Fast-casual dining is all the rage, and why wouldn't it be? Inexpensive, high quality food, unpretentious ambiance, and DIY table service is a lethal combination. That's exactly what you'll see at Vapiano in Brickell, the Italian-chain from Germany.
Germans making pasta? Sounds ironic, we know. Oddly enough, it works for plenty of reasons: antipasti, insalate, pizza della casa, pasta, and dolci -- all cooked in front of you -- and gummy bears on your way out.
The eatery opened in October 2012, but has somehow managed to stay well under the radar. On a Thursday at lunchtime the lines for pasta were boiling with people and communal tables filled with carbs and herbs. Vapiano grows most of its herbs in-house and so your plate will have the freshest ingredients. Everything from the dough of the pizzas to the pasta is made from scratch daily, and as if that weren't enough it's literally made right in front of you, a la fast-casual.
Here's how it works: you walk into Vapiano and greet the cashiers who hand you a "chip card" - skip the gummy bear container on your way in -- then you head past the modern and chic bar like area and go to your station -- pasta or pizza and antipasti. Pasta, the most popular choice, has several lines. While you make up your mind on what you want from the menu you can admire what those in front of you and next to you are getting, since you can see it being cooked, and chat with them about their choices and their favorite thing.
Not social? You might be in the wrong place, but you can concentrate on the menu in front of you or the chalkboards above the lines. There are clever catchphrases like "there is nothing like good food, good wine, and a bad girl." And bad girls eat big bowls of pasta, like the sausage e verdure -- recommended by the pasta chefs -- with tomato sauce, roasted vegetables like zucchini and red peppers, and of course, Italian sausage. The price tag? $10.95 -- not bad for a filling bowl of pasta with protein and veggies.
Prices for pizza and pasta fall into tiers with gruppo A at $8.95 and being pretty basic (only sauce and one topping) and increasing in dollar increments up till gruppo D at $11.95 with toppings like crayfish, smoked gouda, and roasted veal. The best part is should you decide you want less sauce, more sauce, or something you didn't even know you wanted on your pasta or pizza you can tell them on the spot since you have full view of all the different options and a front row seat to chef's table.
Portion sizes are nice and personal for the most part, but sure to fill any bad girl or bad boy up for that matter. They also have a full bar and wine selections, with a daily happy hour, as if there weren't enough to get happy about at Vapiano's already. Once you've finished eating and decided you don't want dolci you can just go ahead to the exit and hand the greeters/cashiers your "chip card" where they'll pull up your food and charge you on your way out. While you wait, dab into the tub of Haribo gummy bears, also German.
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Welcome to German fast casual Italian-dining in America, the land of endless possibilities.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha