Each generation seems to have claim to an Italian chain restaurant. If the Greatest Generation thinks fondly of the Mom & Pop on the corner, and the Baby Boomers go through phases with Zios and Olive Garden, then Gen X and Y have discovered Romano’s Macaroni GrillÂ®.
That may explain why people are willing to wait an hour and more for a seat when a new Grill opens. It may explain why we know of 20-somethings who deliberately fly in for a night on the town with friends, and choose to go to Macaroni Grill. It’s not that it’s trendyâ€”or necessarily that unusualâ€”as much as it is an experience.
We have now visited Macaroni Grill five times. Here’s what we have learned:
- First, order one of the specialty teas. The mint blackberry combination is a winner. You could also try raspberry, mango or peach.
- When they bring the bread (served as a soft square with a nice taste of rosemary), ask for a little cheese and balsamic vinegar to be added to the standard combination of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and cracked pepperâ€”what they like to call their own â€˜Italian butter.â€™
- Next, spring for the antipasti. We recommend the Calamari Fritti, which is tender, with a crispy coating, and comes with two nice dipping sauces. The crab-stuffed mushrooms are also good.
- As for a salad, you can order one as your meal, or add a Caesar or garden salad to any entrÃ©e for $1.79. For the price, it’s a nice filler, particularly if you decide to split one of the larger meals.
Our favorite, surprisingly, is the Eggplant Parmesan ($8.49). It is consistently fresh, cooked just right, and a nice complement to the angel hair pasta. If you have never ventured into the world of eggplant, this is the way to do so.
The menu choices are, of course, heavily pasta, but there are a few steak and fish dishes available. The Grilled Salmon ($15.29) arrived beautifully scored and slightly crispy, with a flavorful honey-teriyaki glaze.
Think twice about the Lobster Ravioli. Described as, â€˜Decadent lobster-filled tarragon pasta topped with sautÃ©ed shrimp, asparagus, tomatoes and lemon butter sauceâ€™ ($15.49), we were hard pressed to find any lobster. The shrimp, however, were tasty and plentiful, and the asparagus tender and delicious. The Pasta Milano, the Mama’s Trio (Chicken Parmesan, Lasagna and Chicken Canneloni), the Marsala Chicken Ravioli and the Penne Rustica have all been winners.
In addition to the meals mentioned, Macaroni Grill also serves brick oven pizzas, sandwiches, and a â€˜create your own pastaâ€™ that puts the customize-me generation in charge of its own destiny. In fact, the restaurant is totally flexible on substitutions and inventions.
All food aside, the Macaroni Grill is a great place for pure atmosphere. When we went on a Monday night, there were three birthdays celebrated, complete with a free piece of chocolate cake. The cake was huge, with sauce, nuts and buds of whipped cream in just the right amounts for mouthful after mouthful of delicious sensations.
Speaking of dessert, we have also tried the new Three-Berry Tiramisu, offering lemon cake layered with fruity mascarpone and cream and topped with crushed almond biscotti, and the Amaraetto Apple Crispetti (each dessert $5.79), which had a hint of citrus in the buttery almond sauce and was declared worth coming back for on its own. When you go, plan to linger over coffee, since each pot is freshly ground.
The website, at http://www.macaronigrill.com, is worth a visit for its fun facts, enewsletter and specialsâ€”including quick lessons on how to order in Italian.
To its credit, Macaroni Grill has not fallen into a chain mentality. They appear to strive for the experience, knowing that competition is steep and people are choosy when it comes to eating out. The business lunch is also a good choice, with their all-you-can-eat soup and salad.
It’s the type of atmosphere where 25 people can walk in and all be seated at one long table, with no notice. It’s where a broken plate brings cheers in the kitchen, and where guests can watch as their double-stacked lasagna is made fresh every hour, covered with sauce and a layer of cheese, then baked in a brick oven with an open flame at 535 degrees. And, it’s where your server keeps the glasses full and the service attentive.
- Pasta Milano, which is bowtie pasta with grilled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms in a garlic cream sauce.
- Chicken Cannelloni, pasta stuffed with roasted chicken, cheese and spinach with an Asiago cream sauce.
- Eggplant or Chicken Parmesan, hand-breaded and baked and served with pasta.
- The Mama’s Trio, said to be the among the most popular since you get generous portion of three of the favorites â€” Chicken Parmesan, Lasagna and Chicken Cannelloni.
For another independent review, click here.