Never Ending Pasta Bowl 2010: A Tale of Two Americas
I like to believe I’m not heavily influenced by advertising. It’s certainly not as if I got the idea to try Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Bowl, an occasional promotion that seems to happen annually around September, based on any commercials (I did flip past one on a Spanish language channel last night–oh, and I see Grub Street has ads in their RSS feed, but not on their site). And I watch a lot of TV. A chain-loving friend happened to mention it was occurring this very second and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by. How else do you think I spend my Friday nights?
After my second NYC experience with the NEPB, it’s become very clear that they want to keep the $8.95 all-you-can-eat deal under wraps. If you’re sad like me, you don’t have a lot of free time but still spend stolen moments putting in different zip codes on chain restaurant sites to gauge small town/big city price discrepancies. Not only is it fun, it makes it obvious why the NEPB is top secret in the city.
A basic bowl of spaghetti with meat sauce will cost $14.50 in Chelsea, $15.50 in Times Square…and $10.75 in pretty much all of New Jersey. I think this is what they mean by Two Americas.
If you go to one of these Manhattan locations you will not see any signage, menu inserts and no one will dare speak of it. That is fine, ask anyway. You’ll be handed the server’s pocket cheat sheet (sorry for the blurred snapshot) which lists the seven types of pastas and six sauce options—Chianti Three Meat and Creamy Parmesan Portobello are new!
You’ll also see how they are scripted to upsell you on unlimited meatballs, Italian sausage or roasted chicken for $2.95 and how to ring up situations like someone who decides to go for limitless meat on the second bowl. Insidery.
Bowl number one: whole wheat linguine with creamy parmesan portobello sauce because we know the presence of wheat will counteract all the fat and cheese. These noodles tasted suspiciously soft like traditional linguine–whenever I make whole wheat pasta at home, which is rarely, I regret it. Same for brown rice, which I'm eating tonight by choice.
Bowl number two: penne with five cheese marinara. Who knows which five cheeses. Your eyes are not deceiving you; the subsequent bowls are much smaller like something you’d serve a scoop of ice cream in. This is not a complaint. One bowl was plenty—even non-chain pasta tends to bore me—but I had to order at least one more in the spirit of NEPB.
This is no time for hesitation; you have until October 10 to gorge yourself silly on noodles (and breadsticks and salad) for less than nine bucks. If anything, it beats newcomers, Nooï and Hello Pasta.