I think Im a pretty outgoing person. I mean, I will talk to most people and do it without prompting. But, whats it like to sit down with forty seven people you have never met before at one giant Norman Rockwellish table? And, not for Thanksgiving in your Grandmothers basement, but, in a Carrabbas Italian Grill restaurant. Its not quite a sociology experiment, but, it is interesting to say the least.
Enter the restaurant and it looks like any other Carrabbas you might wander in to. But, say the magic words, Amici Club and youll be escorted to an out of the way side room where there real food feast is happening. Its a not so secret society of Carrabbas loyalists who have gathered to sample some of the restaurants signature dishes. And, its on the house!
This culinary sampling is one of the benefits of membership in Carrabbas Amici Club. Along with rewards, giveaways and the like, members are invited to special tasting events. A great deal considering it doesnt cost a dime to sign up for the club. Patrick Alderman, the Manager of the Carrabbas in University Park told me that this particular restaurant has over four thousand Amici Club members. The most of any location in the country. To put that into perspective, if all of their Amici Club members showed up on the same evening, it would fill up the restaurant over sixteen times! That’s a lot of mouths to feed.
Heres a rundown of how the evening went. When youre lucky enough to snag an invite to the dinner (remember, four thousand invites and only forty eight eaters, you do the math), you get two places at the dinner. You and a guest. So, all of the people attending knows at least one other person. There were also groups of four. Everybody sits at one long table. Twenty four on one side, twenty four on the other. Its a great concept, because in theory you get to make some new friends. They could have set this room with tables for four, but, this seating arrangement has more of a party atmosphere.
Now comes the food, oh, and the wine. Three choices of red and three whites. Our server, Emily, kept that vino flowing pretty well too. Carrabbas was not skimping on their VIPs tonight.
On tap was a six course meal. An appetizer, tonight it was calamari, followed by a Mediterranean Salad, three pasta courses and then dessert. Unfortunately, a monsoon-like Florida storm kept me pinned in my car during the appetizer portion of the show, but, I was able to dash in to catch the salad.
On to the pastas. The first selection of the night was the Pasta Weesie. This is an Alfredo sauce based dish. I will have to say up front that me (and my cardiologist) are not big fans of cream based sauces and this dish had lemon butter in it to boot. It was topped with some perfectly cooked shrimp. I gave it a shot anyway, just a little. To my surprise it was light and loaded with flavor. A flavor other than the sauce. My experience with these kinds of dishes has been less than fulfilling. They are usually heavy, somewhat bland and sometimes mushy. This dish was anything but that.
On to pasta number two, Penne with Fennel Sausage Pomodoro. A great pasta dish. Loaded with flavor and topped with a fantastic fresh ricotta. This dish was everything a pasta dish should be. It was a little like eating an inside out cheese ravioli. That ricotta on top really made this one shine.
The last of the evenings pasta selections was, Tag Pic Pac. Tagliarini pasta in Carrabbas Picchi Pacchiu sauce topped with basil. A nice light, flavorful pasta dish. There was a downside with this one. It has more to do with the way it was served tonight rather than the dish itself. All of the pasta dishes tonight were served family style. So, once everyone served themselves a portion, the delicate sauce had mostly ended up at the bottom of the bowl. Im sure that this dish would be great as a single serving plate where all of the sauce stays where intended, on the pasta.
The evening ended with a nice chocolate mousse dessert.
I polled my fellow diners after the meal to see what they thought. Most of my four dining companions liked the Pasta Weesie the best. My choice was the Penne. I think some of that was a little of my subconscious at work. Im trying hard to like the healthier choices, its a battle.
Carrabbas is really working at the customer loyalty game. The Amici Club, is a great way to keep their faithful in the loop on happenings at the restaurant. I think we all realize that Carrabbas is a chain with locations across the country. But, its nights like this that give it a locally owned and operated feel.
Carrabbas Italian Grill
5425 University Parkway
University Park, Florida 34201