MONEY Odd Spending

Good, Bad, and Ugly of Paying $100 to Eat at Olive Garden for 7 Weeks

Olive Garden sign
Betty LaRue—Alamy

What's it been like to partake in Olive Garden's seven-week all-you-can-eat Pasta Pass? One participant likens the pass to Tolkien's Ring of Power, "immensely powerful, yes, but dangerous and probably better off destroyed."

In September, Olive Garden unleashed an unprecedented Neverending Pasta Pass promotion on the American public, offering a total of 1,000 of the passes—which entitle the holder to unlimited pasta, breadsticks, soup or salad, and Coca-Cola beverages—for just $100 apiece. The deal sold out in just a few minutes.

For passholders—several of whom have blogged or been interviewed about the experience—eating an absurd amount of Olive Garden food has brought on a rollercoaster of emotions, from excitement to depression to downright goofiness. There’s even been some trash-talking among a few of the Pasta Pass pugilists, as Howard Cosell might have called them. There have been obscenely enormous collections of Olive Garden leftovers stuffed in their refrigerators. And, it’s safe to say, the experiment has left behind exactly zero six-pack abs in its wake.

With the pass officially expiring as of Sunday, November 9, it’s time to reflect on a few of the other major takeaways from the experience:

It’s Been Quite a Value
Each Pasta Pass cost only $100, and considering that regular diners pay $9.99 per meal for what’s included in the pass, passholders needed to eat only ten times at Olive Garden for the purchase to pay off. As you might imagine, some made it their mission to get as much out of the pass as possible.

Alan Martin, a pastor from Burlington, N.C., said earlier this week that he’d already eaten at Olive Garden 100 times, meaning his $100 pass was averaging out to $1 per sit-down. He plans on consuming $1,800 worth of food and drink before the pass expires. “I would love to be the person that ate the most of the 1,000 people” who bought passes, the “Pasta Passtor” told a local TV station, which filmed Martin (of course) at Olive Garden dining on pasta and chicken. “That would be a good contest to win because that means I got the most value out of the card of anyone in the United States.”

Bear in mind that maximizing the value from a $100 Olive Garden pass could also mean consuming upwards of 100,000 calories during the seven weeks the pass is valid.

It’s Made Them Semi-Famous
Martin has been featured on local TV stations multiple times, and was highlighted by the “Today Show” after eating his 100th Olive Garden meal with the pass on November 5. When asked about what he would do when the pass expires on Sunday, Martin admitted he was unsure, and a little scared. “I have no idea what I’m going to eat for lunch Monday morning,” he said.

Several other passholders have gotten attention in the media because they’ve been blogging about their OG dining experience. Most notably, there’s Matt Pershe, a recent UPenn graduate whose Tumblr has been mentioned by Eater, Philadelphia magazine, and Forbes, among others.

There’s Been Some Trash Talking
A passholder going by the name “Vino” has had plenty of fun running the blog AllofGarden.com. He’s created customized names for Olive Garden’s different pasta dishes, such as Angelhare, Depression, Acceptance, and Futility (instead of fusilli, presumably), and even coined a few pastas in honor of his fellow passholders, including Hagana, named after the blogger chronicling the experience at 49 Days of Pasta.

On Friday, Vino posted what has to be the funniest Pasta Pass trash-talking video ever. In the tongue-in-cheek post, Vino calls out Pasta Pass top dog Alan Martin—he of multiple TV appearances—for saying on camera that he’d vaguely eaten “about” 95 meals at Olive Garden. “Let me guess Alan, math isn’t your strong suit?” Vino says to his webcam, before listing his own “accomplishments” in terms of Olive Garden consumption—”a heart-rending story of love, loss, and carbs,” he says. Then the smack really comes down.

“Face it Alan, you’re old. Pasta’s slowing you down. Me? I’m young, spry. Every bite I take only makes me hungrier,” Vino says. “And I won’t rest until I show you, and every imPASTer like you what I’m made out of.” Naturally, the video ends with Vino taking a shark-like bite out of a breadstick.

It’s Been Emotional
Dining on pasta at a chain restaurant for weeks has caused several participants to have some pretty deep thoughts. It’s been a rollercoaster of highs, lows, and carbs. “A few days ago, I was excited for the Pasta Pass to end,” Hagana Kim of 49 Days of Pasta wrote when week six of the pasta experiment just passed. “Now that the end is staring me in the face, I’m sad. Depressed, even. I may do some unpredictable things this week.”

On the other hand, UPenn grad Matt Pershe seems more than ready to be done with OG. “I’m thrilled to announce that there is one week remaining for my Never Ending Pasta Pass,” he wrote around Halloween. “I think of the Never Ending Pasta Pass nowadays as something like the ring in Lord of the Rings. Immensely powerful, yes, but dangerous and probably better off destroyed.”

The Pass Has Inspired Poetry
Over at the Pastageddon blog, Max from Pennsylvania has posted a smorgasbord of Olive Garden-inspired imagined scenes and oddball poetry, often related to movies ranging from “Pulp Fiction” to “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.” His Halloween post included a twist on the haunting children’s rhyme from “Nightmare on Elm Street”:

One, two, OG’s coming for you
Three, four, better lock your door
Five, six, get your pasta fix
Seven, eight, gonna finish the plate
Nine, ten, never eat again

It’s Sometimes Been Sickening
Beyond having fun, the bloggers have all included some reviews of the food. Some of them have been quite good, while others … not so much. On Day 31, Matt Pershe finally willed himself to finally try a dish with Italian sausage, and it wasn’t pretty. “Between the sausage and the five cheese marinara, the dish looked something like a frat row sidewalk on a Saturday night,” he wrote. “Appearances aside, the texture of the sausage was the same texture you’d get from a sausage in a Super 8 continental breakfast.”

Even worse is what was described at Pastageddon recently. “Since I am on the last week I thought I would try the Zuppa soupa but i’m sorry I did because it gave me the poopas,” the post reads. “I don’t know if it was the soup, pasta or shrimp but I’m currently sitting here hoping I don’t puke.”

TIME food & driink

Cronut King’s Latest Creation Looks Like a Pretzel Bear Claw

Courtesy Dominique Ansel Bakery

Dominique Ansel unveiled his $8 pretzel lobster tail on national TV

Updated August 8 at 11:30a.m.

Have the cronut king’s novelty pastries jumped the shark? We’ll find out sometime before dawn on Saturday, when the line starts forming outside Dominique Ansel’s Soho bakery for his latest oeuvre: the pretzel lobster tail.

Introduced on Good Morning America Thursday, the $8 invention is comprised of pretzel dough wrapped around a buttercrunch-peanut butter filling and comes with a warm dipping sauce made from whipped honey and browned butter. The entire concoction is “sprinkled liberally” with Maldon sea salt.

Sounds delicious. But ever since Ansel captivated us with his doughnut-croissant hybrid last spring, his subsequent novelties — the waffogato, the frozen s’mores — have been a lot less thrilling. And then there’s the dubious move of announcing the new pastry on national TV, which has already prompted one food writer to implore, “Please stop distracting from all that by appearing on national television to introduce pastries like they’re the next iteration of the iPhone … You’re better than that. “

Not that we’d turn our nose up at the chance to try one.

Update: Dominique Ansel heard my plea and invited me to his bakery to try the pretzel lobster tail one day before it goes on sale. What surprised me most was the generous amount and distinctive taste of the peanuty brittle filling. (Ansel told me the nuts are caramelized and salted before they are ground down into a butter.) And there was so much dipping sauce that I brought some home to spread on toast later. The verdict: tasty, and extremely filling.

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