Olive Garden has a new menu; Darden is desperately trying to re-invent it's low end. It gave up on Red Lobster and sold the brand; I wanted to see what they've done with Olive Garden.
This location is in the heart of geriatric Pompano Beach, and it was pretty dreary before. I walked in to their foyer, which is like the lobby of a cheap hotel. There was no hostess. "She should be back soon", promised a passing by server. So I waited and waited. I had time to take some photos.
The bar is one of the worst places to eat or have a drink at a large restaurant in the city. It's like a bad airport lunch counter.
They've changed out the chairs with the bad upholstery and the casters and changed the lighting. It seems impossible, but they've made the place substantially more dreary than before.
Finally the hostess returned and brought me into the back dining room. No booths available; I got a table in the rear.
I've said it before and I'll say it again; having lunch at the Olive Garden is like eating in a retirement home.
They only offered me a lunch menu; I'm not sure if they serve their full menu or not. My server was quite elusive. It was 12 minutes before she arrived with a big bottle of white wine and a glass. I thought to myself "I didn't order wine, did I?". She blurted "Would you like to sample our house white wine?". No, can I get an iced tea please with extra lemon. I also ordered my lunch; The Rosemary Chicken ($11.79) with salad. She came back with a tea with no lemon. "Lemon Please", "Oh, you wanted extra lemon". Very smooth.
Salad here is so legendary that they don't even have a description of it on the menu. It comes with Italian dressing. Period. No choices. It also comes in a huge bowl, even when you're at a table of 1. I made the mistake of ordering soup the last time here; you have to get the salad.
The massive Salad Tongs are great for the flrst grab, but become increasingly cumbersome as the volume diminishes. There are way too many big croutons.
I loaded a plate and dug in.
No cucumbers but decent tomatoes; the red cabbage could be left out. I finished the salad, and no Chicken. So I made another plate.
Waiting and waiting, I ended up polishing off the salad; 3 plates in all, although I left all of the croutons.
21 minutes after getting the salad, the chicken was brought out by a runner. She had 3 items on her tray, and had no idea which was mine.
I didn't realize that the spinach was going to be raw. Really? Who serves raw spinach with chicken and mashed potatoes. All I needed was another salad.
The chicken was a bland cutlet that seemed engineered to me. The only rosemary on the chicken was the sprig; the potatoes were also incredibly bland. While there was garlic on the plate, none of it's flavor made it to the chicken or the potatoes.
It's a good thing I had the big salad with this, because this wasn't much food. The pictures show 2 cutlets, but I guess for lunch they only give you 1 cutlet. Not a very good deal since the dinner is only $3 more; Lunch is supposed to be a better value.
In a chain of bad restaurants, this one has to be one of the worst. While it seems impossible, they've made it even less inviting with their latest changes. 55 minutes for lunch; bad service, and food that is just as bad as always. You get a big salad and bread sticks, which is the only saving grace.
Olive Garden Fort Lauderdale
The Olive Garden is one of those places that people use as a joke when referring to a bad Italian Restaurant; of all of the chain Italians, to me Olive Garden is by far the worst.
Their menu is curiously offbeat; it's very easy to make some standard Italian recipes to fill your menu, but Olive Garden seems to try to expand the traditional recipes into something completely different. The menu has some recipes that don't even seem like Italian food.
This is also one of the ugliest restaurants in Fort Lauderdale. The entire place is yellow, and it has table and chairs that look like they're right out of my Grandmother's kitchen in the bar. The bar here is to be avoided; it's very uncomfortable and the guy that was working the last time I was here was downright nutty. I opted for the dining room this time.
Olive Garden Fort Lauderdale Bar
The dining room isn't much better, and the lunchtime clientelle here is blue hair city.
It's also packed at lunch time; I'm not quite sure why older people always seem to go for bad Italian food, but they do.
Olive Garden Fort Lauderdale Dining Room
The big thing that people talk about is the bread sticks; they're nice and soft but there's no butter to spread on them or marinara sauce to dip into. The breadsticks are, in fact, the best thing that they have to offer.
Olive Garden Bread Sticks
I didn't seem much that caught my eye on the menu; everything sounded breaded and saucy. A fallback is the chicken caesar salad, but you can get one of those almost anywhere. Their "special" menu had Stuffed Chicken di Mare, which sounded halfway decent; described as Chicken stuffed with a special blend of cheeses and sun-dried tomatoes with shrimp in a seafood cream sauce. It comes with soup or salad; the only salad choice is a garden salad with italian dressing; I ordered the Pasta e Fagioli.
The soup came out immediately in a very heavy bowl and saucer set.
Olive Garden Pasta E Fagioli
Now this was a pretty aggressive soup, with rough cut vegetables, meat and lots of pasta and not too many beans. I usually pick around the pasta; this was more soup than I wanted. It tasted more like minestrone; I have a feeling that their minestrone is a variant of this. The soup wasn't terrible; as good as Campbell Chunky; I left most of the pasta and about 1/3 of the soup.
While I waited for the chicken, I unwrapped the utensils. They have some pretty scary looking mini pitchforks here.
Olive Garden Utensils
When my server brought out the chicken, my heart sank a bit; it looked like a disaster.
Olive Garden Stuffed Chicken di Mare
My choices for a side were all bad choices; mashed potatoes, pasta, fettucini or butternut squash. The squash was awful, with some sort of sweet glaze. The "stuffed" chicken wasn't really stuffed; there were 2 pieces of chicken with some stuff in between; there was some cheese, but it was mostly breading.
Olive Garden Stuffed Chicken Di Mare
Bad, tasteless shrimp probably borrowed from another Darden loser, Red Lobster; and some sort of orange sauce that coagulated somewhere between the kitchen and the table. I basically separated out the chicken and shrimp and made a go of it; it didn't taste bad but it wasn't good either. This wouldn't have been bad with a simple white sauce. Whatever they did was just plain incompetent. It reminded me of a newburg sauce you might get at a bad diner.
Darden's stock has been tanking recently due to poor earnings; CNBC has been speculating that Red Lobster and Olive Garden are underperforming because they've fallen out of the culture in the low end dining niche. I have another idea; maybe it's because their food sucks? Their recipes don't sound right, the pictures of the food don't look that good, and it's even worse in person. Why does anyone come here at all? I can't answer that. I guess some people will eat anything if it's a deal; they certainly give you a lot of food.