Thursday, April 7, 2016

Having Carolina's On My Mind

Carolina's Italian Restaurant
915 South Harbor Blvd. 
Anaheim, CA 92805

I've come to realize that there are two kinds of Italian food. There's the real deal Italian, which is the more authentic. The stuff you might see while traveling through Italy. Neapolitan pizzas, and the like, which is mostly served in the more expensive Italian restaurants around OC.

Then there's what I like to call, "stick to your ribs Italian food." Americanized Italian food that usually features heavier sauces, and more meat and cheese than its more authentic Italian counterparts. I like both of these kinds of Italian cuisine, but predictably, I enjoy American Italian food better. So when I heard that there was a new Carolina's Italian Restaurant opening a few blocks away from Disneyland, and they invited us in to give it a try, Katie and I were all excited about it.

I was really excited because we had already been to the original Carolina's, which is located in Garden Grove. If you would like to see our first visit to the original Carolina's, click here. Anyways, Carolina's has been in business for over 35 years, and shows no signs of stopping. Even when a grease fire pretty much burned the Garden Grove restaurant nearly to the ground, customers, employees and friends helped Managing Partner, Tim Ibrahim get the restaurant back open in a remarkable two months. They maybe did this as a thank you for all the things Carolina's has provided for the community over the years, like feeding first responders, fundraisers for sports team, and more. Now they have finally achieved another milestone, opening a second location.

This new location of Carolina's shares a parking lot with the Anaheim Ramada, near the corner of Harbor and Vermont, in what used to be a Carrow's, not that you would recognize it as an old Carrow's now. The inside was painted brightly, with murals by a local artist. There are themed rooms, which can accommodate the hungry masses coming to and from Disneyland. Also, just like their original spot, Carolina's offers the largest beer list in Orange County, with 400 cans and bottles offered in their impressive refrigerated case. No Budweiser or Coors here. This is the good stuff, and things you can't get just anywhere. I was also surprised to see that they had an herb garden in the planter boxes in front of their restaurant. I also spied some peppers growing out there. Seeing this got me very excited for my anticipated meal. Let's see if this new Carolina's has it going on, just like the original.

I usually shy away from sweet drinks, but was talked into trying one of their Italian Cream Sodas ($3.99). These come in six different flavors, and I was given the orange one to try. This was a pretty stellar cream soda, which brought to mind a 50-50 bar from when I was a kid. Not over the top sweet, this was refreshing, and went down rather easily. It was even topped with a red heart.

Not that we needed them or anything, especially since I know that the entrees are real large here, but we got the Famous Carolina's Meatballs ($8.99) as an appetizer. It's easy to see why these are famous, and they were as good as they look in these pictures. These came five to an order, were densely packed, but still tender meatballs. They came served in plenty of Carolina's very well done marinara sauce, and sprinkled with some Parmesan cheese. Really good, and Katie and I found ourselves fighting over the fifth one, until we finally decided just to cut it in half. I guess compromise is the key to surviving marriage.

The menu does not state it, but each entree comes with Soup or Salad. Katie took my selection, (see there's me compromising again), the Garden Salad. This is your basic dinner salad, which came with fresh romaine lettuce, and is then topped with red cabbage, cucumbers, diced tomatoes, and shredded carrots. This was brought to the next level by a very good ranch dressing, which was thick and obviously just made fresh. I'm usually not much into soup, but this Minestrone was pretty tasty. Full of carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, Italian squash, and cabbage, this was a nice version of this classic Italian vegetable soup.

Entree time, and Katie selected the Chicken Alla Anthony ($16.99) which really blew me away. This dish has got me rethinking my eggplant bias. This dish combined both breaded chicken and breaded eggplant in their franchescana sauce, which is a creamy meat sauce. It is then topped with ricotta, spinach, mushrooms, peas, and mozzarella, then served over penne. All of these things combined to make a very comforting, and filling dinner. The pictures do not show this, but this was enough to feed two people, as the bowl was very deep. The chicken was tender, and the eggplant added a nice textural element I was not expecting. The franchescana sauce was on point, and there was just enough cheese, so it did not get in the way of the other parts of the dish. I'd get this for sure the next time I'm at Carolina's.

I also enjoyed my choice on this evening as well. I took a shot with the Carolina's Trio ($18.99), and was not disappointed. This trifecta of Italian entrees included cheese ravioli, fettuccine alfredo, and meat lasagna. Again a lot of food, and plenty to take to work the next day. The meat lasagna was the best, with plenty of beef included, lots of cheese, and that very good marinara covering it. The fettuccine was creamy, without being too heavy. I used a little of the excess alfredo sauce to mix with my cheese ravioli, and it made an excellent pink sauce for the ravioli. A very hearty meal.

Not that we needed it, but I remembered how much I enjoyed the Tiramisu ($4.99) the last time we were here, so it had to be ordered. It was just as good on this visit, if not better. It was moist, but not overly damp like most tiramisu tends to be. I also enjoyed that the coffee flavor here was muted a bit, and not as prominent. Of course they also got points for topping this with plenty of chocolate sauce, and in such an artistic manner.

We left Carolina's with very full stomachs, and plenty of food for the next few days. Not only is this restaurant good for tourists refueling after an action packed day at Disneyland, but also for locals that want to experience some solid Italian food before a Duck or Angel game, or for anyone that wants to consume some comforting Italian food, with heavier sauces and large portions. This place will definitely do the trick. I also felt the prices were more than fair with the amount of food that you get here. Carolina's is probably one of our favorite old school Italian restaurants in OC, and we're happy that their new location is just as good as the original one in Garden Grove.

We have to thank everyone that made this visit possible, starting with the PR guru, Chelsea McKinney at Powerhouse PR. Thanks so much for setting up this visit, and we always look forward to hearing from you, because we know good food is right around the corner. We would also like to thank all of the staff at Carolina's, including the General Manager David, who took such great care of us, and waited on us personally. You could really sense the pride he has in his restaurant. He's also done a great job of training his staff, as they were all very professional, and seemed to enjoy being there, which is a rarity these days. Thanks for everything guys.

If you would like to experience Carolina's Italian Restaurant for yourself, find out more information about them when you visit their website here:

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