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Takeout Trials: Buca to Go at Buca di Beppo

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Although there's no shortage of restaurants that offer takeout in Houston, the options for old-fashioned red gravy Italian are somewhat limited. Buca Di Beppo is not the place to go when you want to a to-go dinner of handmade tortellini with truffles, but if you're jonesin' to rewatch Season 3 of The Sopranos while sharing some pasta and gravy with your inamorato, then why not?

Such was the question I sought to answer when I tried out Buca To Go, Buca di Beppo's takeout service that allows you to call in or go online to arrange an order to be picked up curbside. Well, technically you have to go inside, but for the sake of convenience there is a special window set up devoted exclusively to processing Buca To Go Orders. Good!

Thanks to an Internet coupon for joining Buca's eclub, I got a free small pasta (choice of spaghetti marinara, fettuccine alfredo, or baked ziti) with any purchase (no minimum). Good!

I chose calamari and the baked ziti; the friendly voice at the other end of the phone said the order would be ready in 20 minutes. It was ready five minutes earlier and he gave me extra bread. Good!

This story continues on the next page.

Upon arrival at home, the food was still reasonably warm. I eagerly opened the foil pan containing the ziti and promptly sliced open my finger on its razor-sharp edge. Bad!

Undeterred by my bloody appendage, I moved on to the plastic (thank God) container of fried calamari instead for my first course. The "small" calamari ostensibly designed to feed two people cost $14 and contained just about a cup of fried octopus. And the squid pieces on offer were minimally battered, over-fried to the point of seeping oil, and tough in texture. Bad!

The "small" baked ziti, on the other hand, which was approximately four times as large and technically cost $19 (though, again free with coupon), was delicious. The al dente pasta tubes were well-coated in a light, slighlty sweet tomato sauce as well as a blanket of gooey melted mozzarella, parmesan, and provolone cheeses. Punctuating this savory confection were soft mounds of flavorful ricotta that provided varying texture to the dish as well as additional dairy creaminess. Good!

Would it have been worth it if I didn't have a coupon? I don't know--would the Vikings have been good drivers? I did and it was and can be the same for you. Just be careful opening those trays.

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