Nov 2014

Chain Reaction: Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp® & Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Bowl®

Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp®

My weekday lunchtime habits have changed as of late. Working at a restaurant group with nearly 2,000 locations, I’ve been thinking about and eating at more chain restaurants than I ever did before. Fueled by a desire to scope out the competition and by genuine curiosity, I’ve been exploring places that I used to pay little mind to.

So while I usually dedicate this space to touting the merits of under-appreciated mom and pop shops, I thought it’d be fun to change things up a bit and shed some light on two permanent fixtures in the American dining landscape: Red Lobster and Olive Garden. Humor me, yes? Thank you.

Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp®

First up, Red Lobster‘s Endless Shrimp®! For $17.99, I had my fill of six different shrimp preparations: Sriracha Grilled Shrimp, Parmesan Shrimp Scampi, Hand-Breaded Shrimp, Garlic Shrimp Scampi, Shrimp Linguini Alfredo, and Coconut Shrimp Bites.

Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp®

The offer also included a salad (not pictured and not eaten) and unlimited Cheddar Bay Biscuits®. Whereas the former was anemic and sad, the latter were tasty lil’ carbohydrate bombs. We asked for seconds, thirds, and fourths. No joke.

Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp®

For my first round of Endless Shrimp, I requested the Sriracha Grilled Shrimp, Hand-Breaded Shrimp, and Garlic Shrimp Scampi. The platter also included rice pilaf and steamed broccoli, both of which didn’t merit any precious gastro-real estate.

The fried shrimp with cocktail sauce was my fave of the trio due to the shrimps’ comparatively large size and relative greaseless-ness. The scampi was surprisingly well-balanced, while the Sriracha was just alright. Truth be told, I’m not a huge Rooster Sauce fan. None of the shrimp were overcooked. Yay!

Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp®

Round two brought a big ol’ plate of Shrimp Linguini Alfredo. The shrimp were tiny but well-cooked, while the sauce and pasta were solid in a super-rich and indulgent kind of way. Spoiler alert: Red Lobster executes a tastier alfredo than sister restaurant Olive Garden. The irony!

Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp®

My final course was the Parmesan Shrimp Scampi, which was more or less the Garlic Shrimp Scampi with shredded cheese melted on top. These went down easily, with the parm adding a bit of saltiness to the buttery mix. The only stone left unturned was the Coconut Shrimp, which I stole from my dining mate—Much. Too. Sweet.

All in all, Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp® met and, dare I say, exceeded my expectations. I’d hit it again.

Olive Garden Never Ending Pasta Bowl®

Olive Garden‘s Never Ending Pasta Bowl® was a homier affair, like a meal set in a rustic Tuscan villa, if you will.

On tap for $9.99 were six types of pasta (spaghetti, angel hair, fettuccine, penne, cavatappi, whole wheat linguine), four standard sauces (Marinara, Alfredo, Five Cheese Marinara, Meat Sauce), two premium sauces that cost a dollar extra (Spicy Three Meat, Roasted Mushroom Alfredo), and four “toppings” that also cost extra (Shrimp Fritta, Chicken Fritta, Italian Sausage, Meatballs).

Olive Garden Never Ending Pasta Bowl®

The deal also included unlimited breadsticks, which were brushed with butter, sprinkled with garlic powder, and served warm. Pro tip: Eat the breadsticks immediately because they taste terrible once they’ve cooled. The window of palatability is approximately 30 seconds.

Olive Garden Never Ending Pasta Bowl®

There was also all-you-can-eat salad dressed in Olive Garden’s signature Italian dressing. I liked how chilled salad plates were thoughtfully served alongside—it’s the little things.

Olive Garden Never Ending Pasta Bowl®

And then there was pasta! My favorite combination was the cavatappi, ridged and tubular corkscrews, topped with the mushroom alfredo and fried shrimp. The pasta’s texture was indifferent—neither al dente nor complete mush. The sauce was tasty, but definitely could’ve used more ‘shrooms.

Olive Garden Never Ending Pasta Bowl®

Round two brought whole wheat linguini with five cheese marinara and fried chicken strips, which was good but not earth-shatteringly so.

And then I was totally and completely stuffed. It turns out I can eat plenty more shrimp than pasta. Wah wah…

Olive Garden Never Ending Pasta Bowl®

For dessert, Andes Mints dressed in Olive Garden clothing.

While I wouldn’t hesitate to return for more Endless Shrimp, Never Ending Pasta probably won’t lure me back in the future, mostly because I can whip up some pretty great noodles at home (see below). Much to my surprise, neither dining experience was an utter bust, which is all I could ask for, really.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, it’s back to exploring mom and pop shops!

In the mood for pasta? Let me help you out!

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12 thoughts on “Chain Reaction: Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp® & Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Bowl®

  1. That was strangely satisfying to read! I’ve actually heard very very good things about the cheddar bay biscuits at Red Lobsta’ – I’d hit ’em!

  2. I used to eat at Red Lobster much more than I liked because my boss at the time loved the place. My go-to was the lobster pizza appetizer and a caesar salad.

  3. I went to Red Lobster in the ‘burbs early last year. I remember the cheddar biscuits fondly, but I think everything else was too salty. Love this honest review, Cathy!

  4. An adult should not consume more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day however “chain restaurants” have not received the word and adults are consuming between 3,000 mg to 4,000 mg of sodium a day eating out which leads to obesity and heart attacks.

    Red Lobster’s Admiral’s feast, with creamy lobster topped mashed potato, Caesar salad with dressing, just one of the complimentary Cheddar Bay Biscuits, and a lemonade: At 7,106 mg of sodium, it is one of the saltiest restaurant meals in America; over three days’ worth of salt.

    Olive Garden is not that far behind with Tour of Italy (lasagna) with a Breadstick, Garden Fresh Salad with House Dressing, and a Coca-Cola: 6,176 mg of sodium.

  5. You have an open mind and an open heart as well as an open mouth. That’s one of the reasons why I love your blog so much.

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