Pasta point of no return: The readers' choice of the Olive Garden as "best Italian restaurant" in the Rocky Mountain News last week left me concerned for the state of this city's palate. C'mon, people, the Olive Garden? I helped to open one in Florida several years ago (it was the longest three weeks I've ever spent anywhere) and was appalled to find that several of the sauces come from that great Italian chef, Knorr's--as in dried, pre-packaged, just-add-water. I spent day and night memorizing the corporate manual (from parent company General Mills) of very short recipes (take one cup of pasteurized, processed cheese, add one cup of canned tomato sauce), which also contained explicit instructions for things like keeping your apron tied. The night before we officially opened, the Miami kitchen cooked Olive Garden foods and offered them to the entire staff (spouses included) during an all-you-can-eat party. My husband, Mr. 7 Percent Body Fat Man and a danger to buffets everywhere, took one bite of everything and asked, "Will you have to eat this food every day?" It was my last night.

Choice cuts: After consuming last week's burger review, a discerning reader recommended I try the Monaco Inn, at 962 South Monaco Street Parkway. The eight-year-old neighborhood joint is relaxed and down-home, which is exactly how I found its broiled burger to be. Monaco uses Samarac's 85-15 (lean-to-fat ratio) beef for its patties, and the sandwiches that result are surprisingly consistent. On both of my visits, I was handed a decent kaiser roll filled with a burger cooked absolutely, evenly medium (though no one ever asked my preference). Even the flavor is middle-of-the-road--which makes the guacamole burger ($5.50), loaded with garlic and cumin, an especially good bet.

Pub snub: I tried to evaluate the happy hour fare at Brendan's Pub on Market Street but couldn't wait all night for the food, much less while away an unhappy hour there. The kitchen supposedly opens at 5 p.m., which is when the happy hour food is scheduled to appear (free pizza and chicken wings until 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday); when I popped in late one Monday afternoon, though, it took the kitchen a half hour to make my Koko Klub ($3.99), and the free spread never did appear. The sandwich contained a decent pile of smoked turkey and cheddar cheese, but it was hard to ignore the four chewy, fatty bits of undercooked, chilled bacon. The accompanying skin-on fries were surprisingly good, and the house salad I'd ordered was a surprise, too--although not a welcome one. I guess the kitchen didn't have time to prep the "mixed greens, cukes, tomatoes, red onions, sprouts and garlic croutons" that a bartender later told me are included; instead, I got only lettuce--albeit lots of it--and dressing. What a shame, since the blue-cheese dressing, Brendan's own recipe, was among the most addictive versions I've tasted. And supporting that opinion were several Westword cohorts who couldn't keep their hands off my dinner.


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