This restaurant wants to make cheap, fast-food pasta the next big thing - but it still has a long way to go

Read full story

Pasta Flyer 7 Hollis Johnson

  • Pasta Flyer is a new fast-food restaurant that's aiming to be the McDonald's of pasta.
  • Meals range from $7 to $10, and sides and snacks are also available.
  • While not bad by any means, the food doesn't live up to expectations.

The McDonald's of macaroni, the Burger King of bucatini, the Chipotle of casarecce - call it what you will, Pasta Flyer has landed.

Mark Ladner's pasta-focused fast-food restaurant is a far cry from famed New York City restaurant Del Posto, where he was formerly executive chef.

The concept is a familiar tune: successful chef wants to bring the fast-food format to something other than burgers and fries. The ultimate aim is to create a chain that lures fast-food customers with higher-quality ingredients but the same speed. But fast-food pasta? That's a tall order.

We visited Pasta Flyer to see if it has what it takes to break into the competitive fast-food maket.

View As: One Page Slides

So what's the verdict? It's hard to tell. Considering Pasta Flyer is in soft-open mode, it's clearly still getting into the groove of things.

So what's the verdict? It's hard to tell. Considering Pasta Flyer is in soft-open mode, it's clearly still getting into the groove of things.

That said, things could use a bit more gusto, a pinch more flavor. Pasta is something easily approached and easily made at home, so getting customers to buy it in a fast-food setting will be difficult for even the most experienced of restaurateurs. I'm not so sure pasta can be successful in this format, but time will tell.

People have certain perceptions of pasta based on experience, either homemade or professionally served, as Ladner once did at Del Posto. So to clear the hurdle of expectations versus fast-food reality is a tough and unenviable task.

There's a strange high-brow, low-brow tension with pasta. It's a comfort food that can be plain and provincial, or classy and urbane — and both approaches are equally enjoyable.

For now, take Pasta Flyer with a grain of salt. Perhaps it will find its groove and get into the swing of things, but its future as a chain rivaling McDonald's is a long, long way off.

The spicy broccoli rabe, $2.50, makes for a rather pleasing side, resplendent with fresh red peppers, onions, and a dollop of ricotta cheese. It's not all that spicy, but a little kick does surface from time to time.

The spicy broccoli rabe, $2.50, makes for a rather pleasing side, resplendent with fresh red peppers, onions, and a dollop of ricotta cheese. It's not all that spicy, but a little kick does surface from time to time.

Pasta Flyer's "fried lasagna snack" is essentially a fried hunk of lasagna, wrapped to go — and therein lies its beauty. It's crispy, cheesy, and the perfectly light level of greasy. But for $4, it's not as filling as one might hope. One could easily demolish two servings, which makes its place under the "meal deals" menu confusing.

Pasta Flyer's "fried lasagna snack" is essentially a fried hunk of lasagna, wrapped to go — and therein lies its beauty. It's crispy, cheesy, and the perfectly light level of greasy. But for $4, it's not as filling as one might hope. One could easily demolish two servings, which makes its place under the "meal deals" menu confusing.

The pesto is lacking in "oomph," and it doesn't deliver the basil-bomb that one expects. There's little in the way of garlic, and it could do with a more brawny, flavorful olive oil.

The pesto is lacking in "oomph," and it doesn't deliver the basil-bomb that one expects. There's little in the way of garlic, and it could do with a more brawny, flavorful olive oil.

The pesto sauce and fusilli noodles are, in comparison, a bit of a disappointment. The noodles are al dente, but these could do with a bit less firmness.

The pesto sauce and fusilli noodles are, in comparison, a bit of a disappointment. The noodles are al dente, but these could do with a bit less firmness.

Alfredo sauce can be polarizing among pasta aficionados. Some swear by adding cream to the sauce, while others embrace the purist tack and stick to the two "true" ingredients: butter and parmesan cheese. Pasta Flyer's sauce is rich and creamy, but it lacks that certain silkiness that's often the hallmark of the "pure" alfredo.

Alfredo sauce can be polarizing among pasta aficionados. Some swear by adding cream to the sauce, while others embrace the purist tack and stick to the two "true" ingredients: butter and parmesan cheese. Pasta Flyer's sauce is rich and creamy, but it lacks that certain silkiness that's often the hallmark of the "pure" alfredo.

