Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones

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bbqjimbob
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2006/08/24 23:09:14 (permalink)

Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones

My wife and I went to a "Mom & Pop" Italian restaurant last night about which we had read many glowing reviews, including how huge the portions were. The critic for the local paper said that they were so big, one dinner would feed 2 people. We'd been wanting to try it for a while now, and broke down and decided to go last night. On the other side of the coin, is Carrabba's, a chain Italian restaurant that has been our favorite for a long time. We figured that as good as the chain was, a local M&P would be better. Unfortunately, we weren't impressed. I had 2 long island ice teas ($10 total), we had calamari for an appetizer, my wife had stuffed flounder, and I had the lambchops. My lambchops were medium well to well done, and I told the owner. She took them back, but since the kitchen was closed, I was out of luck- no dinner for me! The salad was mediocre at best, the rolls like hockey pucks, and when I tasted my wife's stuffed flounder, I was glad I hadn't ordered it! BTW- those reviews about large portions- not true. Carrabba's portions are about 1&1/2 times the size of theirs. In spite of them not charging us for my dinner, our bill was still $43, plus tip! We could have eaten at Carraba's for about the same, minus my beverages, but with my meal included. I've learned an expensive lesson- unfortunately, Mom & Pop restaurants aren't always better than chain restaurants!
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    ScreenBear
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/24 23:41:25 (permalink)
    Indeed, they are not always. Usually, but not always.
    The Bear
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    Twinwillow
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/24 23:54:02 (permalink)
    Ok, here's my two cents. First of all, why would you want to order such "upscale"
    food items like you and your wife ordered at a "mom & pop" Italian restaurant?
    Mom & pop restaurants are for, lasagna, manicotti, spaghetti and meat balls,
    eggplant parmigian, pizza and so on and so on. Where all the sauces, meatballs, etc. are usually home made. or, at least they should be.
    In Dallas, we love Carrabbas because we don't have the "typical Mop & pop" Italian restaurants like that found in the east.
    #3
    saps
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/25 00:09:27 (permalink)
    Generally when I see a review lauding the huge portions, I tend to run the other way.
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    bbqjimbob
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/25 00:15:38 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by twinwillow

    Ok, here's my two cents. First of all, why would you want to order such "upscale"
    food items like you and your wife ordered at a "mom & pop" Italian restaurant?
    Mom & pop restaurants are for, lasagna, manicotti, spaghetti and meat balls,
    eggplant parmigian, pizza and so on and so on. Where all the sauces, meatballs, etc. are usually home made. or, at least they should be.
    In Dallas, we love Carrabbas because we don't have the "typical Mop & pop" Italian restaurants like that found in the east.


    Point taken- and a good point, at that! However- even the spaghetti w/ "homemade" tomato sauce that was served on the side was not very good. Both Carrabba's and my homemade pasta and tomato sauce are much better! Also- I asked our server what he recommended, and he said that the lambchops was his favorite meal from their dinner entrees.
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    Pwingsx
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/25 00:20:51 (permalink)
    I'm not sure the fact that you had a bad experience once with a Mom and Pop would negate the seemingly popular and accurate opinion that they are generally better than chains. I also think Carrabbas is not an 'ordinary' chain -- certainly more than a cut above some dump like Applebee's and Chile's.

    I happen to love Carrabbas myself, and make no apologies for it.
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    Twinwillow
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/25 01:10:51 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by bbqjimbob

    quote:
    Originally posted by twinwillow

    Ok, here's my two cents. First of all, why would you want to order such "upscale"
    food items like you and your wife ordered at a "mom & pop" Italian restaurant?
    Mom & pop restaurants are for, lasagna, manicotti, spaghetti and meat balls,
    eggplant parmigian, pizza and so on and so on. Where all the sauces, meatballs, etc. are usually home made. or, at least they should be.
    In Dallas, we love Carrabbas because we don't have the "typical Mop & pop" Italian restaurants like that found in the east.


    Point taken- and a good point, at that! However- even the spaghetti w/ "homemade" tomato sauce that was served on the side was not very good. Both Carrabba's and my homemade pasta and tomato sauce are much better! Also- I asked our server what he recommended, and he said that the lambchops was his favorite meal from their dinner entrees.


    He probably recommended the lamb chops because, I would imagine, they were the most expensive item on the menu,
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    Twinwillow
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/25 01:14:20 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Pwingsx

    I'm not sure the fact that you had a bad experience once with a Mom and Pop would negate the seemingly popular and accurate opinion that they are generally better than chains. I also think Carrabbas is not an 'ordinary' chain -- certainly more than a cut above some dump like Applebee's and Chile's.

