We live in a post-Cronut, post-Doritos taco world, where mashup foods (the more unhealthy, the better) are popping up like so many deep-fried daisies. At first blush, Olive Garden’s newest menu item, spaghetti pie, seems just like another entry into the hybrid hall of fame, but it actually has roots in Italy. The dish is actually a take on a classic Italian recipe, where leftover pasta is mixed with eggs and baked. So, how does a humble meal of food scraps translate when cooked up by one of America’s largest Italian chain restaurants? I got to find out when a coworker mentioned, off-hand, that she'd been invited to a dinner to try it. My head swiveled in her direction with the kind of intensity and focus that a bird of prey uses when spying a field mouse at 100 yards.
"Forward me that email. Forward it to me, now." I had my in. The pie in question is, maybe unsurprisingly, very good. I say “unsurprisingly,” because it contains everything Homo sapiens have been hardwired to seek out: fat, carbs, salt, and more carbs. Spaghetti is mixed with seven cheeses and bacon, then “baked to perfection.” Far from being a subtle dish, each slice of pasta pie is then topped with more sauce and either a couple slices of chicken (if you order the fettuccine version) or meatballs (if you go the red sauce route). This is where the dish veers somewhat drastically from its Mediterranean origins. While the internet is full of classic versions of the leftovers-based meal, none, as far as I can tell, also tell you to include a meatball the size of a fist. We were given half-portions of each, and after scarfing down the chicken version (I did it for my cave-dwelling forebears!), I could barely pick at the meatball. Of course, it wasn’t like I went into the pasta pie part of the experience with an empty stomach. While waiting, I had eaten quite a few breadsticks (I lost count, whoops) over the course of the evening. So, what's the final verdict? If you already love Olive Garden (raises hand!), there's not much to object to here. It's the same Italian (or Italian-ish) ingredients you know and love, shoved into a pie. But maybe my own immediate enjoyment of the dish shouldn’t be the deciding vote. The morning after, when my alarm went off, I could best describe my mood as “feeling like I had just eaten a bunch of creamy spaghetti in a pie crust, and also breadsticks.” Spoiler alert: that doesn’t feel great.