Fettuccine with alfredo sauce is another classic on the menu. The serving size is adequate, and the sauce is similarly so. It's creamy and satisfyingly buttery, though it can feel a tad flat with the rapidly cooling noodles.

Fettuccine with alfredo sauce is another classic on the menu. The serving size is adequate, and the sauce is similarly so. It's creamy and satisfyingly buttery, though it can feel a tad flat with the rapidly cooling noodles.

The meatballs, however, do not share this robustness. They could use more seasoning, more ... something. They continued the trend of occupying the middle ground; squarely, if not blandly, between cafeteria meatballs and homemade ones. The marinara sauce is fine, but it suffers from a similar lack of verve.

The meatballs, however, do not share this robustness. They could use more seasoning, more ... something. They continued the trend of occupying the middle ground; squarely, if not blandly, between cafeteria meatballs and homemade ones. The marinara sauce is fine, but it suffers from a similar lack of verve.

First, the old standby: spaghetti and meatballs. The noodles themselves have good texture and were cooked perfectly al dente. Often spaghetti is overcooked and becomes mushy and gummy, but these noodles are firm and robust.

First, the old standby: spaghetti and meatballs. The noodles themselves have good texture and were cooked perfectly al dente. Often spaghetti is overcooked and becomes mushy and gummy, but these noodles are firm and robust.

And indeed, it was ready fairly quickly. Within five minutes, we had our rather large order ready and in a bag.

And indeed, it was ready fairly quickly. Within five minutes, we had our rather large order ready and in a bag.

Ladner was behind the counter, taking orders and cooking the pasta. He and co-founder Nastassia Lopez came up with a technique to precook, freeze, then flash-finish the pasta so that the food is ready within minutes.

Ladner was behind the counter, taking orders and cooking the pasta. He and co-founder Nastassia Lopez came up with a technique to precook, freeze, then flash-finish the pasta so that the food is ready within minutes.

The prices are hovering slightly — only slightly — above fast-food prices. Most pasta bowls cost between $7 and $8, while combos cost $10 and sides run from $2 to $4. If anything, the price point suggest a middle ground between fast-food and fast-casual — the middle ground of the middle ground.

The prices are hovering slightly — only slightly — above fast-food prices. Most pasta bowls cost between $7 and $8, while combos cost $10 and sides run from $2 to $4. If anything, the price point suggest a middle ground between fast-food and fast-casual — the middle ground of the middle ground.

The menu is simple: five pastas, four sauces, two meal combos, six sides and snacks, plus wine and beer. Ladner is adamant that Pasta Flyer isn't your average chef-founded, fast-casual joint; in fact, he fervently calls it fast-food, and fast-food only. It's not for hobby gourmands.

The menu is simple: five pastas, four sauces, two meal combos, six sides and snacks, plus wine and beer. Ladner is adamant that Pasta Flyer isn't your average chef-founded, fast-casual joint; in fact, he fervently calls it fast-food, and fast-food only. It's not for hobby gourmands.

Source: Eater NY

The ordering itself should seem familiar to most — it's more fast-casual than fast-food in set-up, but it's lacking the fast-casual hallmark of assembly-line customization.

The ordering itself should seem familiar to most — it's more fast-casual than fast-food in set-up, but it's lacking the fast-casual hallmark of assembly-line customization.

Then, of course, there's the giant satellite dish hovering above the entire dining area.

Then, of course, there's the giant satellite dish hovering above the entire dining area.

The interior seems to be centered around the concept of a made-up Fellini film exploring a lurking fear of extraterrestrials in 1960s Rome (frankly, I'd watch that). There's some tasteful Italian-focused decor, slightly tweaked with the eponymous UFO flyer.

The interior seems to be centered around the concept of a made-up Fellini film exploring a lurking fear of extraterrestrials in 1960s Rome (frankly, I'd watch that). There's some tasteful Italian-focused decor, slightly tweaked with the eponymous UFO flyer.

The restaurant is located on Sixth Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets, and it's only open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. right now. It's a soft open until lunch hours are established.

The restaurant is located on Sixth Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets, and it's only open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. right now. It's a soft open until lunch hours are established.
Add Comment()

Comments ()

X
Sort By:
Be the first one to comment.
We have sent you a verification email. This comment will be published once verification is done.