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Revisiting the Olive Garden for lunch

GRAND FORKS — My friend, Liz Fedor (LF), doesn’t dawdle around. She pretty much knows what she wants to eat when she goes to a restaurant.

When she was in Grand Forks recently, she suggested meeting for lunch at the Olive Garden. She had come from Minneapolis to attend a retirement party for Grand Forks Herald Publisher Mike Jacobs.

We met at the Olive Garden at 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon. And LF was ready to order chicken alfredo, minestrone and a diet coke.

I envy people who can make up their mind. There I sat, fumbling with three different menus. Lord knows, I have been at the Olive Garden dozens of times since a review went viral two years ago.

Now, I am back to the status of a regular customer. My usual thought at Olive Garden is to have the soup-salad-breadstick lunch. They call is “Zuppe e Insalate.” And for $5.49 you get very good soup and salad combinations along with those wonderful breadsticks.

But I was feeling adventurous. So, I fumbled around with three menu pieces — a menu, a promotion for lighter fare and another titled, “Tastes and Toasts.”

Eventually, from this daytime menu of “Tastes and Toasts,” I ordered two items at $4 apiece — chicken meatballs and parmesan asparagus.

And while I know I should drink more water, it wasn’t long before I decided I needed a diet cola, too.

The thing about Olive Garden is you pretty much know what you will get. The quality of the food is consistent. I often lament the fact there are so few black olives in an Olive Garden salad.

For me, the parmesan asparagus on the “Tastes and Toasts” daytime flier was a rare treat. The generous serving of asparagus arrived with a crusty coating. I would like to go back and order it again. LF enjoyed her chicken alfredo. The serving was so generous she took some along.

Our server, McKynna Moran, was more than helpful. She is one of more than 50 who wait tables at this large, popular restaurant near Columbia Mall. LF and I agreed she is one of the best and most friendly servers around. She knows how to go along with a joke and light talk. At the same time, her focus is on her work. She is one of the many University of North Dakota students who work in serving jobs part time.

When students move on each spring, there is a period of recruitment for restaurants.

The Olive Garden was bustling at 12:30 p.m. on a Saturday. There were constantly several people waiting to meet up with friends. Seating was prompt, and all three sections of the large Tuscan farmhouse style restaurant were busy.

We checked out the women’s restroom and found it neat and clean. Our booth for two was very small, but it was adequate.

As spring turns to summer, lunch business grows with more children out of school. The restaurant has a large parking lot and inviting entryway. There is seating for 298 with a bar and lounge that has 12 booths.

Olive Garden is reported to have more than 800 restaurants globally. The restaurants started in 1982 in Orlando, Fla., with Red Lobster a sister company.

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