Largo Mall
10500 Ulmerton Rd
Largo, FL 33771
(727) 584-8066

Sunday-Thursday 11:00AM-10:00PM   
Friday- Saturday   11:00AM-11:00PM

COMPETITIVE MARKET  — For a corporate attempt at trying to be Italian, they do a fairly good job.  Surprise, the food was good, timely, reasonably priced and service was excellent for a chain though they were busy.  I will tell you though, the answer is pro-management.  Management while we were dining was floating all the time, going from room to room checking on and watching things. This takes a “ moderate priced chain” dealing in common Italian Food, cooked to order, to a higher level than most of the others.  I got to meet the manager at the time of this writing and he is big on training. 

In Tampa, this is an ethnically charged environment.  What I mean is,  many of the independent Italian places are owned and run by Albanians because few people order Albanian Pizza, or Spaghetti,  if there was such a thing.  My favorite Italian restaurant is owned by a family who are Greek but live in Italy and New York, a fellow who is incredibly astute at Italian food.  Our Asian restaurants are now called Asian Fusion restaurants because they mix VietNamese  (PHO)  LAO (Spring Rolls)  Cambodian ( Chamhoy), Japanese  (Sushi and Sashimi)  Korean  ( Kim Chi)  and Chinese dishes.   

On a food binge we (four severely intent eaters) went to the pasta promotion they had and I made four plates with different sauces, Marinara, Alfredo , Clam and Fra` Diablo with breadsticks and salad and wasn’t hungry for 24 hours. 

One guy did five. I was jealous, It again, for a chain was good and well worth the promotion under ten dollars.

Olive Garden is a smart casual American restaurant chain specializing in Italian-American cuisine. The company is owned by Darden Restaurants and is based in Orlando, Florida.   

The first Olive Garden was opened by General Mills on December 13, 1982, in Orlando, Florida. By 1989, General Mills had opened 145 restaurants, making it one of the fastest-growing units in the company's restaurant holdings. 

The company eventually became the largest chain of Italian-themed full-service restaurants in the U.S. along with sister ships, Red Lobster, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, and LongHorn Steakhouse. In many large mall areas you will see them almost side by side.

As of 28 October 2009, there are 700 restaurants. As I said for a specialty chain, they had many novelty dishes, all looked good and the restaurant was clean and the staff very attentive. Rarely do I ever give a large chain a four star but the one at Largo Mall in Seminole seems to be well managed. 

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SPECIALS — All The Time  —  I eat there, for convenience since I'm only a mile away. It's a busy place indicating people are happy and a lot of repeat business. They run daily lunch specials with several different (made on site) soups, breadsticks and fresh salad for $6.99 to 8.99, about the price of a plastic burger, pre-cooked fries and a sugar rich Coke product. The Pasta Fagipoli soup had more meat in it than a “ Steak Burger"  from you know where and the salad was a good mix with a moderate Italian dressing, not too tart.

GOOD CHANGES   (IS IT A RUMOR, MORE NEEDED)  —  Once or twice a month, I drop in and for me its good casual dining. I had noticed in one of the trade magazines a rumor they are going to simplify their menus by putting them back into English.   Now thats a good move,  since my pure Italian friends had no idea what half the stuff was on the menu. 

Larry M. commented Don Corleone didn’t know what half the stuff was either and if you remember the hit movie and sequels of the “ Godfather” when they weren’t stealing, conspiring or shooting someone they were eating.  Never less than ten at the table.   And slicing the garlic with a razor blade in Goodfellows — Now thats authentic!

And Menus can get out of hand… Which is bad in this business because the server help has to explain everything, people take longer to choose and you kill turnover.   In the future, I would imagine “ Avocato Basted Coglione en Potoburro” will simply be “ My useless lawyers balls in butter”.   If you prefer low-fat margarine it would be “ Avocato Basted Coglione Margarina al Sapore di Burro".  And he settled for ten years, with parole.

TRICKS OF THE TRADE —  “ THE CULT OF FRANCHISE FOOD”  —  The Olive Garden likes to tout some facts not exactly 100%.

  • They claim to have cooking school in Tuscany, Italy.   FALSE :  But it doesn't–not a real cooking school comparable to, say, the Culinary Institute of America or Le Cordon Bleu.  They rent a hotel and simply train managers.

