Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Review: The Olive Garden, Greenville, NC

This week, MySpace launched a new service called MySpace Local. There doesn't seem to be anything for my neck of the woods, so as a project, I'm going to review restaurants in and around Greenville, North Carolina (including Washington and Chocowinity) to represent my (current) part of the world. From this blog you can read all of my reviews (though, this is just the first one) by browsing my labels and looking under Review. The review follows:

Greenville's Olive Garden restaurant, on Greenville Blvd., is nice, but the overall experience is not all that spectacular.

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The building itself is very nice to look at, and it's nice and cozy inside. The waitstaff are all clean and sharp, and I've never seen anything damaged or worn inside. However, as it's very close to the mall, plus it's in a badly designed parking lot, the lot immediately surrounding the restaurant is almost always full. If it's cold, don't forget your jacket, you might have a fair walk to and from. If it's raining, forget about it. (And it rains hard in North Carolina.)

The service is well organized, but it's not good for handling large loads. On Valentines' Day, for instance, customers were asked to wait outside in near-freezing temperatures. They were telling people 2 hours. (In the cold. With no offer of breadsticks or anything. We waited about 50-55 minutes. Not quite an hour. On a given Friday or Saturday night, you can expect a wait of 15-30 minutes, and they have those coasters which double as pagers, and you can usually wait inside.

Seating is conservative, meaning they will try to seat you at a table first. The chairs are not very comfortable; I've sat in worse but also much better. Upon request they'll seat you in a booth, but as these are in higher demand, you'll have to wait a few minutes.

Once you're seated, you can expect to get your drinks in relative short order, provided you know what you want when you sit down. If so, they'll ask as soon as you sit, and they get them out quickly. That's for soda and sweet tea, anyway - for fancy beverages, your mileage may vary.

One of Olive Garden's "big things" is the free breadsticks. They are quite good (if a little salty) but you have to ask for them sometimes. You can usually get them soon after you get your drinks if you have a nice server, but most likely you'll have to wait until you have your soup and/or salad.

I have only tried one soup at Olive Garden, and it's the single best thing on their menu. I'm not lying. I can't say enough good things about their Zuppa Toscana soup. It's potatoes, sausage, and spinach in a broth. As we sometimes say on the Internet, it's made of pure win. My wife has never complained about their salad, however.

Olive Garden has two menus. The first is their regular menu, subject to change but almost always the same stuff. The second is the seasonal menu; this changes every month or two. Their regular menu doesn't offer much variety. Their seasonal menu, however, will often have at least one good thing on it, but that depends if you like the theme. Last time we went, it was seafood, and I'm not a seafood person, so I wasn't attracted to a single thing on that menu.

Mostly, their food is as good as you can expect for Italian food. It's hot, just the right amount of spice, and very flavorful. The portions are generous; if you're not a big eater, after the soup and breadsticks, you'll be likely asking for a to-go box. As such, we don't often try the dessert, but last time, I got a tiramisu, and it was good. Not great, but good. The white chocolate cake (cheesecake?) with the raspberry drizzle is also very good.

The prices are high, but not unfair. Two people can expect to run up a $40-45 bill between two soft drinks and an entree each plus the breadsticks and soup or salad, and that usually comes to $50-55 after the tip. So we go to Olive Garden and plan to spend "about sixty bucks". As such, we don't go often, but we do go a few times a year when we can.

This Olive Garden can't help its location, at least not in the present, but if there's one thing it can do, it's increase accuracy. The servers pride themselves on remembering your order (at least until they get to the back, and can jot it down for the kitchen) but this doesn't always work. It doesn't happen every time, but when it does, it's kind of annoying considering what we pay to eat there. When we say something, they're good about fixing it, though.

This review came out a little longer than expected, but that's fine, I gave a lot of good information that I hope helps you, the reader and restaurant seeker, make a better choice about where you want to eat in Greenville, NC. I do recommend this Olive Garden, but I'm not hesitant to point out the caveats. I give them an 8/10; or in school grades, an A-.

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