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Thrifty Tip – January

It’s kind of a crappy economy, in case you hadn’t noticed, so I’ve decided to add a monthly feature this year on how to be a bit more thrifty.  I gotta tell ya – you’re not going to find out how to buy $12,000 worth of groceries for a used piece of gum and some broken shoelaces.  I can’t tell you how to take that European vacation for the cost of a Happy Meal.  But I can give you some of my favorite ideas for stretching the dollars you’re going to spend – even if you’re going to spend them a little frivolously.

My January tip, now that you’ve all broken those New Year’s Resolutions to lose weight and get in shape, involves eating.  Good food, big portions, lots to take home.  You were tired of celery by now anyway, weren’t you?

Maggiano’s Little Italy is a chain Italian restaurant with a pretty extensive menu.  If you go with a party of four or more people, you can opt a family style dining service instead of ordering from the regular menu.  Your choices are pretty extensive, and you can tailor your price range by ordering light, classic or chef’s choice.  Light, which runs about $20 per adult includes two appetizers, two salads, two pastas, and a dessert of lemon cookies.  Classic offers two appetizers, two salads, four main courses, and two dessert options for about $28 per adult.  If you want even more options, the Chef’s Choice gives you the same number combination as the Classic, but opens up menu items that include a shrimp scampi appetizer, lobster carbonara as a pasta choice, and several veal dishes for a meat option.  It will cost you about $10 more than the classic to upgrade.

Now, I see you clutching your chest and breathing rapidly over the price for Italian food.  You know you can go to the Olive Garden all you can eat pasta and get bread sticks and salad and spend less than $15 per person, but you know you’re going to go there, fill yourself up with all that nasty good for you salad, and only be able to eat one bowl of pasta.  Game over.

At Maggiano’s, you can get refills on whatever you want!  Did the kids polish off the fried calamari at their end of the table before it ever made it to your end?  No problem!  Your waiter happily brings you more calamari.  Did you love, love, love the Caesar salad so much that you are licking the plate, embarrassing your children, and frightening other guests who think they’re in the presence of some wild savage woman who has been starved on NutriSystem for months?  Before you can wipe the dripping dressing off of your chin, you waiter will bring you another plate of salad.

So, because you’ve really had more than a full meal of appetizers and salad, those yummy entrees you were looking forward to now look like your eyes were too big for your tummy.  And that happy waiter will have boxes out to you quicker than your tubby little overstuffed self can roll out of your chair.

How is this a value, you ask?  Because I’m going to take home almost all of the entrees I ordered and some nice dessert, and maybe a handful of over ordered calamari appetizer.  When I hear someone the next day say, “What’s for dinner??” I’m going to pull out my fabulous treasure trove of someone else cooked them for me leftovers, add a bag of salad, and I can almost always get two more dinners out of what we bring home.

So, for $20 per adult (on the Light Menu), I’m feeding us three meals – and we’ve gotten the bonus of an evening out on the town.  Which we wanted anyway, even in this crappy economy!

I think this is a pretty thrifty tip!

Maggiano’s Little Italy – Review Wrap Up

Overall, the family dining menu at Maggiano’s Little Italy turned out to be a great value and a delicious meal.  We ended up with enough left over items to put two additional meals together, and with tax and tip, our bill was about $140.  Three restaurant meals for a family of four for $140 is big bank for our dining buck.  We certainly could have pigged out more on salad and bread, and they more than encourage you to order refills, so we could have probably eaten for several more meals if we had wanted to take advantage.

The food is not the best Italian food you’ll find anywhere, but it’s good Italian food.  The menu combines enough familiar standbys (lasagna and ravioli) with chef’s specialty items to keep it interesting to come back time and again.

We were the ONLY people in the restaurant when we arrived for our early dinner at 4:30, but the tables around us had begun to fill up by the time we left at just over an hour later.

The Cherry Hill Mall location is very convenient, not only for Mall shoppers, but for people going home from work to stop in for a bite to eat.  It’s also a central and well known meeting place to have family dinners or reunions.  They do have separate banquet rooms.

From a gastric bypass standpoint, you’re going to have to rely on your pouch to determine what is safe her.  I can only eat a minimum amount of pasta, but fortunately, you’ll find a variety of non-pasta dishes, including my usually pouch safe lobster tails, salmon, and crab cakes.  There are also several items on the appetizer menu that I could have easily turned into my main meal had we opted out of the family style menu.

They only serve the family style menu to parties of four or more, and again, from a gastric bypass standpoint, this is a good thing.  You’ll have plenty of options to share with your friends.  I love how they give you four entree choices with two of the family style menu options, because it really does allow for everyone to get what they love and to share it with the table.  This is perfect for post-ops.

Definitely try this restaurant out – preferably before the busy holiday season, when you won’t be able to get a table!

Maggiano’s Little Italy – Gastric Bypass Restaurant Review – Dessert!

