You know how it goes, sometimes you go out to eat and your server brings you this big basket of bread. You keep eating it and eating it and before it dawns on you what's happening you're so full you're not sure you can manage your entree. That's the blessing and curse of free bread.
If the free bread is bad, that can be forgiven as long as the rest of your meal is excellent, but let's be honest, that hardly ever happens. The truth is, a piping hot basket of tasty bread that is hard to stop eating is usually a good sign that the rest of the meal will also be delicious. However, it is still hard to take heed of that inner voice that says, "Stop eating this bread or you're taking your steak home on a styrofoam plate."
For some people, free bread is just a way to keep busy before the main course, but for others, it's at least half the reason for choosing a restaurant. If you're in the latter group, here's the list you've been waiting for. We looked at customer opinion in regards to the overall quality of the bread, and added a small dose of personal opinion as well -- something you can read more about at the end of this list. These are the chain restaurants that have free bread that is worth leaving some extra room for.
Fazoli's doesn't exactly have a reputation as a fine-dining establishment, and since they offer essentially Italian fast food, maybe it's not fair to judge the quality of its breadsticks against some of the other restaurants on this list. After all, if you're going to serve food in a hurry it can be hard to make it with love, and the best bread is always made with love.
With that in mind, Fazoli's free breadsticks come in dead last. Though these breadsticks have their fans, many diners have taken to the internet to complain about them. One patron on Facebook called them "the worst breadsticks I've ever tasted," and said they lack butter and taste like something that's been frozen. Reddit user u/GeneralLight3776 agreed with the "worst ever" assessment almost word for word, and a reviewer from Tripadvisor said, "The pasta was good but the bread had so much butter and garlic salt we couldn't eat it."
It's worth pointing out that one of these reviewers complained about the lack of butter while another complained there was too much butter, so evidently the quality of these breadsticks can vary from location to location. While some people rave about them, the poor reviews tend to outnumber the good ones.
10. Olive Garden
Some people love Olive Garden's breadsticks so much that they'll go there for the breadsticks alone. However, it is pretty clear from customer reviews that Olive Garden's signature breadsticks can be hit-and-miss. Entire Reddit threads have been authored to discuss the divisive Olive Garden breadsticks — like this one, titled "Olive Garden breadsticks are bad."
Reddit user u/Mercedese80 kicks off the discussion by saying, "Olive garden breadsticks are seriously overhyped. They are usually very dry and they lack good flavor. The only thing they really taste like is an overwhelming garlic flavor and there are much better restaurant breads." Another Redditor, u/zigiboogieduke agreed, saying, "I find it odd that anyone finds these frozen 'bread' sticks appetizing at all." Others complained that the breadsticks were overhyped, nothing special, and too salty.
Elsewhere, a Tripadvisor reviewer lamented that the Olive Garden breadsticks aren't what they used to be. "What happened? It's been years since I've tasted a great breadstick at the OG. I do not even bother anymore." (Note that this reviewer ranked Fazioli's over Olive Garden, so to each their own).
As will often be the case, the quality of Olive Garden breadsticks does seem to vary by location. For example, the breadsticks at the Conroe, Texas location got low marks on Trustpilot for being "hard as a rock" and a location in Cleveland, Tennessee was derided on Tripadvisor for being "like tasteless rubber."
9. Cheesecake Factory
Cheesecake Factory is a controversial place — to some, it's a shining example of everything wrong with the American dining experience (1,500-calorie desserts, 1,600-calorie burgers, 1,900-calorie salads), to others, it's everything right with the American dining experience for all the same high-calorie reasons. Any way you look at it, decadence is a big part of the Cheesecake Factory experience, which could be why some people hate its free "brown bread" and some people love it. At 190 calories a serving, it does qualify as decadent (for bread, at least), but it's also not barf-inducingly rich or swimming in fat and sugar. So you could either view it as a nice break from the rest of the food or as an unwanted contrast to it.
On Yelp, Cheesecake Factory's brown bread got a couple of mentions in a thread devoted to "the best warm bread" in Dallas, Texas, but on a Reddit thread titled "Cheesecake Factory sucks" the original poster was much less complimentary. A Tripadvisor complained that the Honolulu location was off its game, commenting, "I love the bread at Cheesecake Factory, especially the brown molasses flavored bread. But what we were given was overdone, hard, and not nearly as good as the bread we have gotten at other Cheesecake Factory restaurants." Again, this does seem like a quality control problem -- with the bad experiences mostly isolated to specific locations -- and overall, the brown bread does seem pretty popular with customers.
