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I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
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Sunday, January 06, 2013

Carrabba's Italian Grill

A chain restaurant is one in which there are the same restaurants under the same ownership or franchise owned at different locations.  The chain may be small as only a few locations within a certain region of the country or it may be large with multiple locations throughout the world.  Chain restaurants are typically fast food or take-out, or sit down.  Chain restaurants regardless of the type are popular because they tend to be conveniently located, lower priced, family friendly and ideally the food is consistent from one location to the next.

We are not huge fans of and likely never will be fans of fast food chain restaurants.  They are usually seen by us as a last resort if we can't find a restaurant while travelling which is seldom as usually we can find a good truck stop restaurant.  We occasionally have Harvey's (Canadian burger chain) or Wendy's at home and we have tried a few of the fast food chains in Florida as well as en route, but for the most part, our preference is for sit down.

Sit down chain restaurants, while not fine dining really are a lot better than fast food chain restaurants.  Neither of us grew up with fast food so didn't develop the taste for it.  As newlyweds we barely had two pennies to scrape together so couldn't afford it and as our young family grew to what would be considered a large family today, sit down restaurants offered a way to enjoy homestyle cooking at a reasonable price.  Two of our favourite chain restaurants from the past were Mother's Pizza Parlor & Spaghetti House(pizza, spaghetti) and Ponderosa Steakhouse (steak).  Mother's ceased operations in Ontario in 1992 and currently there is only one Mother's in operation, located in Calgary, Alberta.  Ponderosa currently has locations in the US but ceased operations in Canada in 1984.

open style kitchen at Carabba's Italian Grill
During our many travels, we have been very fortunate to discover a multitude of sit down chain restaurants.  Some are family owned while others are franchises.  Depending on the restaurant the price per meal ranges from low (eg. Steak & Shake, Five Guys, Long John Silvers) to moderate (eg. Harry's Seafood Bar & Grille, Texas Roadhouse, Olive Garden).

We discovered Carrabba's Italian Grill during our December stay at our vacation home.  Carrabba's is a casual dining chain restaurant founded by Damian Mandola and Johnny Carrabba on December 26, 1986.  It is owned and operated by OSI Restaurant Partners, LLC headquartered in Tampa, Florida.  There are currently 231 company-owned locations and one franchise location throughout the US.  Carrabba's offer sit down dining, carside carry-out using their online service and catering.

We love restaurants with atmosphere.  In this respect, Carrabba's certainly does not disappoint!  The open style kitchen was very impressive as various pots of cooking food filled the numerous gas burners.  Of note, most professional and restaurant kitchens use natural gas for stovetop cooking because of the degree of temperature control possible.  There was a long prep counter facing the dining area with a glass shelf when plates of food were set for the waitresses to pick up.  Just out of sight to the right, attached to the prep counter was a small sitting area aptly named the kitchen counter for patrons to sit and and enjoy a drink while watching the food being prepared.

wood oven and grill at Carrabba's Italian Grill
On the right side of the stovetop cooking area, there was a gorgeous and very impressive wood oven and grille.  Not only is the grill a workhorse, very much designed for function, it is also aesthetically appealing with the south of the border flare.  You can't help but be drawn to the counter to enjoy the dancing flames and tantalizing aromas!  The ambiance this indoor wood oven and grill creates is priceless.

Much like an outdoor charcoal grill, this wood grill infuses the food with a flavour that can't be duplicated.  This is a very versatile grill used for several of their dishes.  The wood grill allows for direct cooking over hot coals as well as indirect cooking using radiated heat.

bacaon and caramelized onion flatbread  appetizer
The Carrabba chefs travel to Italy every year to discover what is new and exciting in the Italian culinary world.  Many of the dishes offered in the restaurant are authentic Italian dishes, unlike  some Italian restaurants that serve more of an American Italian style cuisine.  Be sure to check out their website as they have a few of their classic recipes for you to try at home.

Meals are served with a hearty helping of bread with lightly seasoned olive oil for dipping in traditional Italian style.  We ordered the the bacon & caramelized onion flat bread served hot from the wood-burning oven as an appetizer.  Oh my gosh, was it ever delicious!  This is a must duplicate at home dish.  It would be ever so easy to do so using homemade or store bought flat bread.

While many consider lasagne a casserole, Carrabba's Italian Grill lists it as a stuffed pasta.  I ordered the lasagne served with a choice of homemade soup or side salad, so I ordered a Caesar salad.  The salad was a basic Caesar salad with a creamy dressing topped with shredded Parmesan cheese.  There was no croutons, crumbled bacon, fresh cracked pepper or lemon wedges that usually accompany Caesar salads especially at Italian restaurants.

The lasagne was a very generous serving size of fresh lasagne pasta layered with house made pomodoro, bolognese meat sauce, fresh grated ricotta, mozzarella and Romano cheese topped with marinara sauce and garnished with fresh grated Parmesan and chopped parsley.  It was a delightfully, tasty lasagne!  I really liked the mingling of flavours of the two sauces that added an extra depth.  The fresh made pasta really set this lasagne well above what many restaurants serve, using dried lasagne noodles.

veal marsala
My husband ordered the veal Marsala entrée that was served with a cup of homemade soup or side salad, vegetable of the day, garlic mashed potatoes or cavatappi amatricana.  The tender, juicy veal was topped with mushrooms, prosciutto and Carrabba's Lombardo Marsala sauce garnished with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.  The Marsala sauce, made from scratch daily, is their most used sauce.  He chose a bowl of their classic Minestrone soup and substituted the cavatappi amatricana with linguine in a creamy Alfredo sauce.  Doesn't it look yummy?  It was a delicious meal that got two thumbs up from him.

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