  • Yes, the breadsticks at the Olive Garden are never-ending,  FALSE  AND TRUE -  Patience — but you'll have to be quite patient if you want to fill up on them.  According to Reader's Digest, waiters are obliged to bring just one breadstick per diner per basket delivered, with the only exception being one extra breadstick in the first basket.

  • ARGUABLE — In the eyes of most cooks, preparing pasta in salted boiling water is simply the way to do it, there's no question in the matter.   But according to Business Insider, Olive Garden employees are expressly prohibited from salting the water because it causes wear and tear on the pots, breaking them down too quickly and impacting the bottom line.

  • MICROWAVE USED —  Last year, a former employee of the chain revealed several behind-the-scenes secrets. One of the things she mentioned is that Olive Garden uses microwaves to heat up pre-made items. "Yes, they do use a microwave,"Your potatoes, your veggies, certain sauces, and some of your meats are just microwaved and put on your plate.”

  • CARDIAC SOUP —  Though a perennially popular Olive Garden menu item, the chain's Chicken and Gnocchi soup is one to skip if you value your health. It's packed with 1,290 milligrams of sodium, which is well over half the doctor-recommended maximum for an entire day.  Thats enough salt to defrost the frozen roads in the state of Connecticut!   And it's also rather high in saturated fat. 

RED FLAG - A PROCESS IN THEIR GREETING AND PRESENTATION  —  The only minor complaint I have heard from others, is their Wine Presentation greeting process which involves the obvious “ stepping or increasing your bill by wine sales" which are higher profit items than food usually is.   Many don't drink any alcoholic beverages.  I suspect thats where the noise comes from, the Anti-winers, Church Ladies, and Coke Cola addicts.

The labor factor is minimal, pour two maybe six ounces of wine each into a glass and the ticket increases ten to twelve dollars or more.  Simple math indicates each 100 tickets is 1000-1200  dollars. Though I eat there fairly often, for lunch,  I am not a burger fan other than at Culvers.  They don’t press the issue and most of the time I drink water and because my doctor tells me that.  I have a lovely bar filled with wine at my home and a snifter is always available but not at their prices.  

It's an allergy thing.  Red wines and some dry white wines for some reason give me a severe headache.  The white wine I enjoy is  a semi-sweet Chenin Blanc, Reserve from Biltmore Estates in Asheville.  I found it on a wine tasting trip to the estate.  

Wacky Editor—  At Olive Garden I stick with water, their water is excellent, chilled to perfection, brisk, clear iced,  and obviously filtered, I believe it is a Chateau Le Fart Fountain 1993, but it could be a ’94.

Hey, it's nothing personal, just business.  As Sonny said: the present process is to sell you their wine.  The food and the commercials exist to get you into the restaurant, the next step is the greeting, A shot glass sample of the wine of the day, and an offer to sell you wine.  

The chairs are there so you have a place to sit and a clear view of the bar, or tables and displays of wine.  Very carefully planned and thought out, not too obvious.  The air-conditioner vent is right over the wine so the wine doesn’t get hot and go bad.  

BOTTOM LINE  —  Sometimes things are over the top and too much.  I like the place for a franchise operation, The food is generally fresh, hot and tasty for a chain, generic and not too spiced for the average consumer.  I bring my own hot peppers.  A definite step above more casual low end dinning and their prices are reasonable with the “ Specials”.  Mostly great lunch deal and two for ones. 

All in all good value, but knowing or hearing, a canned presentation or pitch annoys me, however subtle it might be.  But I also understand the bottom line is what keeps them open where others have failed.  In the realm of things they are good value for the dollar and I never walked out disappointed.

AS THIS IS A DARDEN OPERATION  Darden’s family of restaurants features some of the most recognizable and successful brands in full-service dining — Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The New Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Yard House, The Capital Grille, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze and Eddie V’s. 

They own and operate more than 1,800 restaurants and are proud to employ nearly 160,000 team members, making them one of the 50 largest private employers in America. Together, we create memorable experiences for more than 320 million guests annually in hundreds of communities across North America.

Darden’s roots can be traced to 1938, when our founder, 19-year-old Bill Darden, opened his first restaurant. Called The Green Frog, the 25-seat luncheonette in Waycross, Ga., promised “Service with a Hop.” He understood that excellent service would be vital to the success of his restaurant, he treated everyone equally and he welcomed all guests to his tables.

The casual-dining pioneer’s commitment to superior service rings true today — more than 80 years later — in each of our restaurants across North America. His strong values form the bedrock of Darden’s culture. Serving others is at the heart of our business, and we never forget it.