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THE EATBEAT: Long-awaited Olive Garden receives warm welcome

After a lengthy wait for Olive Garden to open in Grand Forks, the lines were long in February. The novelty is slowly wearing off, but the steady following attests the warm welcome.

My first visit to Olive Garden was during midafternoon, so I could be sure to get in. After a late breakfast, I figured a late lunch would be fashionable.

The place is impressive. It’s fashioned in Tuscan farmhouse style with a welcoming entryway. There is seating for those who are waiting.

My booth was near the kitchen, and I watched the waiters in white shirts, ties, black trousers and aprons adorned with gold-colored towels. They were busy at midday, punching in orders and carrying out bread and pasta.

It had been a few years since I ate at the older Olive Garden in Fargo, so I studied the two manageable menus offering appetizers, soups and salads, grilled sandwiches, pizza, classic dishes, chicken and seafood and filled pastas.

At length, I asked my server what she would recommend. She suggested chicken Alfredo, and I went with that. Instead of the raspberry lemonade she suggested, I drank water.

She first brought me the familiar Olive Garden salad bowl with crisp greens, peppers, onion rings and yes — several black olives. Along with it came a plate with two long, warm breadsticks.

The chicken Alfredo ($10.95) was warm and comforting on a cold day. The portion was generous. My server was ready with Parmesan cheese.

As I ate, I noticed the vases and planters with permanent flower displays on the ledges. There are several dining areas with arched doorways. And there is a fireplace that adds warmth to the decor.

Olive Garden has an attractive bar area to the right of the entryway. The restaurant has a full liquor license and a wine list offering a wide selection to complement Italian meals. Nonalcoholic beverages include coolers, specialty coffees and hot teas.

On a hot summer day, I will try the raspberry lemonade that was recommended.

There’s a homemade soup, salad and breadstick lunch available until 4 p.m. daily for $6.95.

An olive branch on menu items signified low-fat entrees. There is a Garden Fare Nutrition Guide available for customers seeking gluten-free food. And for those with food allergies, Olive Garden has an Allergen Information Guide.

All in all, it is the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks. It attracts visitors from out of town as well as people who live here.

Olive Garden is part of the Darden chain of restaurants that also operates Red Lobster. There are about 700 restaurants, including four Olive Gardens in North Dakota’s major cities.

Olive Garden has gained a following since 1982 with its ample portions and relaxed ambience. It’s known for its classic lasagna, fettuccine Alfredo and chicken Parmigiana.

Reach Hagerty at mhagerty@gra.midco.net or call (701) 772-1055.

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