Restaurants that serve the best free bread

Bread. It is the Gwyneth Paltrow of the food world, as maligned as it is revered. Sometimes a side dish, sometimes a main meal, and the original muse to the Earl of Sandwich, who (allegedly) first discovered that slapping two slices together and stuffing things in between allowed him more mobile meals. Whether the main star of your Tuscan panzanella or the crusty complement to your Gorgonzola and chianti, its gluten-y goodness cannot be denied. We break it to symbolize a meaningful social interaction and tear it to sop up the white wine cream sauce of our moules marinières. Sometimes we use it to feed our local park's duck population. (Don't do that anymore; it messes with their insides.)

As the saying goes, the best things in life are free and the following free breads served at popular restaurants seem to fully support this happy adage.

Red Lobster

A deluge of online copycat recipes speak to the popularity of Red Lobster's cheddar bay biscuits. In 2013, Red Lobster sold 395 million of these puppies a year, almost 1.1 million biscuits every day. They were born in the early 1990s, when executive chef Kurt Hankins conjured them as an alternative to the restaurant's hush puppies. Served warm, these golden clouds are cradled by cheddar, a gentle bite of garlic, accented with butter, herbs and the kiss of salt. They have their own Facebook page. Seriously. Their addictive quality also renders it impossible for you to eat all of your starter Caesar as well as your pending order of Parrot Isle jumbo coconut shrimp. However, sacrifices must be made. Made in the name of deliciousness.

You can also make these cheddary, garlic-kissed biscuits at home. Otherwise, you can ask your server for a little baggie of extra biscuits to go. It wouldn't hurt to use them as an English muffin substitute for a heightened eggs Benedict experience.

The Cheesecake Factory

The Cheesecake Factory is renowned for its eclectic variations on the original cheesecake and a menu that is only slightly less lengthy than War and Peace. Upon arriving at the Cheesecake Factory and navigating your way through its showy Las-Vegas-meets-ancient-Rome-meets-futuristic-Atlantis-as-depicted-by-L.-Ron-Hubbard decor, a bread basket is placed on your table. There are two different species of warm loaf offered, but the one you should pay attention to is the darker of the two, the honey wheat brown bread. This warm loaf is soft and sweetened with a touch of molasses, dusted with a smattering of chewy oats on its chestnut-brown surface. A dollop of creamy butter offsets its honeyed dough and is the reason I fill up before ordering and never actually get to sample any of the 35 cheesecakes on option. Their white loaf is also a perfectly adequate bread, but alas, it's the Jan Brady to the honey wheat brown Marcia.

Check out this recipe for the Cheesecake Factory's honey wheat brown loaf from Kitchen Trials in case you have a hankering to bake your own heavenly bread. Note that your Cheesecake Factory servers will bring you a basket of the brown bread only if you ask nicely. They will also pack up any leftover bread for you to take home. But everyone knows leftovers are for amateurs.

Outback Steakhouse

Ahhhh, Outback Steakhouse, a riot of an eatery that serves Australian classics such as the chicken quesadilla and an onion appetizer that could sustain a walrus's daily caloric needs. Outback Steakhouse is a fun spot, with an eclectic menu and lively decor that is sure to conjure Crocodile Dundee flashbacks. But enough about that, we're here for the free bread. The Outback delivers. The loaf arrives on a wooden paddle, warm and soft, with a ramekin of whipped butter and a giant knife lodged in its side. It's a sizable steak knife that begs you to wield it recklessly and holler, "That's not a knoiffe, this is a knoooife." The loaf is warm and slightly chewy, sweet and dark with a nice spring to its touch and once you slather a slice with molten butter, it's all over. You don't need no bloomin' onion. If you want to get creative, you can even whip up your own Australian bushman bread at home.

Olive Garden

The Olive Garden's infamous breadsticks need no introduction with their cult following and legions of loyal groupies. They are soft and warm and free and buttery and salt-sprinkled and garlic-scented and so very, very free. The best part? Along with the soup and salad, they are unlimited. As a result of this, bushels of them have been known to inexplicably hitchhike a ride in visitors' purses and socks. In 2014, the restaurants handed out 675 million to 700 million of the salty, garlicky sticks. For many, they evoke childhood memories and for many others, elected indigestion, but their perseverance and popularity cannot be contested. While the Olive Garden can't provide you with an authentic Italian dining experience, it most certainly has your carbohydrate cravings covered.

