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Olive Garden revamps menu with small plates and lighter fare

Tortellini al Forno with bacon
Tortellini al Forno with bacon
Brittany Davies

With the quality of locally owned Orlando restaurants through the roof, steadfast national chains like Olive Garden are forced to step up their game or lose customers to local businesses. To draw back customers, Olive Garden recently refurbished the majority of their menu, while keeping a few classics to satisfy the loyal guests.
No longer just the home of heavy Italian comforts like Grilled Chicken Alfredo or Lasagna, Olive Garden has added lightened up dishes to accompany the classics. Following the tapas trend, small plates have been introduced as well as new flatbreads, desserts, and other menu items – including seasonal items like a Portobello and Goat Cheese Flatbread, Toasted Marshmallow Martini, and Spicy Calabrian Wings. Friendly servers are happy to give guests a menu tour to point out all the new items and offer recommendations.
The Lighter Italian Fare section of the menu highlights entrees under 575 calories. This includes items like the Chicken Abruzzi, a buttery broth with creamy cannellini beans, leafy kale, fresh summer veggies, grilled chicken, and a roasted lemon to squeeze over the dish. Other choices on the lightened up menu include Garlic Rosemary Chicken, Center Cut Filet Mignon, Lasagna Primavera with grilled chicken, and Herb-crusted Salmon, among others.
The entire menu is bursting with new entrees to try. In addition to tried and true favorites like the Seafood Alfredo or Chicken Marsala, the new menu has expanded to include Grilled Chicken Toscano with spinach and parmesan risotto, Salmon Bruschetta, and Mediterranean Grilled Trout.
Guests can get creative with the Cucina Mia menu that allows diners to choose their pasta, sauce, and toppings. Salad toppers are another option for Olive Garden guests to customize their meal. For a few extra dollars ($2.99 to be exact), the classic house salad gets topped with one of two different options: the Roasted Tomato Caprese with kale, mozzarella, roasted tomato, bell pepper, and basil, or the Antipasti Italian Meats and Cheese with hard and genoa salami, pepperoni, and mozzarella.
Olive Garden lunch-goers now have a Pronto Lunch option with a special menu that includes small plates, appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches (yes, they really have a burger!), and flatbread as well as some smaller portions of classic and lighter fare dinner entrees. The Pronto Lunch, starting at $6.99, speeds up the mealtime to 30-45 minutes so diners can have lunch and get back to the office, or so those managing busy schedules can get a quick bite in the midst of running errands. Pronto Lunch is available Monday through Friday until 4pm.
To bridge the gap between lunch and dinner, Olive Garden has come up with their own Happy Hour of sorts featuring small plates and discounts on wine and beer. Before 6pm, small plates like the new Polenta Shrimp alla Greca, Tuscan White Bean Hummus, and Chicken Meatballs are available for only $4. Beer for $3 and wine for $5 accompany the small plates. The Tortellini al Forno satisfies the desire for cheesy, creamy pasta without having to indulge in an entire bowl, and it’s topped with bacon.
Although Central Florida has it’s fair share of great Italian restaurants, Olive Garden is stepping up to be a contender for diners craving Italian food. The restaurant is always running specials. Recently, the Cucina Mia option was only $9.99. Currently, Italian classics like Five Cheese Ziti al Forno, Fettucine Alfredo, and Lasagne Classico are only $10. Other deals to watch for are the buy one, get one dinners and the always changing, seasonal favorites – like the sweet and airy Salted Caramel Tiramisu.
To view all of the new menu items and current promotions, visit the Olive Garden website.