-- After seven weeks and I-don’t-even-want-to-know how many added calories, my time as an Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Pass Holder has come to an end. Thus rendering the name “Never Ending” incorrect.
While I didn’t embrace my pasta pass with the same intensity as, say, the gentleman from North Carolina who used it to eat two meals a day, every day, there’s no doubt in my mind that I got my money’s worth -- and then some -- from the pass. But there was one hidden twist.
I’m ashamed to say that it wasn’t until the final days of the promotion that I attempted to use the pass to order multiple bowls of pasta in one sitting. This past Friday, I arrived at Olive Garden around noon for my last hurrah. My plan: To stay there all day and truly test how well the “never ending” pasta pass could live up to its name.
I started with Fettuccine Alfredo Topped with Shrimp Fritta (basically popcorn shrimp). It was much more appetizing and less heavy than it sounds, and was probably my favorite dish of the various pasta bowl combinations I tried. It was also infinitely better than the Fettuccine Alfredo Topped with Chicken Fritta that I had on my first outing, which was bland and seemed to be a mismatched combination of flavors/textures. My friends opted for the unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks lunch option, which is a real bargain at $8.99 (even for non-pasta pass polders).
Knowing that I was going to be there for the long haul, I paced myself on the salad and breadsticks and, after taking some time to digest, decided that I was ready to dive in to bowl No. 2.
This is when I was blindsided by the stipulation that Olive Garden has been keeping a secret all along. After the initial bowl in a Never Ending Pasta Bowl order, the subsequent ones are miniature. And when I say miniature, I mean probably one-third of a full order, at best.
When our waiter brought out my second order -- which was essentially five bites of Spaghetti and Meat Sauce on a plate -- I was sure that he had gotten confused by my explanation that I was here to “try to eat as much pasta as I could” using the pass. So, when I ordered bowl No. 3 (Penne with Five Cheese Marinara and Sausage), I made sure to clarify that I wanted “a full portion, not just a sample size.”
It was then that our waiter explained the fine print.
“You can order as many bowls as you want, but they’re all going to be this size,” he clarified (a little sheepishly, in my opinion).
I guess that way they won't waste food and can allow people to try more combinations, but I was there on a mission to put the pasta pass to the test, and this was a disappointing discovery.
All told, including dining in and ordering to-go, I used the pass about 10 times over seven weeks -- and got two to three meals out of every experience. In terms of takeout orders, the breadsticks don’t carry very well and tend to become a little rubbery in transit, but do retain their flavor. As far as leftovers, the Spaghetti with Spicy Marinara Sauce, with bits of red pepper flakes sprinkled throughout, holds up the best when reheated.
My favorite experience was during week two when I went to pick up a takeout order for lunch on a rainy day. The manager came over to personally congratulate me on being a pasta pass holder. ("It's like you just completed a marathon," the coworker who accompanied me marveled.) I also appreciate that the takeout orders include the restaurant’s signature after-dinner Andes mints, which were placed in their own separate plastic container.
So, was the $100 Pasta Pass worth it? My waistband may be crying uncle, but my wallet says “absolutely.”
You can follow Liz Raftery on Twitter at @LizRaftery_TVG.