor the menu for regional preferences).

But, yes, overall, OG does focus a lot of their menu on pasta.

(I haven’t been to either a olive garden nor an authentic Italian restaurant.)

So, according to this thread, “authentic” Italian restaurants have bad service and bully you?

For a guy that has always hated tomatoes, the Olive Garden is my worst nightmare.

I take my mom every year for Mothers Day and drink water while she eats.

You’d be surprised. I try not to be an “al dente” snob, but goddammit does it rob me of one of my joys of eating pasta if it’s taken past that point. Even “authentic” Italian restaurants do this from time to time. Irritating. And don’t get me started on the myriad of foodstuffs that are plastered with the name “risotto.”

If I may add my 2 cents worth. I stopped going to Olive Garden sometime around the late 90’s. I was a regular at Olive Garden for their “soup and salad” luncheon all-you-can-eat special at $4.95 up until 4:00 PM. as that was, hands down, an incredible bargain for me while I was unemployed at the time.

Our Olive Garden, through discussions with people who work there, uses pre-made entrees that are thrown in the microwave and heated up with the aforementioned pasta and thrown on a plate.

I don’t pretend to be the authority on such matters but I have to been to Italy four times and Olive Garden is not your typical Italian restaurant. A “typical” Italian restaurant serves meals in courses whereas the norm at Olive Garden is one entree with salad. The dishes at Olive Garden rely on high levels of salt and fat to boost the flavor in place of emphasis on fresh, well prepared ingredients.

I’m sorry for rambling a bit but Olive Garden will never get my vote for authentic Italian but I also feel the same about Macaroni Grill which, while more expensive, suffered from the same fate.

Italy is a big place, too- there are tons of kinds of Italian food and that’s without even bringing Italian-American food into the discussion. Personally, I hate Olive Garden because everything is so sweet. I realize there is that creamy, sugary subset of Italian food that is ever-popular in the US, but my family makes savory, spicy, oily Italian food. Nobody in my family puts sugar in their red sauce, but I know this is common amongst certain groups.

Different strokes, etc.

The hole in the wall Italian places tend to do things more like my family, so my preference leans more toward those places.

Maggiano’s. $50 a plate Italian for $12 a plate. Spicy, tasty,really well made dishes. Nothing else compares. Will put Olive Garden in the shade.

That’s the main reason I don’t like the Olive Garden (aside from it being a chain with “preprocessed food assembled in New Jersey”*). Most decent-sized cities and towns are going to have at least one independent Italian place that has far better food and cheaper prices than the Olive Garden. Unless you’re truly desperate for Italian food and you’re stuck somewhere that has nothing like the real thing within a few hundred miles, there’s excuse for choosing to go there.

  • William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways

I like Olive Garden, but I also think of Applebees and Outback Steakhouse as the pinnacle of steak eating, even though we have local steakhouses, and have to drive an hour or more to get to the chains.

I am currently living in Italy, (Florence/Firenze). Not many Italians, I know, eat the multi course meals. They might get a prima (pasta) or meat/fish with a side(cortoni) but not both. When I am in the states I avoid all" Italian" restaurants. just not the same. Don’t get me started on the pizzas…

Well, just about any chain restaurant around OG’s price point is going to do that, no matter what the cuisine supposedly is.

My husband loves OG, and I’ll usually go with him and order an appetizer for my meal. OG puts anise in a lot of their dishes, and I don’t like anise. So, I get the chicken fingers. And I eat the salad. And I usually have to get a to go box, because I can’t finish the fingers.

OG does have a lot of processed “nuked” food, but they do have some tasty dishes as well. I don’t consider them “true Italian” because I grew up with home made Italian dishes via my Grandmother, who was born in America but learned cooking from great-grandma who was from northern Italy. The closest I’ve found is the locally-owned Victoria’s restaurant in Rochester, MN. The biggest difference, as others have noted, is the quality of the ingredients and the variety of non-pasta dishes.