Saturday, February 9, 2013

Eating Vegetarian at Italian Restaurants- Carino’s Italian, Olive Garden, and Zio’s Italian Restaurant

Eggplant Parmesan from Olive Garden, lunch portion.  (Personal Photo) 

Italian is my life-long favorite cuisine.  Most Italian restaurants are at least fairly vegetarian friendly, and have at least a few basic choices like spaghetti with marinara and fettuccini alfredo.  Many will have build your own pizza and pasta options.  Others have pasta entrées with a choice of adding chicken or shrimp, and you could opt to add neither. 

I have composed a list of vegetarian menu items from Carino’s Italian, Olive Garden, and Zio’s Italian restaurants.  These restaurants are definitely vegetarian-friendly!  This is a huge list! 

Vegetarian Options at Carino’s Italian

I first discovered Johnny Carino’s Country Italian shortly after moving to Texas in 1999.  I had long been a fan of Olive Garden.  Carino’s menu has most all “the usual suspects", like lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs, but their “country Italian” selections were a pleasant surprise.  I especially like the little kick of spicy heat in some of the pasta dishes.   If you’re looking for a vegetarian meal, you’ll have plenty of choices at Carino’s: 

Appetizers:  Mozzarella cheese sticks with marinara sauce; tomato Bruschetta on toasted bread; Baked Mushrooms stuffed with spinach, parmesan, red onions, and garlic, and topped with lemon basil cream sauce, basil, and roma tomatoes. 

Pizza:  Traditional Margherita pizza with roma tomatoes, fresh basil, and mozzarella cheese; Ranch and Roasted Veggies, with ranch dressing, oven-roasted vegetables, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. 

Build Your Own Pizza ingredients:  red onion, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, black olives, roma tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, spinach, artichokes, basil, provolone, parmesan, extra mozzarella

Make Your Own Pasta:  Pasta choices include angel hair, spaghetti, bowtie, penne, or fettuccine.  Choose sauce from spicy marinara, tomato sauce, or alfredo. 

Pasta from Menu:  Angel Hair with Artichokes and roma tomatoes, garlic, black olives, basil and parmesan. 

Other Pasta Dishes from Menu:  Ask for one of Carino’s signature chicken and pasta selections without the chicken.  This would be a variation of “build your own”. 

     Spicy Shrimp and Chicken:  Penne pasta with cayenne romano cream sauce and sundried tomatoes, green onions, and mushrooms. 

     Spicy Romano Chicken:  Bowtie pasta with cayenne romano cream sauce, sundried tomatoes, green onions, and mushrooms, and artichokes.  Sign me up for this one! 

     Chicken Penne Gorgonzola:  Penne pasta, roma tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms, and gorgonzola cream sauce. 

     Grilled Chicken Bowtie Festival:  Penne pasta with asiago cream sauce, roma tomatoes, red onions, and garlic.  This dish also has bacon, which you would also have to ask to leave off. 

     Skilletini with Chicken or Sausage:  Spaghetti pasta in a hot skillet, with spicy marinara, bell peppers, and onions. 

     Baked Cheese Tortelloni:  Cheese tortelloni baked in creamy meat sauce, but ask for alfredo.  Also baked with mozzarella and parmesan. 


Vegetarian Options at Olive Garden

I’ve been a fan of Olive Garden about 25 years ago.  Many times I’ve enjoyed an entire evening at Olive Garden by having a very leisurely dinner with wine, then enjoying coffee for a while, and ending with dessert and a specialty coffee.  Olive Garden has a respectable number of vegetarian appetizer and entrée selections:

Appetizers:  Choose from 7 vegetarian options for appetizers at Olive Garden. 

     Sampler Italiano:  Choose 2 or 3 appetizers to share with friends.  There are 4 options of meat, or containing meat.  Vegetarian options are fried zucchini and fried mozzarella with dipping sauces. 

     Bruschetta:  Toasted ciabatta bread with a topping of roma tomatoes and fresh basil in olive oil. 

     Caprese Flatbread:  Similar to a pizza, with garlic spread, tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella on flatbread. 

     Hot Artichoke-Spinach Dip:  Classic dip of artichokes and spinach in cream cheese.  Served hot and bubbly with Tuscan bread. 

     Lasagna Fritta:  My money’s on this one.  Lasagna noodles coated with parmesan breadcrumbs, then fried and served on top of alfredo sauce, with marina poured over the top and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. 

     Smoked Mozzarella Fonduta:  This is actually described as a blend of 4 cheeses:  smoked mozzarella, provolone, romano, and parmesan.  Baked in the oven and served with Tuscan bread. 

     Dipping sauces for Breadsticks:  Choose from marinara sauce, alfredo, or five cheese marinara. 

Soup and Salad:  Minestrone Soup with pasta, beans, and vegetables in a tomato base.  Garden Fresh Salad is Olive Garden’s famous unlimited refill house special, with tomatoes, black olives, red onions, and Italian dressing. 

Pizza:  Choose toppings from mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, black olives, and roma tomatoes. 
Pasta:  Olive Garden offers a respectable 7 vegetarian pasta entrée selections.  Selections may vary slightly by location, and change from time to time. 

