Olive Garden ain't exactly a place for "low-carb friendly" meals
If my wife Christine had unlimited resources and was able to buy anything she wanted in the whole world, then there's no doubt in my mind that she would buy her very own Olive Garden restaurant to fill her need for their famous soup, salad, and breadsticks. The woman would literally live off of this meal every single day if she could, although she does admit she'd probably balloon up in weight just as quickly as we'd go bankrupt paying for it! :D
Unfortunately for her, though, the closest Olive Garden to our house has been much too far away for us to visit. So imagine my surprise a few months ago when some new construction started across the street from the Super Wal-Mart along a main road in Spartanburg, South Carolina and we noticed the sign indicated they were building an Olive Garden restaurant. I think Christine did cart wheels inside the car that day!
When the restaurant opened for business about two weeks ago, I told my anxious wife we should wait a few months after the novelty of the "new" restaurant in town had worn off before paying a visit. She wasn't happy with that answer, but agreed it was probably a good idea. So when I returned back from my work as an extra in the "Leatherheads" movie today, I foolishly asked my wife, "Where would you like to go eat and it can be anywhere?"
Boy, was that a stupid question or what?! She said, "We could go to Ruby Tuesday if Olive Garden is busy." Gee, I wonder where Christine REALLY wanted to go. I told her that they would probably be mad busy on a Saturday and since they were still new and all, but we'd check it out. Predictably, when we pulled into the parking lot, it was extremely packed with vehicles and we parked a long way from the front door. But knowing how much the wifey-wifey wanted to eat there, I told her we'd stay no matter how long it took to be seated. Thankfully, it was only about a 15-minute wait because this place was HUGE inside!
While we were waiting for our table, I saw a few friends from church who looked at me almost with an accusatory look of "How dare YOU come to an Italian restaurant being on a low-carb diet." Of course, out of their mouths came the obvious question, "So, what are you gonna eat?" Good question and I really didn't know until we sat down and looked at a menu.
When we got seated and started looking at the menu for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to notice a section of the menu devoted to people on a diet. There were dishes for people "looking for low-fat options" which included all of their Garden Fare entrées and they even had some options for people who are "watching carbohydrates."
"Savor one of our grilled entreés with fresh vegetables in place of potatoes. Enjoy our pasta entreés with whole wheat linguine."
Hmmm, isn't it interesting the Olive Garden would even acknowledge some people are STILL livin' la vida low-carb in 2007? I like the fact that they recommend grilled meats and even fresh vegetables as part of a low-carb diet. That's awesome since most people think potatoes are vegetables they should be consuming in high quantities. NOT! Plus, this proves that they know people on the low-carb lifestyle can and do eat their veggies. Way to go, Olive Garden!
As for the whole wheat pasta substitute, it may be a better alternative than the regular pasta, but it's still fairly high in carbs. Nevertheless, I had the 5-cheese baked ziti using this alternative for my meal just to give it a try and it was VERY delicious. Christine, of course, loaded up on the basket full of breadsticks, soup, and salad. And, yes, I ate one-third of a breadstick just to give me a little taste. It was okay, but I can DEFINITELY live without it if I had to. That's okay because Christine would keep eating them until they started coming out of her ears!
When we were just about finished with our meal, the waitress came back and I joked with her that she probably doesn't want to ask me if I want dessert since she undoubtedly doesn't have anything sugar-free. She then replied back to me pointing at the menu that they do offer a "no sugar added" dessert for people avoiding sugar like diabetics and low-carbers. That piqued my curiosity, so I checked it out.
Here's a picture of Olive Garden's Torta di Chocolate "no sugar added" dessert:
It certainly looks good with those fresh strawberries dipped in vanilla cream sauce and a warm double chocolate cake oozing with yummy-ness written all over it! But what was it sweetened with? Inquiring minds want to know. So I asked the waitress about it and what kind of artificial sweeteners were used in it. She didn't know, so she went to her manager to find out.
I leaned over to Christine and told her that it probably has some sort of blend of Splenda, ACE-K, maltitol, and/or erithyritol to make the chocolate and vanilla taste palatable as so many of the sugar-free products these days commonly use. But when the waitress came back she declared there were no sweeteners used in the dessert at all and that it has a "flour chocolate" as the sweetening agent.
HUH? What the heck is that? She attempted to clarify by stating the chocolate cake was made of flour (NOT GOOD!) and that there was "no sugar added" besides the sugar used to sweeten the chocolate and vanilla. DOUBLE HUH?! I thought this menu item that is promoted to diabetics and low-carbers was supposed to be "no sugar added?" The last time I checked, if you ADD sugar to chocolate or vanilla, then that makes it ADDED sugar. The sugar doesn't grow with the cacao and vanilla bean! Am I missing something in this equation?
Needless to say, I thanked my waitress for checking on that for me and declared to her that I would pass on dessert today. But can you believe this? If the Olive Garden is seeking to provide diabetics and low-carbers with a dessert they can consume without consequence to their blood sugar and weight, then the Torta di Chocolate just ain't gonna cut it!
What a sham of a product and it makes me wonder how many innocent people with diabetes or cutting their carbohydrate intake see the words "no sugar added" and simply ASSUME it's okay for them on their diet!
See, it is THIS kind of marketing ploy by companies exploiting people wanting to reduce or eliminate sugar from their diet either by choice or necessity that really gets me fired up. This isn't a game, Olive Garden! This could very well be the difference between life and death for some people battling a terrible disease like diabetes or obesity. Fooling these poor people into buying your dessert that is loaded with sugar carbs despite having the label "no sugar added" is criminal if you ask me.
Of course, if you visit the Olive Garden web site, then you will notice there is no mention of the nutritional information on their menu items anywhere. So we have NO idea how many carbs are in this dessert anyway. Whatcha got to hide, Olive Garden? Are you too afraid of people knowing how many carbohydrates you are actually serving to them? I'm sure it's pretty scary and it would not surprise me a bit if the average dish is well over 100g carbs! Yikes!
How about letting the corporate headquarters for the Olive Garden know how disgusted you are with their so-called healthy dessert option they are promoting to diabetics and people who are livin' la vida low-carb by using this contact page or dialing their toll-free customer service line on weekdays at 1-800-331-2729.
Be polite, but stern in voicing your opinion that a real sugar-free dessert option should be available to genuinely serve the best interests of the low-carb/diabetic customer base who dines at the Olive Garden. Let me know if you hear back from them with a response. If we band together with one voice, then perhaps they'll get the message. We can only hope!