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Olive Garden Italian Restaurant

In a word: When you're here, you're famished.

The specs: #0444  
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Yelp, Madison Hot Bite; official web site, Olive Garden on Urbanspoon

Chuck ate the all-you-can-eat soup and salad lunch combo.
JM ate the cheese ravioli with a lemonade.
John Se. ate the eggplant Parmesan.
Kim ate the lasagna classico with a diet Coke.
Nichole ate the chicken Caesar salad with a diet Coke.
SM ate the capellini pomodoro.
Steve ate the lasagna classico.
The bill was ? - thanks, birthday treaters!
John Se. gave Olive Garden a B; JM, Steve S. and SM gave Olive Garden a B-; Kim gave Olive Garden a B-/C+; Nichole gave Olive Garden a C- (see our grading rubric).

Another year older, another work lunch for JM. This time in the foodie hell that is the OG. We set aside our preconceived notions and tucked into our meal.

A couple of our party really noticed the slow service. Especially Chuck, who ordered the multi-course soup sampler meal, the value of which is predicated on the ability to try different kinds of soup in small bowls before your companions finish their pasta. In this case he barely got to eat a bowl of the admittedly good chili and sausage soup. Perhaps this makes the OG the best place for an office lunch - if everyone's enduring the same wait, at least the anxiety of being late back to work is mitigated.

The family-style bowl of salad was presented with a flourish and served very cold, and almost overdressed in oil. Despite that, it was the best part of JM's meal, even better than the forgettable cheese ravioli, which were neither as flavorful nor as good at sopping up the marinara as he'd hoped. Nichole's Caesar salad was not noteworthy.

The lasagna could have used more sauce and less ricotta. On the other hand, the capellini pomodoro was well-sauced, even more so than a "good" local Italian restaurant SM declined to name. The eggplant Parmesan was soggy and greasy, though the pasta was al dente. Nobody really yummed up the breadsticks, which seemed to be of the frozen dough variety.

Bottom line: The OG is filling and mostly inoffensive. That said, we don't know who really clamors to go there, outside of cash strapped college-agers who think of it as a "nice" "date" 'straunt.

Comments

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I LOVE the flavor of the salad dressing.Minestrone soup has variable ingredients depending on season, so doesn't get boring. In thinking about it, I would say the soup is probably the best part.

Pasta entrees are average / above average, but nothing to right home about. Seafood / meat is typically very good or so my friends say. Eggplant normally is greasy & should be avoided.

Deserts are too expensive [compared with a pint of custard available elsewhere], but generally very good.

I have two main issues.
#1. Lack of consistency of both serving & food/portions. Both can very significantly even at the same restaurant, which I consider unacceptable for a chain restaurant.
#2. Prices in the last year or two have reached the point, where I no longer consider it a "good deal", at least for pasta entrees.

Overall a perfectly good place to go if you want a bit "higher class" place without having to spend much extra, also has something on the menu for everyone, but nothing too special.

Hint: If you get the salad, it NEEDS to be tossed, before taking a serving. Dressing is just poured on, so is mainly on the bottom, yet most people seem to just take a serving without tossing it, which could explain the "oiliness".

Definitely agree the place has priced itself out of the "decent food for the money" category. If I find myself dragged to OG, I do enjoy the Zuppa Toscana--the kale, cream and spicy sausage soup. Also, their peach iced tea is delish. I found the eggplant cooked fine, but just had no flavor. Much more flavorful varieties found elsewhere.

With all the really great Italian restaurants here in Madison this should not even be a blip on the dining radar. I can reheat ravioli at home, toss prego pre made sauce on it - and I'd have the same quality food. Prob. better since I use RP's in most of my cooking.

Most of their food is pre-created and frozen.

I got lasagna at Angelo's in Monona a couple of nights ago and, while it wasn't bad, it certainly wasn't great. Probably could have done just as well at Olive Garden for less money.

Arguing over mid-priced Italian is like arguing over brands of vodka. It's all pretty much the same, except for the label.

I could never understand the appeal of the place. It's not that it's bad; it's just...meh. There are much better places to eat in Madison.

Not all of us live in Madison & have easy access to those better places though. :-(

This is one of those places that when I am dragged to I choose to drink my dinner. With 2 room mates in college I was over exposed! Love the review and could not agree more!

unacceptably overcooked pasta, skimpy meat portions, surprisingly expensive bills. this has got to be one of the worst places to eat, barely a notch above applebees; that said, once every couple years we end up at one. the breadsticks are ok, the salads and soups can be better than average.

OG used to be serviceable. Prices were okay, food was okay, salad was good, desserts were fine. Now, prices are awful, food is below-average, salad is just okay, and you don't even want to think about staying for dessert.

The capellini pomodoro used to be a hidden gem, honestly. The last time (and I mean that literally) we were there, it was mighty disappointing.

Nobody I know is stupid enough to try and take me to an Olive Garden. I'd rather eat fast food from just about any chain. At least it's cheaper crap.

I don't understand the appeal of the Olive Garden or any of the other chains that surround the mall. So many great options in this city, who would wait for two hours on a Saturday night to eat this crap? Or Texas Roadhouse or Chili's or whatever else. I figure it must be out of town people who are done shopping for the day and don't care what they are eating.

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