Chain Gang | Keep it simple at Mac Grill

Forget finesse, stick to standard dishes

Posted: May 25, 2007

ONE OF THE adjunct members of the Chain Gang has been raving about the Macaroni Grill for a few months now, so with two kids in tow we headed out to Plymouth Meeting for what at least one Gangster had hoped would be a dish of grilled macaroni.

No luck.

Tucked away in the shadow of the Blue Route, the Grill parking lot was packed on a Wednesday night. But the mass-market Italian restaurant is big enough that we got in with little wait.

Unfortunately, the Grill was understaffed for such a busy night, and service, though friendly, was spotty: It took extra time to order, plates didn't get cleared, dishes didn't arrive together, etc.

We started with Crab Stuffed Mushrooms ($7.99) a good-size portion of caps with tasty, creamy crabmeat filling. Along with the Garden Salad (a bargain at $1.59), it was a hit of the evening. The Romano Sampler appetizer ($9.99) came with small portions of Tomato Bruschetta, Mozzarella Fritta, Calamari and a dipping sauce.

The bruschetta was weak - only two crusty bread slices and a tasteless tomato topping. It's hard to mess up fried mozzarella sticks, and these were fine. The calamari, although a little greasy, was tender, and the tomato dipping sauce had a surprising kick. Some thought too big a kick.

The two little Gangsters, who spent most of dinner coloring the white paper tablecloth, ordered Fettuccine Alfredo and Macaroni 'n Cheese ($4.79 each) from the kids' menu.

Neither dish had much color (not a bad thing) and neither was especially gooey (also not bad), but kids accustomed to Kraft might wonder where the yellow cheese is. The Gang isn't complaining. The kids stopped their scribbling long enough to eat.

Of our three adult main dishes, the best was the simplest: Spaghetti & Meatballs in a meat sauce ($10.49). It was plenty of pasta for two, and the meatballs were big enough for everyone to get a taste.

The Seafood Linguine ($13.99) had shrimp, scallops and clams sprinkled throughout a trough of pasta, but the garlicky olive-oil sauce was flat. Not bad, but not memorable.

Memorable for the wrong reasons was Mama's Trio ($12.99), a sampling of Lasagna, Chicken Cannelloni and Chicken Parmesan. The pasta shell of the cannelloni was overcooked and there wasn't much chicken, though the cheese filling was the right consistency.

The Chicken Parmesan was mostly dried-out breading and the lasagna had been cooked until the ricotta cheese lost all moisture and the noodles were like rubber.

Desserts were better. The kids had a Raspberry/Lemon Sorbetto ($3.99), a refreshing palate cleanser after dinner. Everyone took a bite of the big hunk of simple Chocolate Cake with chocolate icing ($5.29). Don't let anyone convince you that simpler isn't better - especially at a chain.

The Dessert Ravioli ($5.29) were fried, dumpling-sized pastry shells filled with chocolate ganache and served with vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce and peanuts. Different, but the chocolate cake was more satisfying.

The second-best dessert was the Amaretto Apple Crispetti ($5.49), with layers of apples and brown sugar baked under an almond crisp, topped with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. It happily reminded us of a Good Humor toasted-almond ice-cream pop.

Because of the slow service, it took nearly two hours to eat dinner. That may be nice when you're on a hot date, but it's not so nice on a school night.

The chain truth

Chain: Macaroni Grill, 351 Plymouth Road, Plymouth Meeting, 610-834-5505. Other locations: 4162 Church Road, Mount Laurel, N.J., 856-642-5222; 10 Park Ave., Willow Grove, 215-830-8844; 29 Airport Square, North Wales, 215-368-4210; 4157 Concord Pike, Wilmington, Del., 302-479-1800; 640 Commerce Blvd., Fairless Hills, 215-949-9990.

Reservations: No.

Parking: Free.

Price: Dinner for three adults and two children - which included two kids' meals, three main dishes, two appetizers, four soft drinks, three small salads and four desserts - was a very reasonable $103.69, plus tip.

Portions: Almost every dish was too much for one person.

Overall grade: Two-and-a-half out of a possible four links. Avoid the casserole-type dishes that require reheating, stick to the basics and save room for dessert. The kids' menu is a big plus (as are the crayons), and the restaurant has the necessary chain din to drown out out unruly youngsters. We'd put it a notch above the Olive Garden and a notch below Carrabba's. *

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