We Tried Olive Garden's New Giant Meatball
The chain's latest menu item features a meat orb that clocks in at 12 ounces—equivalent to the weight of 11.5 golf balls.
Ever eat a meatball so soft and sauce-drenched you fantasized about settling down and starting a life inside of it? Or of taking a dark, warm nap in its very center, cushioned between bready ground meat mix?
At the Times Square Olive Garden, where the cuisine traffics in fantasies and you're never far from a conversation about Wicked, it's easy to let your mind wander—even easier when the dish in front of you is the chain's largest meatball to date, reposing atop four-cheese stuffed manicotti and red sauce that glistens amid the billboard lights creeping into the dining room. The brand-new menu item, to put it simply, is an experience.
Placed in front of me, the meatball didn't look nearly as giant or round as it did in the promotional photos; for a moment, I felt like I'd shown up to a first date where the guy had a statement mustache he did not have in his photos. But we don't eat meatballs for being beautiful, and this plays into their appeal: they're messy like us.
The giant meatball appeared somewhat flattened, but was still dense with the meatloaf-like meat blend, nicely seasoned and quite flavorful in the pool of tomato sauce. Of all the cream-drenched dishes you can order at Olive Garden, I've always found the meatballs to be one of their more successful items—an Italian-American dish done respectably. (The other new menu item, Stuffed Fettucine Alfredo with Chicken or Shrimp, is so far removed from Italian-American canon even an iconoclast like myself couldn't manage more than two bites.) The bulging, buttery manicotti on which the meatball sits is fun for a bite, but I think the meat would be better served on a throne of lightly oiled spaghetti. Cheese, while perfect, is a bit of a distraction here.
At the end of the day, a meatball is a meatball is a meatball is a meatball. I've had better ones in South Philly and in my own kitchen, but this one hit the spot.
The Giant Meatball & Four Cheese Manicotti, which is part of OG's new Big Italian Classics line, will be available on the menu until May 27. The dish starts at $17.99, so you know I paid much, much more than that at the Times Square location. Since the meatballs are allegedly hand-made, an Olive Garden representative tells me that that there are limited quantities available on any given day. So if you want to play it safe, arrive at your local Olive Garden at 11 a.m. and order the giant meatball before it's too late.