My top five full-service chain restaurant meals
Popular chain restaurants may have their faults, but they also have their benefits -- consistency primary among them. It's comforting for customers to know that they can count on uniform, no-surprise dishes at certain chains. And I definitely have my consistent favorites.
Here's a list of my top five full-service chain restaurant meals. Yes, when it comes to food, I do play favorites.
5. Unlimited Soup, Salad and Breadsticks from the Olive Garden.
I'm an unashamed fan of Olive Garden soups, mainly because they are among the few menu items that OG still makes fresh, from scratch. Of the four available soups -- Pasta e Fagioli, Minestrone, Chicken & Gnocchi and Zuppa Toscana -- the Toscana is my favorite, a mix of bacon, sausage, sliced potatoes, heavy cream and fresh kale, made perfect with exactly six spins of fresh Romano cheese from one of those little hand-held cheese graters that the servers carry around.
OG's salad is bagged and contains more carrot and purple cabbage than I like, but the signature Italian dressing is tangy and filled with yet more cheese. And if you ask politely for extra salad toppings, the salad can be made much more interesting with olives, tomatoes, red onions and peppers.
I could write an entire blog about Olive Garden's breadsticks. Sure, the kitchen gets them par-baked, then slathers them with liquefied margarine and douses them with massive amounts of garlic salt -- but somehow this combination makes beautiful, soft, savory breadsticks that don't really need a dipping sauce. Still, I can't decline an extra ramekin of Alfredo sauce, because by the time I've made it to the bread I've already ingested enough cheese to kill a moderately-sized farm animal.
Mimi's Café is badly decorated with a cloying Euro-Disney theme, but I find this easily forgotten -- if not entirely forgiven -- when the servers bring me the standard pre-dinner bread basket loaded with house-baked Carrot Raisin Nut Loaf.
I dunno what sugar-fairies Mimi tortures to make this sweet, soft, spicy carrot bread so damned addictive, but I have to hold back to save room for my fave entrée: Beef Bourguignon. It's really just fancy pot roast -- tender chunks of beef swimming in dark, mushroom-speckled gravy over reasonably good mashed potatoes -- but it's a good excuse to go to Mimi's for a meal that's really all about the carrot bread.