DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Now this story about authenticity. It's a question of authentic ethnic food. Some foodies turn up their noses at Italian food from the Olive Garden. I, for one, love the place and the breadsticks. Well, now this restaurant chain is challenging its competition by sending a food truck through Boston's North End, a neighborhood famous for its authentic Italian food. Craig Lemoult of member station WGBH reports.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: There you go.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thank you.
CRAIG LEMOULT, BYLINE: A green food truck emblazoned with the words Breadstick Nation and Italian Kitchen found a parking spot this weekend on the edge of the Boston neighborhood where Italian food is most sacred.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Would you like chicken Parmesan or Italian meatball?
LEMOULT: The Olive Garden is jumping on the food truck craze, sending them around the country handing out free samples of their newest menu item - breadstick sandwiches.
MARK MCKENNA: It's awesome.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Huh?
MCKENNA: Awesome - really good.
LEMOULT: Mark McKenna lives in the North End, surrounded by Italian restaurants that have been here for generations.
MCKENNA: After eating this, I would eat lunch at an Olive Garden.
LEMOULT: That's what the folks at this truck are hoping to hear. They'd like to bring more people into their 800 restaurants around the country.
Just up the road, in the web of narrow North End streets that smell like garlic and pastry, is the restaurant L'Osteria. Tanya Bruno works there.
TANYA BRUNO: This restaurant was built on love and real Italian cuisine, recipes and a family. And no Olive Garden, no big franchise can ever compete with that.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Joe, I'm glad you ate today.
LEMOULT: Down the street, in the back corner of Pagliuca's restaurant, Bill Onessimo and three friends sit around a table crowded with steaming plates of spaghetti al olio, fettuccine and clam sauce and more.
BILL ONESSIMO: We've been coming how many years, Joey?
JOEY: Forty years, yeah.
ONESSIMO: Forty years we've been coming here, same table, every Saturday. So that tells you something about the food.
LEMOULT: But before they got to their usual table today, they were willing to give the Olive Garden truck a shot. Frank Panache wasn't impressed with the meatball sandwich.
FRANK PANACHE: And the bread, now, this being the North End, you know, we got good Italian bakeries here. And it was - I don't know - like plastic bread, I would say. I would say it was American rather than Italian.
LEMOULT: They say nothing compares to the food here at Pagliuca's. But they do like the prices and some of the food at the Olive Garden restaurants. The food truck is now onto other cities across the country, and the Olive Garden has no plans for now to open a restaurant in the North End. For NPR News, I'm Craig Lemoult in Boston.
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