     Five Cheese Ziti al Forno:  Ziti pasta baked in a five cheese marinara sauce, with a layer of melted Italian cheeses. 

     Fettuccine Alfredo:  Fettuccine pasta served topped with parmesan cream sauce with a little bit of garlic.

     Eggplant Parmigiana:  Lightly breaded and fried eggplant, topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Served with spaghetti and marinara.  I can personally vouch for this dish.  The last time I had it, the breading was a light and crispy panko-like.  The eggplant practically melted in my mouth. 

     Capellini Pomodoro:  Angel hair pasta tossed with marinara sauce and roma tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, and extra-virgin olive oil.

     Ravioli di Portobello:  Ravioli with portobello mushroom filling, in a creamy smoked cheese sauce with sun-dried tomatoes.

     Cheese Ravioli:  Cheese-filled ravioli topped with marinara sauce and melted Italian cheeses. 

     Lasagna Primavera:  Lasagna pasta filled and folded with zucchini, yellow squash, and bell peppers.  Topped with tomato basil sauce and a creamy parmesan drizzle.  Ask to hold the grilled chicken. 


Vegetarian Options at Zio’s Italian Restaurant

Zio’s Italian Restaurant is another discovery I made after moving to Texas in 1999.  We had our Flight Christmas party there one year.  This was a good choice because they have an impressively large and diverse menu, and their prices are lower than most competing Italian restaurant chains.  And beat this for customer friendly-  Above their pasta offerings, they write this:  “The combinations listed below are either suggestions or represent traditional presentations of these dishes. Feel free to create your own favorite combination of pasta and sauce and we will do our best to accommodate.”  Check out Zio’s vegetarian possibilities: 

Appetizers:  Choose from Fried Mozzarella, Fried Mushrooms, or Fried Zucchini.  Not feeling the whole “fried” thing?  How about a nice Caprese Salad, which is fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and basil. 

Salads:  Choose from House, Greek, or Caeser Salad. 

Pasta:  This is where they invite you to look at their “suggestions” for pasta dishes, but encourage you to create your own combination.  Draw inspiration from this strikingly long list. 

     Linguine with Tomato Sauce

     Angel Hair with Marinara Sauce

     Fettuccini with Tomato Cream

     Capellini Hair with Aglio e Olio:  Angel hair pasta, olive oil, and garlic. 

     Linguine alla Puttanesca:  Linguine with tomatoes, olives, capers, and basil. 

     Fettuccini Alfredo

     Capellini with Pesto:  Angel hair pasta in pesto sauce (usually made of finely processed fresh basil, parmesan cheese, nuts, and olive oil). 

     Capellini alla Siracusana:  Angel hair pasta with eggplant, roasted peppers, tomatoes and olives. 

     Rigatoni with Eggplant Sicilian:  Rigatoni pasta with strips of fried eggplant in marinara sauce. 

     Four Cheese Lasagna

     Vegetable Lasagna with Marinara Sauce:  Lasagna pasta layered with zucchini, broccoli, carrots, and onions. 

     Baked Ziti

     Cheese Ravioli with Tomato Cream Sauce

     Ravioli:  Ask about their special homemade ravioli choices. 

     Stuffed Shells:  Jumbo pasta shells stuffed with four cheeses

     Tortellini Alfredo:  Vegetable flavored cheese-stuffed pasta in cheesy alfredo sauce. 

     Manicotti with Marinara Sauce:  Homemade crepes stuffed with cheese, in marinara sauce. 

     Cannelloni with Tomato Sauce:  Ask for spinach and cheese crepes. 

     Spinach Involtini with Tomato Sauce:  Spinach and cheeses, rolled in a large pasta. 


House Specialties: 

     Eggplant Parmigiana:  Slices of battered and fried eggplant, baked in tomato sauce, with mozzarella and parmesan cheese. 

     Eggplant Rolitini:  Eggplant stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, baked in tomato sauce. 


Pizza:  Choose a basic pizza below, and load it up from Zio’s large list of ingredients. 

     Tomato & Cheese:  House-made Rosetana-style sauce with chunks of tomatoes. 

     White:  Mozzarella & provolone cheese, and garlic. 

     Panzanella:  Fontina & asiago cheese. 

     Margherita:  Mozzarella cheese with tomato and fresh basil. 

     Pesto & Cheese:  Basil, garlic, pine nut, and parmesan pesto, with mozzarella and provolone cheese. 

     Pizza alla Graeco:  Mozzarella and provolone cheese with spinach, garlic, and feta. 

     Veggie Lover Pizza:  Mushrooms, onions, green peppers, with extra cheese. 

Pizza Toppings:  mushrooms, sautéed mushrooms, onions, sautéed onions, green peppers, sautéed green peppers, black olives, spinach, pinapple, Salonika peppers, zucchini, feta cheese, sweet peppers, fresh tomatoes, broccoli, baked eggplant, extra cheese. 

Calzones:  Choose spinach & ricotta or vegetable sauté & mozzarella.  Add any toppings from the pizza toppings. 

Cold Sandwiches:  Cheese combo. 

Hot Subs:  Eggplant Parmesan, Egg & Peppers. 

Eggplant Parmesan from Zio's (Personal Photo)

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