OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — I had seen some recent TV ads for Carrabba’s Italian Grill and it looked interesting to me, but I had never been. So, when I received an invitation to the restaurant chain’s First Tastes event near The Packer offices, I was intrigued.
Having been a longtime patron of Italian restaurant chain Olive Garden, and local Italian joints such as Johnny Cascone’s and Villa Capri — along with Kansas City pizza staple Minsky’s — I looked forward to seeing if Carrabba’s could stack up.
Besides being struck by the nice atmosphere Carrabba’s had, I felt the service there really stood out. I’m not sure if it was due to the fact that the staff was going “above and beyond” for the April 29 event, but if the everday service level is anywhere near what it was then, Carrabba’s service beats all competitors.
But now, getting to the most important part: the food.
The first thing I noticed when the first dish, an appetizer called Gnocci Fritti, came out was it’s freshness. The Italian potato dumplings, breaded with panko bread crumbs, tasted delicious when I tried them alone, as they were fried but only lightly so, and tossed with romano cheese.
Not being a fan of marinara dipping sauce, I hesitantly tried it with the Gnocci Fritti to get a sense of the tomatoes and spices Carrabba’s uses, and I was pleasantly surprised. The server had referred to it as “spicy marinara” and I don’t like really spicy stuff, but the tomatoes, onions and spices in this marinara really made it.
Next up: Linguine with Clams, in a white wine cream sauce and featuring fresh scallions. The scallions and the sauce weren’t overbearing, allowing the taste of the pasta and clams to really come through.
Mahi Wulfe, topped with fresh artichokes and sundried tomatoes, with a housemade basil lemon butter sauce, was third on the sampling list. Of course, in being a frequent guest at various Italian restaurants, I was accustomed to the inclusion of sundried tomatoes on menu items, which has become a trendy thing.
I wasn’t prepared, however, for the artichokes, and if this dish was any indication, more chains need to add artichokes to their offerings because they tasted phenomenal.
Overland Park Carrabba’s proprietor Chris Stobaugh told me the chain emphasizes fresh produce and sources it from all over, but he specifically mentioned California, and I definitely envisioned these artichokes coming straight out of a Castroville field.