Academia Barilla’s Grab & Go Is Really Not That Terrible
After the reader reaction to the last post about this place, I was really wary about posting my experience. But you know what I say? Bring on the heat: I’m here to report on what I eat, and you can disagree – after you’ve tried it for yourself and determined that I’m totally out of my head wrong.
The first day I walked by and noticed this place, I was most interested in the grab-and-go case. I love pasta – and actually stock Barilla at home on a regular basis – but as most of y’all are quick to point out, $1 a box of pasta plus whatever sauces/ingredients… well, that’s not really something I want to spend money on. Waiting for them to put together the dish, plus it’s hot out now, and I don’t want to fall asleep at my desk… let’s just say it’s obvious that the freshly made pasta dishes aren’t where it’s at here.
No, I grabbed the “sfilatino porchetta” from the case, whose description read “roasted piglet, arugula, mustard apple chutney.” Was I hoping for a real porchetta sandwich? A little bit, but I knew just by glancing it wouldn’t be that amazing sandwich of my SF wet dreams. For $7.95, though, the sandwich was a reasonable size.
Thin slices of excellent roasted pork loin that were still tender despite sitting in a refrigerated case, a scattering of arugula, an uneven smearing of mustard apple chutney; the bread was a little on the softer side, lacking the crust of a good ciabatta, but meant that I could bite through the sandwich without much struggle. It was a perfectly fine sandwich, if not particularly exciting.
Because I’m a glutton, and also because this is what initially intrigued me, I grabbed an Italian bento of sorts – the “Mare Mio” lunch box, which contained half a tuna sandwich, a bit of tuna pasta salad, and a couple of cookies.
I’m not big on eating tuna sandwiches that I don’t make – call it a weird phobia of eating mayonnaise-based “salad” sandwiches, whatever – but the other lunch box they offered had a scrappy pile of arugula on the side that they called a salad, which was really… well, not. I’m glad I took a chance on this; though at first it seemed to be a sad soggy sandwich, once I ate all of the crust and began eating the central portion of the sandwich, I discovered a huge chunk of avocado hidden in the center that added richness that wasn’t overwhelming, even with the mayo based salad. The whole grain bread added a good bit of texture and nuttiness as well, leaving the half sandwich surprisingly satisfying.
As for the bit of pasta salad on the side – it also included a bit of tuna, plus capers, olives, tomatoes and some bits of basil. I didn’t experience the undercooked side of things here; this had an excellent bite and quite honestly was quite tasty. I would eat a pint container of this for lunch and be happy – and I think they even sell it like that, too.
The cookies smacked lightly of cocoa, but weren’t overly sweet nor heavy. Just a slightly sweet finish to the meal.
And when I was finished eating, I discovered a package of halfie-Oreo cookies were in my bag, too – vanilla/chocolate sandwich cookies with vanilla cream centers. I didn’t eat them, but I’ve had this brand before, somewhere overseas on a hike. They were being sold at the restaurant for $1.50 a pack, but I’m not sure how or why they were included in my bag; for spending over a certain amount? Does it come with my sandwich? Did the girl just think I looked like I needed cookies? I’m not sure on that count.
In the grab&go case, there are also tramezzini or smallish sandwiches for about $3.95-4.95 each as well as packages of various pasta salads, some desserts like panna cotta or tiramisu, fruit salad, and a few bigger salads like panzanella as well. I wouldn’t bother with waiting to get a hot pasta dish to go – although it seemed like a fair number of people were doing just that. I found their ordering system/line very confusing – there’s a limited area in which you can browse the refrigerated case, which is also where people line up to order the hot pastas, and maybe even to be seated. It seems the restaurant was designed with a sit-down experience in mind, but has moved towards more of the takeout/to-go option as that better suits the needs of the area. As it was, I struggled to take that photo for y’all because there were people lingering in front of it, waiting on line or trying to pick an item to eat… the area is really cramped.
There’s also a smallish grocery area, insomuch as they sell big bags of those star cocoa cookies, and some other Italian specialty items that I couldn’t get a good look at because people were crowding by the front door (I don’t know why; they were tourists). There were also a few bags – like the kind you fill with coffee beans – labeled $1, $3, $5 – that you could fill with whatever dried pasta was in the container; I imagine they switch it up because that day was orecchiette (ear shaped) and fusilli, neither of which are particularly unique or hard to find. I also don’t know why you’d buy a simple $1 of dried pasta smack dab in the middle of midtown, but maybe some people have kitchens in their offices with real stoves?
In any case, I found the experience perfectly satisfactory, since I went in with the right mindset. I wasn’t looking to be wow’ed, I was looking for something tasty enough to be worth the calories, the cost, without much fuss. Really, I got out of this what I wanted.
THE + (what people who like this will say)
- I like the novelty of getting cooked food from a company from whom I normally get dried pasta
- Love Japanese bento; Italian bento is adorable too!
- Quick, easy, and tasty
- A touch of gourmet at less than gourmet prices
- Free cookies!
THE – (what people who don’t like this place will say)
- I eat a lot and that will not fill me up
- I won’t support a company whose CEO’s personal politics don’t fall in line with my own
- I don’t want those little touches to make ordinary food seem extraordinary
- I only eat artisanal, house made gourmet pastas made using free range, organic eggs
- I’m a snob.
Academia Barilla, 1290 Avenue of the Americas (at 52nd Street), (646) 559-2206