Here's how Olive Garden describes itself on its website:
Olive Garden is a family of more than 780 local restaurants committed to providing every guest with a genuine Italian dining experience.
While the notion of a "genuine Italian dining experience" is certainly a subjective one, there are countless examples of "Italian" dishes in the United States that may have evolved thanks to a strong Italian-American population presence, but don't actually reflect the cuisine of Italy. The same is true with many other cuisines -- American Chinese food varies pretty significantly from what you may find in China.
The Olive Garden, however, spends a fair amount of marketing capital ensuring that customers think its food is what they may find in Italy. The company even has a culinary institute in Tuscany.
Despite claims of authenticity, the Olive Garden's mission is to serve food that caters to an "average" American palate, not an Italian one. Here are six of the more egregious examples of Olive Garden's "Italian" food that you won't find in Italy:
What Olive Garden Says: A blend of artichokes, spinach and cream cheese. Served with Tuscan bread. What We Say: Artichoke spinach dip is awesome, but it definitely isn't an Italian creation. We get why Olive Garden wants it on the menu -- who doesn't like hot, creamy dips -- but this is more of a chain restaurant staple than something you'll find across the pond.
What Olive Garden Says: A creamy soup made with roasted chicken, traditional Italian dumplings and spinach. What We Say: You can definitely find gnocchi in Italy, but it is usually a standalone dish with sauce and definitely isn't something served in soup. Gnocchi is pretty rich on its own, so it hardly needs creamy broth and chicken to accompany it.
What Olive Garden Says: Homemade lasagna, lightly breaded chicken parmigiana and creamy fettuccine alfredo. What We Say: You'll get blank stares if you say the word "fettucine alfredo" to Italian, despite the dish's popularity, stateside. Likewise, chicken parmigiana is everywhere in the U.S. but not nearly as ubiquitous abroad. Flickr: Casey Florig
What Olive Garden Says: Grilled chicken breasts with a moscato wine and peach glaze served with spinach, tomatoes and curly mafalda pasta in a creamy parmesan sauce with a touch of pancetta bacon. What We Say: Moscato is an Italian sweet wine, so Olive Garden sort of gets some points there, but there's just way too much going on here to think that this is actually based on an Italian dish.
What Olive Garden Says: Chicken and shrimp with bucatini pasta in a parmesan cream sauce with pancetta bacon and roasted red peppers, baked and topped with seasoned breadcrumbs. What We Say: Carbonara is typically made with pancetta, egg, cheese and black pepper. While U.S. restaurants will sometimes use a cream sauce in place of raw egg for food safety reasons, we're not sure where the red peppers come from. Italians probably wouldn't put additional proteins in a carbonara.
What Olive Garden Says: Tender boneless pork ribs topped with a sweet red wine glaze, served with tomato and mozzarella ravioli topped with roasted garlic tomato sauce and alfredo. What We Say: We're not sure why the northeast region of Veneto has been tacked onto this dish title. Grilled pork is hardly a standout of that region, nor is all the other dish accoutrements. But hey, sure, let's just throw a random Italian region on a dish name. Why not?