We are so full that even my sweet teeth little girls roll their eyes when the waiter comes over to ask if we want dessert.  Then the little one pipes up with “unless there’s chocolate ice cream!”

The dessert menu features a few Italian favorites, like tiramisu and spumoni; Italian spins on chocolate cake and pound cake; and the more traditional NY cheesecake.  Many of their options come with ice cream on the side, but there is absolutely not way this family is going to be able to eat two desserts unless they are bringing a crane to get us to our feet and roll us out the door.

The girls push for the chocolate zuccoto cake, which is a chocolate layer cake filled with chocolate mousse flavored with Sambuca.  Since this is one dish that doesn’t come with ice cream, I ask our waiter if he can just go ahead and box our cake to go.

We have the cake the next day, with our left over dinner, and I have to say, as light and fluffy as you think it will be because of the layers of mousse, it is a thick, dense cake with a thick chocolate frosting, and it is way too heavy for me to have more than a few bites.  Gastric bypass aside, this is a heavy duty cake, but when you factor in the gastric bypass, this could be dumping on a plate.  Take a bite to just satisfy your head hunger for the cake, but know that you aren’t missing anything by not being able to eat more than a taste.

Our second choice, which seems the least heavy of the bunch, is the spumoni.  The Maggiano’s version of this Italian ice cream combination features chocolate, pistachio, and cherry ice cream that is cold, creamy, and delicious.  There are chocolate pieces and dark sweet cherry pieces, although I would like to have seen a few more pistachios scattered in there.  Jim, who says he isn’t going to have any dessert, actually jumps at the chance when the waiter offers to bring another bowl.  Remember, this is all you want to eat.  Next time, we might start with the spumoni.

I know a lot of post-ops struggle with ice cream, as many of us become lactose intolerant.  I do fine with it, and I haven’t dumped on ice cream yet.  This was a much better choice for me than the cake.

Wrap up coming up next!

Maggiano’s Little Italy – Gastric Bypass Restaurant Review – Pasta and Entrees

We began our main courses with two pasta dishes.  The first one was from the Chef’s Choice menu of specialty pastas.  The crab and shrimp tropheo was a hand twisted pasta with grape tomatoes and zucchini, with shrimp and crab tossed in a lemon garlic sauce.  This wasn’t my favorite dish of the evening, but heated up the next day, it was really tasty.  I can’t eat shrimp, it’s another one of those foods that gets stuck, but Jim and the kids thought they were perfectly cooked, as opposed to being cooked to a rubbery consistency.  The sauce was very light the first time around, and I thought it could have used more garlic, but after a night in the fridge, it was just perfect heated up, with a nice garlicky flavor.

Our second pasta dish was angel hair pasta and sausage.  To be fair to this dish, we used to go to a restaurant in Cherry Hill called the Italian Bistro.  My all time favorite dish there was shells and sausage.  The sauce was so delicious, the shells the perfect al dente, and the chunks of sausage throughout the dish were spicy and full of taste and textures that made you crave the meal weeks after you ate there.  The angel hair and sausage was going to have to be incredible for me to love it.

I didn’t love it, but just because it paled in comparison to the Italian Bistro dish doesn’t mean it wasn’t good.  I would say at our table, this was the hit of the night.  The kids loved the pasta and the mild sausage, asking for seconds on both.  The tomato sauce was a light sauce, not thick or heavy, and it well suited the delicate pasta.

Yeah, I know the pasta in this photo is spaghetti, but this is the Maggiano’s spaghetti and sausage, and except for the thickness of the pasta, it is the dish we had.

The best dish of the night was the ultimate in comfort food.  The braised beef short ribs, sitting on top of a vegetable couscous, resting in a shallow pool of homey brown gravy were a work of art.  They were so tender, you could break them with your fork, and the gravy could have been eaten in a bowl all by itself.  The vegetable couscous was the perfect accompaniment, with crisp veggies liberally scattered throughout.  They gave you two big pieces of the rib – which we couldn’t finish among the four of us.  It’s so nice when meat is tender enough for a gastric bypass patient to be able to eat it, enjoy it, and not worry about things getting stuck.

There is a local caterer who does a chicken marsala that is literally to die for.  It is perhaps one of my favorite meals of all time.  I’ve ordered it over the years at restaurants, but it never comes close to this caterer’s recipe.

As I mentioned, since surgery, chicken is not always my friend, so when I saw veal marsala on the menu, I opted for that.  The girls were too full to even try it, and Jim barely touched it.  I took a small piece of it, and it does come close to the marsala sauce I remember from that dish at the caterers, but the veal in this version was really chewy.  It was definitely overcooked – regardless of my twisted tummy.  The marsala gravy was very good, and the mushrooms just right, but the veal wasn’t edible for me the first time around, so I know the leftovers won’t be my friend.

No matter how full we were, the downside to the Maggiano’s family style menu (is it a downside?) is that it comes with dessert!  That chapter follows….