Chain Restaurant Reviews: Olive Garden in Arlington Heights
Every year, my friends and I celebrate Friendsgiving, which is probably a little different than your Friendsgiving. Yes, we started out the first year with homemade recipes and control freak meltdowns (that was me), but weeks after Thanksgiving in 2017, six friends ended up at the Olive Garden in Arlington Heights.
The night was chilly and the parking lot was packed. Leading up to this blessed day, I had been bragging all week that my Friday would end with a trip to Olive Garden. When I walked in, I felt that familiar blanket wrap around my shoulders and shield me from whatever cold still clung to me from outside. I took a breath, emotional. I'm here. I'm family.
After checking in with our reservation, my friends and I waited at the front in the lobby next to a drink dispenser filled with pink... lemonade? Anthony filled a little plastic cup, took a sip, and made a face. He then gave it to Ashley, who drank it and made a face. I said I was okay, and a few minutes later, we were whisked away to our table.
Our waiter's name was Manny, and he seemed very nice. He also was not shy with breadsticks or grated cheese, which is a trait I really appreciate and admire in a man. Matt pointed out an alcoholic drink on the menu that was a toxic green and asked if it was Mountain Dew, and I politely but forcefully urged him not to order that. Manny then asked what we were drinking, and everyone said wine except for me. I got water. It was great!
We ordered an appetizer of Lasagna Fritta, which is like... Deep-fried lasagna? We each only got one, and then I spent the next five minutes scraping what little cheese sauce I could from the plate. It was so, so good, but it truly didn't really taste anything like lasagna.
Next was the salad, which I personally really love. Mmm! Nothing like picking up black olives with your fingers from the communal bowl. I honestly could eat that salad and be satisfied with a meal, but this is Friendsgiving at Olive Garden.
For my main entree, I ordered the mushroom ravioli—ahem, Ravioli di Portobello—and told Manny he better ditch that creamy red sauce and give me some pesto. He definitely heard the second request, because what he came back with was mostly pesto. Alex suggested I take the pesto home for another pasta meal, since there was literally half a plate left of sauce at the end of my meal. I did not. But it was delicious, creamy, salty pasta, and honestly, I think I could have eaten two meals' worth of Ravioli di Portobello.
Alas, the night could not stay perfect forever. What followed this beautiful meal was a 20 minute period of unexplained confusion created by the Ziosk (that self-serving machine at the end of the table in every chain restaurant). I don't know if it was our unit that was broken or Manny's spirit, but he made repeat attempts to use it which failed and caused him to come back to our table several times while trying to keep up with his other tables. We could just do it manually, we suggested as the Ziosk yelled CONTACT YOUR SERVER TO PAY for the sixth time, but Manny—proud, and foolishly so—would not abandon his fight with the Ziosk for so goddamn long.
While this occurred, Alex explained a Youtube video (?), Vine (???), internet video where a young man causes trouble with pedestrians and then asks, "Whose mans is this?" This took a lot of explaining on Alex's end, as the rest of us tend to be kind of rigid and unforgiving when a joke is explained to us. "I don't like mean things," I told Alex, which earned a sigh. Is that even true? Anyway, I have quoted this video several times since.
When the night was done and the Ziosk abandoned for an ole fashioned ring-up (which was also messed up twice), Manny showered our table with Olive Garden mints. So you're aware, Olive Garden mints are just Andes Mints and even say "Andes" on the chocolate bar, despite the Olive Garden packaging. I think this could be metaphorical for something, but that's beside the point: the point that Olive Garden is great, but once, it was better.
They don't have Never-Ending Pasta Bowls anymore????