The Olive Grove’s single location in Linthicum is a shameless clone of the “Olive Garden” chain’s concept (at least back before that chain’s bean counters started managing the kitchen and mass advertising replaced word-of-mouth). The original concept of huge portions of “home style” Italian food served up with “all you can eat” salad and bread sticks at reasonable prices carries on at the Olive Grove. It’s casual (pretty much a come-as-you-are) and it’s big (big portions and big dining rooms). The original front dining room has an old fashioned mix of booths and tables and is a contrast to the large open dining rooms with lots of tables or the big lounge that have been tacked on around it. But people come (and come back!) to the Olive Grove for the good food and service – and not the décor.
While the menu offers a dozen or more appetizers, regulars view the free house salad and bread sticks included with most entrees as their appetizers. The salad comes in a large bowl with lettuce, cucumbers, onion, tomatoes, some peperoncini and the founder’s “Mama Maria’s Salad Dressing” already on it. (We don’t think that there are any other dressing options! Mama’s recipe includes olive oil, vinegar, grated cheese, egg, fresh herbs and spices.) Our friendly waiter (there are some cute waiters here!) always offers more freshly grated parmesan for our salad. It’s right good! We devour the salad and bread sticks and the waiters quickly brings us more when we ask him)
There are enough entrées to make your head spin. A dozen pasta dishes ($10-$15), a half dozen Italian combination platters ($18-$22), 20 seafood dishes ($15-$32), another dozen chicken and meat entrees ($13-$30) and a half dozen “light” options ($12-$20). John recommends sticking with classic basic Italian options – they work best here! Favorites include Eggplant Parmigiana ($13), Chicken Parmigiana ($16) and Chicken Cacciatore ($14). In addition to the “all you can eat” salad and bread sticks, most entrees come with a side of pasta with Mama’s marinara sauce – and more freshly grated parmesan cheese if you want!)
On a visit with a buddy (filling in for Marty’s who’s off on a cruise – that Marty just loves to cruise!), John ordered Chicken Parmigiana ($16), It arrived on a big plate with a huge portion of chicken breast smothered with lots of melted cheese and home style tomato sauce and a big side plate of spaghetti. Definite “Thumbs-up!” (I’m also a huge fan of the Eggplant Parmigiana ($13) which is so satisfying and good that it has left me feeling I could consider being vegetarian!) My friend Jerry splurged on the “Supreme Seafood Medley” ($32) – with “mini” lobster tails, a 9 oz crab cake, scallops, & shrimp – and opted for string beans and Cole slaw. While this made for one impressive plate of food when it arrived, it was disappointing that there was no melted butter for the lobster and that cocktail sauce and tartar sauce came in fast food style sealed plastic tubs (looking more appropriate for chicken nuggets than a $32 entrée!). My friend Jerry later said “The “Cole slaw was tasty and the green beans were cooked just right; the colossal shrimp and scallops were divine” but the lobster chunks seemed “mushy”.
My friend Tom is a big fan of the Olive Grove’s crab cakes and think that they may be among the best in Baltimore and perhaps superior to those at the near-by “G&M” (apparently he wasn’t bowled over as far too many folks were by Oprah’s endorsement back a few years ago of the G&M crab cakes!) The Olive Grove version are a couple bucks less expensive than those at the G&M (though equally as big and with no more “filler” than those at G&M!)
My friend Paul swears by the Fettuccine Alfredo at the Olive Grove (I promised not to mention a couple of the old time Olive Grove waitresses shamelessly flirt with him! On such occasions, one might observe “Candy is dandy but Fettuccine doesn’t leave me feeling randy….” Of course, the real test of the the server’s at the Olive Grove is when Paul asks for more fresh grated Parmesan (and more fresh grated Parmesan…) (and yet more fresh grated Parmesan ….) and he gets it without a quibble (but not without a smile from the servers! ) I’m learning it’s amazing what shenanigans that you can get away with when you’re on the far site of 85 years old! <Wink>
If you’ve survived all the salad and garlic bread sticks and hugely proportioned entrees, the server may try to tempt you into ordering dessert and the memories of the dessert case that you walked by when you were escorted to your table may rise up in your memory. Most times, our tummies are too full by that point to be tempted further!
It seems to be a tradition at the Olive Grove that they provide you with more food than most people can eat and you’re faced with the decision to either leave it or have it packed up to take home. (As a rule, we inevitably end up leaving with “doggie bags”; Judging from personal experience, I’ll assert that there surely are worst fates in the world than enjoying leftover Chicken or Eggplant Parmigiana for lunch or dinner the next day!)
For some time now, every time I eat at the Olive Grove (I confess to being an active member of their “Frequent Diner” club!), I leave genuinely happy and satisfied. I’m also left wondering why folks will wait 30-45 minutes for a table at the close by G&M when they can get as consistently “Thumbs Up!” good food, excellent service at the Olive Grove.
FACTS? Olive Grove (Linthicum), 705 N. Hammonds Ferry Rd, 410-636-1385, www.olivegroverestaurant.com ; Open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week; Located just off the Baltimore Beltway at Exit 8; Lots of free parking on either side of the entrance. Most recent DiningOUT visit: 2013/December