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Tag Archives: garlic breadsticks

The Tide Has Turned!!!

5 Sep

Around the DFW area, there is no shortage of places to get Italian food.   But when you think in terms of visibility and marketing it seems we have just two:   Olive Garden and Spaghetti Warehouse.

Both are usually packed during the weekends so I guess they do well.    Most people I know consider them great places.

The thing I hear most often is “I love O.G.’s breadsticks and salad”.

Olive Garden has always struck me as trying to be a classy place.  It’s not, but it tries, so I give them credit for that.   Back in the day their breadsticks DID indeed kick ass.  But today they don’t taste fresh.  They have a slight freezer burn taste to them more often than not.  The salad is still good though.  I will say that.  But most of their entrees just don’t drive me wild.   It’s rather bland.   Not bad.  Just generic.

Spaghetti Warehouse has always had the reputation of being the more casual, hang out kinda joint.   It’s decorated with crazy signs and junk and it’s just laid back.   I have always found their table bread and garlic butter to be MAGNIFICENT.   The rest of the menu I could take or leave.   It seemed just as generic as Olive Garden.  Only cheaper.

So the group think was (in my circles) was that OG was the nicer and better place.   I hadn’t been to either in several months.   I tend to make my own italian food at home now, but in a funny twist of fate, I ended up eating at OG and SW in the same weekend.   So they were both fresh on my mind:

OLIVE GARDEN – Still has some good salad.   The breadsticks are just as I remember them.  Not as good.  Their calamari appetizer was SURPRISINGLY good.  Tender and with a light crunch.  The decor in this new location is romantically lit and everything looks very nice and pretty.  I notice the prices seem higher than I remember.   Food is just generic and disappointing.

SPAGHETTI WAREHOUSE – Was still the crazy decorated place with the laid back atmosphere.   What I discovered in terms of food was noticeable.   The table bread/garlic butter was perfect as always.  I did notice a difference in the salad.  It seemed bigger, fresher, and with a zestier dressing.   The spaghetti, meatballs, chicken parm, and other things we were all eating tasted better in terms of quality.    Nice portions and rich sauces.

After years of Olive Garden holding the crown (such as it is) I think Spaghetti Warehouse has really stepped up its game and improved the ingredients they use for their recipes.   It’s no longer generic.  It’s rich and hearty southern italian food.

Spaghetti Warehouse leaps off the top rope and lands the 1-2-3, and takes the championship belt from Olive Garden!

WOO!

 

 

 

 

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THE RETURN OF MAZZIO’s

20 Feb

oh….Mazzio’s…..how I’ve missed thee…

Mazzio’s is an “italian eatery” (as they call it now…it was just a “sit down” pizza place to me as a kid) that has locations in ten states so far.  But if you live in Texas, or better yet, Oklahoma, you probably know about Mazzio’s.

Just the NAME is a source of debate.  Is it “MAH-ZIOs”  or “MAZ-ZIOs”?  Well, the official company answer is, “YES”.

Whatever you call it, as far back as I can remember, Mazzio’s was the BEST pizza, hands down.  NO contest.  Sure I liked Godfather’s and all the others, but MAZZIO’s was the BOSS of me.  Their pizza just tasted SO fresh, and their pizzas were so STUFFED with toppings.  Seriously they were very heavy handed in loading up that pie.  So much so, they had their own style of making pizzas.

Typical pizzas use this construction:

1.  Crust

2.  Sauce

3.  Cheese

4.  Toppings

Now this is a tried and true method for most pizza places.  It allows the toppings to “stick” to the cheese when it melts.

But Mazzio’s REVERSED steps 3 and 4.  So they cover the entire pizza with toppings, THEN add the cheese on top.  The result is a slightly LESS cheesy pizza, but the payoff is you get almost DOUBLE the amount of toppings.  And as someone who loves just your basic hamburger pizza, this sucker would be LOADED.

Okay, besides pizza, they also had sandwiches and pastas and an amazing salad bar.  And there was ONE thing that they had on that salad bar that everyone loved (even the kids).

They would bake fresh garlic breadsticks that were available for people that would get a salad.  Now it was NO secret that everyone in the Mazzio’s I ever went to, would always sneak up and take one or two.  Or TEN (I am telling you these things were so good!!!).  Usually the workers and managers would smile and shake their heads and make more when that basket would empty.  Which would be rather often.

Another feature to Mazzio’s that made it stood out was it’s DECOR.   It had a very “old fashion” and “nostalgic” theme to it.  There would be vintage signs, next to cool neon signs, and the whole place was decorated in such warm colors.  It was always lit well too.  Not too bright, just enough to give it a very comfortable vibe.  Everyone I knew back then LOVED Mazzio’s.  Church groups, students, businesses, they always went to Mazzio’s because the food was hearty, and the people were always super friendly and the atmosphere was inviting.  You just felt like you were at home there.

As a kid, they even had a small area that would have the latest and greatest video games.   So think about this for a minute.  Great food, cool deco, great salad bar…oh those breadsticks……mmmmm….AND an arcade!?!?!  This was a universal place.  Great place for a date, great for your family.  Everything about this place was just so….SPECIAL.

