How to Eat at Olive Garden

This summer, the very first Olive Garden will open in the city of Chicago. Here’s how sophisticated urban diners should plan a trip to the newest restaurant in town.

Photograph: Chuck Berman/Chicago Tribune

Olive Garden waiter Alex Bergantino serves patrons, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011, at the Downers Grove location. 

Chicago is getting its very first Olive Garden this summer. Amazing as it is that the city didn’t have infinite breadsticks before now, the first familiar grape-purple sign will soon shine over the parking lot next to a Kmart at 3535 West Addison Street.

It’s possible that some of the more sophisticated city diners may be new to the Tuscan-inspired restaurant chain. Although it has been serving up saucy, carb-packed lunch and dinner fare to suburban mall shoppers for over a decade, urban eaters may have never gone the distance to any of the 10 Chicagoland locations.

For the uninitiated, here’s a brief list of some tried and true pointers to make the most of the Olive Garden experience: 

Go hungry. Whatever you do, don’t ingest anything before stepping foot in an Olive Garden. A bottomless salad bowl and baskets of buttery breadsticks are replenished until you forcefully say “sir, no more.” Given that Men’s Health named the appetizers as the #1 worst free restaurant food in America, you may want to speak up sooner rather than later. The main dishes are not exactly skimpy either.

Go for a deal. No need to save up much for a big date at the OG. Lunch starts at $6.95 and dinner is two for $25.

Go to…be healthy? The Olive Garden is trying its best to fit into today’s modern, health-obsessed culture. There’s an advertising and menu revamp, with some lighter fare under 575 calories. Vegetarians can even find suitable entrees: Linguine alla marinara, capellini pomodoro, and ravioli di portobello are a few options.

Go with caution. Side effects from unlimited zuppe/insalate/breadsticks consumption possibly included drowsiness, dramatic mid-section expansion, and inability to move or think clearly. And that’s all before tackling your entrée.

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1 year ago
Posted by rensta

I shall venture in knowing that I will be in a food coma before I even order an entree. You don't even know how excited I am.

1 year ago
Posted by Ken Krause

Jessica, you definitely hit the Olive Garden experience on the head! (I am a fan of that chain, incidentally.) The breadsticks alone are worth the trip, although they are calorie-packed. Love their salads too. I've gone at lunch before just for the soup, salad and breadsticks.

I have not tried a wide variety of their entrees, unfortunately, because I love their spaghetti and meatballs. It's funny, when they bring the plate out you think "hmmm, doesn't look like that much," but apparently it's an optical illusion because halfway through you're wondering if you should finish or take the rest home.

Thanks for a fun and funny read. Now I'm hungry.

1 year ago
Posted by MichaelR

Another thing: Don't expect to find anything remotely authentically Italian on the menu. Nothing on their menu would be found in Tuscany even if they randomly put the word "Tuscan" in front of it. There are many restaurants in Chicago that do a pretty good job presenting regional Italian food. Olive Garden is as authentic as Taco Bell is to Mexican food or Panda Express is to Chinese food.

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