We tried Olive Garden’s most confusing take on Italian food yet — here’s the verdict

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

  • Olive Garden has released yet another unorthodox menu item – this time, it’s the “Meatball Pizza Bowl.”
  • People’s reactions are fairly mixed, but odd dishes are pretty common at the chain now, so many are taking it in stride.
  • Unfortunately, it doesn’t fare as well as its “Italian nacho” cousin – the bowl is difficult to eat and kind of gross.

Olive Garden’s noble quest to disrupt the Italian food industry marches onward with the chain’s new meatball pizza bowl.

Meatballs? Pizza? With a bowl involved somehow? Apparently, it’s a pizza crust that’s molded into the shape of a bowl, then filled with alternating layers of ragu sauce, cheese, and meatballs.

It sounds structurally insane, as though this lunch dish relies on a vein of Lovecraftian, non-Euclidean geometry to simply exist in our dimension. The description defies any attempt to place it within a recognizable genre of food items – is it a bowl, a pizza, a casserole?

Whatever it is, it’s available for lunch – on weekdays before 3 p.m. only – as part of Olive Garden’s “Lunch Duos” deal. It starts at $8.99, but the cost can vary depending on location.

The question is: is this strange dish worth getting?

Many online have made their revulsion and suspicion clear.

Yet despite the culinary unease that automatically blooms after reading the description – well, even the name is enough to turn some people off – I have to give it the benefit of the doubt. After all, the chain’s audacious “Italian nachos” that were released earlier this month were strangely good, despite every fiber in my being yearning to dislike them.

So, off I went to Olive Garden to try it for myself.


I return to the Garden of Good and Evil Italian Food, having ordered ahead. Times Square is hectic as ever, but Olive Garden is eerily quiet, having just opened about three minutes prior to my arrival. “Table for one?” the hostess asks with a hint of pity. I demur.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

All’s quiet on the Alfredo front as I leave, to-go bag of meatball pizza bowl in hand.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Finally I get a look at it. It appears almost exactly as it does in the photos, and I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It smells like a meatball sub, which is definitely a good thing. The size is roughly akin to a baseball cap — no verdict on whether or not the bowl makes a good hat, though.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

I do some digging to unearth more about this insane meal. It seems to have a foundation of melty cheese, most likely mozzarella, followed by a swamp of miniature meatballs and a thick ragu sauce.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The bowl is a fairly typical pizza crust, a little spongier than some perhaps. It’s more on the chewy side than the crispy side.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Then, there are the meatballs.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

They’re tiny, which makes them cute. But they don’t taste cute — they barely taste of anything, aside from salt. They’re just not good meatballs.

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The confusion regarding what the dish actually is (bowl? pizza?) makes eating it difficult at best, and downright stymieing at worst. It’s messy, confusing, and frankly, it doesn’t taste good enough to warrant the effort of finding the correct way to eat it. Can someone give me another plate of those Italian nachos instead, please?

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider