Olive Garden, Romano’s Marcaroni Grill, Buca di Beppo — I don’t eat in these joints and if you love authentic Italian food you shouldn’t either. The food they serve has been engineered to appeal to the bland American palate that prizes grease, calories and volume. Most of what they serve is a disgrace and has no connection to the healthy simple dishes that Italians and Italian-Americans enjoy.
The Wall Street Journal had a piece in today’s paper about how these chains struggle to keep and grow their middle America clientele with low-brow tastes.
Olive Garden sends its chefs to Italy to taste the real deal. Unfortunately, when they return to their test kitchens in Orlando the chefs reverse-engineer the dish and bastardize it so that it appeals to their customers.
They stopped making basil pesto for pasta because it was too green for their clientele. A great pasta dish they enjoyed in northern Italy was too “rustic” so they added a cheesy sauce and meat to make it more “normal” and to convince their customers that it was a good deal. They don’t use capers often because the salty and pickled flavor is too out there for their diners. Gnocchi was a bit too adventurous so they only serve it in soup. My delicate gnocchi would never hold up in this water bath.
Please, please, please! Do not equate what you get at these chain restaurants with authentic regional cuisine in Italia or with the food that I celebrate on Gianni’s North Beach. Visit Italia, and until you do, cook up some of my dishes for yourself. You’ll feel better after you eat and, even at chain prices, you’ll save money too.