Fear and Loathing at Olive Garden: Italian Nachos

How I suffer for my craft

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

By David Hammond

Last week, in time for the Super Bowl, Olive Garden started offering, for a limited time, Loaded Pasta Chips, also known (on the internets) as Italian nachos. This is a simple starter, just fried pasta sheets, ladled with tomato sauce, a few meat bits here and there, roasted cherry peppers, cheese, and a drizzle of Alfredo sauce.

Of course, such a nontraditional offering is sure to fan the fires of indignation: 

My attention was drawn to Olive Garden's Italian nachos when friend, food writer, restaurateur and fellow paisan Joe Campagna posted a photo of the dish with the concise assessment: "This is absurd."

With all that negative energy coming out against Italian nachos, I had to try them. So, on Sunday, we stopped by the Olive Garden near North Riverside Plaza and had them, along with the suggested pairing, Milan Mai Tai.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the ingredients of this dish, which are uniformly approved by most Americans: pasta, tomato/meat sauce, and cheese. What must be setting people off is the untraditional way in which the ingredients are brought together. But if Olive Garden represents anything, it's the aggressively non-traditional approach to Italian cuisine, as represented in this offering as well as their fried lasagna, spiralized veggie pasta, and chicken Alfredo flat bread, none of which you're likely to see on menus in Italy.

But so what?

Olive Garden is more concerned with making food that people will want to eat than it is with making food that's "authentic" (a constantly invoked standard that many times means nothing). We thought the Loaded Pasta Chips were just fine, with one of us even going so far as to say she'd order it again if she came in for a snack and a glass of wine.

The menu suggested pairing the Loaded Pasta Chips with Milan Mai Tai, a blend of Malibu rum, grenadine and amaretto. This was not a good pairing: the cocoanut flavors of the Malibu rum were way out of synch with the tomato sauce and cheese, and it's probably a good thing the amaretto was virtually unnoticeable. A glass of red wine would have been a better match for what is essentially a pasta dish.

Olive Garden has become a kind of punchline, and maybe some of that heat is deserved, but I'll defend their right to be the source for some of the most innovative Italian food being served today…though about 30 minutes after eating there, I felt a little queasy for the rest of the afternoon. This is how I suffer for my craft. You're welcome.








Love the Journal?

Become our partner in independent community journalism

Thanks for turning to Wednesday Journal and OakPark.com. We love our thousands of digital-only readers. Now though we're asking you to partner up in paying for our reporters and photographers who report this news. It had to happen, right?

On the plus side, we're giving you a simple way, and a better reason, to join in. We're now a non-profit -- Growing Community Media -- so your donation is tax deductible. And signing up for a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation, is fast and easy.

No threats from us. The news will be here. No paywalls or article countdowns. We're counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio.

Claim your bragging rights. Become a digital member.

Donate Now

Reader Comments

No Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2019

To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad

Latest Comments