Using my free lunch coupon from Macaroni Grill's Facebook page, I went there for lunch on 9-28-12. The restaurant on the outside and the inside is your typical Macaroni Grill, same color scheme and furniture. When you enter, to the left is your kitchen with a waiting area and to the right is your bar, where you can also sit and wait, if there are no tables available or you are meeting someone for lunch or dinner.
We arrived around Noon and had to wait a little bit. One lesson I learned, complaining pays at this restaurant. A couple of ladies came after us and when they heard the wait would be about 20 minutes, they immediately started out that this was unacceptable for lunch time. So they got seated ahead of others that had waited longer and despite the fact that they were still waiting for two other ladies to come. So if you go to the Macaroni Grill in Cary, complain to your heart's content, it will be worth your while. I do not think that this is a good policy because other people noticed this preferential treatment and if they are like us, they will be vocal about it on local blogs and, more importantly, will neither recommend the place to others nor ever go back to the place.
We were seated at an okay table and could have complained, but we figured we will see what no complaining gets you and with coupons we were in for a free meal and decided what the hell, let's just sit and eat and complain in our blogs about the place. They serve you warm ciabatta bread with rosemary, which is probably the best part of the meal. They prep at the table extra virgin olive oil with freshly ground black pepper, which you can use the dip the bread in. You also get water, with no ice, but reasonable cold in bottles to drink. I ordered a Sicilian Splash, which is supposed to be blood orange juice, san pellegrino aranciata rossa, ginger ale and fresh basil. I did not see any fresh basil and the blood orange flavor was not distinguishable because they added slices of orange. At a price of $3.50, this beverage was a total disappointment, especially since I noted that rinds of the oranges they put in had brown spots on them. Overall, again stick with the free water and forget ordering any special beverages that the staff messes with because I would have been embarrassed to include old orange slices into a drink. In addition, there was so much ice in the glass that you could only take a couple of sips from the glass and you were done.
As for the lunch, you can probably guess how that turned out. Not too impressive either. I ordered the fresh greens and Carmela's chicken. The salad was only okay, mostly because one crouton tasted as stale as any crouton I have ever tasted. The greens themselves were fresh, a little bit large pieces for my taste, and looked like someone had opened a salad bag, dumped a little into a dish and poured some vinaigrette on top. The vinaigrette itself was actually pretty good and the best part of the salad. The croutons the worst part of this salad and any salad I have eaten in a long time.
The chicken was supposed to be roasted chicken, rigatoni, caramelized onions, mushrooms, marsala cream. Overall this sounds a like a good combination and not a lot can go wrong with this. But again, Macaroni Grill staff showed it can really mess things up by even a regular family restaurant standard. While the pasta, onions, and sauce were fine. Even the two or three mushroom pieces included were not bad - yes, I am not kidding, the meal had two or three tiny, not even bite-sized pieces of mushrooms included. What was horrible and the absolute worst part of the whole Macaroni Grill experience was the chicken. Yes it was roasted, but it was probably roasted a couple of days before they actually used it in the meal because it tasted like chicken that had been roasted (and had been fresh at one point) and then left sitting in the fridge (or so I hope!) for a number of days before being chopped and used in cream style sauce, likely in hopes that the cream and other ingredients would cover up the ripe old age of the chicken.
Overall, the food was not even mediocre. The best part of the meal were the water and the warm bread with the olive oil dip. Would I go back for a free meal, absolutely not! After leaving most of the chicken next to the dish since I could not get myself to eat the chicken, I am not sure I am in the mood for any chicken for days to come. I was simply disgusted by this aspect of the food and its low quality. Granted, this was probably their busiest lunch in a long time because people came a lot with coupons, but the restaurant decided to give out coupons, neither I nor anyone else asked for the coupon. So I would think if a restaurant decides to hand out coupons for a free meal that they use the opportunity to showcase their dishes and not a way to get rid of old fridge staples that get mixed into sauces or salads.Kitchen staff, waitresses and waiters should take some pride in their work and not simply feel nauseated that they had a full restaurant. I certainly felt nauseated after taking a bite out of that chicken and will gladly pass on every free meal courtesy of Macarani Grill.