Carrabba's is what Olive Garden would be if Olive Garden cared just a little bit more, and it shows in the popularity of its complimentary bread. Carrabba's doesn't serve free breadsticks -- which could be because real Italian breadsticks are long, thin, crispy things called "Grissini" and soft-baked breadsticks à la the Olive Garden and Fazoli's are not eaten in Italy. Instead of not-actually-Italian breadsticks, Carrabba's serves a basic sliced loaf with an herb and oil dip.
It's hard to find anyone complaining about Carrabba's bread, though one or two people have moaned about the dip: "The bread dipping herbs were less than a teaspoon in a gallon of olive oil," a Tripadvisor reviewer said. A second reviewer echoed that sentiment -- remarking that it was "swimming in olive oil" -- but recommended getting the lemon butter sauce instead of the oil and herbs.
For the most part, though Cabbarra's bread gets the thumbs up. "The bread is always fresh and warm," wrote one Facebook user. Carrabba's bread received further plaudits in a Reddit thread dedicated to the best complimentary bread in Raleigh, North Carolina. "The bread is crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, and the dish of olive oil with herbs is perfect," u/ZweigleHots said.
7. Romano's Macaroni Grill
Romano's Macaroni Grill is another Italian-style place that does its bread a little differently. Romano's calls its complimentary bread "Rosemary Peasant Bread," explaining that it "is still made with the same simple ingredients that were accessible to everyone in Italy hundreds of years ago." It may not be 100% authentic -- European peasants mostly ate black bread, made with rye and other whole grains and definitely not with refined white flour -- but it is nonetheless a favorite of diners.
Making your free bread with rosemary is a bold move because rosemary can be a divisive herb -- you either love it, or you think it makes your food taste like a pine tree, and not everyone is crazy about the little sticks in their teeth either. The addition of rosemary in this particular bread doesn't seem to have put many people off of it. "Best bread in all Italian restaurants," wrote one Facebook fan, while another expressed their love for the dipping oil. Elsewhere on Facebook, a reviewer echoed those positive sentiments but also recommended asking the restaurant to "go light on the salt/butter topping."
We did find a handful of customers complaining about the bread, with one saying it isn't as good as it used to be, and one particularly aggrieved by the rosemary flavoring.
Some restaurants offer basic sliced bread or breadsticks, but O'Charley's brings every table a complimentary basket of dinner rolls. Waiting to eat them with dinner is not always a reasonable ask though. O'Charley's describes its bread rolls as "warm, buttery, delicious," and most customers seem to agree.
The rolls got a few votes on a Reddit thread for residents of Nashville, Tennessee titled "Real talk: where's the best bread basket in this city? Need some gluten in my life." One poster called them "buttery goodness," and another agreed, calling them, "Nice and puffy." A Tripadvisor reviewer also called it "some of the best bread in the world."
If you're keen to give O'Charley's a try, a small word of warning — a few diners have complained that their roll recipe has done a recent backslide, like this one from Tripadvisor: "What happened? The last few times that we have gotten takeout, the rolls are totally different and not even appetizing. They are small, hard, and almost appear unbaked." While not confirmed, this could be a takeout thing as they don't appear this way on O'Charley's website or in pictures from satisfied restaurantgoers.
5. Logan's Roadhouse
Steakhouses usually get pretty high marks for free bread, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a steakhouse chain that doesn't offer some sort of complimentary bread, so the competition probably contributes somewhat to the quality. Logan's Roadhouse also serves rolls, specifically Made-From-Scratch Yeast Rolls, which it claims are "baked fresh daily and hot from the oven." We have no real reason to doubt this since one Redditor started a whole thread devoted exclusively to Logan's Roadhouse rolls.
Reddit user u/sort_of_attractive kicked off the thread by saying, "I just needed to shout it out to the heavens that I am in love with their rolls ... I eat at least 6 of them every time I go." There were a few dissenters in the comments, but most people seemed to agree. The original poster even offered tips on how to get more of them: "I always ask for a bag of them to go," to which another user replied, "Oh my god. You have opened me up to so many new possibilities."
Of course, like anything delicious, there are drawbacks. People who can't stop eating Logan's rolls will probably be horrified to discover that each one contains 100 to 200 calories -- which perhaps isn't terrible if you're only going to eat one, but who does that, right?
4. Ruth's Chris
Ruth's Chris is basically a high-end steakhouse disguised as a chain, or maybe the other way around. Not everyone can afford to eat there (with the smallest steak on the menu around $50), and if you're going to charge that kind of money, well, your bread had better be top-notch and it had better be free.
