Mamma Mia! Olive Garden Food Truck Invades Boston's Italian Neighborhood

Mamma Mia! Olive Garden Food Truck Invades Boston's Italian Neighborhood

7:00pm Jun 22, 2015
Boston's North End is full of authentic Italian eateries. The Olive Garden is most definitely not one of them. But this weekend, an Olive Garden food truck parked there, handing out free food samples.
Boston's North End is full of authentic Italian eateries. The Olive Garden is most definitely not one of them. But this weekend, an Olive Garden food truck parked there, handing out free food samples.
Craig Lemoult/WGBH

Boston's North End neighborhood is a popular destination for authentic Italian food. But this weekend, local eateries got some unlikely competition: the Olive Garden food truck.

The green truck, emblazoned with the words "Breadstick Nation" and "Italian Kitchen," found a parking spot on the edge of the Boston neighborhood where Italian food is most sacred.

That's right: Olive Garden is jumping on the food truck craze. The Italian restaurant chain is sending trucks around the country to hand out free samples of its newest menu item: breadstick sandwiches.

Mark McKenna, who lives in the North End, surrounded by Italian restaurants that have been here for generations, sampled one of the sandwiches. His verdict? "It's awesome. It's really good," he told us. "After eating this, I would eat lunch at an Olive Garden."

But not everyone in the North End is so enthused.

Just up the road, in the web of narrow North End streets that smell like garlic and pastry, is the restaurant L'Osteria. Tanya Bruno works here.

"This restaurant was built on love and real Italian cuisine, recipes and family. And no Olive Garden, no big franchise can ever compete with that," Bruno says.

Down the street, in a back corner of Pagliuca's restaurant, Bill Onessimo and three friends sit around a table crowded with steaming plates of spaghetti al olio, fettuccini with clam sauce, and more. They've been coming here for 40 years, they tell me — "same table, every Saturday. So that tells you something about the food," Onessimo says.

But before they arrived at their usual table today, they were willing to give the Olive Garden truck a shot. Frank Panache says he was not impressed with the meatball sandwich.

"And the bread — now, this being the North End, you know, we got good Italian bakeries here," he says. "And it was, I don't know, like plastic bread, I would say. I would say it was American rather than Italian."

These old friends say nothing compares to the food here at Pagliuca's, but they do like the prices and some of the food at the Olive Garden restaurants.

That's what the folks at this truck are hoping to hear. They'd like to bring more people in to Olive Garden's 800 restaurants around the country.

The food truck is now on to other cities across the country, and the Olive Garden has no plans for now to open a restaurant in the North End.

Copyright 2015 WGBH Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wgbhnews.org.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now this story about authenticity. It's a question of authentic ethnic food. Some foodies turn up their noses at Italian food from the Olive Garden. I, for one, love the place and the breadsticks. Well, now this restaurant chain is challenging its competition by sending a food truck through Boston's North End, a neighborhood famous for its authentic Italian food. Craig Lemoult of member station WGBH reports.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thank you.

CRAIG LEMOULT, BYLINE: A green food truck emblazoned with the words Breadstick Nation and Italian Kitchen found a parking spot this weekend on the edge of the Boston neighborhood where Italian food is most sacred.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Would you like chicken Parmesan or Italian meatball?

LEMOULT: The Olive Garden is jumping on the food truck craze, sending them around the country handing out free samples of their newest menu item - breadstick sandwiches.

MARK MCKENNA: It's awesome.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Huh?

MCKENNA: Awesome - really good.

LEMOULT: Mark McKenna lives in the North End, surrounded by Italian restaurants that have been here for generations.

MCKENNA: After eating this, I would eat lunch at an Olive Garden.

LEMOULT: That's what the folks at this truck are hoping to hear. They'd like to bring more people into their 800 restaurants around the country.

Just up the road, in the web of narrow North End streets that smell like garlic and pastry, is the restaurant L'Osteria. Tanya Bruno works there.

TANYA BRUNO: This restaurant was built on love and real Italian cuisine, recipes and a family. And no Olive Garden, no big franchise can ever compete with that.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Joe, I'm glad you ate today.

LEMOULT: Down the street, in the back corner of Pagliuca's restaurant, Bill Onessimo and three friends sit around a table crowded with steaming plates of spaghetti al olio, fettuccine and clam sauce and more.

BILL ONESSIMO: We've been coming how many years, Joey?

JOEY: Forty years, yeah.

ONESSIMO: Forty years we've been coming here, same table, every Saturday. So that tells you something about the food.

LEMOULT: But before they got to their usual table today, they were willing to give the Olive Garden truck a shot. Frank Panache wasn't impressed with the meatball sandwich.

FRANK PANACHE: And the bread, now, this being the North End, you know, we got good Italian bakeries here. And it was - I don't know - like plastic bread, I would say. I would say it was American rather than Italian.

LEMOULT: They say nothing compares to the food here at Pagliuca's. But they do like the prices and some of the food at the Olive Garden restaurants. The food truck is now onto other cities across the country, and the Olive Garden has no plans for now to open a restaurant in the North End. For NPR News, I'm Craig Lemoult in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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