Olive Garden adds small plate options

Sharing a variety of small plates to pass around the table over a heavy entree is a current trend in the restaurant industry, allowing guests to sample a number of flavors often at a fraction of the calories and the cost. Olive Garden's new menu features eight appetizers in the $4.50 to $5.50 range that are perfect for sharing. At a recent tasting event at the new Melrose Park location, I had a chance to try out a few of the new dishes. My dear friend, Jo-Ellyn, who owns a local restaurant and pub, J.J. Kelley's, joined me for a feast of flavors inspired by different regions of Italy.

Polenta Shrimp alla Greca
The first small plate we tried was the Polenta Shrimp alla Greca. I covered it in detail in this previous post. It really transports you to a different place.

Next we tried a limited time item, the Spicy Calabrian Wings - chicken wings tossed with garlic and chili peppers from the Italian region of Calabria, served with gorgonzola dipping sauce. Increase the heat by adding the signature Calabrian chili paste.

Spicy Calabrian Wings
I have a wimpy palate and wasn't sure I'd be able to try this, but once I did I wanted more. I wasn't brave enough to try the paste, which the server told us added quite a bit of heat. The wings alone had a bit of a kick, but one that I really liked and that those with more tolerant taste buds will surely love. I made my way through two wings and enjoyed every bite, especially because of the accompanying gorgonzola sauce. Yep, I could have sat and eaten the entire dish with a spoon - it was that delightful!

On to the third taste, which included one of my favorite foods, risotto. The Crispy Risotto Bites were wonderful. Encased in a light fried batter were a blend of Italian cheeses and some creamy risotto served with a perfect light portion of marinara. Mmm…think high quality mozzarella sticks with a creamy rice in the middle. These were my faves - (go figure, I was drawn to the fried serving!)  There were six in an order, a perfect sharing portion.
Creamy  Risotto Bites 

The last sampling in the small plate category was the Paremsan Olive Fritta. It wasn't much different than the risotto bites in preparation (both are blended with Italian cheese and lightly fried), but it differed much in taste. The combination of olives that are enclosed are distinctly different, yet meld so well. You can dip these in the gorgonzola sauce as well (can never get enough of that) or in a fabulous citrus aioli.
Parmesan Olive Fritta

Jo Ellyn and I enjoyed making our way through the 12-course tasting and we're sure you'll love some of the new Olive Garden menu items. Watch the blog later this week for more on our experience at the tasting event!


  1. This is so cool because I want to eat there but their meals are heavy on the caloric side. Thanks for posting this.


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