For any Canadian visiting the lost city of Buffalo a series of exotic pleasures await. There is more to the city on the shore of Lake Erie then Buffalo Wings, cheap shopping and snow. A recent trip to the Buffalo suburb of Tonawonda (or it may be Cheektowaga, who the hell knows) unearthed one of these lost gems, especially to a generation of Canadians.
The Olive Garden is a chain of "Italian American" eateries in the United States. In Canada, the chain was closed down in the early nineties and replaced by the vastly inferior East Side Mario's. A brief glance at the menu showed the difference. Where Mario's offers unlimited salad and bread with every entree, The OG (as no one in their right mind would call it) offers unlimited salad and garlic breadsticks.
Inspired by their Culinary Institute of Tuscany, the gifted teenage chefs of the OG create a mix of flavours that match the greatest chefs in history including Giancarlo Boyardee or the monstrous Jolly Green Giant. My lovely companion and I started our evening in the charming waiting lounge where we awaited our table amongst a group of Buffalo's elite and hoi polloi. We were a handed a puck to alert us when our table would be available. When the puck magically glowed and vibrated it opened up a trip to a culinary wonderland.
We were pleasantly sat at our table and the first surprise awaited us. The chairs had wheels. As our time in the waiting lounge had opened up our appetites, we quickly ordered our appetizers and entrees.
First came the breadsticks and fresh house salad. The breadsticks were a mix of the finest garlic powder and heaven. The salad was a lively rainbow of sweet onions, mystery cheese, lettuce and olives depitted and deflavoured with a dressing reminiscent of the epic sub sauce found in a Mr Sub Assorted Sub.
Out in a flurry of activity came our appetizers. A mix of kalamari and fried mozzarella, with 2 bowls of marinara and ranch dressing. The kalamari was slightly tepid, but the fried mozzarella served to remind us why cheese must be fried to truly appreciate it's wonders.
Before we could say enough is enough, out came our entrees. I had ordered a 5 cheese baked Ziti, while my beautiful companion chose the Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara. The Ziti, which our experienced server explained " You know Macaroni, well Ziti is like a flat macaroni" was a delight. The 5 cheeses each offered a harmonious mix that reminded me of the Junior High School Orchestra our server must be a member of during the day. The Chicken & Shrimp Carbonara was no chicken went it came to taste.
Our appetites, not being able to take any more, told us to head to the border. We quickly paid, and headed back home, where the Olive Garden sadly is no more. While most visitors take a sampling of the plentiful portions home, we knew that the border guards would have never allowed us to bring this much flavour back to Canada.
How can you rate perfection? Further visits to Olive Garden await... or to the Sbarro in the mall.