Vote 2020 graphic
Everything you need to know about and expect during
the most important election of our lifetimes

Another longtime restaurant critic considers the Olive Garden

Illustration for article titled Another longtime restaurant critic considers the Olive Garden
Photo: Landscape and nature photographer based in Upstate, New York (iStock)
Hot LinksHot LinksWe spend way too much time on the internet

Since Marilyn Hagerty reviewed an Olive Garden for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota back in 2012, there’s been a long and sometimes honorable tradition of food writers considering the value of what’s maybe America’s quintessential fast-casual restaurant chain.

Advertisement

Now Polly Campbell, who has been a food critic for the past 23 years at the Cincinnati Enquirer, has jumped into the fray. In all her years of food writing, she’d only visited an Olive Garden once, to try the stuffed spaghetti, and she had started to wonder about this lapse in her food coverage.

What resulted is a nuanced exploration of what the Olive Garden and restaurants like it mean to American diners. Olive Garden doesn’t provide “authentic” Italian food, at least as it is eaten in Italy or even by Italian-Americans. It’s not as cheap as fast food chains. It’s not even especially good; in Campbell’s professional opinion, there are several other Italian restaurants in Cincinnati that are much better. “But,” she writes, “each one offers a certain challenge or barrier to someone just looking for something comfortable to eat.” The Olive Garden doesn’t make assumptions about its customers; everything on the menu is explained. There’s something comforting about that.

Advertisement

What’s the point of snobbery anyway? To show that you are a person of taste and distinction, and superior to other people? Great. You get a gold star. Maybe it’s better to remember that if the Olive Garden doesn’t have value for you personally, it might have value to somebody and it doesn’t exist to make other people feel bad about themselves.

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

I’ve never understood the general disdain for Olive Garden, not just by food critics, but even just friends when talking about restaurants. Everyone knows it’s not some real italian food. But i’ve never thought it was that bad? Breadsticks are great, salad is great, the food is pretty good for what it is. I’m not making a case for it to be restaurant of the year, but compared to other nationwide chains such as on the border and such , does it really deserve that much more hate? Nah