    I happen to love Carrabbas myself, and make no apologies for it.


    Yes! I love Carrabba's as well. They are indeed a cut above all the otheres.
    #8
    bbqjimbob
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/25 02:53:28 (permalink)
    > He probably recommended the lamb chops because, I would imagine, they were the most expensive item on the menu

    I thought of that as I was typing that post. I must have "sucker" written across my forehead!
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    Jimeats
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/25 06:04:04 (permalink)
    I'm very fortunate, in my area we are rich with small independent Italaian ristorantes. We do have a Carraba's that dose a fairly good business and it's not bad I've been there twice, but it's not my first choice. I would like to be able to find one Long Island ice tea for ten dollars though, you got two for that price. Just go there and drink. Chow Jim
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    Oneiron339
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/25 07:29:59 (permalink)
    You pays your money,
    You takes your chances.

    I've found that there are few legitimate "food" writers in local newspapers. Most of them go to new places and give the place a glowing review, whether they deserve it or not. In ATL, we recently had a glowing review on Gunter Seeger's (the famous German chef) rstaurant in the Atlanta Magazine. A month later it was closing.

    Mom and Pop's are usually better, but I wouldn't just rely on a review. I'd have to hear more about it. As Ronald Reagan once said, "Trust, but verify."
    #11
    RubyRose
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/25 09:07:35 (permalink)
    We have many M&P Italian restaurants in our area. Some are wonderful and some are awful but there's no way I could lump them in a group to compare to Carrabba's. Chains have a certain degree of consistency; that's one reason why some people prefer them. Independently owned restaurants are just that; one-of-a-kinds so you have to explore them individually to decide whether you like them or not.

    I have only been to Carrabba's a couple of times for work-related meals and the food and/or service was better than some locally-owned Italian restaurants and not as good as some of the better ones.

    One of the ones with the best food has such a surly headwaiter (family member) that they are always short on waitstaff. If you ate there, the poor service would overshadow the delicious food. So we always call in and order our meals "to go" but you wouldn't know that if you walked in off the street.

    I'd agree with twinwillow about the menu choices. Ordering lamb chops and stuffed flounder in a M & P Italian restaurant is akin to ordering a steak in a seafood restaurant. And your drinks tipped off the waiter right away. Would you order a glass of chianti at a martini bar?

    But I applaud you for trying a new place. If people didn't have a sense of adventure, there wouldn't be a website like Roadfood, filled with so many great food experiences. Hopefully, your next try will be one of them.
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    HollyDolly
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/25 09:36:15 (permalink)
    Mom and Pop places can be great or bad,just like chain places can be a wow,or a bowow.
    We don't have Carraba's here that I know of,but we have Johnny Carino's which I haven't tried.
    Try next time some of these mom and pop places or other joints for lunch it's usually cheaper
    and you get to sample how the food is. Things like stuffed flounder or lamb chops I might order at Lidia's restraunt in New York(she has written several cookbooks and has a couple of restraunts in NYC)
    but not at a mom and pop place.Also,ask your friends about some places you'd like to try,and if they have eaten there and what they thought of it.
    At least you like new places and things,a friend of mine doesn't like seafood or chinese food,so we never go to new places like that.Usually we wind up in the same old restraunts to eat.Boring.She needs to expand her palate,but guess it's too late.
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    mbrookes
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/25 13:23:22 (permalink)
    Several people have commented on ordering lamb chops and flounder. If they aren't able to prepare it well, why would they put it on the menu?
    I had rather see a limited menu and know it's all good than an extensive menu that contains really bad choices.
    #14
    V960
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/25 14:35:05 (permalink)
    I think you just got a bad meal in a bad restaurant. Critic was wrong...it happens. Just don't go back and make sure too tell all your friends about the meal.
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    Jimeats
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/27 07:54:54 (permalink)
    Italians are highly noted for their seafood and I've had some great braised lamb shanks in many mom and pop style places as well. You might have caught them on an off night, we all have them. My sugestion is go earlier in the evening and cut back on the long island ice teas and you might have a different outlook on the place. Chow Jim
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    Rick F.
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/27 10:43:19 (permalink)
    Interesting posts: the only two chains mentioned are the only ones I've tried, and I didn't know they were chains until or even after I visited. Johnny Carino's (Alexandria, LA) was okay, and I'd go there again if I were in town. Nothing to write home about, but certainly inoffensive. Limited menu, but mostly done well. Carabba's (Shreveport, LA) is another story entirely. Excellent food, outstanding service, great menu, and I will most certainly return at the earliest opportunity. I wanted to review it for RF, but Stephen or some other kindly soul told me it was a chain and therefore, by definition, not true road food. He was right, of course, but it sure was good!

