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Old Chicago serves good food, but way too much of it

Old Chicago serves good food, but way too much of it

You can’t get away from the fact that Old Chicago Pizza & Pasta is yet another chain restaurant on W

You can’t get away from the fact that Old Chicago Pizza & Pasta is yet another chain restaurant on Wolf Road in Colonie, but their staff is well-trained and friendly, and the food is tasty.

Old Chicago Pizza & Pasta

WHERE: 111 Wolf Road, Colonie. Phone 435-8007.

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily

HOW MUCH: $28.55

MORE INFO: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Fully wheelchair accessible. Children’s menu available.

Situated in the made-over cavernous Arizona Fitness building, the Colonie Old Chicago has a pleasant green feeling of adaptive re-use, rather than of demolition and new construction. The wood floors and wide-open rooms make it noisy, and the dining chairs scrape the floor with a sound that goes right through you. However, the booths are padded and comfortable, the color scheme is warm, and the walls are covered with photos of landmark buildings in, well, old Chicago.

Its Web site and print ads focus is on the number of beer varieties and television screens but dining companion Virginia and I found it more family-friendly and food-oriented. In the dining room, there were two screens in my line of vision that weren’t obtrusive and only provided background noise.

Big portions

Old Chicago’s menu offers stromboli and calzones in addition to burgers, pizza, and pasta, and like its franchised neighbors on Wolf Road, it isn’t cheap and the portions are way too big. This is diet-killer food, and don’t be fooled by the link from their home page (www.oldchicago.com) to healthydiningfinder.com. Read carefully, and you’ll find that the nutrition information given is for smaller portions than you get.

For example, one serving of an individual pizza is half a pizza. A recommended low-calorie selection is the grilled chicken wrap ($7.99) with only 680 calories but a whopping 1615 mg of sodium, and I’m guessing that doesn’t include the guacamole and bacon (99 cents extra).

The kid’s menu is extraordinarily unhealthy: the Arch-Rival Alfredo is described as a “noodle mountain smothered with our creamy Alfredo sauce,” and the Super-ghetti is served with “one humongous meatball.” Get them the grilled chicken salad. Kid’s meals are $4.95 with soda or milk.

But it’s OK to eat this stuff once in a while, and in moderation.

Our server, Jessica, was phenomenal. She took extremely good care of us, made recommendations and clarifications, and kept an eye on our drinks and refilled them as necessary. She checked with us each time food was delivered to make sure we were satisfied. Everyone at Old Chicago was polite, and just plain nice.

Virginia ordered the spinach and mushroom lasagna ($10.29), which included soup or salad and a slice of garlic bread. She started with a crock of Italian wedding soup, and observed while stirring to cool it down, that it was “chock full of pasta” and had six small meatballs. The broth had good chicken flavor, she said, and the meatballs were very tender.

My pizza with pepperoni ($9.69) looked a bit overcooked, with some burned cheese around the edges, but the first bite dispelled any doubts — it was perfect. The dough is soft, chewy and yellow from the cornmeal, said Jessica. There was a lot of cheese, and they were generous with the topping as well. I especially liked the sauce, which tasted like fresh tomatoes. Two slices will fill you up, and I can tell you that the leftovers are delicious the next day.

The veggie lasagna, as Virginia’s meal was also called, was an enormous mound of al dente pasta baked in a creamy Parmesan sauce, topped with thick marinara and lots of cheese, then baked until the cheese was browned and bubbly. The spinach wasn’t overpowering, she said, and there were quarter-sized slices of mushroom, which she found after some digging around. Virginia is a moderate eater, and finished a third of the lasagna and the slice of garlic bread. She said she’d divide the leftovers in half and enjoy two more meals.

That brings me to these questions: does Old Chicago expect folks to eat all this food in one sitting? Would I rather have a smaller portion and pay less? The answers: no, I hope, and yes.

“They give you so much food,” is no endorsement as far as I am concerned. My frequent companion Mary always says, “Those leftovers aren’t free.”

Jessica brought us a slightly sticky dessert menu and recommended the Old Chicago big cookie ($4.29), served in a small pizza pan. “Does it come with ice cream?” I asked. Jessica leaned in conspiratorially: “I’ll hook you up,” she said.

Now, the cookie wasn’t piping hot as promised, and it was disappointingly thin, but it was cut into six slices and topped with three scoops of ice cream. We each had one slice, and Virginia took home the rest.

Food for thought

So my assessment of Old Chicago is mixed: we liked the taste of the food and the very attentive service, but I wonder why we are paying for too-large portions that we can’t finish anyway.

That makes me think of something that happened at an Italian restaurant where husband Eric and I dined in Soho, London, a few years ago. The small two-tops were crowded together, and our American neighbors received their entrees with obvious disappointment. The servings there, like at most restaurants we’ve visited overseas, were modest. They could have enjoyed several courses of moderate size, but expected enormous entrees.

I suggest that in the face of rising food prices and energy costs that restaurants downsize their ridiculous portions rather than increase prices. Maybe we’ll continue to eat out if prices are flat. But don’t think of cutting back on the tip — that’s just not right.

We managed to keep the bill low by skipping appetizers and sharing dessert. With a decaf and refillable soda, the bill came to $28.55 before tax and tip.

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