Now, we can't be completely sure that people who rave about the Ruth's Chris complimentary bread aren't just suffering from expensive restaurant syndrome -- feeling the need to pretend it was awesome so as not to embarrass themselves for spending so much -- but the reviews do seem pretty convincing. One Tripadvisor reviewer said, "The complementary bread was delicious and the whipped butter that came with it was so salty and creamy, I even asked to take some home in my take-home box!"
"Hands down, the best 'free' bread I've ever eaten at a restaurant has to be Ruth's Chris Steakhouse," wrote a Quora user. "It's brought to the table warm, with real butter on the side. It's a dense sourdough, with a soft, chewy inside and crusty outside. Every time we go there we just can't get enough of it." Notably, no one else on that thread voted for Ruth's Chris, but that's not necessarily because they don't love the free bread, it could also be because the restaurant is too pricey for most people.
3. Outback Steakhouse
Outback's complimentary honey wheat bread is absolutely delicious, not just because when you see a dark brown bread you erroneously think it is healthy (it isn't) but because it's warm and soft and kind of sweet and you can't stop eating it. Outback bread is perhaps the most copycatted steakhouse bread on the internet, and there are plenty of online recipes to help you recreate the favorite brown bread at home.
Outback's bread almost always gets high marks in Reddit discussions about free bread, though usually with a pretty standard, non-flowery statement that just amounts to, "Outback is my favorite, no explanation necessary." You could view that as low marks (if you love it, why not rave about it), but we think it's because Outback has achieved such bread perfection that it's just too obvious to rave about — kind of like how no one ever really raves about Coca-Cola even though it's the number one soda in America.
Either way, you don't really find anyone hating on Outback's bread, and that's not true of many of the other free bread options. The quality also seems to be pretty consistent from location to location, and that's praise in and of itself.
2. Red Lobster
Most of the complimentary bread options on this list have been in the form of, well, bread, but Red Lobster is different. It's famous for free Cheddar Bay biscuits — every entree comes with two of them — and people love them so much that some will even admit to only going to Red Lobster because of the biscuits. "Red Lobster has Cheddar Bay Biscuits, near about the only reason to go there," said a Redditor. In the same thread, u/HelloToe also said, "The biscuits are the best thing Red Lobster serves! Which is kind of a problem when you're supposed to be a seafood restaurant, not a biscuit restaurant."
So why all the love for the Red Lobster biscuits? In a Quora thread that asked the question, "What makes Red Lobster biscuits so good?" a poster claiming to be a Red Lobster employee replied, "1: They're fresh. Only a fifteen-minute holding time; 2: A good amount of shredded cheddar cheese is added to the mix before baking; 3: The garlic bread topping that is brushed on thick and seeps into the biscuits."
Perhaps most telling was the poster's final statement: "I've worked for Red Lobster for almost 14 years now and I still have to have a biscuit or two now and then." Why is this telling? Because you don't work at a place for 14 years and not eventually become sick of everything on the menu ... unless it's that good.
1. Texas Roadhouse
Texas Roadhouse almost didn't make it to the top of this list, because it's not completely clear if people actually love the bread or just the butter that comes with it. But since bread and butter is basically the whole package (and it's all complimentary), we decided that the distinction wasn't that important. In online reviews and polls, Texas Roadhouse was the very clear winner.
The restaurant claims it bakes its rolls fresh every five minutes (which is awesome), but that's not why people rave about them. They rave about them because of the honey cinnamon butter that comes with them. In the "best bread" Reddit thread, for example, at least three people used an expletive (in the most positive way possible) when talking about Texas Roadhouse's bread and butter combination. Someone in a different Reddit thread said "I can literally eat it with a spoon."
Redditor u/greysonrogers had the highest praise commenting, "Texas Roadhouse rolls are the only correct answer ... When I was in high school my mom used to get me a bunch of them for my birthday instead of a cake because I love the rolls and butter so much."
It is worth reiterating, though, that almost no one praises the bread on its own, and pretty much every review is butter-forward. So if you're planning to save on the calories and go light on the butter, you might want to move down this list in reverse to find a less-decadent alternative.
How We Chose Our Chain Restaurant Complimentary Bread
We relied on customer reviews to create this list, though our own experiences with a restaurant's bread did move a couple of places up or down on the list. Given that, it's also important to keep in mind that even the worst bread usually isn't terrible (unless it's old, burned, or undercooked) and quality can vary considerably from location to location. There's also a lot of subjectivity in what people like or dislike about bread — some of us hate rosemary, for example, and some of us don't -- so a lot of this can come down to personal preference. What we did look for was the general customer consensus on the quality of the bread, and whether this swayed more on the positive side than the negative side.
Read the original article on Mashed.