Okay...we were desperate. I can't even remember the last time I ate at this chain.
Ryan and I were out shopping and he got this crazed expression on his face and said, "LET'S GO TO OLIVE GARDEN!" As soon as he realized it was in the main parking lot for the Westfield Mall, he started second guessing himself. The location lends itself well to view such fashionable outfits as moose sweaters and hair-don'ts with four-inch dark-brown roots and platinum blond highlights, flannel long-sleeved shirts over John Deere t-shirts and hiking boots on the "ladies", loud kids everywhere, and awkward overheard conversations.
That said, the pictures on the menu DO look really tasty and, let's face it, we were starving.
Our meal started well enough with a cute waitress who seemed genuinely interested in our order. We asked her to start up the Smoked Mozzarella Fonduta: an oven-baked cheese dip with four cheeses (parmesan, mozzarella, provolone, and romano) topped with diced tomatoes and served with "Tuscan bread" (uh...read tasteless crackery bread with poppy and sesame seeds). We ate the dip with our bread sticks which, honestly, are really good. They're fresh-baked, hot, and just garlicky and buttery enough to satisfy, especially with a molten lava cheese dip spread on top. The appetizer serves two well, but would not be enough for three or more.
Both Ryan and I ordered soup and salad. The Zuppa Toscana soup is a blend of spicy sausage, potatoes, and greens in a creamy broth. I'm glad it's all you can eat because it's filling (I only managed one bowl), but not very flavorful. The greens have little flavor and it's difficult to even taste the sausage, let alone the "spicy" sausage. There are large slices of potatoes in the broth, but they're well-cooked and delicious and the takeaway flavor is potatoes. The soup is definitely hearty and could probably make for a nice entree for someone with a smaller appetite.
Ryan's salad was the regular "garden-fresh salad" with the unlimited refills. It's their standard salad and pretty tasty. The lettuce holds up to the dressing and it is all-you-can-eat. I ordered the Grilled Chicken Caesar salad and probably can't recommend this to anyone else if you're looking for actual "Caesar" dressing. The dressing was creamy, but lacked garlic flavor and probably could have just been called a "house" dressing or even our "special ranch dressing" or the like. My salad was also served *without* the chicken. Uh....
Now, service. Between our waitress, who apparently also was the overworked bartender, and a second waitress/bartender who seemed utterly unthrilled (is that a word?) to help us, my Caesar salad came without the chicken, our soups took forever to be served, and 10 minutes after asking for fresh-ground black pepper we finally saw the pepper mill. It also took probably five minutes after being served our soup and salads for our waitress to show up with the Parmesan cheese mill. Overall, the service was POOR and left us with a sour taste in our mouths (that wasn't just due to the mediocre fare).