Romano's Macaroni Grill

Rosemary is a delightful herb — fresh, summery and aromatic. The spiny, emerald green seasoning reminds me of things, like a summer in Tuscany and a salty herb focaccia my father once baked, which is fitting because rosemary was historically thought to strengthen the memory. Romano's Macaroni Grill serves a rosemary bread that has many a die-hard fan. When infused into the pleasantly plump and pillowy loaf, rosemary elevates the chewy dough with an herbaceous zest. The loaf is accompanied with a small dipping dish of olive oil and herbs, and while oil dipping is not something Italians actually do, in good old American fashion, we do it because it's delicious and more is always merrier. And we do exactly what we want. Murca.

Neiman Marcus

A higher-end option than the other free bread meccas can be found in the adoption grounds of designer clothing where items by Tory Burch, Michael Kors, and Burberry all patiently await their forever homes. At the various cafes of Neiman Marcus, warm popovers are served gratis with a side of strawberry butter. A popover is sort of like the love child of a Yorkshire pudding and a kouign-amann (pronounced "queen-ya-mahn"), which translates to "butter cake." They are crunchy and golden brown on the outside and crack open to a light and airy dough in their delectably spongy middles. While you're enjoying these dainty cousins of the croissant, you should probably indulge in an appropriately fancy cocktail such as the Neiman Marcus signature Stiletto Nail or the High-Shine Metallic Mule. It's generally easier to buy exorbitant shoes without any guilt when one is utterly sloshed. Enjoy this recipe for Neiman Marcus popovers complete with their requisite strawberry butter. The popovers pair very nicely with champagne and Swiss bank accounts.

The Keg

In the interest of transparency, I have to come clean here and tell you that I don't like sourdough. I just never have and suspect it's a genetic disposition like my interminable hatred for cilantro. (Lots of other people hate cilantro, too!) Since I live in Seattle, however, where many iconic seafood restaurants choose sourdough as their preferred bread base and receptacles for fresh chowder, as well as for the millions of sourdough aficionados out there, the sourdough loaf at The Keg should get a mention. This complimentary loaf arrives toasty warm and fresh with a ramekin of whipped butter. The loaf is delightfully scored for easy quartering and shaped in a puffed square that resembles a small pillow, perhaps the perfect size for a fatigued ferret. The Keg Steakhouse fans swear by this comforting companion to their top sirloin or lobster tail, and I'll take their word for it.

Here is a basic sourdough bread recipe from The Kitchn to show how you can replicate its yeasty, soft, and slightly sour goodness. I am afraid I won't be joining you. I'm busy that night.

Ruby Tuesday

Canadian journalist Morley Safer once said, "You can never have enough garlic. With enough garlic, you can eat the New York Times." While I have no interest in putting his theory to the test based on how unpalatable the news can be, he has a point. Garlic is delicious, and Ruby Tuesday's polite-sized, flavorful biscuits are stuffed with it. Add in tangy cheddar, herbs, salt, and a generous brushing of butter, and you have yourself a mouth-watering savory puff. Their diminutive size means you probably won't have any issue polishing off the plate, which is great, because you'd hate to rudely appear as if you weren't enjoying your complimentary biscuits. That would be terrible. Here's a recipe for Ruby Tuesday's cheesy garlicky biscuits for you enterprising home cooks.

Buca Di Beppo

Asides from the delight at being able to feed your family of eight for three weeks on a single appetizer at this restaurant, the boundaries of generosity have been pushed. The restaurant also offers up a delicious and crispy free bread for your dining pleasure. The bread is garlicky, oven-baked in house, and perhaps the crunchiest we've mentioned, sure to satiate your need for a deafening munch. It isn't particularly fancy or about to win a beauty contest. Perhaps the message here is that sometimes simpler is better and a delicious bread can be both complementary and complimentary. Its moist butter garlic topping gives way to a softer middle and a crunchy golden base for an intense carbohydrate experience. I think that's something we could all get behind.

Texas Roadhouse

After that unavoidable long wait for a table, you deserve a treat — which is why the hostesses at Texas Roadhouse always serve you a fresh basket of rolls as soon as your butt hits the seat. And those warm, sweet, buttery rolls are definitely worth the wait. They're so great, in fact, that countless bloggers have attempted to duplicate them. Some, like Stephie Cooks, have gotten close, but no one can make them quite like real thing. Perhaps it's the ambiance (crushed peanut shells on the floor and loud country music) that help give these beauties their flavor.

But let's be real — it's not actually the rolls that are the star of the pre-meal basket — it's the butter. The freshly made honey cinnamon butter melts instantly when it hits those hot rolls. It's mouth-wateringly delicious — and probably the real reason I never mind waiting on a table at this steak joint. This one can be duplicated, but the jury's still out on whether it actually tastes as good when paired with anything but their rolls.

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