    I live halfway between the two cities and there are two ± homegrown Italian restaurants.

    One, Antoon's On The Lake is consistently awful: it runs out of food and bar stock regularly, service is so-so, and it's pretentious. It's not even really Italian any more, as the menu has been diluted with a lot of mainstream American dishes. My son, who works at another local restaurant, says there is a camaraderie among local owners, and the owner of this place is the only one who won't be part of it—which is why he runs out of things. The other restaurateurs help each other out.

    The other, Beaudion's, (pronounced BODE-win's) is an interesting anomaly. The owners are a married couple, he Creole, she a Chicago Italian. He really would prefer, I think, to run a neighborhood bar and grill, while she would like a white-tablecloth joint. They've compromised, and the result is somewhat awkward. The food is pretty good for the most part. They use canned sauce, though, and what they call "fresh garlic" is the minced stuff out of a bottle. Nevertheless, pizzas are done very well indeed, as are salads; I've pretty much restricted my intake to those items, but I hear good things about their other offerings, especially the Italian sandwiches. (I'm blocking on the name: stromboli, maybe? sort of a pizza turned into a pocket, anyway.)
    #17
    Adjudicator
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/27 11:04:42 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by mbrookes

    Several people have commented on ordering lamb chops and flounder. If they aren't able to prepare it well, why would they put it on the menu?
    I had rather see a limited menu and know it's all good than an extensive menu that contains really bad choices.


    I tend to agree, here.
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    Tedbear
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/27 11:11:49 (permalink)
    I can identify with the OP's experience. While I do prefer a "real" restaurant of the Mom & Pop variety, I can recall one meal at American by Day, Italian by Night in North Brunswick, NJ, that was indescribably bad. The appetizer had been cooked in oil that was not hot enough, had not been filtered, and that should have been discarded long ago. The result was that the appetizer was soggy, tasted of old burned food particles, and was essentially inedible. The pasta was overcooked. The sauce was no better than the awful stuff that comes in a Ragu jar. The salad was white iceberg lettuce with brown spots, and the dressing on the salad was of the Kraft Italian type. Whatever my entree was, I can't recall, so it was not memorably good or bad, I suppose. There was really nothing about that meal that would make me want to return to that eating establishment.

    By contrast, everything that I have eaten at Carabba's (3 visits over a two year period, if I recall correctly) was very good tasting, and clearly of good quality. Hell, even the food at Johnny Carino's is better than what I was served at American by Day, Italian by Night!

    Some people just shouldn't be in the restaurant business, and unfortunately, the OP and I both ran into examples of them. However, I will continue to seek out Mom & Pop restaurants whenever possible.
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    Twinwillow
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/27 12:21:36 (permalink)
    When I think of an "Italian mom & pop", I think of, "Louie's" in the Bronx. You know, that place that Michael Corleone killed those two guys after coming out of the men's room. Now, minus the "mob hit", I'll bet that place has just what I'm talking about.
    Great veal dishes, lasagna, manicotti, sausage and peppers, etc, etc. Just keep your eye out for who's eating with you. (lol)
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    Tedbear
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/27 13:12:57 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by twinwillow

    When I think of an "Italian mom & pop", I think of, "Louie's" in the Bronx. You know, that place that Michael Corleone killed those two guys after coming out of the men's room. Now, minus the "mob hit", I'll bet that place has just what I'm talking about.
    Great veal dishes, lasagna, manicotti, sausage and peppers, etc, etc. Just keep your eye out for who's eating with you. (lol)



    And, always sit in a position that allows you to see who is coming into the restaurant! That is an old Mafia caution that I like to follow.
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    bbqjimbob
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/27 15:23:01 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Jimeats

    Italians are highly noted for their seafood and I've had some great braised lamb shanks in many mom and pop style places as well. You might have caught them on an off night, we all have them. My sugestion is go earlier in the evening and cut back on the long island ice teas and you might have a different outlook on the place. Chow Jim


    Believe me, it'd take alot more long island ice teas than 2 to cloud my outlook! Now if that had been my wife- she would have thought a McDonalds cheeseburger was a filet mignon, and probably would have had no idea who I was!
    #22
    Ciaoman
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/27 17:12:13 (permalink)
    First visits to a restaurant are always dicey. What to order? What kind of service to expect? What's fresh? A waiter suggests something...why? Because it truly is a specialty and is prepared well, or because the chef ordered/prepared too much amd tells waitstaff to "push it?" Might it have a higher profit margin?

