Like the denizens of Pax Arcana, the residents of Sioux City, Iowa, consider themselves connoisseurs of fine dining. At least according to the Sioux City Journal.
That’s why those residents are so excited for the arrival of the town’s very first Olive Garden restaurant.
Wait. You mean like the Olive Garden? The chain restaurant with those awful TV commercials and horrendous knock-off Italian food?
Yes. Yes they do.
Gawker says the following is the most Onion-like newspaper article in history. I say it is simply the greatest newspaper story ever written in the history of mankind and the whole wide universe.
In fact, we may need to break this one down FJM-style:
Olive Garden arrives
A martini is not a martini without an olive.
That, at least, is the thinking of a true connoisseur.
Or anyone who’s ever actually had a martini. Go on…
And to Siouxland residents, many of whom consider themselves connoisseurs of fine food, a city is not a city without an Olive Garden. So as of Monday, Sioux City becomes a real city.
Or a suburb of Baltimore. Or Oklahoma City. Or Trenton. Or anywhere else.
What for years has been a local obsession — the OG’s manicotti formaggio, chicken vino bianco and zuppa toscana driving Siouxlanders to Omaha and Sioux Falls — has become a reality.
1) I didn’t know there were such a thing as Siouxlanders. Are they Iroquois or Banshee?
2) In the whole history of the United States of Goddamn America, has no actual Italian person ever moved to Sioux City and opened a restaurant?
Olive Garden officially opens its newest restaurant at 4 p.m. Monday at 4930 Sergeant Road in Lakeport Commons.
Summon the riot squad! Secure the avenues and streets! Hide your Dale Earnhardt commemorative plates!
The OG yearning was best expressed by an anxious woman in a big white car who stopped this reporter as he was leaving the new restaurant last week. She rolled down her window and asked if it was open, then looked heartbroken when told that it wasn’t, that the parking lot was simply filled with the vehicles of Olive Garden staff members in training. “I’ve been watching it and marking my calendar until Dec. 11,” she said, her brief hopes for an early Italian dinner quashed.
My prediction: December 11 will become an official new holiday for the residents of Sioux City, Iowa. Banks will close early. Children will stay home from school. Grain silos will go unattended. We’ll call it Mediocrity Day and celebrate by purchasing only the finest in extremely widely available products from the most watered-down sources possible. There will be joy that day, my friends.
That’s the reaction that excites general manager Jason Hagarty, 31, an Omaha native and bachelor with eight years of Olive Garden experience, most recently as general manager in Dubuque.
“I’m excited,” he said, noting the reaction of people in public when they find out who he is. “I think it’s going to be a good marriage — us and Sioux City. This is my seventh Olive Garden, and this is the one I’m most excited about.”
An Omaha native and a bachelor??? Ladies, start your engines!
One reason for his excitement is the ample parking available, more than at any other Olive Garden where he has worked, he said. It includes shared parking with adjacent businesses. The restaurant is just east of Gunderson’s Jewelers.
I’d be excited too. In fact I’ve got an ample parking boner right now.
The new restaurant, built in the company’s Tuscan-farmhouse design, is the second in the state, with a rustic stone exterior typical of the buildings in the Italian countryside, and an interior accented by Italian imports designed to make the Sioux City dining experience a tribute to the restaurant’s Italian inspiration, Hagarty said.
Most new Olive Garden restaurants have been build in the Tuscan-farmhouse design since 2000.
“The decor, the colors — we just want to make it feel as warm as possible,” he said. “Our glassware and plateware is imported from Italy. We want to make it as traditional as possible.”
Indeed, it is hard to enter any of the Olive Garden’s 600 locations without mistaking the clientele for the nobles of Siena.
“Why Contessa! So good to see you! Have you and the Marchese ever supped on such a delicioso bread stick?”
… Five more paragraphs on the decor …
The Olive Garden menu is famous for its variety, offering everything from spaghetti and meatballs to fettuccine alfredo, capellini pomodoro, shrimp primavera, lobster spaghetti, lasagna classico, sausage and peppers russica, a variety of pizzas and appetizers — and wines, of course, an important part of any Italian dining experience. There is also a full selection of beers, cordials and specialty drinks from the bar.
Shrimp is famous for its variety. They’s um, shrimp gumbo, shrimp stew, shrimp pot pie, shrimp salad, shrimp sandwich … and shrimp appetizers.
“Anything you like, we probably have,” Hagarty said. “We’re known for our soup and salad specials. We have three different kinds of soups. Soup and salad and breadsticks — that’s kind of our lunch staple. Everybody loves it, and they always rave about it.”
Apparently people in Sioux City only like three kinds of soup.
It is the same menu customers will find in each of Olive Garden’s 584 restaurants. With 70,000 employees and more than $2.6 billion in annual sales, Olive Garden remains the leading restaurant in the Italian dining segment. Olive Garden is a division of Darden Restaurants Inc., the world’s largest casual dining company.
“So if you come here, you go to Omaha or you go anywhere else that has an Olive Garden, you should be able to sit down and have the same bowl of soup and have it taste the same,” Hagarty said.
Sameness is the ultimate food virtue. Nothing should ever taste different just because you’re in a different place. In fact, the Olive Garden’s next initiative is to make more of its food taste like other menu items. So whether you order the minestrone or the lobster spaghtetti, it won’t matter because it all tastes exactly the same. And that’s worth the drive into Sioux City.
As for Sioux City’s decidedly unMediterranean-like weather, he said he’s used to it. He is, after all, from Omaha. “We’ve been spoiled the last couple of weeks,” he said. “Actually, by the time people leave here, hopefully they’re warm enough inside they forget about the weather.”
To recognize Hagarty’s role as head of the Olive Garden family in Sioux City and to emphasize the importance the company places on its general managers, Olive Garden honored Hagarty by setting his name in stone. Travertine marble imported from Tuscany was chiseled with Hagarty’s name and placed prominently by the front door.
And here in Boston I just have this plastic nameplate on a cubicle wall.
Oh, and actual Italian food made by actual Italian people.
During the past week, the Air Force vet whipped his staff into shape, but without the whips, salutes or any military-style discipline.
They whip people in the Air Force? Did the rest of you know about this?
“We like to have a good time here,” he said. “My biggest thing is to keep my employees happy, make sure they’re having a good time. That way, I can make sure my guests are happy and having a good time.”
It must be working. One new employee when asked where Mr. Hagarty was, wasn’t sure who Mr. Hagerty was until she was told his first name. “Oh, Jason! Sure, just a minute.”
Jason Hagarty: “Hi, I’m Jason Hagarty. I’m your new boss here at the Olive Garden.”
New employee: “Wait. Slow down. Your name is what?”
Jason Hagarty: “Jason Hagarty.”
New employee: “Jason?”
Jason Hagarty: “Yes, that’s right. And I’m really glad to have you on board here at the Olive Garden.”
New employee: “The what?”
The weeklong training sessions benefitted from the presence of Olive Garden trainers — the “best of the best,” Hagarty calls them — who were flown in from around the country to supervise the training sessions. He is thrilled that Olive Garden takes the time and money to get people trained properly.
“We don’t want to open the doors until we’re ready,” he said. “I don’t want you to come in Monday night and not have the service you’re supposed to get, and have the food not tasting quite right.”
You know, like everything else.