Olive Garden's fresh new look
I just had to ask General Manager Sarah Franco what sets Warwick’s Olive Garden Italian Kitchen apart from other chain and family-owned Italian restaurants. After a tour of the completely renovated and updated restaurant and a mouth-watering luncheon, I answered my own question.
Olive Garden has survived 25 years at the busy Route 2 location (technically 31 Universal Blvd.), while dozens of eating establishments, including the nationally popular Red Lobster, have come and gone.
First impressions are important, and it was obvious that Olive Garden pays attention to the needs of its senior and handicapped patrons, with plenty of handicapped parking close to the entrance
While most are familiar with the Olive Garden brand, a new sign adds “Italian Kitchen” and an olive branch at its entrance.
“Everything is new,” Sarah said, “starting with comfortable seats and TVs showing scenes of Italy and new menu items in the waiting area, a new bar with special seating for those in wheelchairs. The atmosphere is more modern and inviting.”
Dark wooden panels, photos and mirrors, wine displays, open windows, new carpeting and lighting, all added to a pleasant, homey and, yes, Italian atmosphere, with cool jazz playing softly in the background.
Our waitress, Laura, was a Rhode Island born graduate of Johnson & Wales who knew how to treat her guests royally, explaining the new menu items and specials, quickly bringing the patented warm and soft bread sticks to the table and placing an ice cold salad plate in front of us. Now that is a rare example of a restaurant that gets it right.
Their “all you want” soup or salad and bread specials are what I remember, and they are coupled with “pronto lunch specials” ranging from $6.99 to $8.99, a popular affordable lunch for seniors and students on limited incomes.
Joyce enjoyed the fried mozzarella appetizer, cooked with a crispy crust and enhanced by their famous tomato sauce. I chose one of their new menu items: veggie paidina, a quesadilla filled with cheese and veggies, with a side of that delicious tomato sauce.
I chose the shrimp scampi ($16.29), a generous portion of angel hair spaghetti, nicely seasoned with garlic and topped with fresh asparagus and finely chopped tomatoes. The shrimp was tender and hot.
The lobster ravioli was also listed under new items, although it was a discontinued dish brought back by popular demand ($19.49). Cooked with a rich Alfredo sauce with cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and basil, the huge portion was topped off with shrimp.
A lovely senior citizen greeted us as we entered and left, and I noticed a variety of ages working in the restaurant. Sarah explained that two employees were not seniors when they started over 25 years ago.
“Our employees, including me [13 years with parent company Darden and six at the Warwick location], have been here for many years, Sarah said. “They all receive extensive training and find that it is a great place to work.”
Did I mention the pumpkin cheesecake? Wow!