    A suggestion in such circumstances would be to order simply...if a M & P Italian (or any other nationality) place can't do a good job on the simple dishes, what are the chances of getting a great result with something more complex? Ordering seafood in such a place, unless it's located within easy distance of a large body of water, may not be a good idea. As to the lamb, did you specify "medium rare" or "rare?" Not everyone likes it that way so chefs may assume, in the absence of instructions, that you'd like it cooked a bit more.

    I've gotten in the habit at Italian places to tell the waitstaff when ordering that I will not eat mushy pasta...it must be al dente (firm). That would be an example of a simple thing that can reasonably be expected from any restaurant that calls itself Italian. In Italy, you don't need to tell them, but here you do. IMO, if they can't do that they don't deserve my patronage.

    The food biz is tough, both for owners and customers--hard to please everyone.
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    bbqjimbob
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/27 22:45:25 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Ciaoman

    First visits to a restaurant are always dicey. What to order? What kind of service to expect? What's fresh? A waiter suggests something...why? Because it truly is a specialty and is prepared well, or because the chef ordered/prepared too much amd tells waitstaff to "push it?" Might it have a higher profit margin?

    A suggestion in such circumstances would be to order simply...if a M & P Italian (or any other nationality) place can't do a good job on the simple dishes, what are the chances of getting a great result with something more complex? Ordering seafood in such a place, unless it's located within easy distance of a large body of water, may not be a good idea. As to the lamb, did you specify "medium rare" or "rare?" Not everyone likes it that way so chefs may assume, in the absence of instructions, that you'd like it cooked a bit more.

    I've gotten in the habit at Italian places to tell the waitstaff when ordering that I will not eat mushy pasta...it must be al dente (firm). That would be an example of a simple thing that can reasonably be expected from any restaurant that calls itself Italian. In Italy, you don't need to tell them, but here you do. IMO, if they can't do that they don't deserve my patronage.

    The food biz is tough, both for owners and customers--hard to please everyone.


    You make many very good points here! The pasta seemed to be cooked fairly well, but it was the sauce that was mediocre. No matter how well the pasta is cooked, a bad sauce will ruin it every time! As far as how I ordered the lamb chops- the server said that they were prepared medium-rare. I asked for them to be prepared medium-rare+, just slightly past medium-rare, but still less than medium. I made it very clear. In spite of my explanation as to how I wanted them, they came to the table cooked medium-well to well- actually, more on the well side!
    #24
    TwoJays
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/28 08:46:09 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Ciaoman

    First visits to a restaurant are always dicey. What to order? What kind of service to expect? What's fresh? A waiter suggests something...why? Because it truly is a specialty and is prepared well, or because the chef ordered/prepared too much amd tells waitstaff to "push it?" Might it have a higher profit margin?

    A suggestion in such circumstances would be to order simply...if a M & P Italian (or any other nationality) place can't do a good job on the simple dishes, what are the chances of getting a great result with something more complex? Ordering seafood in such a place, unless it's located within easy distance of a large body of water, may not be a good idea. As to the lamb, did you specify "medium rare" or "rare?" Not everyone likes it that way so chefs may assume, in the absence of instructions, that you'd like it cooked a bit more.

    I've gotten in the habit at Italian places to tell the waitstaff when ordering that I will not eat mushy pasta...it must be al dente (firm). That would be an example of a simple thing that can reasonably be expected from any restaurant that calls itself Italian. In Italy, you don't need to tell them, but here you do. IMO, if they can't do that they don't deserve my patronage.

    The food biz is tough, both for owners and customers--hard to please everyone.

    Excellent points on the "first visit" to a restaurant. Whenever I go to a new Italian restaurant, I order the chicken parmigiana. If they can't that staple of basic red-sauce Mom & Pop Italian dinner fare perfected, then I probably won't bother going there again.

    John
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    Twinwillow
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/28 13:06:12 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by TwoJays

    quote:
    Originally posted by Ciaoman

    First visits to a restaurant are always dicey. What to order? What kind of service to expect? What's fresh? A waiter suggests something...why? Because it truly is a specialty and is prepared well, or because the chef ordered/prepared too much amd tells waitstaff to "push it?" Might it have a higher profit margin?

