DINING DATE   Sunday June 30


MEAL TIME     Dinner

ATTENDEES IN PARTY   4 (2 adults, 2 kids)


Ordered   Chicken Parm


ENTREE   I’m Italian but A) I’m not a snooty one when it comes to food and will cover that in subsequent reviews (get ready Draganettis, Mona Lisas and Za51) and B) I eat at Olive Garden. Like going into the curtained off room at the Video Store in the 1990s, it’s something that seems like a good idea and then you’re ashamed of yourself.


The Eau Claire Olive Garden, once inside, looks, feels and smells and sounds like any other.  If the windows were blacked out, one could say they’re in any city in this country with this franchise (daydream of Orlando, perhaps!). So why Olive Garden?  It’s comfortable and to their credit they’re routinely coming up with new items. Yes, the salad is very good but craving breadsticks is like wanting more Russel Brand.  You may want to put the Rocka-Wear away, get out of 2008 and join us in 2019.  The breadsticks are dry and salty and no longer the soft buttery delights they once were.

On to our meal where the salad continues to impress. Or more accurately, the dressing!  Even the pickiest of vegetable eaters downs a plate or two of salad for the mere reason that lettuce and tomatoes serve as the vehicle to which the dressing can be escorted into your mouth.  The fact it’s salad, beguiles the truth that it’s actually rather unhealthy to eat due to the dressing by who cares…you’re eating your veggies!

I ordered the standard chicken parm and was happy with the portion size and the flavor for the most part. The amount of cheese on the fried chicken patty is limited and the taste is hollow.  Typically, chicken parm is layered in cheeses to the point one wonders if the chef has a struggling family member with cheese to sell and they’re helping them out.  Not so much the case at Olive Garden where they save a penny on the cheese in this dish (and pass those savings onto cheesy entrees elsewhere).

The wife got a lasagna which was good and the kids ordered plain noodles.  All were happy and none were surprised.

As for this being an “Italian” meal, yes it is, or more accurately it’s an American spin and that’s absolutely fine. Pizza in the modern form, Spaghetti WITH MEATBALLS, Chicken Parm and many others are American. Think of them as the first “fusion” cuisine.  The only problem is, does the cook know how to bring the flavor out or does your dish come out merely as a product with flavorless cheese melted over it.  Some Olive Gardens are better than others and for many years I felt Eau Claire’s lagged.  Meals weren’t bad…but not great either.  Bland meals with little flavor. I’ve noticed it with the Eau Claire Olive Garden the most.

The final verdict is…let’s be honest, you’ll keep going.  One thing I want to make clear though. Don’t stay away because this isn’t “real Italian”.  For starters, I simply don’t want to hear Anders from Elk Mound legislate what Italian is because he once ate at a New York Pizzeria on a trip to see Broadway shows with his wife.   If you stay away because of a bad experience or the prices, that’s fine. However, by no means do you have the RIGHT to stay away because you claim this isn’t Italian.

Yes, it isn’t real Italian. If you want that, you need to head over to Italy where you’ll find a cuisine 80% different than what we imagine here. Perhaps you’ll like it but more often than not it’s an expensive trip where you validate you like meatballs with your spaghetti and your chicken to be PARMED.

SECOND HELPING Yes:  We all say we’ll stay away from “chains” but they pulls us back in for comfort. We aren’t proud of ourselves and as an Italian I know I’ve got a rolling pin to the back of the head waiting for me when I see my grandmother in Heaven (or my second cousin who ran numbers for the Upstate NY Mob in Hell).

West Wisconsin Play by Play, LLC

2010 Hatch Street

Eau Claire, WI  54701