Yesterday afternoon, after doing some runaround in the morning and early afternoon that seemed to strech on and on due to one delay or another, my wife and I found ourselves hungry but not wanting to wait until supper time to eat. Thus, we were looking for a place that would be open at 3 P.M. in the afternoon that would not only fill the need for a lunch but also ensure later in the evening we would not be raiding the cookie jar looking for something to eat.
We settled on East Side Mario's (1200 St. Laurent Boulevard, Ottawa) within the St. Laurent Centre Mall. We visited at 2:50 P.M. from the mall entrance. There was a sign directing us to see the Hostess at the main entrance off the parking lot. That sign is always there no matter how busy this restaurant is.
We ventured through the restaurant to visit the front entrance following another family. There were two hostesses seating customers. Each took one party of customers and sat us down. This was a significant change from past visits where the hostess is a little surly by taking your name down, having you wait for 10 to 15 minutes and then you get to watch three perfectly good tables that need a little clearing and a wipe go unused. It has been maddening, but not on this visit perhaps it was because it was early afternoon the restaurant was not very full so the staff hadn't, quite frankl lost all their marbles.
Upon seating the hostess handed us our menues and said our waitress would be right with us. A couple of minutes later our waitress appeared and asked us if we had the lunch menues. We of course did not. She fetched the lunch menues apologizing that the restaurant had very few copies of the lunch menu. Not sure why an East Side Mario's would be short a lunch menu of all things especially because it is the main promotion they chain seems to be pushing in the Ottawa area in hopes of increasing sales during this off peak time.
We perused the lunch menu to find that the unlimited bread and salad that East Side Mario's was known for was not offered. The change here was to select a main dish and a side for $9.99. As well the lunch promotion only runs between 11 to 3 which may also explain why the hostess did not give us the lunch menu as it was already nearing 3 P.M. Thus, we skipped the lunch menu and continued on with the regular East Side Mario's menu available all day.
The regular East Side Mario's menu has changed since we last visited this past fall. Gone is the make our own pasta where the customer chooses the pasta (e.g. spaghetti, angel hair pasta, rotini, etc.), sauce and any other toppings along with unlimited bread, soup and salad. Now there are only preselected choices that customers must choose from. The only "make your own" style menu item now is the pizza which, quite frankly, is not that different from any other pizza place. If I wanted to choose my own pizza sauce and toppings I might visit the local Pizza Pizza for decent pizza at better prices than most East Side Mario's. Nonetheless my wife and I made selections from the now mediocre East Side Mario's menu and waited for our waitress to arrive which did in five minutes.
The Order:1 Sausage and Pepper Penne with a Coke and 1 Linguine Chicken Tettrazini with a glass of Water. Both dishes were supplied with unlimited salad (Caesar Salad and Garden Salad) and bread.
The drinks showed up pretty quickly followed by the bread and Caesar Salad. The waitress, after dropping of the salad and bread, noticed my Coke glass was mostly drained and offered to refill it. She was pretty observant at all times to ensure our drinks were filled. I had drained the Coke glass at the start as we had been out most of the day trekking here and there with nothing to drink. To say the least we were both thirsty.
The Caesar Salad was just as it should be. Creamy with lots of croutons and shredded cheese. Nothing to complain about there. The Caesar Salad topped even the higher priced Caesar Salad offering we had at Alice Fazooli's in Richmond Hill.
The french bread though, seemed to have shrunk in length. The bread loaf was shorter than even last fall's loaf and what this restaurant chain had provided in the past. Not sure why the change in bread quantity, but with unlimited bread we made sure our waitress headed back to the kitchen for another loaf just the same.
After two loaves of bread and a Caesar Salad, we waited for our food to show up. The problem with the unlimited bread, salad and soup as well as the possibility of having to wait for seats at East Side Mario's causing bar peanuts to be added to the coagulation, is all of this steals the room in your stomach for the main course. It is pretty hard to enjoy the main dish with pop, peanuts, bread and salad all sitting in your stomach
The Sausage and Pepper Penne, topped with grated cheese, was delicious. Creamy tomato sauce that had some chili peppers in it. It is labelled "spicy" on the menu but for the average person, this dish would be perfect to enjoy a little spice but not lose your tongue to a five alarm fire.
The Linguini Chicken Tettrazini was a creamy cheesy good dish. The chicken was decent and not over cooked.
After the main dishes we had another loaf and this time Garden Salad. The Garden Salad had lots of lettuce with a few other toppings. The salad was smothered in the house vinaigrette dressing. The only downfall was there was way more lettuce than their should have been.
Overall, this East Side Mario's has just started to slide. On past busier visits the service of the hostesses was more cranky and surly. This time the bread portions shrunk, the make your own pastas has been removed from the menu and the garden salad was a little wanting. But the wait staff this time was still attentive while also serving a 10 person kid's 8th birthday party nearby. The prices though have risen, so instead of the just over $30 to $35 meal we used to enjoy is now $40.00 plus before tip. We may go looking elsewhere for Italian food due to the pricing and removal of the "make your own pasta" from the menu which was a draw for us in the past. But for now, this restaurant location is no longer a "favourite" but still a "like".
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