I understand that this is Austin, and that therefore love for chain restaurants is scarce, but I can't say I completely understand that hate. Yeah, I like to support local businesses as much as the next Austinite, but if a chain restaurant has tasty food, I see no reason to actively avoid the place. I've heard rumors about Olive Garden with regard to boiling pasta in premeasured bags or using frozen food, but it frankly doesn't bother me that much. Some of the dishes Olive Garden serves are more complex than the stuff I can make at home, so I don't mind paying for that. I also don't mind paying for the cleanup that I don't have to do at home. Believe me, if I were cooking for someone else besides myself, I could probably wrangle that person into doing the cleanup, and then I would be more inclined to avoid eating at Olive Garden.
I went around 3:30 on a Saturday for a lunch/dinner combo and decided to sit at the bar because it was quite crowded, despite the offbeat dining hour. Jake was my bartender/waiter, and he couldn't have been a nicer guy. At one point, his mother came in and sat at the bar. Awww, how cuuuute!
Anyway, I started out with a glass of the house white, some water, and an order of calamari. The calamari wasn't quite as good as I'd remembered it being, but it was still better than the calamari I've had at countless other places. I couldn't get all the way through it, but I made a pretty big dent.
As for the complimentary salad and breadsticks, I ate the hell outta that salad. I love Olive Garden's salad. I love the fact that they'll put as much cheese on it (or any other dish) as you want. I love that you can have as much salad as you damn well please. And I love Olive Garden's Italian dressing. Jake is a real salesman, as I asked him what kind of dressing they use, and he presented a bottle of it on sale for $4.25. Hook, line and sinker. "Put it on my tab!" I told him. I only ate a snippet of one bread stick, but that's only because I figured I'd be getting enough carbs from the rest of the meal.
For my entree, I got the Parmesan Crusted Tilapia, which is a favorite of mine almost anywhere I go. It came atop angel hair pasta, which I pretty much avoided. It tasted fine, but it's all carbs, so... It also came with "Italian" vegetables, which were yellow squash, zucchini, and bell peppers. I fail to believe bell peppers are Italian, but whatever; I ate around those anyway. The tilapia wasn't the freshest tilapia I've had, but it still tasted fine. The veggies were excellent and really hit the spot.
I got Torta di Chocolate ("A warm double chocolate cake served with vanilla cream sauce and fresh strawberries. No sugar added.") to go. Jake voluntarily told me how long I should heat it in the microwave, which was nice but unnecessary. That dessert tasted excellent later, despite microwaving it. I want another.
Another thing I love about Olive Garden is the fact that they give you Andes mints with your bill. Nice touch.
The only complaint I have is that I thought dinner at Olive Garden begins at 4pm, yet I was charged dinner prices despite having ordered at 3:30.
If you're too lazy to cook and clean (like me), or if perhaps you can't cook that well, get over your corporate hate and give Olive Garden another try.