And the hits just keep on coming!!!    Yet ANOTHER thing we loved about Mazzio’s was their SPECIAL offers.   Not talking coupons or food specials.  They had a CUP program.   You bought the Mazzio’s plastic cup for like, two bucks, and after that you got free refills on it as long as you brought it in!  And let me tell you those cups got MILEAGE.  I think they would change every couple of years or so to keep things fresh and keep track of who had paid for the current cup and who was still using the old ones.   Anyway that was a clever way of reminding you, even when away from Mazzio’s, ABOUT Mazzio’s.

I also remember they had another special offer where if you bought a large pizza, or something that you got sunglasses for like 2 or three bucks.  These were the coolest shades I had ever seen as a kid, and we wore those things until they just fell apart from abuse.   Good times.

Several years later I heard that Mazzio’s location I loved so much went out of business and that was like losing a piece of my childhood.   It seems a CiCi’s pizza had moved in and their cheaper,faster product was maybe more profitable than a place that spent so much money catering to the customer.  Sad, really.

So flash forward to about a year ago.  I am traveling to Waco, TX, to visit the Dr Pepper Museum (oh, I should write that up–note to self) and I discovered they had a Mazzio’s there.  I was so very excited!!!

When I arrived, I noticed they had changed their original logo to the new one.   It looks like the building was once some other restaurant that was converted to a Mazzio’s.  Once inside, I could tell they kept MOST of the flavor of the original restaurant design, but it was not as warm.  This was sort of a “shoe-horning” in the large Mazzio’s style into a smaller space.  It had all the right colors, but the salad bar looked smaller.  Smaller and missing those BELOVED breadsticks.  They now offered a buffet.  The pizzas looked SPARSE (topping wise) to the ones I remembered.  They also had changed their “construction”.   The toppings were now on top of the pizza instead of under the cheese.

The Cup program was gone.  No cool sunglasses.  The “arcade” was now two broken video games you pass on the way to the bathroom.

The group I brought with me were excited, because “I” was excited to go there.  They couldn’t believe I was so eager to go get a pizza before.

The food tasted….ok.  My friends ordered sandwiches and pasta and loved it.   My pizza tasted like the crust was “old” and the toppings were a small handful scattered on my pie.  It was like an mild imitation of my once, beloved Mazzio’s.  They left happy.  I left SO disappointed.   I mean the people working were nice and everything, it’s just the food seemed rushed and not great.  Was I just expecting too much?  Did I have expectations set TOO high?

I guess you can’t go home again.

Having said all this, I am FULLY able to look at this with adult eyes.  This is a BUSINESS.  They had to make some changes and include a buffet to compete.  And in a world where “all you can eat pizza and soda for 5.99” is the trend, it’s AMAZING that a place like Mazzio’s can keep as much of it’s original features as it has.  And maybe that is the point.  We live in a world where a BUFFET place tends to dominate, it’s the QUALITY of Mazzio’s that still attracts the most loyal following that I have seen in a restaurant.

 Flash forward to TWO days ago.  I was on a roadtrip, and I was in the middle of Oklahoma.   After taking a wrong turn, I drive by a Mazzio’s.   My first thought was “hmmm…Mazzio’s”.  I pass by, but I could NOT resist.  I had to turn back and give it one last try.  The outside looked like it might have been something other than Mazzio’s once upon a time.  So I was uneasy walking in.

Sometimes, you CAN go home again.

This placed looked INCREDIBLE.  The deco and colors were all there.  The neon was there.  That INSTANT warm and inviting feeling WASHED all over me.  I had to stop in the middle of the restaurant just to look around and force myself to realize that I had NOT, in fact, traveled back in time to my childhood.   I had NEVER been in this location, but it looked just as I remember “my” old Mazzio’s looking.   The girl at the counter was super friendly and nice.  The pizza maker even walked up to the counter, and was very outgoing as well.

“Hey, can I pay for double toppings and have the cheese on top of the topping, instead of the other way around?”

“Oh, you want the toppings UNDER the cheese? You got it!”

While waiting, I walked around and just soaked up the atmosphere.  There was the arcade, the cool deco, the neon.  This Mazzio’s had it ALL.

I might have just discovered HEAVEN.  Another employee, who had been with Mazzio’s for years, delivered my pie.  He was so nice and had lots of answers to my “Mazzio” questions.   The pizza was

UH—MAY–ZING!!!!!!

I am SO serious, when I tell you, it was like being 6 years old again.  The crust was PERFECT.  Just the right amount of sauce.  Each slice was BULGING with toppings.   Simply put:  the best pizza I have had in a LONG time!

I was SO excited and SO FULL afterwards, I completely forgot to ask if they still made those salad bar breadsticks (which I didn’t see, but didn’t really SEARCH for).   So, I guess now I have another reason to make a trip back to this place!!!

My faith in Mazzio’s is now FULLY RESTORED!!!!!!

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