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Rookie of the Year

CNN blogger Donna Huntley, who is not a drinker, decides to learn about wine. She goes to Olive Garden where she tries Cavit Pinot Noir. She then writes one of the most accurate tasting notes ever:

This was the most disgusting, nasty stuff I have put in my mouth ever – no kidding. It tasted like rubbing alcohol turned bad. There was a burning sensation in my mouth and nostrils. In fact, if you lit a match in my face, I would have blown the entire bar section into a raging inferno. I bet you could doctor wounds with this stuff, and the bitter aftertaste did not help.

Her commentors suggest maybe she should try someplace besides Olive Garden.


  • Pursuit

    While admirably accurate, the downside seems to be the woman thought Olive Garden was a joynt worthy of consumables. What, in God’s name, could she have been thinking? A more foul national chain has rarely equaled Olive Garden’s hideous ubiquity.

  • Samantha Dugan

    Pursuit took the words right out of my mouth….fancied them up a bit as I was thinking, “Was she freaking high?!” but the sentiment is the same.

  • Thomas Pellechia

    Relax Pursuit and Sam: this is what passes for American culture that you are talking about…

  • Wally

    The good news? McDonalds may be world-wide but I didn’t see a single Olive Garden in Italy.
    Pursuit, wine aside, is it really that bad? We have a “no chain restaurant” rule so I’ve never eaten at OG.

  • Thomas Pellechia


    You don’t have to eat in those places to know the answer to your question. After many years on the road selling wine and getting to know how food and wine buying decisions function at chains…you won’t catch me dining in them.

    As for OL in Italy, reminds me when Starbucks was planning to open outlets in Italy and the head of Italy’s Illy Coffee in Trieste was asked what he thought about the idea.

    He said, “In Italy, we drink coffee. I don’t worry about Starbucks.”

  • Pursuit

    Thomas, while I think America has a strong and vibrant culture and should bow to no effete Euro weenie, Olive Garden ain’t it. I went there once, when they first came out – so maybe 20 years ago? – and it was truly awful. Really, give me 5 minutes, a can of tomatoes, some paste, basil, oregano and garlic and I can make a far better sauce. OL’s was inedible.

    Wally, a good rule, but some chains are ok. For example, my not-so-secret shame, Waffle House. I realize this admission compromises my culinary credibility a bit, but at least I have yet to get into a scuffle with Kid Rock in a WH, so I’ve got that goin’ for me.

    Samantha, we should date. Oh, wait, I’m taken sorry! The sentiment holds though.

  • Thomas Pellechia


    Careful, when you use phrases like “effete Euro weenie” you may belie the American culture that you praise.

  • Pursuit

    Facts is facts Thomas!

  • Thomas Pellechia

    “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

    A quote from the effete Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

  • Samantha Dugan

    I have to say that while I do go to a couple chains Olive Garden in still on the list of “have not” but seeing as salad and bread sticks, (what everyone tells me is “not bad” there) are not all that compelling I think it shall stay on that list. Hey someone ought to write a book about trying to be a wine lover while only dining in chains…kind of like Nickled & Dimed In America. I’m calling my publisher as we speak…well if I had one I would. Oh and Pursuit, I’m taken too so it’s all good and I do like me some Waffle House although I prefer Cracker Barrel….

  • Tom Johnson

    I leave you people alone for a couple of days and look what happens: vibrant and civil conversation. I’ll put an end to that right now!

    First of all, I think, unless Pursuit was discussing the genitalia of European men, he meant “Euroweenie” instead of “Euro weenie.” Perhaps I misread his intentions.

    Second: you people are snobs. You won’t consider Olive Garden, but you wax blissful at the thought of a Waffle House? This reminds me of Truman Capote’s dictum that he could travel first class or third in perfect comfort, but that he wouldn’t be caught dead with the pretentious fools in second class.

    It is not the quality of the food that distinguishes Waffle House over Olive Garden, but the perceived authenticity of the experience. Waffle Houses serve greasy, crappy food that in any other context none of you would tolerate. They use sliced American cheesefood in their omelets, for heaven’s sake. But experience of Waffle House is just so darned downscale-authentic.

    Olive Garden, I’m absolutely sure, uses higher quality ingredients, has more skilled kitchen staffs, and puts forward a vastly more complicated and sublime product, but because it’s wrapped up in a stenciled version of a Tuscan stereotype, it makes you all feel cheap and middle class even discussing it.

    I used to work in an office where the Olive Garden soup’n'salad combo was in weekly lunch rotation. That the food was not to the standards of Italian restaurants we approve of doesn’t diminish the fact that it was a nice break from the standard fare of most suburban food courts — and a good deal healthier and fresher than Waffle House.

    That may not be much, but its something.

  • Wally

    Plus, the wine list at Waffle House rocks!

  • Thomas Pellechia

    OK, I’ll ask: WTF is Waffle House? We don’t have them in my state, and I believe we probably don’t need them either. Do they serve whole grain waffles for the fiber challenged???

    Tom, the sugars and salts that go into canned tomato sauce–or any canned sauce–should precipitate a federal law enforcement raid on people obviously committing Interstate homicide!

  • Tom Johnson

    Waffle Houses are ubiquitous in the southeast. At at an interstate highway offramp near where I live, there were until recently two Waffle Houses across the street from each other.

    Waffle houses are small, uniformly ugly restaurants that consists of about 10 4-person pressed particle board booths covered with yellow linoleum and counter seating for about 12. They serve a menu consisting of all the possible concoctions that can be assembled out of the following food elements: dough, bacon, sausage, hamburger, potatoes, butter, American cheesefood and coffee.

    Whatever egregious dietary felonies may be committed by the kitchen engineers of Olive Garden, they’re nothing compared to the artery hardening mortal sin served-up at $4 a plate by Waffle House.

  • Thomas Pellechia

    In that case, Tom, you need to screen your readers better…

  • Pursuit

    You know Tom, if you like Olive Garden, it’s ok to just say so.

    Sam, it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway – I can’t stand the Barrel. Maybe you would have compromised, but I couldn’t ask. Knowing that those golden hashbrowns that I so love (smoothered, covered and chunked,natch) were standing between you and a ham steak would be a crime against nature, akin to imprisoning a tiger that once ran free.

    I do like your book idea though and may in fact steal it. Really, I can be quite unscrupulous when the mood strikes! Perhaps we can meet for a latte at a socially acceptable, non-chain coffee shop when my book tour comes through town.

  • Tom Johnson

    I like everything, Pursuit. You know that. The world, to me, is an unending string of joyful surprises.

  • Thomas Pellechia


    No socially acceptable, non-chain coffee shop serves latte, as there is no such thing outside of the socially unacceptable, chain coffee shops. ;)