    A suggestion in such circumstances would be to order simply...if a M & P Italian (or any other nationality) place can't do a good job on the simple dishes, what are the chances of getting a great result with something more complex? Ordering seafood in such a place, unless it's located within easy distance of a large body of water, may not be a good idea. As to the lamb, did you specify "medium rare" or "rare?" Not everyone likes it that way so chefs may assume, in the absence of instructions, that you'd like it cooked a bit more.

    I've gotten in the habit at Italian places to tell the waitstaff when ordering that I will not eat mushy pasta...it must be al dente (firm). That would be an example of a simple thing that can reasonably be expected from any restaurant that calls itself Italian. In Italy, you don't need to tell them, but here you do. IMO, if they can't do that they don't deserve my patronage.

    The food biz is tough, both for owners and customers--hard to please everyone.

    Excellent points on the "first visit" to a restaurant. Whenever I go to a new Italian restaurant, I order the chicken parmigiana. If they can't that staple of basic red-sauce Mom & Pop Italian dinner fare perfected, then I probably won't bother going there again.

    John

    That's what I do too!. Except, I do it with veal parmigiana. It's my "test".
    #26
    Mosca
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/28 15:58:31 (permalink)
    In my area, NE PA, you can't drive a mile without passing a mom & pop Italian restaurant.That means two things... there are lots of good ones, and lots of bad ones.

    What kills me to no end is that people in this area still line up for a one hour wait at Olive Garden. Now, our Olive Garden isn't half bad; it's well run, service is good and people are friendly. But why would you want to WAIT at Olive Garden when you could SIT RIGHT DOWN at Pasquale's, Perugino's, Marianacci's, Arcaro & Gennell, Revello's, etc etc etc?

    I guess people just think it's classier or something; maybe it's "big city" instead of "auntie nonna". I had a stuffed red pepper dish at Arcaro & Gennell that I only wish I could make as good at home.


    Tom
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    Twinwillow
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    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/28 16:04:43 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Mosca

    In my area, NE PA, you can't drive a mile without passing a mom & pop Italian restaurant.That means two things... there are lots of good ones, and lots of bad ones.

    What kills me to no end is that people in this area still line up for a one hour wait at Olive Garden. Now, our Olive Garden isn't half bad; it's well run, service is good and people are friendly. But why would you want to WAIT at Olive Garden when you could SIT RIGHT DOWN at Pasquale's, Perugino's, Marianacci's, Arcaro & Gennell, Revello's, etc etc etc?

    I guess people just think it's classier or something; maybe it's "big city" instead of "auntie nonna". I had a stuffed red pepper dish at Arcaro & Gennell that I only wish I could make as good at home.


    Tom

    I know it is frowned upon to "bad mouth" a restaurant here so, I will just say,
    I'll take "Auntie Nonna" anytime.
    #28
    dancinhomer
    Junior Burger
    • Total Posts : 32
    • Joined: 2006/06/06 17:21:00
    • Location: tulsa, OK
    • Status: offline
    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/28 16:28:08 (permalink)
    I have never been so in the minority as I have been of my opinion of Carabba's. I just don't think it's very good. It's kind of pricy and the portions are skimpy, so I'm usually hungry even after chowing down on the bread with olive oil. But, even my own wife disagrees with me.

    On the flip side, I love me some Johnny Carino's - a big batch of skilletini is all I need to be a happy boy. I seem to be among the few that have a strong preference for Carino's over Carabba's. Just goes to show how subjective food tastes can be!
    #29
    Greymo
    Filet Mignon
    • Total Posts : 3715
    • Joined: 2005/11/30 08:54:00
    • Location: Marriottsville, MD
    • Status: offline
    RE: Mom and Pop Italian Rest vs Chain Ones 2006/08/28 16:36:53 (permalink)
    Twinwillow, anyone can frown on a restaurant here or be critical of one anytime that they wish. That is what these forums are all about.

    I think the problem with this particular poster is he is comparing a "mom and pop" place with a chain..........that is fine too, but when people go into a Mom and Pop restaurant for the first time and order something that is not really what the restaurant specializes in, they might be unhappy and and it is really unfair to judge a restaurant on that.

    If I am going to an Italian restaurantfor the first time, I will order an Italian meal. If I am going to a seafood restaurant, I will order seafood and not veal parmesan. If one does, they may be making an unfair judgement call.
    #30
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