I Would Say, “Say It Isn't SO!”......But It Is
What hath Darden wrought!? Olive Garden, the “Italian” restaurant chain that is far more representative of the tastes of Rome, Georgia, Florence, South Carolina, or Naples, Florida than of Rome, Florence, or Naples, Italy, has unleashed a new culinary abomination in the form of a nacho knockoff called “loaded pasta chips.” Yeah, you read that correctly; an “Italian” restaurant is now serving nachos. And not even real nachos, at that, but a bastardized “Italian” version of a Tex-Mex conglomeration thrown together by a guy named Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya at a Mexican border town restaurant in 1943. Does OG ever do anything that isn't derivative? As my Italian ancestors spin their way out of their graves in Emilia-Romagna, let me describe the dish.
Take fried lasagne strips to represent tortilla chips. Top them with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and a three-meat tomato sauce loaded with chicken, meatballs, and sausage. Throw on some cherry peppers to double as jalapeños and drizzle it all with cloyingly creamy Alfredo sauce. Add a garnish of Pecorino Romano, Parmesan, and fresh parsley, and, tah-dah! – you have an instant Italian classic. And every Italian on the planet says, “che cazzo!?” Or at least, “uffa!”
Ostensibly, the......the.....creation is intended as a Super Bowl nosh, but it's going to be available until April 1. Perhaps we're all just victims of an extended pre-April Fool's joke.
Since I generally only go to Olive Garden when there are no Italian restaurants within a fifty mile radius (or when I get a gift card), I have not yet sampled this....this.....whatever this is, but surprisingly, I'm told it's not too bad. Or maybe not surprising since the ingredients are all Italian or Italian-ish. I mean, at least these.....these.....these Franken-nachos have decent DNA. I've even heard them described as “wickedly good.” Of course, a lot of people think lutefisk is wickedly good, but I wouldn't exactly expect to see it on an Italian menu.
But then again maybe I should expect to see it on an Olive Garden menu. After all, we're talking about a place that uses “evolving the brand,” “reinvigorated dishes,” and “we're bringing new things to the table” as part of its marketing strategy. The sign on the building still says “Italian Kitchen,” but what the hell; I have an “Italian kitchen” too, and I recently catered a wedding reception where the customer wanted a taco bar. I guess that means I'm “evolving the brand,” huh? Sometimes you just have to do what the customer wants even if you have to do it with clenched teeth. And apparently Olive Garden's culinarily challenged customers want Italian nachos. Boh!
Darden needs to either remove the word “Italian” from their logo or add the word “American,” because while there's a huge Italian-American influence in the kitchen, there's not much that's veramente Italiano. And the problem as I see it is that far too many Americans, especially those in the hinterlands (remember Marilyn Hagerty, the sweet if somewhat palate-numbed restaurant “critic” in Grand Forks, North Dakota?), are being led to believe the stuff they are being served at Olive Garden is the epitome of real Italian cuisine. It's bad enough they are being deluded into thinking that overcooked, under-seasoned pasta and unlimited breadsticks are Italian hallmarks straight out of a mythical “Culinary Institute” in Tuscany, but now they're throwing in freakin' nachos? Porca miseria, gli italiani sono fregati!
I'm thinking of organizing a nationwide protest. Maybe recruiting Italian nonne to march around with signs saying, “quello è NON italiano,” or “basta dire di no a nachos,” or just simply “sono incazzato.” Yeah. That ought to do it.